Fortunately, four new, waterside public golf courses by
noteworthy architects have managed to emerge that do give
players a sense of the game’s links heritage. Not every
course in this foursome is built on dunes reclaimed from the
receding sea. But each sits along a vast, open body of
water: Playa Conchal, in Costa Rica, runs along the Pacific
By law, a
quarter of Costa Rica’s land mass is set aside for nature
parks--much of it in the form of rain forests. As in many
countries, the coastline is subject to particularly close
regulation. With golf relatively new--the country has a
9-hole layout dating to 1942 as well as two courses open in
the seventies, one in 1988, two in 1997 and one last
February--the government is careful to monitor developers.
So when the
mammoth Spanish hotel chain Meliá sought to build a tasteful
650-acre seaside resort and golf course along the Pacific
Coast in Guanacaste Providence, it turned for guidance to a
designer with impeccable credentials as a naturalist: Robert
Trent Jones Jr.
Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, Jones and his project designer
Gary Linn were required to keep the golf grounds set back
some 150 feet from the beach line. They so were not allowed
to cut down any of the aged Banyan trees, which serve as a
windbreak - and as it turned out, home to the area’s
appropriately named howler monkeys. If you think their
friendly chatter is amusing as a wake-up call each morning,
wait until you waggle at the seventh tee, preparing to hit a
draw shot on this lovely par-5; the darn monkeys just won’t
keep quiet. But it’s a small price to pay for keeping the
game in such pristine conditions.
A dry creek
bed traverses Garra de León’s front side and many of the
holes on this more open nine allow for broad views that take
in the hills to the east and the ocean on the west. No one
would mistake the Bermuda-grass course for a links layout.
But while the shorter holes (like the 318-yard, par-4 first
and the 145-yard, par-3 eighth) call for delicate shots over
hazards fronting the greens, the longer holes are designed
to accommodate shots struck low into the wind. The back nine
has an especially natural feel, as holes 10 through 13 lie
at the base of a hillside dense with hardwoods, and at the
16th green only a line of Banyon trees stand between you and
the blazing white Pacific beach.
courses--each with its own distinctive use of lake, sea or
ocean incorporate modern techniques of design yet look and
feel as if they’ve been here for ages. These are precious
examples of an age-old game where public players can
experience a classic mix of traditional elements. When land
hits open water, golf is at its most thrilling.
Back to Top
By Parker Smith
the place everyone’s heard about. Someone retired there.
Someone just went…just came back. But not you. Where is
Costa Rica? Somewhere in the jungles...? Actually, it’s the
most accessible, most affordable, friendliest destination
outside the United States. With championship golf from the
likes of George Fazio, Ron Garl and Robert Trent Jones
II.... and weather that is always perfect on the coast....
Stop right now. Pick up the phone. Call the travel agent.
Costa Rica is where you want to go for your next
vacation--golf, fishing, surfing, hiking...relaxing... Did I
say the Pacific Coast? Yes, it is bordered by the Pacific
Ocean...and the Atlantic--well, the Caribbean Sea, but
you‘ll never again want to see the Caribbean Islands after
you’ve seen Costa Rica.
This little country has twenty-five percent of its land mass
devoted to preservation and public parks, possesses every
climate known to the planet (something like 21 of 25) except
the really cold ones, like frozen tundra’s and polar ice
caps, and has enormous percentage of the life forms on
earth. It is a visual wonderland, a tropic OZ waiting to
This magical part of the Central America peninsula, hanging
loose between Panama and Nicaragua, has rain forests,
volcanoes, hot springs, whitewater peaceful rivers,
mountains, caves, savannas, deserts, oceans... It has no
army, is an elected democracy, its smiling people have a 97%
literacy rate... Nobody has their hand out.
Does it get any better than this? No.
Is your wife or girlfriend happy? Yes.
This is (still) a paradise. So go, but go now. Now is the
time to enjoy...And invest. By the way, you won’t believe
all the retired Americans already living there, enjoying the
value of the dollar.
A typical journey might take you first and last to San José,
taking advantage of better flight schedules into there while
the Liberia airport on the West Coast still works on
expansion. By going into San José, you get the old world
while perching peacefully on the hillside above the city at
Meliá Cariari, a comfortable resort with a George Fazio gem
of a golf course that is filled with flowers, vistas, strong
par-4s, and excellent caddies (ask for Martin or Umberto).
Two or three days there, then on the bus to Guanacaste and
the Meliá Playa Conchal. The Meliá Playa Conchal is
superlative. A modern convention center with state of the
art communications, a casino on a rich promontory
overlooking the most incredible view of the sea you’ve ever
been presented, and a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course
that is really fun to play. Tennis, health club, parties on
A resident theatre group that provides live entertainment
almost every night... Surfing, sailing, snorkeling,
snoozing, schmoozing, a skinny dipping in the sea... The
best sea fishing in the Americas... Terrific
restaurants--you can be in Italy, America, Costa Rica....
None of us wanted to leave.
Back to Top
the Green Magazine
By James McAfee
Want in on one of the great golf destinations before others
While Eco-tourism will probably remain the primary reason
that people from all over the world visit, don’t be
surprised if Costa Rica--especially the Golf Coast on the
Pacific Ocean side--becomes a golf Mecca by the turn of the
The Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call themselves, are polite
and peaceful, and know how to make visitors feel welcome. In
the midst of all of the political unrest in Central America,
Costa Rica has remained an island of stability and peace,
not even supporting an army.
Although Garra de León hugs the coast, it doesn’t have any
dramatic ocean holes--the 16th green is 30 yards from the
beach. But there are still beautiful vistas to enjoy and
"mucha agua" to contend with, including water on a pair of
par-5s where gamblers can take a risk and get home in two.
The Campo de Golf is a formidable par-72 course. The
318-yard first hole challenges golfers with a wide ditch in
front of the green to catch shots that aren’t long
enough--just like at St. Andrews. Seven of the other par-4
holes measure more than 400 yards, and there is a good mix
of par-3s that range from 138 to 207 yards, and require
well-struck irons over water. Higher handicappers will be
happy to learn that Jones does offer "bail out" areas near
many of the greens where they can play safe and make bogey,
or even save par with a good putt.
Near Conchal is Rancho Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, an
18-hole Ron Garl design. The front nine is relatively open
and features gently rolling fairways surrounded by water
hazards. In contrast, the back nine is cut through rocky
terrain where a premium is placed on accuracy.
...Although many new courses are springing up along the
coast and in the central region, a golf vacation in Costa
Rica wouldn’t be complete without visiting Meliá Cariari in
San José, and playing at least one round at the George
Fazio-designed Cariari Country Club. A par 71 layout with
more than 1,000 local members (only 200 golf members), the
course was Costa Rica’s first 18-hole design. Built on a
coffee plantation 25 years ago, the trees put a premium on
accuracy off the tee with landing areas as tight as those in
the U.S. Open.
For more information about golf vacations in Costa Rica,
contact Costa Rica Golf Adventures,
the country’s only travel company dedicated to golf, at
Back to Top
Corporate Meetings & Incentives
By Peter Huestis
José’s Meliá Cariari Conference Center & Golf Resort was our
the VIP treatment from the resort’s staff, though the George
Fazio-designed course was not nearly as hospitable! (Ray
Floyd holds the course record) The golf course weaves
through gently rolling terrain with fairways bordered by
some of the most beautiful trees seen anywhere in the world.
The tree trunks look like Jackson Pollack took his
paintbrush and splashed on vivid colors.
Conchal Beach & Golf Resort... One of the resort’s main
draws is the championship golf course Robert Trent Jones Jr.
cut from the jungle. Jones was on hand at Playa Conchal for
the official course opening, and it was a thrill to meet and
play with this legendary course architect. Our group
competed on his challenging layout, which winds in and out
of the hills around the resort. I will long remember the
lovely views, exotic wildlife and lush vegetation that has
put Playa Conchal on the must-play list for golfers from
across the world.
Back to Top
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By Charles Clines
gallery continued to grow as the two golfers prepared to tee
off on the par-3. It's not often a twosome of average
golfers can attract an audience of 15 or so. Then again,
maybe the onlookers were there just because of the nearby
trees. Several were, after all, hanging by their tails from
the limbs. Monkeys, you see, do that.
Even if the
furry critters didn't seem particularly interested in the
humans, the two golfers turned spectators for a while as the
adult and baby monkeys frolicked in the trees next to the
way golf can be in Costa Rica, a Central American country
known for its wildlife.
most tourists visit the country to see the rain forests,
volcanoes, wildlife and maybe catch a wave or two surfing.
But the country that never turns cold also seems on the
verge of becoming the next golfing hot spot.
few better courses than the year-old Robert Trent Jones
Jr.-designed Garra de León Campo de Golf at the Meliá Playa
Conchal Golf Beach & Golf Resort on the Pacific side of the
playing golf with James McAfee, former executive director of
the Northern Texas PGA and now the director of golf at the
Meliá Playa Conchal resort. We were playing in late June as
the so-called winter (rainy season) was just beginning. At
85 degrees, the winter weather wasn't too bad and made one
wonder why this is the country's off season. We practically
had the course to ourselves.
indications are that the sport is ready to boom with at
least two other 18-hole courses scheduled to be built, golf
has been slow to catch on in this country that's more known
for its natural attractions There are three 18-hole courses,
and several 9-hole layouts. While not a lot to choose from,
the 18-hole courses and the one 9-hole course I played, are
excellent tests of golf and well-manicured.
likes to walk, the George Fazio-designed Cariari Country
Club, which is part of the Meliá Cariari hotel, in San José
has caddies Many of the caddies are students and get to play
on Mondays and some afternoons, so they know the game. The
ones we had read the greens to near perfection.
at Cariari was Landy
Blank, who moved to
Costa Rica two years ago to form his
Costa Rica Golf Adventures company. He has
several golf and sightseeing packages, and because he lives
there, he knows the ins and outs of the country.
thing is that Costa Rica is only 31/2 hours from Houston,
where I left from on Continental Airlines. It's closer than
Hawaii and cheaper, and the scenery is almost as good.
You can fly
into San José and stay and play golf at the Meliá Cariari.
From there, it's a 31/2-hour bus drive to the Meliá Playa
Conchal resort. The Rancho Las Colinas, which features a
rolling back nine, is about 20 minutes or so from there.
Back to Top
Florida Golf Monthly
By Jack O'Leary
beaches gently washed by warm water waves. Lively music and
laughter emanating from a small, palm-lined coastal village.
Golf courses that blend in with all of the above to create
an atmosphere in which even the most nervous golfer would
crave a few lingering moments to savor the experience as if
it were a mellow wine.
missing from this picture? You are. If you want to be a part
of it, you'd better hop on the next flight to Costa Rica
because when the word gets out that the place is becoming
the best tropical golf vacation spot in the northern
hemisphere, things might get a bit crowded there. Seriously.
It's that good and it's that accessible.
Misconceptions about Costa Rica abound. First, many people
think it's an island. It's not. Rather, Costa Rica is
located in Central America, bordered on the north by
Nicaragua, on the south by Panama and the Caribbean and
Pacific Oceans on its coasts. It is on the West Coast that
golf is about to explode like one of the country's
Costa Rica, like many Central American countries, is often
as a "banana republic." Nothing could be farther from the
truth. Costa Rica has no military whatsoever, and the
absence of such force is reflected in the serene attitudes
of the native people.
think that Costa Ricans regard U.S. visitors as "ugly
Unlike many countries around the globe where American
tourists meet with contempt, Costa Ricans actually welcome
us with open arms. Fortunately, those arms aren't reaching
for American wallets. There's no price gouging the visiting
gringos, and tipping is done.
On a minor
scale (Ten percent on meals, if not included in the bill,
and a $2 tip for a bellman are sufficient).
misconception is that Costa Rica is so hot that it makes the
Florida summer feel like the inside of a refrigerator. The
truth is, Costa Rica has seven vastly different climates.
The Guanacaste region is cooler than Florida in the summer,
and reduced off-season prices make it a very attractive
and probably biggest misconception about Costa Rica is that
it has no golf courses. The truth is, Costa Rica offers some
great golf today and it will offer even more the near
future. The entry-level standard of excellence of Costa
Rica's courses, those available for play now and in the near
future, ensures that Costa Rica will soon be one of the
hottest golf destinations in the world. While tourists once
visited Costa Rica for its other beautiful attractions and
discovered its golf courses accidentally, the tide is
turning. Soon visitors will be booking golf trips and
setting tee times first and leaving a few hours for the
other beautiful attractions.
a totally new concept for Costa Rica. The game was first
introduced in the capital city of San José 26 years ago. On
the outskirts of the bustling downtown area of San José sits
the Meliá Cariari Resort. Here, architect George Fazio was
commissioned to create a golf course on a site that would
challenge the creative abilities of any designer. The
result? A wonderful golf experience that has changed
dramatically through the years.
was first issued the challenge, he had a small hilly piece
of land to develop. Somehow he managed to build a very
strong golf course that, at 6,590 yards from the tips, also
is very playable. To add to the challenge, Fazio planted
hundreds of trees. After 25 years of intense growth, those
same trees now comprise a major part of the challenge of
Cariari Country Club. It's safe to say that on just about
every hole, accuracy is much more important than length on
this course. If you miss a fairway, the minimum cost will be
one stroke. The thick, wiry rough coupled with the dense
forest dictate that you get your ball back in play. A good
score is available at Cariari Country Club, but the double
and triple bogey is always in play. Never be overconfident
that you're on your way to a low round until you hole out on
the 18th hole. You're always one bad swing away from
most flights into Costa Rica land in San José, Cariari
Country Club will usually be your first Costa Rican golf
experience. From there, you have two travel options to the
province of Guanacaste in the country's northwest region.
You can either drive over the Andes and through the coffee
plantations of the central part of the country, an
incredibly beautiful four-hour drive, or catch a commuter
flight to the city of Liberia. Driving one way and flying
the other is highly recommended because flying both ways
will cheat you out of one of the greatest visual treats
you'll ever experience.
flagship in the west is the Meliá Playa Conchal Resort.
Owned by the same company that owns the Cariari Resort in
San José, Conchal is the first major Costa Rican resort to
offer a championship golf facility. Designed by Robert Trent
Jones II, Conchal stretches to a mighty 7,033 yards from the
back markers with more playable courses at 6,593, 6,045 and
5,396 yards. Not only does Conchal challenge golfers with
its length, it also confronts them with constant elevation
changes. Sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic (e.g., the
100-foot drop from the tee box to the fairway on the
435-yard, par-4 12th hole), the elevation shifts play an
integral part of every club selection you make.
The key to
success in playing Conchal is to hit the ball solidly. The
course is too long to allow mis-hits to go unpunished. To
balance out the demands of length, Jones provides you with
ample landing areas on the longer holes.
resort courses, Conchal is a true test of golf from the
opening tee shot to the final putt. You may be lulled to
sleep by the relatively straightforward 318-yard, par-4
first hole, but the second tee will rudely awaken you.
Forget that this may be one of the most beautiful holes in
Costa Rica; it's also one of the toughest. Out of bounds
creeps in close to the right side of the fairway on this
dogleg left hole, and a ravine guards the left side of the
fairway. This same ravine curls across the fairway to
protect the front of the green. Miss the green to the left,
and a cavernous bunker will all but guarantee a bogey. If
this isn't enough of a challenge, factor in a subtle uphill
elevation change that adds half a club to the equation.
master the second hole and limp away with a hard-earned par,
par-4 third hole will render your chances of maintaining
that string improbable. Not only is the hole extra long, the
second shot is uphill, and a pair of bunkers guards the left
side of the green. The design dictates that you approach the
green from the right side because the ball will feed to the
green from there. There's just one other slight problem. Out
of bounds runs close to the right side of the fairway all
the way to the green, so don't give the right side of the
green too wide of a berth, or the phrase, "I'm hitting a
provisional ball," will be quick to you lips.
Even if the
challenge of Conchal leaves you somewhat disheveled, relief
is at hand. The Meliá Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort is
a world class facility that caters to your golf needs while
perfecting the art of relaxation in all its forms. The
resort offers many ways to dust off the effects of a
challenging round of golf. A dip in the long, winding resort
pool surely will wash away all your memories of missed
shots. A stroll along the adjoining beach will allow the
gentle Pacific breeze to clear your mind as well. If you
require a change of scenery, the villages of Flamingo and
Tamarindo enable you to soak up some local flavor, and
they're just a few moments away. After enjoy.
Back to Top
Score Fall issue "98 Costa Rica"
By Hal Quinn
is a charming native expression that visitors to Costa Rica
repeatedly overhear as they first acquaint themselves with
this lush and brilliantly colorful land. They catch part of
it, then have it translated, and within days they use it
themselves. And between visits to this enchanted and little
known jewel between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea,
it is something that they will always associate with this
land and never forget: "Pura Vida."
To the "Ticos"
as Costa Ricans call themselves, the expression means, well,
just about everything. It can mean a casual hello, or
goodbye. It can mean "cool", "I agree" , "fantastic". In
fact, "Pura Vida" means anything the Ticos -- and within
days, the visitors -- want it to mean. It is pure life, pure
joy. And now it is the best way to describe how golfers feel
about Costa Rica.
years after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a
potentially more dramatic discovery has been made. In the
past decade, Baby Boomers have found that Costa Rica's
stable climates -- both political and seasonal-- its three
million friendly and well-educated citizens (the nation
boasts a 93 per cent literacy rate), and its spectacular
51,000 sq. kms. of remarkably varied topography make it
ideal for vacations, retirement and golf.
day explorers to this tropical Shangri-La have names like
George and Tom Fazio, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. They didn't
come seeking treasures, instead they left them behind for
all golfers who follow.
Columbus arrived in 1502, the Ticos -- an amalgam of the
rich and storied heritages of the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs
-- were not amused. The determined resistance of the coastal
tribes and the apparent lack of gold and booty to plunder
encouraged the rampaging Spaniards to move on.
Ricans fervently believe that the very absence of mineral
wealth was their salvation then and the key to their future
now. There has never been a reason for the conquerors of old
or the conglomerates of today to despoil this paradise.
neighbors to the north, on the narrow isthmus of Central
America, is the historically strife-torn Nicaragua. To the
south is the perpetually contentious Panama. Spain laid
claim to this spectacular land with its glacier-capped
mountains, lush valleys, rolling highlands ideal for coffee
growing, and 1,000 kms of breathtaking shoreline, but
without enthusiasm. In fact, the Ticos only learned that
Spain had given them their freedom when a rider on horseback
brought the belated news from Nicaragua in 1821.
day, Costa Rica -- in such stark contrast to the other
nations in the region -- has yet to find a need to have an
army. A democracy since 1889, no civil wars or revolutions
or military dictatorships have despoiled the land. It is
because, as the Ticos say, they were too busy building
In the past
few years, and for many years to come, the Costa Ricans have
been busy building golf courses.
Award-winning Canadian golf architect Les Furber has visited
Costa Rica many times and is involved in developing a number
of projects. Like everyone who makes the journey, he has
come away impressed.
is the place of the future, and they are doing it right too,
said Furber, who recently restored the Banff Springs Stanley
Thompson course. "Costa Ricans are very conscientious about
the environment and of eco-tourism". They want to keep the
green space around.
natural splendor that virtually overwhelms visitors is
protected like no other place on earth. The parks, wildlife
preserves, archaeological monuments, nine forest reserves,
seven fauna sanctuaries and the National Forest total more
than a million hectares and represents an astonishing 21 per
cent of the country.
has nine active volcanoes, thousands of hectares of "cloud
forest" on the upper reaches of the mountains and even
vaster regions covered with unthinkably lush rainforests.
Home to thousands of life forms in 12 distinct climate
zones, Costa Rica has 850 species of birds alone! And now it
has idyllic havens for the quixotic quests for the less
colorful but equally rare birdies and eagles.
it all started in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, home
to more than one million Ticos. Nestled at 3,800 feet above
sea level in the cradle of the central mountains, San Jose
is the epitome of Central American charm and natural beauty.
( Direct flights from Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Houston).
outskirts of the city, on the site of a former coffee
plantation, world-renowned architect George Fazio (with
considerable help from the equally respected Tom Fazio)
created an 18-hole masterpiece.
for a residential lot (valued then at US $10,000) on the
site of the Melia Cariari Conference Center and Golf Resort
that is the centerpiece of the course, George routed a
typically thoughtful and challenging Fazio layout. Mature,
it opened in 1974, and elegantly traditional, the par 71
Cariari course plays longer than its 6,590 yards. Heavily
treed, with amazing cacti and exotic native plants and
stately palms as accents, the premium is on accuracy off the
tee. The par fours are especially strong; the fives
reachable only with precise shots. One of the full staff of
caddies will help will all decisions, for a reasonable fee.
is open to members and guests at the Melia Cariari Resort,
and guests at area hotels with playing arrangements. But a
stay at the enchanting Cariari resort -- with open-air
entrances to the rooms and vibrantly-colored parrots
greeting guests each morning -- is worth the trip itself.
The same is true of the Melia Cariari's sister resort, the
Melia Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort -- a four- hour
drive from San Jose, or less than an hour's flight.
his truly remarkable creation, the championship course at
the Resort on the Pacific coast in the northern province of
Guanacaste, it is obvious that a year after its opening,
Trent Jones Jr. still holds the land in a special type of
itself is as unique and memorable as the Conchal Campo de
Golf course. Set amid manicured grounds -- the enormous
swimming pool, with its simulated bays, beaches, islands and
swim-up bar is an architectural marvel itself -- the guest
quarters are four-plex bungalows with individual entrances.
From the balconies, the views include the palms and massive
trees that are home to howler monkeys, the five-star
open-air restaurant, the cafes, the beach and the crashing
surf beyond. And, naturally, the golf course.
"I am very
much an aesthetic person, I like things that are wonderfully
beautiful, said Jones Jr., whose resume of award winning
courses around the world includes the Chateau Whistler Golf
Club in Whistler, B.C. "Nature provides the bounty. All we
do is lightly work with nature and reveal her secrets."
first hole on this remarkably beautiful par 72 course, Jones
Jr. design is 7,030 yards of nature stunningly unadorned.
But as the golf purist in Jones Jr. reveals: "This course is
relentless, you have to play good golf. If you are a good
player, you are not going to record a par, or sub-par, round
without really working at it"
his courses, Jones Jr. creates a pleasant rhythm with
dramatic crescendos. The opening hole is the 17 handicap
hole, expansive and the perfect warm up. The second, the 11
handicap hole, is another par four but narrower and with a
deceptive elevated green. With a clash of cymbals, the par 4
third hole -- uphill and 467 yards -- demands two superbly
placed long shot to reach a sloping, well-guarded green. It
easily earns its number one handicap ranking.
And so it
continues around this superb layout, that -- because of the
almost year-round growing season -- belies its age. At a
year old, it plays as a mature, championship course.
Also in the "Gold Coast" region about an hour's journey from
the Conchal resort, is the Ranchos Las Colinas Golf and
Country Club designed by Ron Garl. A gently rolling,
relatively open and inviting front nine contrasts with the
back nine carved from steep, rugged land. The river running
through it, and the rock outcroppings, call for accuracy.
And the calls from the howler monkeys and tropical birds --
and the views of one of Costa Rica's premier surfing
beaches, Playa Grande -- ease the pain of errant shots.
courses on the Gold Coast -- soon to be known by players as
the "golf coast"-- will open soon. Besides the new Los Altos
de Cacique del Mar, Resort Rancho Mary, Vistas del Flamingo
and Monte del Barco courses, two more are in the planning
where it all started, in the heart of the Central Valley in
San Jose, two nine-hole courses followed the Melia Cariari
example. Opened in the mid-1970s, Los Reyes Country Club and
the Tango Mar Beach Resort and Country Club have nine-hole
courses. And this year, the front nine of the Parque Valle
del Sol of the 18-hole course is open for play.
construction along the Pacific Coast west of San Jose are La
Roca Country Club, the Marriott"s Los Suenos at Playa
Herradura. And the Tulin Resort is building an 18 course
south of Jaco Beach. The rates are reasonable. For instance,
at the Playa Conchal in high season ( Dec 15 to Apr 1) golf
is US$100 for registered guests at the resort, $120 for
visitors. Low season the fess are $80 and $90 and year round
they include power cart, range balls, yardage book, bag tag
and bottled water.
from the first tee, from the terrace of the marble-floored
and tiled roof open-air reception building at the Playa
Conchal, with its view of the ocean, the guest bungalows and
his beautiful course, Trent Jones Jr. mused: "You know,
people really should come here now before the word gets
everyone will soon hear about this unique and wonderful bit
of paradise. And the words they'll hear will be; "Pura
Back to Top
Show Me the Monkeys!
by Turk Pipkin
T & L Golf Magazine
vida! It's practically the national saying of Costa Rica. A
toast, a greeting, even an advertising slogan, it translates
literally as "pure life," but pura vida also means "the good
life." It means basking in the astonishing natural wonders
of this place with friends and family. And in sports, it
means those indelible moments when the superfluous falls
away, and life and game meld as one.
having one of those moments on the seventh tee of Garra de
León, a two-year-old resort course designed by Robert Trent
Jones Jr. on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Ahead of me was a
long par five with thirteen bunkers and a green hiding
behind a large lake. On my right, the resident pro was
challenging me to go for it in two. That kind of pressure
should have had me squeezing the life out of my driver, but
my nervousness was erased by a large band of howler monkeys
scampering across the fairway toward us, the last young
howler not much larger than a kitten.
our monkeys," director of golf James McAfee said, "but wait
till you see the crocodiles on sixteen."
With all my
confusing swing thoughts erased by visions of monkeys and
crocodiles, I stepped up to the ball and ripped a long drive
straight down the middle. "Pura vida, baby! Show me the
adventurous travelers, Costa Rica has long been considered
one of the world's finest unspoiled destinations, a country
smaller than the state of West Virginia but one with an
astonishing five percent of the world's total number of
species. Even before the international boom in ecotourism,
the country had its true believers--frequent visitors who
made a point of not telling anyone back home about their
eventually got out, of course, resulting in ever-increasing
tourism during the last decade, but only in the past year
has Costa Rica joined the global golf boom. A
forty-five-minute plane ride (or a four-hour drive) from the
capital of San José, on a stretch of the Pacific coast known
primarily for big-game fishing and near-perfect surfing,
golfers are flocking to two playing fields of green--Garra
de León, at Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, and its
neighbor, Rancho las Colinas Golf & Country Club.
courses are in an area of dry tropical forest (as opposed to
rain forest), on rolling land with huge trees--perfect
terrain for dramatic golf holes. Garra de León (which
translates as "lion's paw") is part of the impressive hotel
complex Meliá Playa Conchal. Designed like a self-contained
village, the Meliá provides lavish oversize accommodations
in small buildings laid out in a cluster set amid the two
nines of the course. Shuttles continually ferry guests to
the pro shop, the restaurants, the sprawling free-form
swimming pool or Playa Conchal itself, a long, palm-shaded
stretch of beach made of tiny crushed seashells.
Rica is lined with beautiful beaches, and the reason for
coming here is resort golf in the classic style that Robert
Trent Jones Jr. has perfected around the world--wide
fairways, short rough and large greens for your average
hacker, but plenty of risk and reward for the brave or the
great fun to work in an ecological wonderland," Jones says.
"The feeling is that you come into that valley, and you're
in a sanctuary."
is also a cultural sanctuary, with many guests never leaving
the hotel property.
mistake, for just beyond the Meliá's impressive entrance
lies the real Costa Rica. The area's formal tours range from
rain forest aerial trams to horseback riding on the beach.
But there is more to explore, and when you do, you'll
discover that Costa Ricans are perhaps the friendliest
people in Latin America. I ventured late one evening to the
town of Santa Cruz, about forty-five minutes away, where the
local fiesta of the bulls was under way. What I found was a
raucous party and bullfighting, Costa Rican style, in which
brave and inebriated young men spring into the small ring
and demonstrate their foolhardy machismo by touching the
bull's horns or grabbing his tail. Although the bulls are
never killed, the young men sometimes are, making this
strictly a spectator event for tourists.
morning I was up at dawn and off to the Flamingo Marina,
headquarters to Permit sportfishing, one of the best
companies of its kind in the country. My skipper for the day
was Art James, who came here five years ago after raising
his kids in Washington state. Like every other American
expatriate I met on my trip, Art says he's in Costa Rica to
motored into the deep blue waters of the Pacific, the ocean
began to put on an impressive display. All around us,
schools of small skipjack were feeding on the surface, manta
rays were jumping completely out of the water and flying
fish zipped fifty feet across the surface with amazing
bursts of speed. Soon we were racing along with a vast
school of spotted dolphin, stretching from our boat nearly
to the horizon.
spring months, the main sport-fishing goal here is Pacific
sailfish and the occasional marlin. There's absolutely no
reason to kill these magnificent billfish; everyone
practices strict catch-and-release. I'd carefully scheduled
my trip to occur after the annual arrival of the sailfish
from warmer waters to the south, but the fish were
apparently using a different calendar. On the same day that
I was skunked, the guests on another boat down the coast
landed and released an incredible twenty-one "sails."
fishing, and besides, on the way back to the docks, we
trolled for a few minutes near the beach, where I "took the
stink off the boat," as Art put it, by catching two fat jack
crevalle. Both were strong fighters whose destiny was to
provide a nice fish stew for Art's neighbors.
shore I met another fishing guide named Craig Ledbetter
(Wildlife Sportfishing), who was eager to show me his home
course, the new Rancho las Colinas, located just fifteen
minutes south of the Meliá course. Along the way we ate
lunch at an open-air restaurant named Las Cruces, where I
paid six bucks for a fantastic whole fried red snapper with
plantains, and gallo pinto, the Costa Rican staple of black
beans and rice.
With an old
school design (and some clever innovations) by Ron Garl, Las
Colinas isn't as lush as Garra de León, but it's every bit
as much fun to play. The best holes are ten through sixteen,
which form a full circle around a small mountain. The
signature hole is thirteen, a par four spanning a creek and
leading up a steep hill to a green atop a plateau carved out
of solid rock. The stone face in front of the green makes
this one of the most difficult approach shots in all of
were playing with Mike Osborne, one of the course's owners,
who'd left his home of Las Vegas to take a gamble on Costa
Rica, we made a Vegas-size wager: a hundred a hole. If the
bet had been for dollars instead of colones--the Costa Rican
currency, valued at about one-third of a cent--I'd have won
more than a cold after-round drink at a neighborhood dance
golf course of my trip was the nation's oldest eighteen-holer,
the splendid Cariari Country Club, opened in 1974 on the
outskirts of San José. It's a members-only course unless
you're staying at the nearby Herradura Hotel or the adjacent
Meliá Cariari Conference Center & Golf Resort, where I
checked in and teed up within a half hour.
country's standards, this is an excellent track. Designed by
George Fazio (and built by nephew Tom), the course features
long, narrow fairways lined by towering pine trees. I was
reminded of Torrey Pines, or Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course,
another alpine layout designed by the elder Fazio. At nearly
four thousand feet above sea level, the air here is cool and
refreshing, far from what you'd expect in Central America.
With my foursome playing late in the day, two in the group
were shivering by the time we made it to eighteen.
I took two
non-golf side trips while I was in the country, both of them
memorable. The first was a potholed but spectacular
three-hour drive from the international airport at San José
to the town of La Fortuna, which is located at the base of
the Arenal volcano. Constantly active since a major eruption
in 1968 (which killed seventy-eight people and covered an
area of almost eight square miles in rock, lava and ash),
Arenal is rightfully one of the most popular tourist
destinations in the country. The premier hotel is the remote
Arenal Observatory Lodge, built by the Smithsonian Institute
on a ridge considered the perfect place to study and monitor
the volcano's activity.
upon the weather, the views of the volcano from the hotel's
bar and rooms can be spectacular, though I was equally
amazed by the tropical birds, whose exotic names--like
red-legged honeycreeper, yellow-throated euphonia, and
scarlet-rumped tanager--didn't do justice to their actual
nighttime Hot Lava Tour takes you close enough to hear the
whooshing roars of gas escaping the lava dome, and seconds
later, to see bright red car-size boulders of
thousand-degree lava falling out of the clouds and tumbling
down the mountain toward you. Exhausted but exalted on the
way back to the lodge, I stopped at Tabecón Resort for
dinner, cocktails and a long soak in the spa's
volcano-heated mineral waters.
natural beauty of Arenal, the highlight of my trip was Hotel
Punta Islita, a secluded haven overlooking a small Pacific
bay and surrounded by lush valleys and dramatic mountain
choose to fly here from the capital, but I made the
three-hour drive from the Meliá Playa Conchal, stopping
primarily to scout a couple of rivers I had to drive through
that were running at least fifty-feet wide. Arriving at an
architectural gem of thatched conical roofs and 360-degree
views, I was so impressed that my very first item of
business was to add an extra night to my reservation. I
peeled off my dusty clothes after checking into my plush
casita and slipped into the private plunge pool, staring out
at the ocean and ducking a bit as three green parrots came
squawking just overhead.
miles of hiking trails here, fine riding horses, the hotel's
own fishing fleet and a beautiful beach club on a protected
cove. The food at the hotel's formal restaurant measures up
to the nighttime views. Seated beneath the stars after
dinner, I enjoyed a Cuban cigar and began to dream of my
next visit to Costa Rica.
for the game is the strongest when I am playing somewhere
new and wonderful, where the smells on the afternoon breeze
are exotic and unidentifiable, where the crashing curl of
the ocean waves in the distance matches the curl of a putt
as it falls into Mother Earth, where the golf course becomes
a part of its natural surroundings, not the other way
Punta Islita is not ever likely to have golf beyond its
driving range, the most memorable moment of my trip occurred
here on the beach. Crossing the curving stretch of sand and
an area of cliff-side tidal pools filled with all sorts of
mysterious creatures, I came to land's end, where I
discovered a sea cave running into the tall cliff protecting
the bay. Looking closer, I saw the rays of the afternoon sun
coming through the opening and realized it was not a cave,
but a natural tunnel, four feet high and maybe fifty feet
Even at low
tide, the surge of the waves and the slick, wet rocks made
the journey potentially dangerous, but I knew already that I
had to go through that tunnel, had to see what was on the
other side. Timing my jump with the ebb of t he waves, I
scrambled down the slick rocks and made my way into the
chamber. All around me, inches from my arms and face,
thousands of fat crabs crawled up the sides of the tunnel to
escape my progress. I pressed on, climbing the incline and
emerging on miles of deserted beach with the last rays of a
glorious sunset. I only had a few minutes of this splendor
before the rising tide would block my return. But a few
moments was enough, and I headed back into the tunnel, where
the crabs again surrounded me by the thousands.
they call it. And now I know why.
Back to Top
TIP FROM THE
Playing the Hills
At Garrade Leon and other courses in Costa Rica, the
terrain is quite hilly, and a golfer is often faced with
a sidehill lie. Here is my advice on how to play a shot
with the ball above your feet:
down on the club and play the ball back in your stance.
Stand more erect than usual, with less knee flex and
more distance between you and the ball. Put more weight
on your toes because gravity will tend to force your
weight to your heels. Take a flatter, baseball-type
swing and don't use your legs as much because you might
lose your balance. I prefer to take more club and use a
three-quarter swing to keep my balance. Others might
just take a slower full swing. Aim to the right of the
target, as the normal flight is lower and right to left.
McAFEE, Director of Golf, Garra de León
In Pursuit of Pura Vida
The unspoiled beauty of Costa Rica extends beyond
the rain forests and volcanoes to the virtual
nonexistence of addresses. Directions often sound
something like, "The restaurant is three hundred meters
south of the church that burned down five years ago."
How to proceed? You can work with your hotel's concierge
or call ahead. A better bet: Enlist a tour operator,
such as Costa Rica Golf Adventures. CRGA will arrange
all accommodations, golf itineraries and activities.
Contact CRGA at 888-261-6645, or by e-mail, email@example.com.
Back to Top
From Colorado Avid Golfer Magazine
by Matt McKay
seemed like another random turn in a narrow Costa Rican
Highway on the road from San Jose to Jaco. But Landy Blank
knew the road and smoothly pedaled the brake.
"Look here. You can see all the way to the Pacific," Blank
said, pointing out a gap in the mountains that revealed a
glimpse of the West Coast.
"There are a lot of great views in this country, but this is
one of my favorites," said Blank the president and founder
of Costa Rica Golf Adventures. "When the mountaintops are
misty and you can still see the ocean, that's really
I'd already heard - and by now, you've probably heard it too
- that Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful spots on
earth. But seeing it was something else; it's Jamaica
without trash in the gutters, a Spanish-speaking Hawai'i.
I'd also heard it is difficult to fly into Costa Rica, and
it takes hours to drive from the capital, San Jose, to any
other resort area in the country.
I'm not going to tell you that's not true. There are great
golf courses, and there are first-class hotels (and
second-class, third-class, etc.). Travel into the country
has always come through San Jose, and the drive to the
Northwest coast takes nearly four hours because of the
winding, two-lane mountain passes that must be negotiated.
The Guanacaste International Airport at Liberia, which
serves the Northwest coast, is busy taking on new routes
from U.S. air carriers, and a Four Seasons Hotel complete
with an Arnold Palmer designed golf course is expected to
open within months.
But a majority of gringos still enter through the capital
city, then fan out to all points. That type of itinerary
helps make up a portion of why any trip to Costa Rica - golf
or otherwise - is an "adventure."
However, here's what you may not know. In this time, when it
is fashionable to hate Americans worldwide, evidently Costa
Ricans haven't been watching MSNBC or reading their
newspapers at all. For their collective arms are
outstretched to U.S. citizens, but not to try and sell them
a wooden carving or cocaine. The Ticos appear to take great
pride in the fact that foreigners of any nationality would
choose their country to spend their hard-earned vacation
dollars. Thusly, when they smile, nod, and reply to your
"gracias" with "Con mucho gusto" - with much pleasure - it
There's a socioeconomic reason for the love affair. The U.S.
has evidently been very good to the country for some time in
terms of financial support, trade, and tourism, pouring
money into the country during the late 20th century to keep
tabs on its less-reliable neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama.
But as a tourist in 2003, it's easy to see the benefits of
the Yankee dollar, and I'm not just talking about the
McDonalds and Hampton Inn just outside the San Jose Juan
Santamaria International Airport. From the time you hit the
tarmac in San Jose (or Guanacaste), you are made to feel
truly welcome and at ease. While your dollars are very
welcome and therefore deserving of a certain level of
pampering, Costa Rica is a country with a wide economic
base. As a result, even the street vendors have adopted a
Some gringos - and the number is growing daily - have grown
so attached to the country they have simply pulled up roots
and relocated. Or they have sunk thousands of dollars into
land purchases, home construction, and locally-based
businesses, all of which continues the
love-and-money-go-round between the Ticos and the Americans.
Blank is one of those gringos who got in close to the ground
floor. A native Pennsylvanian and former defensive back at
North Carolina in the 1960's, Blank and his wife Susan fell
in love with the country during their visits there in the
With his contacts in the golf industry, the incredible
landscapes, the gringo-friendly environment, the existing
courses, and the knowledge that several large companies had
already planned golf destinations for the country led him to
believe there was a market that needed promotion. And he and
his wife were just the team to get it done.
Blank's company (www.golfcr.com, 1-888-536-8510) is sort of a
one-stop shop for golf tourists considering a junket to
Costa Rica. He won't personally be with you every step of
the way as he was while serving as my host, but he or a
member of his staff is a phone call away. And, because I was
able to spend quality time with Blank while he served as my
national golf tour guide, I saw with my own eyes that he has
the knowledge, power and connections to fulfill nearly any
travel request and to clear away any possible hurdles.
Among his premier partners is the Melia Cariari Conference
Center and Resort between the San Jose city limits and the
Santamaria airport, where guests can play the 6,700-yard par
71 Cariari Country Club. This is the course that can't be
missed while in the country. And because it's near the San
Jose Airport, it's quite easy to begin the adventure there.
After a late flight, check into the Cariari and get the
6,700-yard George Fazio design (1974) under your belt.
The Cariari's challenge is a real 70's experience, like
flopping into a beanbag under the swag lamp and digging your
toes into a orange-brown-maroon shag carpet. Pines were
planted early in the course's development in an attempt to
get strategic trees up and growing. Now the pines choke down
on the fairways, giving the illusion that some are so narrow
players must line up single file to walk to their tee shots.
Some of the pines may eventually be cut back, which wouldn't
harm the courses' playability - in fact, it would make the
Fazio routing more accessible to the eye. In combination
with the narrow, sloping fairways and greens, it is a
championship challenge - the course has hosted the Costa
Rican Open for the last several years.
Having notched the Cariari, fasten your seat belt for a
four-hour ride through spectacular mountains and rainforests
on your way to the Northwest coast. That's where the
Paradisus Playa Conchal awaits with it's 7,033-yard Robert
Trent Jones Jr. designed "Lion's Paw," and the lesser-known
Hacienda Pinilla. The development lies minutes south of
Conchal, and its 7,500-yard course was designed by Atlanta
(Ga.) based architect Mike Young.
Players will be able to tell immediately that Jones Jr.
considered the Lion's Paw to be a hands-on project. The wide
fairways sweep through valleys and rise to ridges with
greens perched atop, architectural principles employed by
Jones' famous father. Players from Fort Worth's Shady Oaks
Country Club to jetsetters familiar with Mauna Kea on
Hawaii's Big Island will not only recognize the Jones'
family signatures; they'll identify it as one of Jr.'s best
Pinilla is a broad-shouldered course occupying land that
Blank says reminds him of the African savannah (even though
he's never been to Africa). Untamed grasslands and
tree-covered emerald mountains surround the property and
course, which twists and bends past parkland-style framing
trees. The length, layout, and conditioning are worthy of a
championship golf tournament, and should that tournament be
played during the high season between January and March,
serious ocean breezes add to the course's difficulty.
Both courses are located near the funky surfing town of
Tamarindo, where the streets are lined with surf shops, tour
packagers, boutique hotels, bars, and blonde dreadlocked
gringos selling tye-dyed shirts and silver jewelry. It's
rumored that the Nougi Bar has the world's best banana crème
pie in the world, but that rumor went unsubstantiated on our
Further down the coast near another surfing haven, Jaco, is
one of the newest entries on the golf resort landscape. In
fact, the 222-room Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort
may develop a sparkling reputation from boaters before
golfers can spread the word. Its deep-water marina is the
only recreational stop on the Pacific between Mexico and
The hotel was intentionally scaled down to help create a
cozy and exclusive feel simultaneously. It's just steps from
the front door to the golf shop, which administers to the
6,700-yard "La Iguana" course designed by Ted Robinson.
Despite it's proximity to the ocean, the course reveals just
how quickly the jungle gobbles up the seashore. The course
is routed inland along a narrow river bed in an out-and-back
fashion, and by the time players reach the fourth green,
they are surrounded by tree-covered mountains that are home
to a wide variety of domestic wildlife.
Although Blank runs Costa Rica Golf Adventures, he's well
aware that tourists can visit the country and never strike a
golf ball. Between horseback riding, surfing, hang gliding,
touring volcanoes, and maxing at the pool, there's plenty
for tourists to experience. But if golf is part of the
adventure, there are venues to enjoy con mucho gusto.
Matt McKay is a freelance golf/ travel writer based in
Back to Top
COSTA RICA - A LAND DISCOVERED
WAITING TO BE REVEALED
By Robert Kaufman
January, 2004 issue of Houston Golf magazine.
normally pride myself on my sense of geography, especially
in the United States having been at least once to 49 of 50
states, only missing that great big one north of our
Canadian neighbor. I know where Mexico is and I'm great with
the global location of such major areas like Europe, Africa,
Japan and the North or South Pole.
One region that has always tested my internal GPS is Central
America. Now, I know you don't need to be Christopher
Columbus to realize it's between North and South America but
it's all those little countries that rattle my radar screen
- Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, San Salvador,
Panama. There's one other little country (about the size of
West Virginia) that I wasn't 100% certain was part of this
line-up. I checked my atlas and, sure enough, there it sits,
just north of the Panama Canal with the west fronting the
Pacific Ocean and the east on the Caribbean Sea - COSTA
When the call came from the bullpen inviting me on a golf
adventure to Costa Rica, even a greater surprise than
confirming where the country is situated, was golf in Costa
Rica! Thereupon discovering on the map that Nicaragua lies
across its northern border, my next vision was confronting
leftover Sandinista guerillas now working in some United
States-sponsored caddy program in the jungles of Costa Rica.
Maybe I should be packing a Super-size Greatest Biggest
Bertha for extra protection.
I'm not totally convinced how invulnerable one is playing on
any golf course but as a destination, Costa Rica is regarded
as one of the safest places to travel. Although they
disbanded their military over fifty years ago, it's a
peaceful nation having essentially avoided the conflict and
disorder that disrupted most of its neighboring Central
American countries. In effect, all my fears of confronting
any civil unrest were silenced in the days proceeding
departure and whatever thoughts I had of schlepping any
defensive gadgets in my bag were quickly laid to rest.
In another misconception, any notion I had about Costa Rica
being at the far corners of the earth was eroded with the
rapid ease in which I - and my golf clubs - arrived in San
José, the capital city in the heart of the country. My first
impressions of the Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call
themselves, would prove everlasting as I came to realize
they are an extremely pleasant, peaceful people proud of
their culture and traditions and welcome visitors with open
The slogan of choice in Costa Rica is "pura vida." With a
literal translation of "pure life," it's a fitting
catchphrase. Home to an astonishing five per cent of the
world's total number of species on just a miniscule .01 per
cent of the earth's surface, surely, there must be something
amazing about this land. From an adventure standpoint, Costa
Rica has long been regarded as a world-class haven for such
activities as surfing and sport fishing or such unique
adrenaline-rush experiences as canopy tours through the
rainforests or getting up close and personal with one of the
ten accessible volcanoes.
In a country better known for its natural attractions, it
would seem inevitable that the golfing world would also
unearth this region. Well, they have and right now the sport
is becoming as hot as the year-around weather already is -
although somewhat cooler than Texas during the summer. Right
now, there are ten golf courses in Costa Rica (some are only
nine-holes) with new ones on the drawing board and an Arnold
Palmer course on the Pacific Ocean nearly complete to go
with a new Four Seasons Resort.
The logical choice to begin a golfing expedition in Costa
Rica is San José, where you can validate your mastery of the
dimpled corrupter at two very diverse golf battlefields.
Adjacent to the Melia Cariari Resort is the nation's oldest
course, Cariari Country Club. Opened in 1974, this George
Fazio design features unnerving narrow fairways guarded by
towering pine trees. Taking along one of the home-grown
trained caddies would be well advised, if not to help limit
your putts, but to track down misdirected balls. As a bonus,
if your swing isn't prone to distractions, you may get an
upbeat sendoff from the jazzercise room overlooking the
first tee. However, if Cariari is good enough for Tour
players (Ray Floyd holds the course record at 66) who would
stop by after it was first built and regard it as the best
course in South America, than it's certainly worth a crack
at shooting your handicap. If anything, after playing here,
you'll be hard pressed to be intimidated by any course.
For a taste of what I like to refer to as "hardhat golf,"
just outside of San José is an old/new course called Valle
Del Sol. Built as a nine-hole course fifteen years ago, it
is now a rapidly developing golf course community with a new
nine added four years ago and plenty of homes surrounding it
with new being built. At an increase of $50 to $200 per
square meter for home lots in just three years, they've
filled up fast.
Depending on when you play Valle Del Sol, it can be a Jekyl
and Hyde experience. For a tame challenge, tee off early or
risk the arrival of swirling afternoon winds coming down
from the surrounding Santa Ana Mountains. Otherwise, it's a
pretty gentle, wide-open course where you can bump it around
a bit and not hurt the scorecard much.
After playing two days, I also learned first-hand a key
factor when timing your trip to Costa Rica. If you go during
the rainy season (usually May to November), plan on
finishing the 18th hole prior to 2:00pm. Like clockwork, in
the early afternoon the dark clouds start building and then
BOOM! Out of nowhere the sky opens and a torrential deluge
immerses the landscape. If that's not enough, with the
turbulent thunder and lightening side-show, I thought it was
the onset of another revolution.
The real beauty of Costa Rica lies up in the mountains where
the rainforests exist and on the coast - east or west. If
you choose not to fly, the ground ride can be a little
unsettling, especially when you're relying on one of the
native drivers. You can practically hear the passenger's
hearts thumping as our van whirled through the twisty
mountain roads during this sometimes near death-defying,
four-hour ride to the Pacific Ocean. Compounded by the fact
we were driving though another afternoon downpour, I felt as
if we were white-water rafting down Thunder Mountain in
Disneyland. It was Noah's Ark on wheels!
Our destination, the Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort
overlooking Herradura Bay, turned out to be a worthy respite
following the invigorating E-ticket thrill-ride. This
project, that started eleven years ago, now boasts a
world-class resort hotel, million dollar-plus condos and,
when complete, the Los Sueños Marina Village will encompass
over 100,000 square feet of retail and commercial buildings.
Already available at the resort is one of the country's
newer courses. Designed by Ted Robinson, Jr., the 6,707-yard
La Iguana Golf Course offers some challenging opening holes
that includes two par 5's in the first four. On the
signature par 5, fourth hole, you'll need to stay away from
the tee-to-green water hazard and big guayabo tree in the
middle of the fairway. Unfortunately, the strong beginning
is offset by some relatively weak finishing holes.
One thing you can count on is that the round will be an
extraordinary encounter with nature playing through parts of
a 1,100-acre tropical rainforest. If you're a bird over,
this habitat, with over 300 known species of the winged
creatures, may be the largest natural aviary in which you'll
ever tee up a golf ball. Of course, be watchful of the
Motoring up Costa Rica's North Pacific Coast on the
Guanacaste Peninsula, you'll run smack right into a
4,500-acre mega-development called Hacienda Pinilla. This
rolling landscape with three miles of beachfront, has served
as a cattle ranch for over 40 years but is now being
delicately embellished with low-profile, upscale
single-family and condo residences, luxurious hotel
accommodations, beach club, equestrian club and yes, a golf
course. After some encouragement by the owner, Steve Parlee
visited from Atlanta, took one look at the property and
decided within seven days to take up permanent residence and
remain as the head professional.
Not even three years old yet, the links-style course that
has already been certified by The Audubon Society, is a
course where you not only have to co-exist with your playing
partners but also the countless creatures calling this
environment home. In addition to the multitude of colorful
birds pitching their nests throughout the 196 native species
of hardwood and fruit trees, it isn't uncommon to be cheered
along by a gallery of native, tree-dwelling howler monkeys
who, on occasion, have been known to swing down and be very
With wide-open fairways and ocean breezes, the layout lends
itself to a bump and run style game. Just be cautious of the
many well-placed pot bunkers fronting a number of greens.
With the course sitting next to the ocean, the closest
you'll play next to the water is on only two holes. As the
longest hole on the course, the 601-yard, par-5 fourteenth
plays straight away towards the Pacific. Once you reach the
green, the view is spectacular. The same can be enjoyed
along the 163-yard, par-3 fifteenth.
About an hour's drive up the road, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
put his stamp on the Costa Rican landscape with the
7,080-yard Garra de Léon Golf Course at Playa Conchal. This
ocean resorts design offers only a slight glimpse of the Big
Blue but you'll see plenty of agua on the course to go with
Jones' patented large undulating greens and spacious
As with all the courses - and the ones to come - in Costa
Rica, there is tremendous sensitivity surrounding the
environment when they are built. Required not to get the
course any closer than 150 yards to the beach, Jones was
also forbidden from cutting any Banyan trees. That was a
blessing since, not only do many serve as a windbreak, but
they also house those tree-limb swinging howler monkeys. How
they love hanging around taunting golfers all day!
The championship course was certainly designed with the
resort player in mind due to the fact it sits in the middle
of the Melia Playa Conchal and Beach Resort, the first
all-deluxe, all-inclusive beach and golf resort in Central
America. Just like entering an amusement park, you'll be
tagged with a colored wristband to verify you're a guest.
This is truly a one-stop family vacation spot.
With the popularity of golf emerging in Costa Rica, there
are bound to be a growing number so-called "experts." Costa
Rica is a small country but one in which you can easily be
misguided unless dealing with someone who knows the people,
the best way to plan your experience and their way around
the roads. Forget the Yahoo maps!
The track record in this department goes to Costa Rica Golf
Vacations. "Not only do you get our eight years of
experience but you actually save money using our services,"
says owner Landy Blank. "Most of all, one shouldn't discount
that we're a local phone call away for any assistance."
Right now, it seems Costa Rica is caught in a catch-22
situation. It's long been viewed as a pristine, biodiverse,
best-kept-secret country and would probably like to be kept
that way. On the other hand, they're itching to show it off
and the visionary developers are catching wind of that.
It'll be a challenging balancing act.
As the motto goes at Playa Conchal, "Everyone is in search
of paradise. Why not achieve it while still alive?
Back to Top
Si Si Costa Rica
by: Mary E. Porter, Editor Tee Time Magazine (
many years I have longed to return to Costa Rica in Central
America, where I lived for three months as an exchange
student when I was a teenager. It was one of the many
highlights of my youth. Finally after 35 years, the
opportunity arose for me to return. Landy Blank, the
president of Costa Rica Golf Adventures, made the
arrangements, and I was off on this exciting golf
Republic of Costa Rica is second to the bottom in the spine
of Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. The country
is full of cultural, natural riches and has the friendliest
people anywhere. Minus a military, Costa Rica is an elected
democracy, has a very stable government, a strong police
department, and a viable health care system for all of its
citizens. In comparison to the United States of America, the
country is about the size of West Virginia, about 150 miles
wide and 260 miles long. Costa Rica is not only a wonderful
and safe place to go on vacation but is quickly becoming a
great place to live or retire.
Because of the topography, geographic features, vegetation,
and climate, Costa Rica is rapidly becoming known as a
first-class golfer’s paradise. Recently several courses have
been developed that are attracting golfers from around the
world. I had the pleasure of playing five of these
picturesque courses during my recent tour. So I sharpened up
on my Spanish, although it was not necessary, because most
all the staff at the resorts speak English.
When traveling to Costa Rica you have two choices of airport
destinations. The first is Juan Santamaria International
Airport in San Jose. This airport is centrally located in
the heart and capital of Costa Rica. The other airport is
the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia.
This airport is located in the province of Guanacaste, which
is in the northwest quadrant of Costa Rica. If you are
traveling to the northwestern coast, this airport is more
Our first day of golf took us to the Parque Valle del Sol
(Valley of Sun) located in the Santa Ana Valley just 20
minutes west of the capital. Valle Del Sol is a 6,800 yard,
championship par 72 course with wide rolling fairways, and
multiple tee boxes. The course is recognized in the
International Audubon Program with many tropical birds
throughout. The backdrop of the distant mountains and quiet
volcanos add to the natural splendor of the valley. The
course is perfect for the golfer who enjoys the game while
enjoying nature, scenic beauty and the incomparable Santa
Ana weather. Designed by American architect Tracy May, this
course offers golfers a superb experience.
On day two we played the Melia Cariari Hotel and Country
Club in San Jose. Huddled in the central valley, the Melia
Cariari Conference Center and Golf Resort is only 10 minutes
from the airport and 15 minutes from downtown San Jose. This
magnificent five-star facility has been host to not only
Mary E. Porter, but many foreign dignitaries, celebrities,
In the early 1970's, George Fazio was hired to design the
first 18-hole championship golf course in Costa Rica at the
Cariari Country Club. For many years this course was
considered to be the best golf course in all of Central
America. The property was an active coffee plantation. Today
hotel guests enjoy golfing privileges at this 18-hole, 6,590
yard, par-71 golf course just a two minute walk from the
hotel. This heavily wooded course has mostly tree-lined
fairways, thus making accuracy much more important than
distance. Most of the Cariari's 18 holes play much longer
than the yardage posted on the card. The fairways are
narrow, with just a few fairway hazards and the well-tended
Bermuda grass greens are large in size and well protected by
meticulously placed sand traps. Putts roll fast and true to
line. Other activities at the Cariari include tennis,
swimming in an Olympic size pool, a health club, and a
casino. Dining was a most enjoyable and delectable
experience at the Cariari Hotel Restaurant.
Early the next morning the scenic four hour drive from San
Jose to Jaco (pronounced Haco) was most thrilling. The
two-lane paved roads were carved into the 5,000 foot
mountains in the rain forest and included frequent hair-pin
curves that made our palms sweat as the van sped around
them. To make the ride even more exciting, we encountered a
30-minute torrential rainstorm that heightened our anxiety
for a safe arrival. As our chauffeur promised, we arrived
safely at the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort.
Numerous flowers, birds, butterflies and lush green lawns
surrounded this charming oceanfront hotel. We had arrived at
yet another paradise.
After an elegant dinner in one of the many restaurants of
the Marriott, we put on our swimsuits and set off to explore
the pool and Pacific beach. Between the Pacific Ocean and
the hotel meanders a gigantic free form swimming pool. Swim
under foot bridges, past palm trees, a waterfall, colorful
tropical flower gardens, or wade over to the swim-up bar to
enjoy a tropical drink.
breakfast we met at La Iguana Golf Course, next to the
Marriott, to play designer Ted Robinson’s course. This 18
hole, par 72 course was designed in a unique and dramatic
tropical rainforest. Golf guides (caddies) are included with
each round of golf. Our caddy was definitely an asset for us
while we played this jungle course. Not only did he help us
find our lost balls, he told us about every aspect of the
course including the wildlife and vegetation we would
experience during our round. Monkeys and toucans were
plentiful and on the third hole we had the opportunity to
get close to a critter called a Coati (see photo). While the
caddy fed the cute little creature some crackers, we snapped
Each of the
18 holes tests one’s talent or lack of it. The first nine
holes take golfers deep into the rainforest along a narrow
river. Within minutes, the sounds of jungle birds and cries
from countless howler monkeys echo off the thick vegetation
and mountain terrain.
Most of the holes are protected by sand traps, and several
holes have streams that follow the fairway from tee to
green. Hole two requires a long second shot either over or
under two trees guarding the green. The big guayabo trees
can be found in the middle of a few fairways making extra
thought go into ball placement. I embraced La Iguana Golf
Course and its natural magnificence.
The next morning we were off again traveling north through
the seacoast town of Punteranous. A little further north our
chauffeur stopped along a bridge where we could look down
and see dozens of crocodiles sunbathing in the mud. It was
quite the tourist stop, with dozens of vendors hawking their
wares. It was a great place to buy trinkets to bring home,
less costly than the gift shops at the hotel.
Our next stop was the Hacienda Pinilla (pronounced
Pin-E-yah). The Hacienda Pinilla is located on the Pacific
coast of Guanacaste just south of Playa Tamarindo. This area
is one of the fastest growing regions of the country and is
only a 50-minute drive from the Daniel Oduber Liberia
International Airport. The entire Hacienda Pinilla project
consists of over 4,500 acres of beautiful rolling terrain
and sandy beaches along the 3.5 miles of Pacific coastline.
Also on the property are several fresh water lakes, and two
picturesque rivers. The property offers a large selection of
residential homes and hotels and has many recreational
activities. Hacienda Pinilla offers horseback riding,
hiking, canopy tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing,
mountain biking, bird watching, and of course golfing just
to name a few.
In 2001 architect Mike Young transformed this beautiful
rolling coastal landscape into an 18-hole championship golf
course. For over 45 years the coastal landscape served as a
working cattle ranch. Ecologically-friendly, the Hacienda
Pinilla Golf Course has been certified by the Audubon
Society due to the vast amount of native trees and animals.
The Mata Palo, Pochote and Guanacaste trees provide homes
for an assortment of tropical birds, iguanas, and monkeys.
Viewing the Howler Monkeys jumping playfully in the huge
trees added in the enjoyment of the day on the golf course.
The Tif Eagle Turf with extremely fine and erect leaf blades
on the greens, deliver excellent putting trueness, making
this course a truly pleasurable experience. The course
weaves through native tropical dry forests and next to
pristine white and black volcano sand beaches of the region.
It doesn’t take long after arriving at this resort community
to realize that this is a very special place where
incomparable solitude and serenity can be enjoyed.
Our final day golfing brought us to the Playa Conchal Resort
Beach and Golf Community, an upscale resort and private
gated golf course community. Located on the beautiful white
sand beach between the towns of Tamarindo and Flamingo, The
resort offers guests 300 suites, five restaurants, four
bars, the coolest swimming pool in Costa Rica, a gambling
casino, an Internet Café and gift shops. The resort is home
to the famed Garra de Leon Golf Course. Robert Trent Jones
II designed this world class 18-hole championship golf
course, which is set alongside the northern Pacific coast
and lush Costa Rican landscape. The nearest airport is the
Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, a 45-minute
drive by car. Garra de Leon (Lion’s Paw) is the highlight of
this luxurious resort. This golf course design blends
harmoniously into the terrain of this region. Five sets of
tees are offered to suit all skill levels, with yardage that
ranges from 5,464 to 7,080 yards. Most of the holes have
spacious fairways. Panoramic views of the warm waters of the
Pacific can be viewed from a few holes. Several lagoons and
ponds enhance the layout where hawks and gorgeous colorful
parrots fly overhead. Garra de Leon is a ‘must play’ when
visiting this region of the country.
The next morning before our departure, we went snorkeling in
the beautiful clear blue Pacific waters. The tropical fish
were abundant, brilliant in color and friendly as they
approached us in curiosity.
On our last stop before returning to San Jose for our return
trip home, we had the opportunity to tour the new Four
Seasons Resort, which is under construction in Peninsula
Papagayo. The Four Seasons will open in 2004 with a 6,710
yard, 18-hole, par 72 Arnold Palmer course. The course has
wide, undulating fairways and large contoured greens,
presenting a fair but ultimate test of golf finesse. Even
though the hotel and golf course was still under
construction, the breathtaking views of two Pacific Ocean
bays on 15 of the 18 holes made us want to return when it
As you bundle up this winter and daydream of those five-foot
putts you sank last summer, think about a trip to Costa Rica
to play golf. A wonderful vacation is just two hours south
of Miami. A vacation there will bring you to a wonderful
Pura Vida (Pure Life) golf destination. I know you will
savor the experience.
For more information, look on the web at
Editor - Tee Time Magazine
P.O. Box 225
54 Franklin Street
Whitman, MA 02382
Back to Top
Golf In The Wild
By Turk Pipkin
Magazine January 2004
Rica is a, fantasyland for nature lovers and golfers, too.
Recipe for a golfer's paradise: Start with volcanoes, rain
forests, water falls and miles of perfect beaches. Add
exotic animals, spice with adventures like surfing, fishing
and white-water rafting, then top off with five fine golf
courses, including Arnold Palmers stunning, new Peninsula
Papagayo. Thousands of years in the making, your feast is
now ready; its time for the first course.
"Built on a former cattle ranch, the layout calls to
mind an African savannah. Surrounded by mountains
and ocean, the course is dotted with huge matapalo
trees. Two of the trees resemble lovers, their
trunks growing together into one and reaching to the
sky. Creatures that call Hacienda Pinilla
home—toucans, iguanas, deer, monkeys and the
occasional black panther—are less menacing than
Hacienda Pinilla's chest-high rough."
trips to Costa Rica start in the Central American nation's
capital, San Jose. Perched at 4,000 feet, the city boasts
wonderfully cool weather year-round and is a surprisingly
easy three-hour flight from Houston or Miami. Five minutes
from the airport you'll find the Melia Cariari Conference
Center & Golf Resort, whose course was designed by George
Fazio and built in 1974 by his now-famous nephew, Tom.
Cariari is a 6,590-yard alpine track with tight fairways
lined by towering pines. The downhill, down-wind 149-yard
4th hole over water is testy—a little local knowledge helps,
so hire a caddie.
The rapidly developing heart of Costa Rican golf is in the
province of Guanacaste. Many golfers take a half-hour
commuter flight from San Jose, but driving is often the most
enthralling part of the trip, despite roads that can be
charitably described as bumpy. (A four-wheel-drive vehicle
is a must, and driving at night is a must-not. Beyond that,
safety need not be a pressing concern for tourists.)
Motoring along with my wife and 8- and 12-year-old daughters
a few miles from the beach town of Tamarindo, I skidded to a
halt beneath an entwined canopy of huge trees full of howler
monkeys. Scrambling for a better view, we watched them swing
from limb to limb. As my wife raised her camera to snap a
picture, a baby monkey ran down a drooping limb and reached
curiously for the lens, thereby redefining our idea of a
On my first journey to Costa Rica four years ago, I stayed
at the Paradisus Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, an
all-suite, all-inclusive resort with a fine beach and Robert
Trent Jones Jr.'s lush Garra de Leon Golf Course. Winding in
two big loops from hilltop to seashore and back, this
7,080-yard track is as green as any course in Ireland, made
all the more colorful by a veritable rainbow of birds and
iguanas. The 420-yard, par-4 12th is a gem, dropping 100
feet from tee to fairway, then doglegging right and climbing
to an elevated green.
This time, I opted to set up the family in Tamarindo, one of
the world's great surf spots. At the serene Cala Luna Hotel
& Villas, our two-bedroom villa with full kitchen and a
private pool cost $237 per night, and our surfing instructor
had the lot of us vertical within an hour. Best of all,
Tamarindo is about 20 minutes from the Hacienda Pinilla golf
course, a 7,274-yard Mike Young design. Built on a former
cattle ranch, the layout calls to mind an African savannah.
Surrounded by mountains and ocean, the course is dotted with
huge matapalo trees. Two of the trees resemble lovers, their
trunks growing together into one and reaching to the sky.
Creatures that call Hacienda Pinilla home—toucans, iguanas,
deer, monkeys and the occasional black panther—are less
menacing than Hacienda Pinilla's chest-high rough. My
favorite hole here was the 353-yard, par-4 10th, a dogleg
left to a steeply banked, three-tiered green in the shape of
a crescent moon. The course was far from crowded the day I
was there, so, with a flock of parrots chattering noisily,
seemingly egging me on, I fired up a Cuban Monte Cristo
cigar (a legal purchase in Costa Rica and available in the
pro shop) and played till dark.
Life should always be this good.
And it will get even better in Costa Rica in February with
the opening of the Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica at
Peninsula Papagayo and Palmer's $25 million Peninsula
Papagayo Golf Club. This gorgeous, oceanside track will play
approximately 6,800 yards, with views of the Pacific Ocean
from 14 holes. Elevation changes will include a 20-story
drop from the tee on the 446-yard, par-4 6th hole. The
ensuing approach to a cliffside green perched at ocean's
edge is equally dramatic. The sparkling hotel and
breathtaking setting above and between two pristine beaches
may well make Papagayo one of the upscale hotel chain's
Continuing our driving adventure, we set our course to my
favorite Costa Rican destination, the Hotel Punta Islita, an
intimate resort with a dynamite restaurant and an
infinity-edge swimming pool, all on a steep hillside
overlooking a wide, curved beach. Getting there is half the
fun. It's a five-hour trek from San Jose, including a
half-hour ferry ride across the Tempisque River and a
heart-pounding hour of four-wheeling over a mountaintop.
There is a shorter route across a knee-deep river about a
lob wedge wide. Either way, it's cheap thrills in my book.
Once at Punta Islita, we spent our days lounging in
hammocks, as the grown-ups sipped pina coladas and everyone
noshed on grilled shrimp. We explored tide pools and
boogie-boarded for hours on end. As for the golf, well, the
hotel's driving range is the only golf at Punta Islita. I
fully intended to hit buckets of balls but found myself
sidetracked—deeply ensconced in, and thoroughly enchanted
by, la pura vida.
Back to Top
Costa Rica, where golf takes it's place amid nature's
By Dave Seanor, Senior Editor
What caused our
family to freefall so deeply in love with Costa Rica?
in love that my wife started taking Spanish language classes
when we got back from an 8-day vacation there.
engaged that I'm researching second-home mortgage rates.
enamored that not once during our trip did my teen-age son
complain about being bored.
answer is fourfold:
richness of the land. When Walter Hagen advised to stop
and smell the flowers, he must have had Costa Rica in
mind. Few places on Earth can match its biodiversity and
amiability of the Ticos, or native Costa Ricans. Laid
back, unfailingly friendly, always ready to help. My
kind of people, for they operate on "Tico time" - give
or take a half-hour.
climate. Sure, it can get oppressively hot - hey, its
near the equator! - and there's a rainy season. But
temperatures in the Central Highlands, where San Jose is
located, hold steady between 65 and 75 degrees
Diversity of activities, including some pretty good - if
not plentiful - golf. There are only six quality layouts
in Costa Rica, which incongruously underscores the
allure of this Central American nation as a golf
destination. Here, golf is a worthy but secondary
pursuit. It's not a destination for 36- holes-per-day
buddy golf, unless your buddies also
are heavily into fishing, surfing or bird watching.
in the golf business don't want to hear this," says Landy
Blank, an American expatriate who makes his living here
selling golf equipment and arranging golf tours, "but I want
people to come here, enjoy what Costa Rica has to offer, and
play a little golf."
happened to play a lot of golf on this whirlwind tour,
hitting five courses in eight days, including the
world-class Four Seasons Resort on the Pacific Ocean in the
Guanacaste region. But an experience I had en route bears
telling, for it exemplifies the nature of the Costa Rican
alone, I had missed a turn and gone 20 miles out of my way,
into the town of Liberia. There I pulled into a Burger King
parking lot and asked an exiting customer if he knew how to
get to the Four Seasons. He spoke enough English to grasp
what I wanted, but rather than offer directions, he said,
"Follow me. I will take you there."
protested, but he insisted it was neither an inconvenience
nor out of his way. So I followed him for nearly a
half-hour, directly to the Four Seasons' main entrance,
where he smiled, waved and sped off before I could even
thank him, let alone offer money for his trouble
don't have to worry about being hustled all the time," Blank
says of Costa Rican hospitality. "You don't have to put up
with that. It's not part of the culture here."
Seasons layout, designed by Arnold Palmer and opened last
December, is carved into the mountains that overlook the
Pacific. My playing partner was Rob Oosterhuis, the director
of golf and son of television commentator Peter Oosterhuis.
views here are stunning, especially on the stretch of holes
14-15-16. The course is being closely watched by
superintendents and environmentalists as an experiment in
water conservation. It was sodded tee-to-green in seashore
paspalum grass, a variety that can be irrigated with
low-grade water with high salinity. Paspalum has been used
successfully on many seaside courses in the United States,
but its tolerance to the Costa Rican climate has yet to be
property features all the amenities you'd expect from a Four
Seasons - including tropical spa - but it felt somewhat
claustrophobic to me, owing to the luxury private homes that
are stacked on the cliffs surrounding the resort.
one reason why my personal favorite was a pristine new
resort and residential development farther south, called
4,500-acre working ranch, with three miles of beach, owned
by Atlanta industrial developer H.G. "Pat" Patillo. Hacienda
Pinilla is his first foray into resorts, and is distinctive
for its low density, environmentally sensitive master plan.
has engaged Hacienda Pinilla in some ambitious community
programs, including the construction of three schools and
the creation of an American college scholarship program for
locals. The property includes an extensive on-site nursery,
and student volunteers have helped plant 400,000 trees
throughout Hacienda Pinilla.
deal is in the works (likely a Ritz-Carlton), but Patillo
insists that it must be designed in a Spanish Colonial motif
and not obstruct ocean views from the high ground.
Meanwhile, a superbly appointed Casa de Golf guest house can
accommodate 16 people.
Pinilla's seaside golf course was created by Atlanta
architect Mike Young, with input from PGA Tour
player-turned-ESPN commentator Charlie Rymer. There was
little earth moving during construction and the result is a
free-flowing layout with a minimalist character that blends
seamlessly into its environs.
took on the golf course, my wife Patti took to the horse
trails, riding with a guide named Arturo, a Tico who spoke
no English. They communicated with gestures, expressions and
a common love for horses.
mounts were Criollos (cree-OH-yos, meaning born locally), a
small, hardy breed found throughout Latin America and South
America, descended from the horses ridden by Spanish
conquistadors. Patti and Arturo rode through grazing cattle,
into the mangrove and along the beach. It was the end of the
dry season, and the stream that runs through Hacienda
Pinilla was low - yet still appealing to a flock of
the trail, adult monkeys hung from tree branches, sleeping.
Their babies acted like human children, taking advantage of
no supervision, chattering and jumping from tree to tree.
scene was decidedly less placid on the way back to pick up
our 17-year-old son Nick, who had spent the morning fishing
aboard the Plautus, a 40-foot Gamefisher based in Playa
Flamingo. Patti and I stopped off at the Bohemian beach town
of Tamarindo, where the Nuigi Bar - famous for its
scrumptious banana cream pies - is a must stop. Allow time
to linger here, have a few local brews, and people-watch.
however, had to fetch Nick, and found him at the Mariner
Inn, which overlooks the dilapidated marina at Playa
Flamingo and is a popular hangout for locals. Over beers, we
were entertained by the skipper of the Plautus, Capt.
Darryl, a transplanted Coloradoan who politely declined to
reveal his last name.
hear so many stories in this place, from so many walks of
life," said Darryl, leading one to suspect he has a few
roguish tales of his own.
passion is fishing and hunting, but he did join me for a
couple of rounds of golf. The first was at Cariari Country
Club in San Jose.
is a private club, but with playing privileges for guests at
the adjacent Melia Cariari Hotel and Conference Center. The
green fee of $60, including mandatory caddie, is one of the
best deals in the Western Hemisphere. (The Four Seasons, by
comparison, charges $180 for resort guests.)
designed by George Fazio and opened in 1974, was the first
18-hole facility in Costa Rica. The three-minute walk from
the hotel lobby to the first tee takes you past the club's
Olympic-size swimming pool, where we paused to watch 2000
bronze medal winner Claudia Poll prepare for the Athens
is a shotmaker's course, with narrow fairways and small,
elevated greens. Typical of Costa Rica, it plays longer
during the rainy season (May-November) and shifting winds
give it teeth during the dry season. Playing Cariari is not
unlike a suburban American experience -houses line most
fairways - but it's no pushover. When Cariari hosted the
Costa Rica Open in 2001, the winning score was 6 over par.
at Cariari that we first experienced the Tico way, after one
of my contact lenses had fallen into the drain of our
bathroom sink. A hotel maintenance worker was summoned, and
he cheerily disassembled the drain trap. We found the
contact and my new friend was as thrilled about our success
as I was. He was genuinely grateful for the $20 tip.
other round Nick and I shared was at the Los Suenos
Marriott, near Jaco Beach on the Pacific Coast. Landy had
wangled a foursome in the second annual Iguana Invitational
on the resort's Iguana Course, a Ted Robinson design, carved
into the rain forest. (Forecaddies accompany each group, and
they're trained to identify the various birds, trees and
wildlife encountered during a typical round.)
in the Iguana Invitational scramble was the delightful
Carlos Rojas, a Tico who runs the show at Parque Valle del
Sol, the country's most highly regarded daily-fee layout. We
finished second on a match of cards - earning wood-carved
Suenos Marriott also has the most spiffy marina in Costa
Rica; two mind-blowingly huge yachts were moored in the
harbor when we began a day of family fishing aboard the
decidedly more modest Estrella del Mar, a 37-foot Defender
not the best-looking boat in the marina, but it raises a lot
of fish," said our guide, R.J. Lillie, explaining that the
acoustics created by the hull design and the engine are
enticing to curious fish.
a late start, we enjoyed some success when we began trolling
for sailfish, marlin and tuna about 35 miles off shore.
Patti, Nick and I each reeled in two scrappy sailfish.
his boss, Capt. Tom (again, no last name given), are at
heart hippie surfers who use fishing to pay for their
surfing habit. Capt. Tom is a transplanted Philadelphian who
also has opened a cluster of moderately priced yet
comfortable cabins near Los Suenos. They are called the
stayed neither there nor at the Marriott, instead bunking in
a spacious two-bedroom condo at Hotel Club del Mar at Jaco
Beach. It has one of only two beaches we had time to enjoy,
the other being at the Paradisus Playa Conchal resort in
it's golden sand beach, gigantic pool area, five
restaurants, round-the-clock shuttle service, private guest
bungalows and user-friendly golf course, this all-inclusive
Sol Melia resort is a Costa Rican mecca for indolence. The
Garra de Leon course at Conchal was designed by Robert Trent
Jones Jr., with generous fairways and plenty of strategic
options for the resort player. During my round, a pack of
howler monkeys created a hellish cacophony, and I spotted
too many species of ducks to count. As a Floridian, I'm used
to seeing alligators on the golf course, but this was the
first time I'd walked up to my ball near a water hazard and
come face-to-menacing-face with a crocodile.
was no biggie, since encounters with fauna and flora are
what attract most visitors to Costa Rica. To that end, we
included among our adventures a day of whitewater rafting
and a trek to the Arenal volcano.
Reventazon River, which flows from the central mountains to
the Caribbean, was our rafting venue. Our guide with Rios
Tropicales outfitters was Karl Saalau, an ebullient
20-year-old student at the University of Costa Rica. Saalau
prefers extreme sports, but as a business major, he's
resigned to the golf eventually."
is among the many Costa Ricans concerned about protecting
their nation's fragile ecology in the face of development.
strict environmental laws," he says, adding, in true cynical
student fashion: "But the big companies pay it off. The
biggest problem is not enforcing the laws."
were few signs of development on the Reventazon, where we
made a 900-foot descent over class III rapids in about three
hours. We were fortified before and after by a traditional
breakfast and lunch - lots of fruit, fish and beans and rice
- at Rios Tropicales' charming staging area, replete with
bar, showers and nature walk. Lunch tasted extraordinarily
good after the rush of rafting.
the rapids may be a test of stamina and reflexes, but it's
nothing compared to getting behind the wheel of a car in
Costa Rica. The country has 35,892 kilometers of highways -
35,891 of which are in disrepair. Costa Ricans drive with
audacity, passing at the most inopportune times as they
engage in a national game of "chicken."
baffled why Ticos, otherwise in no great hurry to get things
done, are such impatient drivers. If there was any downside
to our vacation here, it was the stress created by driving,
especially the trip to and from Arenal, a journey that
includes a 90-minute drive on pocked roads around the vast,
manmade Lake Arenal, west of the volcano.
Nevertheless, our white-knuckle drive was infinitely worth
the effort. A fun stop near the end of the lake loop is Toad
Hall, a quirky delicatessen and art gallery. Owner Jan
Warner says Toad Hall offers one of the best selections of
authentic Costa Rican art in the country.
don't bring in junk from Guatemala," she says. "We're always
scrounging for quality, which is real hard work."
I toured the rain forest on zip lines at canopy level,
sharing air space with toucans and other exotic species of
birds. Even in that rarefied atmosphere, we were awed by the
brooding Arenal volcano but a mile distant. An ever-present
plume of smoke warns that it could erupt in fury on a whim;
when the sky clears during the wee hours of the morning, the
sky glows as Arenal spits chunks of molten rock. The
simmering volcano was in full view from our cabin at the
Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa.
final stop, Vista del Valle Plantation Inn, was more sensual
than Arenal. It is owned by American ex-pats Mike and
Johanna Bresnan, who came here more than 20 years ago.
accompanied Patti as they rode the mountainside on two of
Johanna's sure-footed Criollos. Toward the end of their
ride, through rows and rows of coffee trees, they were
treated to the sight of scarlet macaws being flushed out of
the bush as they passed.
laughter flowed freely during our farewell dinner that
night, an exquisite affair poolside, by candlelight, with
Johanna, Mike, Landy and his wife, Susan. Their affection
for the land is unbounded.
Rica has been good to us," said Mike. "We flow in this
golfers who visit here, that's great advice. Embrace the
adventure. Just flow with it.
Back to Top
Golf Adventures fulfills the Blanks
By Dave Seanor, Senior Editor
Susan and Landy Blank
years ago, Landy Blank and his wife, Susan, saw the future
of golf in Costa Rica. They decided to be part of it. They
sold the restaurant they owned in Charleston, S.C. They sold
their home and most of its contents. They arrived here with
four suitcases and three dogs and started a company called
Costa Rica Golf Adventures.
to be realistic about things, but this was one time I threw
caution to the wind," says Susan Blank. "It was one time
when I wanted to take a chance, and I'm glad we did."
Rica Golf Adventures brings close to 400 golfers to the
country annually. The company hopes to boost that number
with the recent launch of an affiliate program that
compensates PGA professionals in the United States who make
referrals or book groups through CRGA. The Blanks arrange
transportation, accommodations and tee times. They'll also
make dinner reservations and book side trips such as
fishing, horseback riding and rafting.
you visit, you go back again," Landy says. "If you go back
twice, and interact with the people and get to know them, it
becomes more than a vacation. You aspire to live here."
hasn't exactly exploded in Costa Rica - there are fewer than
10 quality 18-hole facilities in the country, spread mostly
along the Pacific coast - but the combination of golf with
the multitude of outdoor activities it has to offer has
enabled the Blanks to grow a business.
relatively inexpensive," Landy says of his golf offerings,
"but we're not cheap."
put together by Costa Rica Golf Adventures typically run
from $1,000 to $1,800 per person (double occupancy) for a
seven-night stay and four rounds of golf. Ninety percent of
the Blanks' bookings are customized to include additional
golf, fishing or other side trips.
figures his itineraries won't change much in the coming
really anticipate a lot of golf courses being built here,"
he says. "The country doesn't lend itself to golf all over
says that rather than new golf developments springing up,
existing facilities will expand. New courses are on the
drawing boards at the Four Seasons, Paradisus Playa Conchal
and Hacienda Pinilla. Blank says there are at least nine
properties under development on the high ground of the
Papaguya Peninsula in the Guanacaste region, some of which
are likely to include golf.
do, Costa Rica Golf Adventures undoubtedly will be the first
Back to Top
GNN Goes to Costa Rica
Ryan Ballengee from Golf News Network
By Ryan Ballengee
dias from Costa Rica, amigos. The first day here has been
fantastic, eye-opening, and jaw dropping. I arrived here
about 40 minutes late on my flight, which is supposed to be
pretty good for traveling to Costa Rica. Upon arrival, I
noticed lots of Americans, lots of English being spoken, and
a people very willing to welcome visitors to their slice of
paradise. After a quick customs check, I was with my baggage
and on my way into the real Costa Rica.
I arrived in the
Ramada Herradura and was helped with my bags and check in
was no problem. I will be here for Monday and Tuesday and
leave on Wednesday morning for the town of Jacó Beach.
reservation was arranged by Landy Blank of Costa Rica Golf
Adventures (the sponsor of this trip). The room was and is
spectacular. It is decorated in a southwestern (for
relation’s sake) style and is large and comfortable. The
architecture of the hotel allows the cool breezes of the
valley to move through the building. It is always temperate
and this allows guests to be treated to beautiful gardens
while walking to their quarters. The pool and spa facilities
are top notch.
gambling is legal here in Costa Rica, almost every hotel has
a casino in it. Ramada Herradura is no different. But,
casinos here are different than those you imagine in the
States. They are small, have a few tables of games, and are
mostly populated by locals. You can still gamble just like
you would in Vegas, but it is a more intimate and less
You may be
wondering what level (nivel) of Spanish comprehension you
need to get around aqui. Well, the answer is that it
certainly helps to be able to speak in simple phrases and
read the language, but it is not impossible to get by with
very limited Spanish. Most Ticos (residents) speak some form
of English – ranging from those with formal education in
English grammar to those who know only important phrases.
I have yet to have to
exchange my currency for the national mark known as the
Colon. Almost everywhere accepts dollars.
is true for most of Central and South America because the
stability of the dollar caused merchants to find it highly
desirable when the region had more difficult economic times.
Dollarization of the economy here makes spending very
simple. Just remember that 500 Colones equals one US dollar.
Now, back to the
day’s action. After settling into the hotel, I was guided to
the Cariari Country Club just a few moments from the hotel.
I’ll play the course on Wednesday and provide a review, but
I toured the grounds and had a lunch at the clubhouse
restaurant. I had a wonderful salmon-stuffed chicken with a
It was also my
first foray into the beers of Costa Rica. From what I have
experienced to date, there are three major beers here:
Pilsen, Bavaria, y the national beer Imperial. All have good
taste if you beer connoisseurs are wondering. They’re hard
to find in the Estados Unidos, but I would recommend them.
After lunch, I
returned to my hotel room to get ready for the evening
ahead. We would be heading to downtown San Jose from the
hotel in Herradura, which is essentially a suburb of the San
Jose metropolis – which is estimated to house half of the
population in Costa Rica. I would be joined in my adventures
by a friend of Landy Blank named Billy Fernandes. Fernandes,
like Blank, is an American who has lived here for nearly two
decades and a pretty solid golfer.
We gathered and
headed downtown to experience the nightlife of San Jose for
the first time. The city is vibrant at night and lots of
people are on the streets until late hours who want to
party, take it easy, and the like. Each bar is basically a
casino, so I spent some time winning at blackjack. I made a
cool $60 and taught a few things to the locals about the
game. The service, from barstaff to casino employees, was
fantastic and courteous.
fantastic company. He shared with me what brought him to
Costa Rica, and we got to know one another in the midst of
the locals. He shared that Costa Rica is a business friendly
place, with laws in place to protect assets and business
owners from frivolous lawsuits. He also mentioned that the
highest concentration of the 4 million Costa Ricans is in
San Jose. Billy estimated that more than half of the country
was in the city. He provided me with a lot of bits of
information that were of intrigue, but some slipped through
By the end of
the night, I was much more comfortable speaking the Spanish
that I still remembered from high school lessons. It gets
easier each time I hear Spanish para me a escuchar y hablar
la idioma. I am writing in Spanglish (Spanish and English),
in part, to illustrate that the language quickly can become
a blend of the two languages and almost goes unnoticed. It
is a beautiful mix and match of words.
I returned to my
hotel room around 1:00am to sleep on my comfortable bed and
get ready for the first full round of golf in Costa Rica.
More to come tomorrow!
Back to Top
Morning came early on day two. Morning and sunset are two
things you could set your clock to here in Costa Rica. Since
the country is located very close to the equator mark, there
is very little tilt in the positioning of the country near
the sun. That means that the days are almost the same length
everyday – from approximately 5:30 to around 7:30 at night.
We took off from the Herradura and went toward Santa Ana and
San Antonio to play golf at a resort community called Valle
del Sol. In that short drive, I learned a lesson about
driving in Costa Rica and other Centroamerico countries.
Driving here is a new concept in a relative sense – less
than 50 years of driving. There used to be taxes here that
made owning a car very prohibitive and cost a lot. Also,
people were rewarded for buying car that had a less than
modern smog discharge. That ended twenty years ago and has
cleared the way for beautiful, views not impeded by bad air,
and fresh air everywhere.
But, because it has not been a very widespread thing to own
a car for more than a few decades, the infrastructure for
roads is in tune with that truth. Roads in San Jose are good
and largely like American smaller roads. The problem is that
most roads do not have formal names. In downtown San Jose,
there is a grid structure of numbered roads called Avenida y
Calles (Avenues and Streets). Also, there are no formal
property addresses here. Therefore, directions are given in
the number of meters plus the direction on the compass that
you should travel against major landmarks. It can be a
confusing experience if you are not good with directions.
Thankfully, we had no such problem as Valle del Sol was a
The club had all of the amenities of any quality resort in
the world. When we arrived at the clubhouse to get ready for
golf, I was able to meet Carlos Rojas Soto who is Director
of Golf for the community. I also met David Maddox, who is
the director of the Central Valley Golf Association. The
organization throws weekly tournaments at Calle del Sol and
at other courses for giggles among Ticos and gringos.
(Gringo is the word here for white person. It is not
pejorative here like it is in other places in the Latin
world.) The group has significant sponsorship and has a
membership of 80 golfers or so.
We warmed up for a few minutes before teeing it off at the
campo. The course is a fairly short and open golf course.
Bad drives still had some kind of option to approach the
green, although there was a fair share of places you clearly
did not want to be. The ground was hard, but beautiful green
grass covered the course. That made for true greens and the
possibility of long drives with the right swing. It was not
too windy when I played, but that was because of the season.
The wind can pick up to very high levels for golf,
especially in the dry season (November through April) and
create a very confusing course. Also, in the dry season, all
grass across the country browns and mutates the golf course
into a more links-style golf course than this American golf
version. The contrast is very palpable, even for someone who
has only seen it once.
The course is situated in the valley (obviously), but with
great views of the mountaintops that surround the valley.
The jungles are a majestic site. The layout of the golf
course is a part of the community surrounding it. The
construction of more upscale homes in this part of the world
is fascinating and so much different than what most people
are used to seeing. It was a fun ride, a great course, and a
After grabbing a post-round beer and some chatting, we
returned to Herradura for some rest. While I was resting in
the hotel bar for a quick snack, I met a few Americans. It
led me to realize that this country accepts a lot of
expatriates from other countries in addition to the draw it
is for an increasing number of American tourists. People
come here for business, travel, and to live permanently.
Everyone’s story is interesting in and of itself, but the
people that move here permanently come here from so many
backgrounds. The diversity is great.
Later in the night, went down to the Fiesta Casino in San
Jose – near the Herradura. There, I met Nick Costas, who is
the Director of VIP Services. He set us up in the VIP room
with very comfortable conditions. Giving me a tour of the
casino, it mirrored a smaller version of most Vegas casinos.
They had all of the games you would expect, live bands, and
the like. Costas indicated to me that the concept of a
gaming-first casino is a very new concept to the country.
Despite that, the idea of customer care was not. The drinks
and snacks were great and the cigars were fantastic. The
facility was impressive, enjoyable, and we all spent several
hours sharing stories with good company.
Upon the return to the hotel, I was wiped! We play Cariari
Country Club tomorrow. Hasta luego!
Back to Top
The morning – again – came very early. It’s not something I
do normally, but here it is more than worth it. We went from
the hotel to the Cariari Country Club. It is the major
country club in the country and has been around since the
1970s. At one time, only members and guests of the Cariari
Country Club could play the course. While it is still
exclusive, that is not the entire policy of the club today.
The club is a solid facility that has a membership that is
very engaging. Again, there are a good number of expatriates
here from various countries. Also, there are a variety of
Ticos that belong to the club.
We teed off on the back nine because a women’s group had
taken the morning tee times. Immediately, I realized that
Cariari was a darned tough track. The 10th hole, while just
340 yards or so, is a tight driving hole for irons. Tall
trees cover the fairways with a lot of shade, but they are
so close that they eat up bad shots. If you make a mistake
on any hole here off of the tee, you are almost guaranteed
to have only one option – chipping out. It is very penal to
be inaccurate here, unlike Valle del Sol.
The course is impressive, though, because it is a thinking
man’s golf course. Each hole forces you to hit a certain
type of shot – high/low, draw/fade – with precision in order
to have any chance at decent scoring. The wind here, though
shielded some by the large trees, is still significant on
every hole. Again, during the dry season, the swirling winds
in the trees could wreak havoc on a man’s game.
It takes a little while to think about this, but eventually
it came to me that San Jose is situated 3000 feet above sea
level. Because of this, the golf ball flies a lot further
than you would anticipate at home. It can mess with the mind
when the ball flies so much further – at least one club
extra of distance as compared to sea level.
The holes are memorable because of what it takes to get
around the course successfully. The greens are tricky
because not only are they fast, but they are also small and
have deceptively large break. A putt one might expect to be
right edge could actually be six inches outside the cup.
Even our caddy was fooled from time to time and the members
I played with said that the greens were still surprising
them after years of playing the course.
We finished up our round, gathered up a quick lunch, and
then packed the car to head out of San Jose. Next, we were
headed to Los Suenos resort just outside of Jaco. Although
the drive is very minimal in terms of actual distance, I was
told that it would take between two and three hours.
Why? One could be traffic. The other is that we would be
driving up and over mountains for half of the trip.
The roads on the journey wove through the countryside, small
towns, and into areas that simply could not be inhabited by
anyone because of the steepness of grade. The drive is
filled with sights to behold, though. The roads are fun in
and of themselves. The sheer brightness of green of the
jungle that surrounds the drive is amazing. Eventually,
after the mountains are passed, the road takes you close to
the Pacific Ocean in a way that is reminiscent of the
Monterrey Peninsula. It is breathtaking to drive seconds
from the Ocean.
In driving through small towns, I also noticed something
about housing property here. Houses are fenced up here and
basically locked down to the outside with a key to the fence
or gate. The reason for it obviously is security, but the
fences seem to be an accepted way of life. They are so
accepted that many of the fences are beautifully constructed
with intricate patterns, beautiful colors, and a sense of
fashion – if there is such a thing for a fence.
Eventually, we arrived in Jaco and Los Suenos Resort. The
property is owned by Marriott and includes a golf course,
spa facilities, casino, and a fantastic view of the Ocean
from the hotel and other condos.
I may have been mistaken in saying that the Herradura was
the best hotel I have ever seen. This is the winner. The
rooms are decorated in a mix of American and Central
American style. They have all of the amenities and look
great. The staff was very helpful with all of our needs.
We took a few minutes to relax at the restaurant there for a
snack – with a very private view of the Pacific. After we
had finished and washed up, it was time to leave the grounds
and see Jaco Beach. As was described to me, Jaco is a
developing town with nearly 2000 units under construction
there. It is a boom town. In just a few moments after
arrival, I figured out why. The town is small, but the
beachfront property is beyond words. The buildings situated
there all have their own private beach area. The spirit of
the town is definitely a festive one and lots of people from
around the world come to capture that spirit, or partake in
their world famous surfing.
Since I’m no surfer, we went to Hicaco Restaurant for our
dinner. The building, like most public buildings, is open to
the air with a roof over top. Given the climate and the
situation, it just makes sense. When we were seated, we
selected the buffet for dinner. It was an all-inclusive
meal. I had the best lobster tails I had ever eaten, some
excellent bisque, and a little dessert. Following the meal,
we spent some time in the bars of the area. The drinks are
cheap. The people are kind. How could one not be living
We had to call it a fairly early night, though, because we
have a round in the morning at La Iguana – the resort course
at Los Suenos. After catching a little of the Open
Championship on ESPN Deportes, we went to sleep.
Back to Top
During the drive here, I did not realize the change in
climate that we would experience would be so significant for
such a small country. It is very palpable, though, when you
get up in the morning. It is sunny, hot, humid, and there is
a good breeze off of the Ocean. I was reminded of the
climate at home in summer.
We loaded up the golf bags and headed over to the clubhouse
for La Iguana Golf Course. Jose Quesada is Director of Golf
there and got us on the course. Not many people were playing
while we were on it. I’m not sure why, though.
The course is carved into the valleys of the jungle situated
on the surrounding mountainside. The gardens around the
course and the plant life are very diverse and will surely
make one want to bring a camera along with their clubs.
Iguanas can be found on the course in several places, but
most appear to be shy.
The golf course is a stern test for any player. The first
hole is a daunting, long par 5 with a tight landing area.
Again, the hallmark of most courses here is that the landing
areas are very tight. From there, it gets a little easier.
The course is fairly short and you can usually get away with
long irons off of the tee if you hit them over 200 yards.
Until the final four holes that are situated on the water,
the wind is not too significant of a factor. The undulation
changes, though, are noticeable and come into play.
The biggest challenge about the golf course is the grass
itself. It is a type of grass with which I am not familiar.
It grows out as a coverage grass, but it does not cover with
lots of singular blades. This makes playing out of the rough
very difficult because the grass is grown high. The ball
then slips through the lower density of grass blades and
leaves you with a hardpan lie on the ground. A conventional
chip shot will not work here. You must bump and run, no
matter where you are, for any kind of chance.
The greens themselves also run a little slower than the
other places we have played so far – perhaps because of this
type of grass. It is an adjustment, but does make the course
frustrating. Just make sure you spend some time on the
practice green acquainting yourself with the surfaces. It
will save you two or three shots.
The aforementioned final four holes around the Ocean divert
from the green views of the first fourteen holes. The water
view is simply amazing, though. I have never played a course
like that before and it can be distracting. Luckily, the
final holes are short and fairly easy. That left me with a
lot of time to appreciate the view in a good mood and score
pretty well as a result.
Not too long after the round, the weather sirens stationed
throughout the course went off and alerted golfers to return
to the clubhouse. The rain can happen quickly in Costa Rica
and this was one of those situations. The stronger storms
here produce lots of lightning strikes and golfers should
get out of nature’s way at that point. Thankfully, we were
through our round because we planned each round to start
early in the morning. Afternoon rounds here likely result in
someone getting a little wet.
The work had been done at Los Suenos and it was time to
leave. Now we were headed to the Guanacaste province for our
final destination of the week. I was alerted before the trip
that the drive would be about 4 hours, so we might want to
stop for some lunch. I was very glad we did.
We dined at a restaurant frequented mostly by locals, right
on the seaside, whose name escapes me. Boats owned by the
restaurant were out on the water catching the fish for the
day. The red snapper here is a popular fish. When it is
fried just right – like I had – it is a treat for the
palate. It is also light on the wallet, too. While you may
not know much Spanish, the local restaurants are cheaper and
will give you a lot of value for your money.
We then got on our way. The drive, again, was very
beautiful. The scenery changed, though. The land flattened
out, the trees created a canopy on the road, and the
mountains were not as prominent – much more in the distance.
For the most part, the road was great. A little ways outside
of our final destination, though, we took a shortcut to get
to our hotel because using the prime roads would add an
extra hour to our night driving. It was a good lesson in the
road situation here. The roads used by tourists and major
highways are in solid shape and a massive improvement over
the past decade or so. Roads off of that path, though, can
be difficult to maneuver. There are a significant number of
potholes and the roads can sometimes simply be dirt. The
joke here is that a drunk driver would get pulled over for
driving straight down one of these roads instead of weaving
in and out. Since there are few drivers on these roads,
getting around is not a problem, though. The shortcut was
well worth it.
We approached our last hotel for the trip. It is Posada del
Sol, located at the Hacienda Pinilla. The Pinilla is a 4500
acre property that is privately owned and developed. It used
to be farm land for cattle – hence the Hacienda in the name.
On the property, the owner developed a modern road system,
electricity grids, and access to clean water and sewage on
his own dime. To access the hotel, though, the guard
instructed us to go 8 kilometros. That is how massive the
property is. We made the final few moments of driving and
arrived at the hotel.
The hotel itself used to be where the employees of the
property used to live. That is no longer so because of
interest in staying in the area and there needed to be a
place for prospective condo and home buyers to stay. A
luxury brand hotel is under construction near the Posada del
Sol and will be in operation soon. The Posada itself,
though, is the most unique hotel of the trip. After all, it
used to be a living quarters. It is not high on luxury, but
the beds are good and the interiors are modern with all
Centroamericano influences. It took some adjusting, but I
really did enjoy the facility there. Also, the staff has
been fantastic in answering any questions I had.
After unpacking, we went over to the poolside restaurant. It
was another open air facility, but well lighted and
decorated. The menu, though limited, was brilliant. Top to
bottom, the food was delicious and the dessert especially
so. After some good conversation, this tired body went to
bed to prepare for a round at Playa Conchal. Hasta luego!
Back to Top
Another early morning – not something I’m used to on
vacation. But, it was a beautiful morning. Each morning here
has been. Today, we were to head off of the massive Pinilla
and spend an afternoon at the Playa Conchal resort’s golf
course. Playa Conchal is built in the fashion of Los Suenos,
but further north in relationship to Jaco Beach. It is a
community accessed by gate, but you can get to the golf
course. The community is self-contained and guests of it
(and people who live there) have access to every amenity
they really need. For those a little afraid of taking a
chance outside of the walls of comfort, they will not be
disappointed. The property is beautiful and has access to
beaches that are soothing and have very warm water.
We were here for a practice round for the 5th Guanacaste
Classic – a tournament played around this time every year to
celebrate the annexation of the territory from Nicaragua. It
is a two day event that has flights based upon handicap
(assigned by governing body Anagolf, the USGA, or R&A) and
had a division for professionals offering a first place
prize of 1,000,000 colones. Remember, since 500 colones = 1
dollar, we’re talking two large for first place. That’s
where the head pro at the Four Seasons Resort joined us for
our round, as he was participating in the tournament.
The round was laid back from the start, but it was easy to
see that Playa Conchal could play as a very difficult
course. Conchal is a course that tests your ability to judge
heights. There is a lot of undulation from tee to green.
Many approaches are up or down hills. The wind off of the
ocean makes judging those shots more difficult. That
undulation and fast greens are the main constants of this
The holes vary, though, in the options available to the
golfer. Fairways are generous on many holes. On others,
there are bunkers and water hazards that make driving an
exercise in thinking. The course has some very strong par 4s
that are well over 400 yards. Playing these holes requires a
mentality of survival. The uphill approaches can be taxing
on a golfer who is not on their game. If a player can hold
on for pars and bogies on these holes, the subsequent holes
are much kinder. The par 5s are generally pretty accessible
in terms of manageable distance, and the par 3s are not
punishing golf holes by any stretch. One can make a mark on
these holes and score well.
I noticed a change in my game, though, as I played along the
seaside. The greens at Conchal (and Los Suenos for that
matter) are no where near as, um, curvaceous as the greens I
experienced at Cariari earlier in the week. Many of the
putts are not outside of the hole, if but a ball or two in
either direction. A good pace on the putt usually will allow
a player to hit a fairly straight putt. If one can convince
themselves that the putt simply will not move all that much,
then they will save a number of strokes and some incredulous
looks. It is best to forget Cariari on other golf courses
here because it is the exception and not the rule when it
comes to greens and their trickiness.
Still, I managed a very solid round – albeit mostly in the
spirit of practice. The cap off was on the par 3 15th hole.
The hole itself is not especially difficult so long as you
never pull your drive to the left, so that is not what makes
it memorable. Rather, it is the view at the top of a created
hill on the cart path. A sign says “Scenic View.” If you
look forward, you’d be left wondering what in the hell they
meant. Though when you turn backward and to the right, the
scenery changes from mundane to eye-opening. Bring your
camera to snap pictures of the Pacific, lodging amongst some
of the surrounding mountains.
That was more than enough to make my day. There was still so
much to go, though. We mingled for a while amongst some of
the other folks who would play in the tournament beginning
tomorrow at Pinilla’s golf course. They were good guys who
were enjoying the wonderful lifestyle an expatriate can
appreciate in Costa Rica. A lighthearted conversation over a
few cervezas made the afternoon pleasant. It was time to hit
the town again and we had to say our goodbyes.
Tamarindo Beach was the next town on the tour. It is
approximately 20 minutes of a drive away from Hacienda
Pinilla. It is a smaller, quaint town on the seaside. Where
Jaco Beach is clearly a party town, Tamarindo could be
popular for so many reasons. It seems so remote, but recent
development there has made it more modern. The beach is
secluded, but accessible and well-known. A surfer would be
in paradise here from what I understand.
We dined at the Tamarindo Diria, the major hotel in town. It
is the only beachfront property in the town. Though we could
not see the beach from the restaurant situated just paces
from the beach, we could appreciate the nighttime glowing
garden on the property. Palm trees canopied the garden and
were well lit to showcase their beauty. The flowers and
pathways were filled with playful visiting children – even
during the downpour that accompanied our meal. During the
daytime, visitors could get a wonderful drink on the beach
and take in the atmosphere. Likely, one would never want to
surrender their spot on the sand.
The nightlife here is different than in Jaco. It did not
seem as crazy, but was equally as festive and happy. Lots of
gringo travelers were here and would put to ease the mind of
someone who fears being surrounded by the unknown. The music
was clearly Costa Rican – upbeat, hopeful – and so were the
drinks. The bar we went to, called the Crazy Monkey, was
situated up on top of a hill next to a hillside hotel.
Though the pool was roped off that night, I imagine that a
good number of amorous couples had found their way there on
a good night.
Time had caught up with us, though, and being tired set in
just a tad. We called it a relatively early evening and
headed back to Hacienda Pinilla. After all, a golf
tournament is to be played the next day and it would
probably be best to avoid working on a few hours of rest!
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That morning came a whole lot sooner than I originally
anticipated. Thankfully, we would be on the property for the
golf tournament. Pinilla’s golf course was just a few
minutes from our hotel room. We arrived early for the
breakfast buffet for the 5th Guanacaste Classic. Somewhere
in the area of 110 players were congregating for a shotgun
start to begin, supposedly, at 8am. After receiving a
generous goodie bag and partaking in some healthy Costa
Rican breakfast, I was ready to go…at 8am.
It was here that I learned what Tico Time really means. The
phrase “mas o menos” (more or less) is used a lot in the
language here. It applies to time as well. The tournament
definitely did not begin at 8. That’s probably because no
one had a watch because it simply did not matter. Time is
merely an approximation of when something begins rather than
an absolute marker. Regardless of the delay, we got onto the
course to begin our round.
We were joined by a pleasant partner in our round – a local
doctor who was a lot of fun. All of us embarked on a round
that could have been a whole lot more brutal than it was.
Pinilla can be a difficult golf course. It is not especially
long. But, most of the holes play into the wind. The greens,
like Conchal, do not move a whole lot. Despite that, there
are a lot of treacherous pin placements. The course occupies
a land that is largely flat. Therefore, the Conchal
undulations simply do not exist.
A number of the holes played to around 370 yards. It made
easier work for a guy like me who was struggling with his
driver. The lesson learned at Pinilla is that sometimes it
is best not to try to overpower a golf course. Rather, being
a smart player and using what is working will result in a
score that is just as rewarding.
Tell that to the professionals, though. The golf course is a
tremendously long 7264 yards from the tips. With the wind,
the course played to approximately 7500 yards. No matter
your skill level, Pinilla can give you a solid experience.
Regardless of the tees the players competed from, they all
experienced a par three situated directly on the Pacific
Ocean. Go over the green, and you had a good chance of
finding your ball on the beach – literally. Still, I managed
a par and left with a smile for the chance to play such a
In the midst of that, the sky opened up for a 20 minute
downpour with the force of driving rain that some people may
have never seen. That rain, though, was gone as quickly as I
was beginning to appreciate it. It is a metaphor for life,
After the round, everyone congregated to share golf tales
and celebrate. Even with the players who had lousy rounds,
the talk was still upbeat. How could it not be in this
place? The celebration lasted for a few hours before
returning to Posada del Sol for dinner and a poolside
In the fading light, we enjoyed dinner at the restaurant and
I took a quick dip in the pool. I could hear howling monkeys
in the background. It was an odd noise at first, but
something I could appreciate pretty quickly because of how
unique it is. This whole country is a unique experience and
it was drawing to a close, sadly. In the morning, I will
return to San Jose and head for home.
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Getting up to leave here was not easy, but not because I’m
dead tired. This is a beautiful country and a place I would
love to share with friends and family – the people that will
make me glad to be home while I feel bad leaving. Still, I
didn’t make reservations forever.
I grabbed a taxi over the Tamarindo Airport. The road to the
airport is short and made of dirt. The “terminal” is extra
small. It consists of some benches, a small station for the
regional airlines Sansa and Nature Air, and a few employees
over one open-air pavilion. Its simplicity created
efficiency, though. When the small plane landed, our bags
were quickly packed onto it. Then, we moved down the runway
after boarding, turned around, and flew.
The flight was not at the heights we are accustomed to as
commercial plane travelers. It was at 4,000 feet or so. That
made for a lot of photo opportunities, including some you’ll
see. The flight was quick, too, so the beauty could not be
appreciated for too long. When I got to San Jose, though I
was still in Costa Rica, I knew my adventure would be over
and quite a success. Though I’m leaving, I’ll be back one
day with some friends – from home and from here.
Golf News Network.
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