Santa Barbara

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OLDEST IN THE COUNTRY. The National Historical Institute recognizes the Santa Barbara golf course as the “oldest existing golf course” in the Philippines. (Photo by Jorry Palada)

Iloilo Golf & Country Club

About a hundred years ago, very little was known about the game of golf in this part of the world, the Philippines in general and Iloilo in particular.

Then a year or so after the turn of the last century, a group of Englishmen came to the country.

They were employed by the Philippine Railway Co. for the building of a train track that was to connect the City of Iloilo to what was then the town of Capiz, now Roxas City.

Among them were Scotsmen who were known then and even now as lovers of golf. Their great love for the game led them to look for a site suited for a golf course. They found it just outside the rural town center of Santa Barbara that was conveniently located near the route of the railroad they were working on. Oldest golf course

Set amid gently rolling hills, this place became the location of the current Iloilo Golf and Country Club.

Discoveries of balls bearing “Spalding Pat April 11, 1899″ markings prove the early beginnings of golf in Iloilo and the course in Santa Barbara as being the oldest in the country and among the oldest in Asia.

The site picked by the Scotsmen was about 15 kilometers from Iloilo City. Not much needed to be done to make it a suitable course except clean level spaces and clear some trees.

Oral accounts of those who were there when the course was laid say the pioneer players would hit a succession of shots into various undifferentiated waste of grass, make their estimates of fairway locations, and identify the most intimidating approaches to the imagined greens. This was just before 1907.

This undated photo shows the Santa Barbara golf course clubhouse. (Photo provided by Santa Barbara Municipal Government)

‘First’ hole-in-one

The club still has the original sandboxes, used before wooden pegs or tees were in vogue, that were provided in every teeing area and contained sand and water in separate compartments.

A player, in order to tee-up his ball, may scoop sand with his nib lick or nine iron, moisten the sand with water and press it into a small mound, and place the ball on top of it.

The original course was a short nine-hole layout, just over 2,500 yards, with two par threes and seven par fours.

One par three hole was located just at the foot of the hill and stories had it that the first hole-in-one on the course was made there by Mr. Houston, one of the founding fathers. His feat was later nullified when it was discovered that his forecaddy, in his eagerness to please his employer, tried to improve the lie of the ball with his bare foot. The ball started to roll down the slope to the green and into the cup for an unprecedented “hole-in-one.”

Club beginnings

In the beginning, players had to take the train from Iloilo City to the Santa Barbara station and either carry the clubs themselves or let the caddies waiting for them do it. They could also, as an option, take a bull cart.

They had to take the last train back in the afternoons and were oftentimes seen running through muddy trails to catch the last and only means of transportation back to the city.

Later, quite a few rest houses were built by companies and by members who spent weekends near the club. Most of these were located along the road to the entrance where the parking lot is now situated and on the fairway of the present No. 12 hole.

A bamboo hut was built to serve as a clubhouse. Water was provided by the natives who carried them in cans from nearby springs. The players then played in breeches and sometimes in coats and ties and used the “gutta percha” or “gutties” and rubber balls.

On July 12, 2005, National Historical Institute (NHI) chairman Ambeth Ocampo wrote the Iloilo Golf and Country Club recognizing the Santa Barbara golf course as the “oldest existing golf course” in the Philippines.