Insider: Chile ready for spotlight at Tour's first stopMarch 07, 2012
John Dell, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
There's an excitement level that's been building since it was announced the Nationwide Tour would be making its initial stop in Santiago, Chile.RELATEDVideo: Welcome to Chile
Facts about Chile
Rankings: Chile Classic
Round 1 tee times
It's being viewed as one of the biggest sporting events to hit Chile, but there were plenty of skeptics who have bombarded Alejandro Peric, the tournament director and CEO of Podium Sports.
"I've had some people in the golfing community ask me if this was really happening," Peric said about the Chile Classic Presented by Pacific Rubiales.
It's happening all right, and the red carpet has been rolled out in a big way. Thanks to the constant behind-the-scenes work of the PGA TOUR, the local government, Podium Sports and the Chilean Golf Federation, the $600,000 tournament, the third stop on the Nationwide Tour this season, will start at Prince of Wales Country Club on March 8.
In a country with a population of around six million there are just 50 golf courses, but the game has been growing the last several years.
"In general it's been incredible for something like this to come to our market and to be bringing the PGA TOUR here for the first time is just amazing," Peric said. "This is the biggest sporting event to hit our country."
Growing the game of golf on a global scale is something the PGA TOUR is serious about and the Nationwide Tour offers plenty of opportunity. This new stop is all about that, according to Bill Calfee, the Nationwide Tour president.
"The Nationwide Tour is the best pathway for players to test their games and earn their way to the PGA TOUR," Calfee said. "We are excited that players from Chile and South America will have that opportunity."
One of those players with an opportunity this week will be 17-year-old Juan Cerda, a Chilean amateur who will get at shot at playing in a top-flight professional tournament. To practice, Cerda wakes up at 4 a.m. and has to travel two and half hours away to work on his game, but he's considered one of the best golfers in the country.
A lot has been written about Cerda, but he's also worked had at his game. In December he won the Junior Orange Bowl tournament in Coral Gables and is the reigning Chilean Junior champion.
"I think Juan embodies the spirit of what this has become," Peric said. "He comes from humble beginnings and his father was a life-long caddie. So it's a real watershed moment for Juan to have a chance to play and it makes it a real community event."
Peric says that ticket sales have been going very well. He expects 4,000 or more fans during the week and says he hopes there will be 5,000 or more on the weekend.
"Bringing the PGA TOUR to Chile marks Chile's arrival on the international golf scene," Peric said.
In four short years the 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro and this tournament will help provide a starting point.
"Can you imagine what would happen if a Chilean player gets to the Nationwide Tour and then to the PGA TOUR and then the Olympics will be here in a few years?" Peric said. "It would be something else."
The golf will take center stage starting on Thursday with the first round but the underlying impact of having a Nationwide Tour tournament in Chile is huge. It will give a chance for that country to tell its story.
Mauricio Galeno, the president of the Chilean Federation of Golf, says to see so many of the Nationwide Tour players go on to stardom on the PGA TOUR means a lot.
"Our goal is to grow the game of golf in Chile," Galeno said, "and the Nationwide Tour is the ultimate pathway for players from our region to earn their way onto the PGA TOUR."
.ohn Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 18 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. You can reach him at [email@example.com].