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Area man brings public golf to ColombiaEdit

By Mike Dudurich, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, October 9, 2008

Tony Ciabattoni is a perfect example of a man who has followed his heart.

As a self-described "South Park-Schenley Park" kind of golfer, Ciabattoni's roots as a public course player run deep.

The 1981 Chartiers Valley High School graduate fondly remembers those days and how he left high school with a two-handicap. The above-average golf game, a good business judgment and the sense to follow his heart have led him around the world.

Playing golf in Aruba resulted in his meeting his future wife, Sandra, which led to him moving to Bucaramanga, Colombia (also known as COL) Flag of Colombia. And that has led him to an undertaking -- building a golf facility in the South American country -- that can be termed as ambitious.

"There are two private clubs in town (in Bucaramanga), but no public golf courses," Ciabattoni said on a recent trip home. "I grew up in Pittsburgh playing public golf and know that it is a great experience. Once the thought was nurtured in my mind, it started to become a dream that I could positively affect the lives of an entire metropolitan area.

"The money that I spent buying the land was more than I expected, but upon signing the deed, I was the complete opposite of nervous. It appeared this new dream was actually possible."

Ciabattoni quickly points out that there is more to Colombia (also known as COL) Flag of Colombia than what routinely blares across international news outlets. Yes, there are cities such as Bogota, Cali and Medellin -- and all of the problems associated with them.

Bucaramanga, however, resembles Pittsburgh in Ciabattoni's mind, and it is known as "The Pretty City."

"People have this misconception that Colombia (also known as COL) Flag of Colombia is a third-world country, and that's not the case. Second-world for sure, but not third-world," he said.

Plans for Ciabattoni's golf facility (built on 12 acres of farmland) include a six-hole, par-3 course; a 10-bay, nighttime-only driving range; a pitch and putt which will be free to children younger than 12; and a miniature golf course.

The name of the facility? Green Tree Golf, after his home in Pittsburgh.

It's not like Ciabattoni is taking golf into a vast wasteland. One of the PGA Tour's brightest young stars is Colombian Camilo Villegas. In 2007, Maria Jose Uribe won the U.S. Women's Amateur, defeating Amanda Blumenherst, 1-up.

Ciabattoni has held a couple "get to know us" functions at the site that eventually will become the golf facility. His hope was to get some of the locals together, present the game of golf and get them involved.

"Each time, the kids came up to us and said, 'Teach me how to do that.'"

Ciabattoni has a Pittsburgh-based company, Fairways Corporate Golf Services Inc. He said he spent everything he had to buy the land for the course. He received $37,000 from individuals to build the course and clubhouse.

Friends from Chartiers Valley have taken up his cause and will host a benefit golf outing Saturday at Quicksilver Golf Course. Cost is $500 per foursome, and the scramble event will begin at 9:30 a.m.

"I played with these guys on the golf team from 1978-80, and they thought it was a great opportunity to do something for a CV guy and, more importantly, for a great cause," Ciabattoni said. "I was very flattered."

For more information on Ciabattoni's initiative, go to his Web site at http://www.agameforall.com.

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