I'm a golf trainer at an ultra-exclusive club. I regularly see private helicopters and golfers betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on games.
- Alfonso Castineira is a 39-year-old golf trainer at one of the most exclusive golf clubs in Panama.
- His clients take helicopters to the course, and he's seen players bet thousands of dollars on games.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alfonso Castineira, a 39-year-old golf trainer in Panama City, Panama, about his job. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I've been passionate about golf since I was a kid. I was born and raised in La Coruña, Spain, and I've been playing since I was 11. By 23, I was a golf amateur in Spain and working as the assistant director of golf at the Desert Springs Resort in Almería. By 27, I qualified for my first professional European tour and played across France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Slovenia.
In 2021, I moved to Panama to work as the director of golf at The Santa Maria Golf Club inside the Santa Maria Hotel, where celebrities such as Morgan Freeman and Canada's national soccer team have stayed. My job is to oversee everything at the golf club, including employees, instructors, merchandising, and maintaining the golf-cart fleet and appearance of the golf course — which means I play the course myself at least once a week.
The hotel is one of the most exclusive members-only golf clubs in Panama, and hotel guests also have access to the course
We have a two-year membership available for $10,700. For Santa Maria property owners, we have a lifetime membership available for $50,000. All members are high-profile community members or own property in the Santa Maria neighborhood — one of the multimillion-dollar homes that line the course.
The hotel and golf club are located near the airport, so it's a hub for business travel in Panama. We often don't know when ultra-high-net-worth individuals and celebrities are here because they register under pseudonyms for their reservations. It's not surprising to see a star on the green, but it's my job to always play it cool.
I started working here at the height of the pandemic, which resulted in a spike in the popularity of golf and memberships
I've played internationally at some of the world's top-rated courses throughout the United States, South America, Europe, and beyond. I've had the benefit of learning from the best of the best in the industry, and what I've observed is that great courses are everywhere, but the best are fastidiously well-manicured with unique views and challenging holes that are fun to play. It's what I like most about Santa Maria.
For example, we value and respect our local environment. The manmade lakes we installed on the golf course have become sanctuaries for local wildlife — you can view a wide variety of Panamanian birds on the green. As a result, we also get unexpected wildlife issues like an alligator being too close to a hole. Luckily, alligators are scared of humans, so they usually jump into a nearby lake as quickly as possible once we approach.
I enjoy being in nature at work and love that no 2 days are the same
On any given day, I might check course conditions, socialize with members, manage club operations, or give group and individual lessons. I've taught many notable students, but it's important for me to respect my client's privacy — however, something unexpected is always taking place.
I see helicopters land and take off from the course almost daily. It's crazy. This wasn't common anywhere else I've worked, but it's such a regular occurrence that it doesn't surprise me anymore.
Some of the craziest stuff I've seen is players betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a game. One time, there was a match between four extremely wealthy players. It was a pairs competition, and they bet $100,000 on the front nine holes, $100,000 on the back nine, and an extra $100,000 for the total score on 18 holes.
Another time, three businessmen and a former professional athlete made a bet for around $250,000. The craziest part is that all the players were so wealthy that they played for bragging rights. None of them cared about losing money — they didn't want to be reminded by their buddies that they had lost that bet. All these antics on the golf course make it an adventure going to work every day.
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