Bits & Pieces

November 3, 2011

The Bamboos and Golf Club

It's morning and we are excited because my father is going to take us walking to Los Bambus (The Bamboos).  We have been there several times in the past and it is always fun to go "exploring" in the area. This time, it is 1942, my sister is bringing along the little Browning Camera she got for Christmas or her birthday.  It made no difference because both events fell on the same day.
The Bamboos are on the way to the township of San Francisco de la Caleta (San Francisco on the Sea Inlet).  We will walk on the oil road, cross the little Matasnillo River bridge and go up the hill towards General Quintero's home.  Just before we get there, we will take a little trail which would take us to Paitilla Point, if we were to go all the way.  But we will go only as far as the little shack house of Sra. Eufemia, an East Indian who lives by a little creek with her family.  Sra. Eufemia is a laundress.  They have built a little pond near the house and here she does laundry for other people.  There are always lines full of drying clothes when we approach her house.  My father, as usual, stops and chats with her, extending courtesy, as we must cross part of her area to continue our trip to the Bamboos.
L-R:  Movie poster, 20th Century Fox; me in full explorer regalia and Mireille with our
dog Jasper, and my wagon, in front of Los Bambus. Photos, LRC, 1942
Continuing our walk by the creek, we come to a small abandoned dam which used to form a small lake.  This, my father had previously explained, was part of the original Panama Golf Club as was our destination, The Bamboos.  The trip not only provided entertainment for us kids, which sometimes included my cousins Luis Carlos and/or Frank instead of my sister, but also materials my father would use around the house.  A long bamboo pole was always useful around the house and my father needed another one, thus this particular trip.
For me, having seen the movie with Spencer Tracy, "Stanley and Livingston", it was a make-believe exploring trip.  I was dutifully equipped with my Red Ryder BB gun, pith helmet, riding pants and hiking boots.  The typical explorer heading to the African wilderness.
L-R: Me and my father by Los Bambus.  Photo, LRC, 1942.
The Original Panama Golf Club
The original Panama Golf Club was founded on July 12, 1922, by 16 Americans employed by the Panama Canal Zone Government and an equal number of Panamanians.   Among these original members were Admiral Johnston, USN, General Morrow, USA, don Francisco Arias, John Westman and don Raul Espinosa.
Their first step was to acquire land, around what is now 86 through 94 Street, east of the Matasnillo River and south of Belisario Porras Street.   This was loaned, without charge, by the Bermudez-Aleman families.  The location was not necessarily the best, as it had been a cow pasture.  As a matter of fact, one of the first things they had to do was to chase the cows away and put up a sort of fence to keep them out.  Then they laid out a nine-hole course, using sand for their greens and mowed pasture for fairways.  They also built a small "bohio" as their clubhouse.
First Golf Club Clubhouse, 1927. Photo from Bob Karrer
View from Clubhouse veranda.
Photo from "Picturesque Panama", by Jean Heald.
Soon, however, they were able to improve their greens with actual Bermuda grass and started planting Java grass, native to the region, on their fairways.  As to the  new facilities, they decided to stay with the "native look" and Raul Espinosa designed and built an elegant Clubhouse and auxiliary buildings with thatched roof and other local materials which he provided from his "finca".  Soon afterwards, they added the next nine holes and they had a full-size golf course.
First Golf Club Clubhouse after improvements.  Photo from Bob Karrer.
This is the angle from which my father made his painting
In 1968, when Mr. Westman was questioned about those early days, he had vivid memories of the biggest hazard they faced in the fairways . . . Chiggers!  He said that it was hard to concentrate on the game for all the itching caused by these pesky bugs. The solution, he stated, came from Dr. William M. James. "He had an effective, if powerful, solution," Westman said.  "Before we went to play, we would lather our bodies with a mixture of sulphur and Lifebuoy soap.  That kept the chiggers off - I assure you.  They left right away.  But you never knew if your wife would let you in the house that night.  Doc James' lather was a little stronger than modern insect-repellant."
It is also recounted that, in those early days, while still having to control the cows, which from time to time would break into the golf fairways and leave their calling cards, the mowing was performed by goats!
L-R: Cousin Frank Albert Baldwin in red shirt, aunt Leita Baldwin and cousin
Floyd Baldwin Jr.,donating my father's painting to the Panama Golf Club, 1968. 
Photo from LRC.
Some time around 1926-27, my father, Louis Celerier,  made a large oil painting of the Clubhouse on this original golf course.  Not long afterwards, he gave that painting to Mr. Floyd H. Baldwin, an avid golfer who worked for the Panama Canal and who had married Lea "Leita" Azcarraga, the sister of my mother, Blanca.  That painting hung in the Baldwin's home until 1968, when, after Baldwin's death, Leita and their sons Frank Albert and Floyd Jr., donated it to the Panama Golf Club.
The Second Golf Club Location
By 1929, the finances of the club had improved to the point that they were able purchase land on the north side of Belisario Porras Street and further to the east, towards San Francisco de la Caleta.  This club was completed in 1932 on  155 beautifully landscaped acres and is a course that pros of the time raved about.  This was the Golf Club that was familiar to me as we walked by it many times on our way to San Francisco to swim, when we were small and the waters were still clean, to collect broken shells for the chickens we had one time (calcium for their egg shells) or to scurry around the ruins of Panama Viejo. One summer, when I was 17, I even got to play there every weekend with my cousin Freddy Humbert, whose parents were members.  I loved walking the fairways as they were truly beautiful.  Another summer I went there with my cousins Cecilita Azcarraga Zauner and Yvonne Azcarraga Brinn to plat tennis.  Nowadays, just looking at a tennis racket leaves me out of breath.
The second Golf Club Clubhouse as it looked soon after completion in 1932. 
 Photo from Bob Karrer.
The Third Golf Club Location
Having left Panama in 1951 to attend Texas A&M University and then having to move to the States to make a living, I am not familiar with the last home of the Golf Club.  I know only that they moved to the present location in 1977, consisting of 124 hectares at Cerro Viento.
By the way, I did not find Livingstone in my explorations around Los Bambus.
Sources:  The Panama Canal Review, November 1968; Historia Club de Golf de Panama,;

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas