It was during a tough economic spell for North American golf architects in the early 1930s that the design company of Thompson, Jones and Thompson Ltd made the ambitious move to branch out into golf projects in Brazil, of all places.
The legendary Stanley Thompson, principal in the firm, most likely obtained the work through his brother in law, a director of the Brazilian Traction company, and both Stanley and his brother Bill were only too pleased to embrace the South American venture.
British railway engineers formed the São Paulo Golf Club at the start of the 20th century and it relocated to the Santo Amaro district in 1915. Twenty years later, during a 6-month visit to Brazil, Stanley Thompson and club professional Jose Maria Gonzalez upgraded the layout, reworking fairways and bunkers and converting the original brown putting surfaces to grass greens.
As the Saturday Evening Post in the United States would later report, Stanley Thompson “was remembered as the Canadiano who, in 1935, arranged for a festive dedication of a combination golf course, air field and polo grounds. During the ceremony, the planes flew so low that the horses bolted and knocked down an admiral who was personally representing President Getulio Vargas.”
The course today is completely hemmed in by housing and industrial buildings on all sides as the city of São Paulo has expanded over time. The surroundings don’t detract though from a classic layout that has stood the test of time very well. Tree-lined fairways are draped over an aesthetically pleasing tract of land where water plays its part in proceedings on the loop around holes 11 to 13 as well as at the conclusion to both nines on holes 9 and 18.
The Brazil São Paulo 500 Years Open was held here in 2000, the second of two European PGA Tour events held in the country that year to mark the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. Padraig Harrington lost in a playoff at the other tournament in Rio de Janeiro but he won the São Paulo competition by two strokes with a 14 under par total of 270.
The course occupies a site that’s only around 135 acres in area – they somehow also fit a driving range and pitch and putt course into it – and it’s completely surrounded by the city but what a setting for a golf course in São Paulo’s southern district of Santo Amaro! If ever you want to feel what it’s like to be one minute in the heart of a bustling metropolis, the next cocooned inside a tree-shrouded golfing oasis then this is very place to experience such an uncanny transition.
Nine of the holes are routed along the perimeter of the property to maximise the space within yet it’s hard to tell that out of bounds runs along one side or other of these fairways as a thick protective canopy of trees keeps the outside world at bay, with nearby high rise flats occasionally coming into view from time to time. The terrain is by no means flat and boring and there are quite a few nice elevation changes – indeed, my notes for the par fours at #4 and #5 describe them as “severe uphill” and “severe downhill”.
Water comes into play in the lower sections of the course in the shape of very attractive ponds at the start of the back nine and close to the clubhouse at #9 and #18. There’s a wide variety of arboreal species separating the fairways in the middle of the layout and these well-managed trees frame the holes wonderfully, adding colour and beauty to the playing arena. Above all, the bunkering is superb, with large, flash-faced traps protecting every green (and quite a few fairway landing areas too).
My favourite holes on the front nine were the par five 3rd, rated stroke index 1 and played to a raised, offset green with a pronounced back to front slope, and the par three 9th, where the tee shot has to fly a pond all the way to the green, though there is a bail out to the right of the hole. On the inward half, I really liked the two short par fours at #11 and #16, especially the first of these two holes which plays to a raised green with a shoulder running through it. And the 167-yard 12th was another tough water-laden par three with little margin for error off the tee.
This was the third Stanley Thompson design I visited inside 24 hours, having been to Itanhangá and Gávea the day before, and just like those other two clubs in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo Golf Club’s a very classy place to play and well worth the effort to arrange a game in advance of your arrival. Almost 85 years after the great Canadian architect worked in the country, it looks like most of his work remains intact, even though a few alterations have been made down the years, such as the newly extended #17 here, where the green has been pushed left and back to create a par five hole.
My first visit to South America was something I was most eager to experience. The trek from the New York metro area took me to Sao Paulo for my first golf experience in Brazil.
Sao Paulo GC is an entertaining golf experience -- neatly routed by the renowned architect Stanley Thompson. What is so striking is that Sao Paulo is literally engulfed in various buildings and people. Literally, congestion to the max. The sanctuary from all that commotion happens immediately upon entering the grounds.
As has been mentioned, the course is not long -- just over 6,500 yards from the tips -- but the key, as has been mentioned by Alexandre rests in keeping one's tee shots in the proper position for the entire round.
The opening hole is an interesting temptation. Roughly 325 yards with out-of-bounds lurking for any tee ball that goes just a bit too far left. A solitary fairway bunker on the right side can be reached for those who attempt to bai out to that side. The key is coming as near to the bunker as one can so that the angle for the approach to any pin location is maximized. Simple requirement. But, for an opening hole of this length you do get plenty of golfers who are overly greedy and, as a consequence, can get a clear dose of reality for such impetuous efforts.
After a simple par-3 hole at the 2nd -- the course picks up steam. You encounter a gentle rise for the next two holes -- a par-5 and par-4 respectively that are quite particular for any shots not finding the fairway. Again -- positioning is central to the task encountered.
Upon reach the 5th you face a more serious challenge. Although playing downhill the hole turns left nicely in the drive zone. Players have to determine how aggressive a play is worth the risk as a series of fairway bunkers are just pesky enough to cause a bit of trepidation.
The remaining holes for the outward side is capped off with the fine par-3 9th. The green is angled behind a menacing pond. A frontal pin is good -- so is a back left position because the approach must be pinpoint.
The inbound nine is a quality mixture of holes and the routing is done well -- not permitting repetition in terms of how the holes are placed. The long par-5 13th succumbs only to well-positioned shots and the long par-4 14th is beautifully bunkered -- both in the fairway and at greenside.
The 18th is a fine ending hole -- water inserting itself on the drive and the approach -- especially when the pin is cut in the far right corner. You also have a devilish green with plenty of internal movements.
The Thompson effort at Sao Paulo shows how a talented architect maxed out a site with limited acreage and got the most out through an adroit routing. Make no mistake, not every hole is spellbinding but there's enough there to keep most people content on why they opted to play there.
M. James Ward
São Paulo Golf Club is a real piece of work located in the middle of the city of São Paulo. The contrast between the high buildings and the green of the course is amazing, an experience like no other.
The course hosted 2 European tour events back in 2000 and 4 Korn Ferry tour events between 2013 and 2016. It is a short course with 6574 yards but it is a real challenge with It's tree lines and lakes. The most beautiful holes of the course are the 11,12 and 13, specially in march when the trees at 13th blooms with those amazing purple and yellow flowers. The 18th hole is the signature hole of the course, a 400 yard par 4 with a beautiful lake that goes between the driver Landing zone until the green, a real challenge. Also check out the pitch and putt course, a real beauty. Going to São Paulo Golf Club is a travel to the history of golf, a place were Bobby Jones and Sam Snead played is definetely a one to go.
Built in 1932 by Stanley Thompson, the top Canadian architect, you might say this course is a classic.
If you’re not too familiar with golf course architecture you might not know that Stanley Thompson built three of the top five courses in Canada, including St. George’s, Jasper Park and Banff Springs. In Brazil he built four courses, São Paulo, Gavea, Itanhanga and Teresópolis.
In the beginning of the 20th century the penal school of golf course design was still strong and you’ll find that in his philosophy: “As soon as a player departs from the straight and narrow path, some penalty should follow.”
When playing São Paulo one needs to keep that in mind and choose the shots wisely because missing a fairway will normally lead to a bogey or worse. For this reason there are several holes where it’s better to leave your driver in the bag and hit something that will find the fairway.
Number one is a good example, a short par four with OB all the way down the left and trees on the right. A driver may find the green or lead you to an early double bogey so be conservative and play a hybrid or a long iron and try to start with a nice par.
A word of advice, this is the course that you should not be ashamed of playing conservative golf, ball placement is way more important than distance.
Number 5 is an excellent downhill par four that doglegs left, aim at the right bunker and shape the ball right to left, that will leave you with a mid-iron to a large green.
Nine is my favorite hole on the front, a 167-yard par 3 with a lake from tee to green and very little room on the right for a lay-up. The wind here is a big factor so check the top of the trees and good luck you will need it.
From eleven to sixteen everything works very well, you will be at the heart of the property with pleasant lakes, some hills, beautiful trees and almost no noise, so enjoy the challenging par 4 eleventh and the beautiful par 3 twelfth.
Things get a little more complicated at 14, a long par four dogleg left where you again should aim at the right bunker and shape your ball back to the center. The green is big but it is harder to find than it looks.
Number 15 is the longest and most difficult of the par 3s. Measuring 211 yards with a diagonal right to left green protected by bunkers – only a very good shot will find the dance floor. A par here is almost a birdie, especially with a back pin placement.
Number 16 is a good risk reward hole, a perfect drive will leave you 60 yards from a green that is raised and placed a little higher than the fairway, don’t miss right because an up and down here is very unlikely.
The last hole is probably the best finishing hole in the country, a 400-yard par four with a big lake on the right starting 160 yards away from the green. You can challenge the lake with your driver or lay up to a wider fairway before the lake. The green is big but it’s divided into three distinct parts so it is imperative to hit your shot to the correct one because I am sure that you don’t want to end your round with a three putt.