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
L-R: Me and my father by Los
Bambus. Photo, LRC, 1942.
The Original Panama Golf
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
First Golf Club Clubhouse, 1927.
Photo from Bob Karrer
View from Clubhouse
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
L-R: Cousin Frank Albert Baldwin
in red shirt, aunt Leita Baldwin and cousin
Jr.,donating my father's painting to
the Panama Golf Club, 1968.
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
The Second Golf Club
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
The Third Golf Club
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
By the way, I did not find Livingstone in my
explorations around Los Bambus.
- Luis R. Celerier