The holes in conservative bigwig Carlos Fabra’s golf club

Former Popular Party baron negotiates sale of a course his father built for golfer Sergio García With its finances in ruins, clubhouse has been mortgaged to Sareb bad bank

Carlos Fabra during a game on the Castellón golf course his father founded in 1978.
Carlos Fabra during a game on the Castellón golf course his father founded in 1978.ÁNGEL SÁNCHEZ

Carlos Fabra, a former Popular Party (PP) heavyweight, has retained much of his power since giving up the post of regional premier of Castellón in 2011 in the face of allegations of influence-peddling, bribery and tax fraud. He is the president of the province's Chamber of Commerce and Club de Campo del Mediterráneo, which his father founded in 1978. Today, it serves as a microcosm of the PP baron's rise and fall - an episode of his life involving himself, Bancaja, an airport in Castellón without any flights, the national bad bank Sareb, and golfer Sergio García, who was the pride of the club.

"This was a field of olive and carob trees," says Fernando Cambronero after completing 18 holes, with a Cuban cigar in hand. "We owe this place to Carlos Fabra Sr." The greens are pristine and the club has a spa and an indoor pool. The shop, golf carts and lessons and are all managed by Víctor García, Sergio's father and the club professional.

"Sergio was born here and learned to play golf on this course," adds Cambronero. An executive at a golf equipment company, he has a handicap of seven and boasts of having founded the Castellón Socialist Party in 1972 - opposing Fabra but maintaining a cordial relationship away from the hustings, even if the PP man considered him "a red."

"I'm not criticizing him for his ideology, but for his management," says Cambronero of the black hole in the club's accounts. Payments on two loans from Bancaja of 1.5 and 2.5 million euros are not being met; the club is in pre-bankruptcy proceedings; and its mortgage and holdings, including toxic real estate assets, have been passed to the bad bank.

In 2008 we had 1,300 members; with those numbers it was viable"

The club is for sale, but Fabra insists the problem is the recession, not his stewardship. "In 2008, we had 1,300 members and with those numbers our projects were viable. Now we have a little over 600," he told EL PAÍS. Each member pays over 200 euros a month.

People say that Fabra liked to bet, in large quantities, when he was playing golf. Sometimes, if he was losing on the 16th, he would settle the debt there, away from the watchful eyes of the bar terrace at the 18th. "Now I don't play as much but when I was younger and had more time I had a handicap of three," he says.

The Club de Campo del Mediterráneo put itself firmly on the map just as the financial meltdown was getting into full swing in 2008, when it organized the Castelló Masters, a PGA European Tour event with two million euros in prize money. García won the inaugural tournament and in 2011, the last time it was staged, repeated his victory with a course record 27 under par. It was the idea of former regional premier Francisco Camps to promote Castellón as a golf tourism destination by means of the airport and to raise the Masters to the promotional level of the Valencia Grand Prix.

"To host the Masters the club took on debt to improve the installations and the watering system..." says a source who was involved in the operation. Obtaining the credit was no obstacle; Salvador Lluch was at the time a Bancaja executive and vice president of the club. But the same source says the loan was not viewed as a risky one. "The club was valued at almost 10 million euros and all its payments were up to date."

The regional government provided funding and the club had only to pay 100,000 euros in exchange for the promotion of the region. It also served to do the same for Fabra. Before the 2009 tournament he organized a competition at the airport, a project driven by Camps and Fabra, to see which golfer could hit the longest drive on the runway. Rafael Nadal, soccer legends Johan Cruyff, Roberto Donadoni, Javier Clemente and others played in a celebrity match.

Until recently Fabra was the local PP president and nobody would go against him"

The more media coverage the club received, the wider the gap in its books became. Between 2008 and 2011, it ran up debts of 1.154 million euros, in addition to four million in loans. Employees and suppliers went unpaid. In August, the club sent a letter to its members laying out the raw financial data and the impossibility of refinancing its loans. Now the club is seeking a buyer to assume its debts, although the final decision rests with the members.

The letter stirred the members into action and two weeks ago many attended a meeting, where some expressed their dissatisfaction with Fabra; they received applause from the assembly. It was decided that three of their members will oversee the sale. Members had rarely attended meetings previously. "Until recently, he was PP president and provincial administrator, and nobody would go against him. Now those who were happy to follow him are turning their backs, which is not very decorous," says Cambronero.

The leading contender to take over the club is Sergio García, although confidentiality agreements prevent Fabra from revealing the details. Club sources say that another investment group has expressed interest and that Fabra's relationship with García has cooled over the negotiations, which he denies: "I have a lot of affection for Sergio. If there is a buyer and he is one of them, I would be very happy. He was born here." In 2008 Fabra gave one of García's sisters a job as a consultant in the provincial government. Víctor García declined to speak to EL PAÍS.

Those close to Fabra say that he is angry about the sale of his club but that he has bigger problems: after nine years of investigation his trial begins on October 2, with prosecutors seeking a jail term of 13 years.

In the clubhouse there are serious faces. People say that there used a more "convivial club atmosphere."

"Now there are people saying that we should have done this five years ago," Cambronero shouts from one table to another. "Yeah, but nobody had the balls back then," comes the reply.

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