In June of 2018, the eruption of one of the four volcanos surrounding La Reunion Golf Resort destroyed most of the golf course that had hosted some of the best golfers in the region during the yearly PGA Tour Latin America stop just outside of Antigua, Guatemala.
The lava and ashes from the Fuego Volcano covering the greens and fairways of La Reunion were a symbolic of the state of Guatemalan golf, which boasts few victories, successes, or players competing in college golf in the United States.
“The golf course at La Reunion would have been ideal for an event like the LAAC. It was an incredible place surrounded by volcanos. It is sad what happened and that the course is no longer there,” said Alejandro Villavicencio, one of the five Guatemalans who made the cut at the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) at Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama City.
This week, all five Guatemalans amateurs in the field are playing during the weekend of the LAAC for the first time in the history of the Championship, the same week that Guatemalan pro Jose Toledo obtained his card for the Asian Tour.
At least in terms of golf, the national bird of Guatemala, the Quetzal (rather than the Phoenix), is rising from the ashes of the volcano that is Santa Maria Golf Club this week.
“Over the last few years, we have worked hard on promoting golf in Guatemala. We have initiatives for young boys and girls, and high-performance programs for athletes. We have competed a lot in Mexico and the United States,” said Roberto Lowenthal, Technical Director of the Guatemalan Golf Association.
At the beginning of the last round of the Latin America Amateur Championship, Villavicencio, who owns three top-20 finishes in the event, is in 9th place and in contention, in front of the other four Guatemalans at Santa Maria: Gabriel Palacios (T12), Jose Arzu (T27), Miguel Leal (33), and Juan Ricardo Davila (T38).
“At the end, no matter what happens, I will finish with a smile and feel proud,” said 19-year-old Arzu, who made the cut for the first time and co-led his second LAAC on Thursday. “Guatemala has a lot of young talent; very good golf and we believe we can still grow.”
“We have competed a lot among the five of us and that motivates you to keep practicing,” said Miguel Leal, who plays golf at University of Florida and was a teammate of Brazilian Fred Biondi, runner-up at the 2021 LAAC at Casa de Campo and winner of the NCAA Division 1 Finals.
“Fred was like my big brother. We have a lot of memories together and he did great at the Latin America Amateur Championship. I learned a lot from him,” added Leal.
“We have improved a lot, and we have a great level of golf. This year we managed to qualify for the World Amateur Team Championship, and we have half a dozen players with plenty of level to win international competitions,” said 44-year-old Villavicencio.
In his seventh appearance, the Guatemalan veteran of the Latin America Amateur Championship is contending for a chance to see the quetzal fly in the middle of the raised national flag and become the first golfer from Guatemala to win the LAAC.