I played in the HSBC Brazil Cup in Rio de Janeiro this past week. It was a quick trip, which is out of the ordinary compared to every other tour event I play in. Normally, I arrive Monday at the tournament site to get practice in prior to the pro-am and the three or four tournament rounds. But the Brazilian pro-am was Friday followed by two days of competition.
I had an important outing Wedesday in Toronto, then took a flight to Brazil, arriving Thursday morning. I was one of the lucky ones to get to Brazil on time. Four players had to be diverted to other cities because of bad weather in Texas and arrived two days late — some without clubs or clothes.
Spending four days in Rio is not enough time to take all the sights in. Unfortunately, I didn't get to do any touring. It's quite a long flight to get to there — about nine-and-a-half hours from Charlotte, N.C. I'm very lucky that I can fall a sleep practically anywhere. I slept pretty much the whole way to Rio.
Upon arriving in Brazil, everyone must obtain a tourist visa, except if you're from South America. The funny thing about this is you have to buy your plane ticket before you get the visa; these plane tickets are not cheap, so I guess you just pray you get the visa approved in time for your trip.
Customs was easy to get through. I find Canada and the United States are the only countries that really ask questions when you get up to the customs booth. Both of my bags made it, so I ventured into the arrival hall to find an HSBC volunteer waiting for me. We walked outside and a shuttle picked me up and took me to the hotel.
The hour-long ride was very interesting. I saw a lot of things that I had never seen before. Immediately upon exiting the airport, cars and taxis were being pulled over by police officers with big guns on their shoulders. It looked like the cars, the people in the cars and their contents were being searched.
The traffic is awful in Brazil — and so are the drivers. It seems like the drivers need to rush to where they're going and they weave in and out of traffic to do it. It's enough to give you a heart attack if you're watching the road ahead from the passenger or back seat. I've seen some pretty bad driving in other countries; I would say Brazil and China top the list for crazy driving.Barra da Tijuca, or Barra as it is known, boasts 27.3 kilometres of pristine oceanic beach. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
On the route to the hotel, we drove through different districts. My initial impression of Brazil was it looked like Mexico. A lot of the houses were shacks with unfinished rooms and roofs. I found out later in the week that if a house is unfinished, the owners don't get taxed, so that's why the houses look the way they do in that certain area of Brazil. The owners can't afford to pay taxes, so they live in unfinished houses. I'm told taxes in Brazil are pretty high and items that we consider expensive in North America are close to double the price in Brazil, especially when it comes to cars.
I've been all around the world and to every continent, except for Antarctica. I've taken interest in landscaping since I have become a homeowner and I love the bougainvillea plant. When I first moved to Arizona in 2005, I really didn't notice the plants and shrubs. Now I know all the names and pay attention to them and I've noticed practically every country I visit has bougainvilleas. I've seen them all over Asia, Mexico and now Brazil.
As we got closer to the hotel, I relaxed a little because the area was nice and on the Barra beach (pronounced Baja). It was a beautiful day to be on the beach, but I had to get to work and play a practice round. When I arrived, a lot of my friends were going on a tour to the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain, two of the biggest tourist attractions in Rio. I envied them, but knew I needed to see the course.
I was told by friends prior to going to Brazil that the bugs were awful. Awful is an understatement. They're like mosquitoes but worse. They swarm you and continue to bite you until they fill up with blood. I wound up wearing shorts just the first day because of the severity of the bites. I had about 20 on my upper left calf and about 15 on my right ankle.
One player had very swollen ankles and couldn't put her shoes on. She had to go to the hospital to get a shot to reduce the swelling. The bites get so itchy and bigger on the third and fourth day. It's painful and I was told I shouldn't scratch the bites, but I just couldn't stop.The Itanhanga Golf Club in Rio de Janeiro is the host course for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
I was sure glad I played all the holes Thursday because we woke up to rain Friday and, by the end of the day, about two inches had fallen on the course. The Itanhanga Golf Club is either at sea level or below it, so just a little bit of rain is an issue. There were ponds on almost every fairway. We were lucky to play the tournament rounds, but the officials had to shorten No. 17 and change No. 18 from a par 4 to a par 3.
I didn't have the greatest first day, shooting 5-over par, but I worked hard after the round and felt better when I left the course. The final round was much better. I struck the ball well and rolled some putts in shooting 3-under par to finish at 2-over and tied for 20th.
Just like that, my trip to Brazil was over. It went by way too quickly. Next year, I will plan to arrive a day earlier to do some sightseeing and definitely bring just pants to golf in.
I flew from Brazil to Philadelphia and then drove for just under an hour to Atlantic City. We're playing the Shoprite Classic at Seaview Marriott this week in Galloway Township, N.J. The bugs are bad here as well — gnats and greenhead flies. I'm not looking forward to the bugs, but I am looking forward to taking redemption on this course.
The golf course overlooks the Atlantic City strip. Glad that I'm not a gambler — well, I gamble on golf, but that's about it.