GOLF IN CUBA By David Stockwell (Article)

 

stockwell july 2017

David Stockwell

Before 1960 there were a number of golf facilities in Cuba but currently there are only two golf courses in Cuba: one in Varadero and a nine-hole course in Havana. This latter course has wonderful, tree-lined fairways but its greens and bunkers are in poor condition.

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However, with coral cliffs on its north side and the aquamarine water of the Atlantic plus more than 2 miles of pristine, white-sand beaches, sprawls the spectacular eighteen-hole Varadero Golf Club. The course is about halfway along the 23 km. Hicacos Peninsula, 35 km. from the Varadero Airport and 140 km. from Havana. Watered Bermuda fairways and greens are complemented by golden, sand bunkers on this beautiful and well-maintained seaside course: (5107 yards from the red tees; 5742 from the whites; 6314 from the blues; and 6858 from the gold’s). The wind is normally blowing from the east, steadily rather than in gusts, so you are lulled into a false sense of security on the first four, downwind holes. Be prepared to use longer clubs on the next eight holes, which are into the wind, before a five-hole respite; then, just as fatigue is taking over, the final hole is back into the “breeze”. (Luckily you are only 400 yards from an icy beverage!) Palms and tall euphorbia abound; salt water ponds, which connect to Cardena’s Bay, come into play on the second nine, especially on the signature 16th hole where you must cross water three times. The beach is out-of-bounds on the 8th and 18th holes but take your camera along because there are a variety of migrating and indigenous water and land birds to be observed if your game goes south or for a non-playing, golf-cart driver. (To see pictures of the course, go to the www Varadero Golf Club site.)

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Irénée Du Pont de Nemours was president of the DuPont chemical empire and in 1927 began to accumulate land in Cuba for a winter retreat. He chose the highest point of the San Bernardino hills on the Hicacos Peninsula to build his dream house: the Xanadú Mansion. Today, the Mansion is a small, 6-bedroom hotel with a spectacular view of the ocean on one side and the golf course on the other; it’s a one-minute walk to the pro shop and the first tee. A room for a couple is 216 pesos a night (264 pesos after December 21 and until March 31). Breakfast, dinner and golf (including green fees, the golf cart and rental clubs) are included but not any beverages.

The original eighteen-hole course lay out adjacent to the 1300 acre DuPont estate was designed by Herbert Strong, who also designed the spectacular Manoir Richelieu Golf Course in Quebec and many others in the USA. However, this course was never built. A nine-hole course, redesigned by Sim Cuthrie was started in 1931 and was completed in 1933. In 1990, well-known, Alberta-based, Canadian golf course architect, Les Furber, was hired to redesign the nine-hole course and build a further nine holes. More than 750,000 cubic meters of fill was imported to raise the fairways more than a meter to prevent salt water, during the annual, fall storms that pound the coast of the peninsula, from flooding into the areas of the golf course located below the escarpment. The result is a visual delight that is both interesting and challenging to play. There are 5 par fives, 5 par threes and 8 par fours. Following its opening in April 1998, the course was the site for European Challenge Tour events in 1999 and 2000.

Les Furber is one of Canada’s four premier golf course designers. He worked for Robert Trent Jones Sr. from 1966 to 1980 and assisted him and a colleague, Cabell Robinson, with the operation of his overseas office in Spain and in the creation there of the Valderrama golf course, site of the 1997 Ryder Cup matches, and also of the world-famous Royal Dar-es-Salam course in Rabat, Morocco.

In 1980 he and partner Jim Eremko formed Golf Design Services (GDS) with its headquarters in Canmore, Alberta. Since then, his work has been both abroad and in Canada. His courses in Canada include Silver Tip in Alberta, Glasgow Hills in PEI and more than 30 courses in BC, among them Predator Ridge in Vernon.

Most of the popular, good-value, all-inclusive packages (including drinks— the modified Canadian plan!!) for holidays in Varadero (e.g., Sunwing, Air Canada Vacations, Westjet, etc.) include a number of free rounds of golf, up to an unlimited number, in the package if you stay at certain hotels near the Varadero Golf Club for 7 nights or longer. If your stay is shorter, some packages now include 3 rounds of golf. Free electric golf carts are not included and the number of free games may sometimes vary with the price. Eight hotels, including the Xanadú Mansion and the Meliá Las Americas, are located within the boundaries of the golf course. I prefer the adults-only Meliá Las Americas— free golf is included in the package, excellent rooms, staff, food and the beach. The pro shop and the first tee are a short, five-minute walk from the hotel.

Because it’s light until about 6 PM, an “after 4 PM nine” is possible for 70 pesos per person, including the cart and rental clubs. You can’t walk the course and electric carts cost 30 pesos per person but given the heat and the distances between some greens and the following tee you would probably want to ride in any event. If you are staying (all inclusive including golf) at the Las Americas or another hotel with free golf rounds and going to play only one or two rounds, men’s and women’s, left and right-handed rental clubs (Taylor Made), are available for 50 pesos (including the 30-peso cart fee from the pro shop. Otherwise take your own ‘sticks’. There is a practice range—a small bucket of practice balls costs 3 pesos—as well as a practice putting green and a chipping green with two practice bunkers. A 50-minute golf lesson for 1 is 30 pesos; and for 2, is 40 pesos; club storage and lockers are available for 5 pesos. (To all pro-shop prices, except the playing package detailed below, add 10% for a tax/service charge).New golf balls are available for sale in the pro shop, but even the cheapest are 4 pesos each, so take a supply with you. Alternatively, “experienced” balls can be purchased from maintenance staff on the course. Take your ball retriever...you’ll need it.

It is wise to have a tee-time reservation especially before noon, but the course is often quiet in the heat of the early afternoon. If you are a single player, you can play alone or you can ask the friendly pro shop staff to arrange a game for you. Refreshment carts with the usual variety of snacks and beverages ply the course but taking bottled water from your hotel is also a useful choice.

Staying at a hotel without free golf in the package? The cost for a single, golf green-fee, if purchased at the pro shop, is 100 pesos but there are golf, cart and club rental packages (October 1 – April 30) beginning at 130 pesos per person for one round with discounts for each subsequent round so the average round, if you purchase the 7-round package, is 63 pesos.

On the upper level of the pro-shop building there is the 19th-hole bar. You can have a sundowner there or at a table on the adjoining grass and watch the sun go down over the beach. As an alternative to eating at the Las Americas you can have lunch or supper at the Xanadú Mansion but it won’t be included in your package. The view from the third-floor bar in the Xanadú is fabulous so plan at least one drink there (a mohito is THE drink in Varadero).

All purchases by foreigners must be made using convertible pesos (CUCS). The exchange rate (November 8, 2018) was 1 peso = CAD $1.365 but buying pesos with Canadian dollars cash is still much better than buying them with US dollars. (If you use a Canadian credit card, the pesos charges will be converted to US dollars and then converted back to Canadian dollars on your credit card bill thus incurring a double charge). (No American credit cards are accepted.)

 Useful Websites; www.solmelia.com www.tripadvisor.com www.varaderogolfclub.com www.meliacubagolf.com

© Golfing in Cuba: Varadero 13November2018 by the Global Golfer ©

(The Global Golfer is a retired Canadian diplomat who now lives in Chelsea, Quebec and who has played golf on more than 500 different courses in 50 countries.)

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