The Right To Play: a social project in Colombia that deserves golf’s attention

In Latin America golf is considered a sport for the elite. That view perpetuates and results in many negative views of golf. First, the negative view of golf limits the game’s development in South America. Second, many people miss the chance of learning golf and enjoying the life benefits one can receive from golf.

Recently we got a very special member at GTN, his name is Tony Ciabattoni. He is the founder of the Foundation “El Derecho a Jugar” (The Right To Play in English) based in Colombia.

El Derecho a Jugar exists to give underprivileged children and the average Colombian citizen the chance to experience golf. Children chosen for the program come from mainly poor families. The main goal is to make kids think: if they can play golf, a sport thought of as only for the rich, then they can achieve anything. “YOU CAN is something they need to hear, so many of them believe they are stuck in a life of poverty,” says Tony.

The Foundation doesn’t expect to create the next Camilo Villegas, but if they can create hundreds of aspiring doctors or scientists, then golf will have played an important role in the development of those kids.

It is in fact an incredible project and demonstrates how one person can have an impact on the lives of young people. We thought you might like to know more about the foundation and maybe share it to inspire others. Here is the interview we did with Tony:

How did you have this idea and why?

My wife is from Bucaramanga, without going into why I moved to Colombia, (which is a good story in and of itself), suffice it to say I couldn’t bear the thought of an entire State without a public golf facility. I grew up playing public golf. For me, it’s almost a God-given right to be able to hit a golf ball.

How could you make this work?

I scrapped together my life savings and bought a 12 acre farm 2 miles outside of the center of Piedecuesta and 12 miles from Bucaramanga. We also bought an adjacent farm house to live near the course. At the time I was still traveling quite a lot running corporate golf outings. My clients were enthused about the project to open up the sport to kids and the general population. I got donations of about 1/3 of my original budget, since in 2008 the stock market crashed and money became tight. We opened the course after 1-1/2 years of work, but without a clubhouse and with only 3 very primitive holes. Over the next 3 years, we have continued to improve and expand the course (poco a poco) to where we now have a clubhouse thanks to Pacific Rubiales. We also have had many friends help us along the way with mowers and pumps. Without their help, we would still be cutting our greens with a lawnmower and working out of a tent.

What is your main purpose with it?

My main purpose is to keep a public facility up and running so people can enjoy the sport that has been such a big part of my life. Beyond that, I want to include kids so that they can begin to understand that there are no barriers to what they can achieve. I also want to influence others to do the same. Colombia is a beautiful country. Most Colombians enjoy their leisure time out in the country. Golf is a natural recreation and one that should be more accessible to everyone. I know there are people out there with the resources to build public golf courses. I hope my story can influence just a few of them.

How many kids attend the golf lessons?

We started with 30. Just like any after school or weekend activity, many dropped out and started skating or playing an instrument… you know how kids are. We now have 15 which suits our size and capabilities since we only have one instructor and myself.

How do you think this can change the kid's lives?

As you know, in Colombia golf is considered an elitist sport by the majority of the people. I want these kids to realize that this is one of many barriers that can be overcome. I also want them to develop more social values such as COURTESY and RESPECT. I think with those three basic teachings, our kids will come out of our Foundation with a positive view of their future and the world around them.

What kind of support do you expect from people?

I don’t “expect” anything. I like to say if you have 100 charities to choose from in Colombia, consider the 99 others first. If, after that, you have a love for the game and you believe in what we are doing, we have affordable International Memberships which helps us advance the project.

Fundación El Derecho a Jugar

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