Clinton visits Colombia to promote charity, 2012 opener

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Former President Bill Clinton tees off in the pro-am Wednesday at Country Club de Bogota.
February 15, 2012
Ward Clayton, Special to PGATOUR.COM

PHOTO GALLERY: President Clinton at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia pro-am

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was quick to show his famous leadership skills on Wednesday during the all-star pro-am for the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship presented by Samsung.

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Faced with a short, tricky second shot on the par-4 third hole at Country Club de Bogota, Clinton gave his teammates in the Nationwide Tour event a pep talk. Among his playing partners was Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, forming a rare political golf team.

"We need to hit this shot just over 120 yards," Clinton instructed with the know-how of a PGA TOUR pro. "That pin is very close to the bunker. It's a sucker pin."

Whether the other amateur members of his pairing fully understood Clinton's comment -- which was one of many he made during the round -- wasdebatable, but the impact of Clinton's visit to this South American country was clear. The Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, the opener for the 2012 Nationwide Tour season, supports the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative (CGSGI) in Colombia as its charitable beneficiary.CGSGI was established in June 2007 by Clinton and philanthropist Frank Giustra, and itseconomic and social development projects span Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Haiti. In Colombia, CGSGI works to support entrepreneurship, create jobs, strengthen child nutrition and expand accessto health services in remote areas.

Clinton, the first former or current U.S. president to attendor play in a Nationwide Tour event or in South America, has long been a supporter of Colombia, dating back to his presidency and continuing with his foundation and several other visits. He arrived in Colombia early Tuesday after an 11-hour flight from Lagos, Nigeria where his Clinton Foundation had a function over the weekend. The Clinton contingent was housed in a hotel three blocks from the Country Club de Bogota. He attended a graduation ceremony for hundreds of young Colombians on Tuesday afternoon and then stopped by the pro-am party at the County Club de Bogota clubhouse on Tuesday night, greeting all of the pro-am participants and numerous tournament sponsors.

"This is quite a wonderful place here in Colombia," Clinton said on Tuesday night. "When I became president, Colombia was our best ally in South American and is the oldest democracy in South America. Thirty-five percent of the land was in the hands of narco-traffickers. During my time as president, we passed Plan Colombia to help this country. This country still has some problems, but the country belongs to the people of Colombia again. That's a great tribute to the people of Colombia."

President Clinton in Bogata

President Bill Clinton helps kick off the 2012 Nationwide Tour Season by attending the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship presented by Samsung.

The charitable cause was a priority for the visit, but the golf also drew substantial attention. Clinton wore an all-white outfit, with red, white and blue golf shoes and a U.S. flag belt, topped by a Nationwide Tour shirt and hat. He spent a considerable amount of time on the practice range, consulting with his caddie, German Villamarin,a Club Colombia caddie, on club choices. Clinton had to dump a few clubs to reach the 14-club limit, including a specially made driver that was presented to him earlier this year.

Clinton played in the afternoon wave of the pro-am along with Santos, who was sporting a PLAYERS Championship golf shirt; Jose Francisco Arata, the president and executive director of Pacific Rubiales Energy, the tournament sponsor; German Calle Jr., the tournament director; and Nationwide Tour player D.J. Brigman. Brigman was chosen to join Clinton's group last Friday because of his status as the chairman of the Nationwide Tour Player Advisory Council.

Yes, he got a mulligan off the first tee after hooking his first drive in the trees and on a couple other occasions. He also received intermittent instruction from Calle. And he nearly holed a utility club for an ace on the long, par-3 12th hole.

Much of the Colombia and South American media was assembled around tees and scurrying up to the edges of greens as security staff for both Clinton and Santos kept a close eye on spectators and the periphery of the course, which is located in heart of the capital city that has 8-million inhabitants.

"I was pretty calm when I found out last Friday but then I got a little frazzled walking to the first tee today," Brigman said. "The Colombian Secret Service wouldn't let me on the tee. Finally, I got up there. They frisked me and I guess I was OK.

"President Clinton was great. He interacted with us more than we interacted with him -- telling jokes and stories, asking about my life and family. He was a great guy. It was such a memorable experience."

Because of all photography and hand shaking, the group was able to play only 16 holes. Santos had to leave after six holes, but Clinton charged on to dusk.

"Now that you've gotten rid of the politicians, you can focus on the golf tournament," Clinton said upon departure, as he headed back to New York.

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