Golf in and around São Paulo
Golf in Brazil, in general, and in the metropolitan areas of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in particular, is still very much an elite sport. If you are used to the easy access to a golf course in Northern Europe and the US, you are now on new turf. If you are lucky enough to be living in a smaller city in Brazil, golf is a lot more accessible, provided, of course, that there is a club in town. Most local golfers in Brazil come from an economic class that prefers to pay a little more in order to belong to a club that is not overrun by people on weekends. This makes for expensive memberships, high maintenance costs and restricted access for visitors including expats.
In São Paulo and Rio access to golf courses is not very expensive compared to golf in other major cities in the world even though, with current exchange rate and the inflation of the last year or so, the cost has gone up a lot. Golfing, however, is more restricted and relatively expensive compared to what you will pay for other leisure activities in Brazil.
Golf Courses in the São Paulo Metropolitan Area
There are eighteen golf courses within easy reach of the most common residential areas in São Paulo. Six of these golf clubs are located in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, including the ABCD area, which can be reached within an hour (not counting traffic, of course).
Clube de Campo de São Paulo, City of São Paulo,
Guarapiranga Golf and Country Clube, City of São Paulo,
São Bernardo do Campo Golfe Clube, São Bernardo do Campo,
São Fernando Golf Clube, Cotia,
São Francisco Golf Clube, Osasco (9 holes),
São Paulo Golf Clube, City of São Paulo.
In addition, you will find another five clubs within 100 km of the area called Vale do Paraiba, i.e. along the Dutra/Carvalho Pinto highways going towards Rio which can be reached in a maximum of an hour and a half.
Arujá Golf Club, Arujá,
Blue Tree Park Resort (previously Paradise Golf Club), Magi dash Cruses,
Golf Club de São José, São José dos Campos (9 holes),
Internacional Golfe Clube dos 500, Guaratinguetá (9 holes),
PL Golf Club, Arujá.
Within the same range, both in distance and time, along the Bandeirantes/Anhanguera and Castelo Branco towards Campinas and Sorocaba respectively, there are another five clubs.
Champs Privé Residence Country & Golfe, Campo Limpo (9 holes),
Clube de Golfe de Campinas, Campinas,
Lago Azul Golfe Clube, Sorocaba (9 holes),
Quinta da Baroneza Golf Club, Itatiba/Braganza Paulista,
Terra de São José Golfe Club, Itu.
Down on the coast, within the same distance, there are two courses.
Guarúja Golf Club, Guarujá (9 holes),
Santos São Vicente Golf Club, São Vicente (9 holes).
There are a few private golf courses that will appear in the statistics as members of the São Paulo Golf Federation, but it would appear that the owners of these courses are the only members and, unless your are Bill Clinton or Sylvester Stallone, you may find it very hard to be invited. In addition to these courses/clubs around São Paulo there are half a dozen other scattered around the interior of the state of São Paulo.
Membership and Costs of Belonging to a Golf Club
In addition to golf courses there are a few driving ranges in São Paulo mostly along the major highways crossing the city (the Marginais). A special case that may be interesting for the expat community is the Golf Federation‘s golf center close to the Congonhas Airport. In addition to a driving range, the center has a nine hole pitch and put course with holes ranging from 80 to 110 yards. To access the golf center, also known as the Kaiser Golf Center, is relatively inexpensive in comparison with what is said about green fee costs below.
The total cost of becoming a member of a golf club in São Paulo is rather high. A new member is required to buy a title from the club or from a member wishing to sell. The titles may not always be very expensive, at least in dollar terms. However, most clubs charge a significant fee for transferring the title into the new member‘s name before you can use your title. The transfer fee, in Brazil called "joia", can often be many times more expensive than the title itself. When you sell the title you will in most cases make a profit but the joia is a sunk cost that you will not recover. This practice is not restricted to golf clubs but is common in most clubs. Normally, the total cost becomes prohibitive for most expats with a normal budget who will not stay in Brazil for more than the customary 2-4 years.
In some cases the club will sell you a "Right to Play" which is neither a title nor a "joia". You will pay an upfront fee for playing as a "member" of the club for a specified period or indefinitely, depending on the club. This fee is also a sunk cost which you will not get back when you leave. Some clubs will also accept you as a "Green-fee member". In this case you only pay the monthly maintenance fees of the club but at a higher rate than a title carrying member.
Access to play at São Paulo golf clubs without being a member is, with few exceptions, severely restricted. Some will only allow green fee guests if invited and accompanied by a member. Some allow green fee guests on certain days of the week. The green fee ranges from R$100 during the week and R$200 plus during the weekend and some will give a discount if you play in the afternoon. Some require you to have a caddy which will set you back another R$ 30-40. Renting a golf car, when available, costs about R$ 70-80.
It is getting crowded on the golf courses that are open for green fee guests. While a few years ago, you could easily show up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and expect to tee off without much of a wait, today you should most definitely reserve a tee time in advance. You may be lucky and get on fairly quickly but then again you may not.
There is a lot of talk about golf being a very fast growing sport in Brazil. It is, but in a very uneven way. The number of Asian players is growing very rapidly. The number of expats has dwindled in the last couple of years with the reduction in foreign managers and executives. The big question is what is happening to the number of non-Asian local players and it is my impression that it is increasing but very slowly.
Many new golf courses are being built in Brazil but only in condominiums and resort areas far from São Paulo. The Brazilian tourism authorities have finally discovered that there are many tourists that would not consider traveling to a resort area that does not have a golf course close by. Of the clubs within easy reach of São Paulo listed below only three, Blue Tree Park in Mogi das Cruzes (resort), Champs Privé in Campo Limpo (condominium) and Quinta da Baroneza in Itatiba (condominium), have been built in the last seven years. There are many real estate projects in the works in the area with golf course as part of the condominium but until now only one quality golf course, Quinta da Baroneza in Itatiba has been built.
The golf courses are not always easy to find. A friend of mine took three attempts to find Campinas Golf Club before succeeding. Signs are rare and few people know where they are even if your Portuguese is good enough to stop and ask. The first time you visit a new course you are well advised to get good instructions before leaving.
Most of the golf courses are good golf courses and will be a challenge to you, if not for their design, for some other unknown difficulty. The greatest difficulty is that most courses don‘t have Bermuda type grass on the fairways but local grass types which are a lot harder to hit off.
For the golf experts among you, the following ranking of Brazil‘s golf courses was provided by Golf Digest recently:
1. Ilha de Comandatuba (Ocean), Bahia,
2. São Fernando Golf Club, São Paulo,
3. Gávea G. & C.C., Rio de Janeiro,
4. São Paulo Golf Club, São Paulo,
5. Itanhanga G.C., Rio de Janeiro,
6. Alphaville Graciosa G.C., Curitiba, Parana,
7. Porto Alegre C.C., Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul,
8. Clube Curitibano, Curitiba, Parana,
9. Guarapiranga Golf and Country Club, São Paulo,
10. Quinta da Baroneza Golf Club, Bragança Paulista, São Paulo.
In a later article, I will cover in more detail the existing golf courses, how they are, where they are, how you can join and which ones can be played by green fee guests. In addition, I will give some more information on the driving ranges in the area.
I hope that you all will find a way of continuing your golf career while in Brazil.