Time was, you couldn’t turn your computer on without somehow increasing your already impressive knowledge of Costa Rica’s golf scene. Lately, however, it seems the Costa Rica golf PR engine has been filled with sand, with no news for years. So what happened?
“No one is moving dirt,” says Landy Blank, a native Philadelphian who has lived in Costa Rica for nearly 20 years running a successful golf tour company called Costa Rica Golf Adventures (CRGA). “While we did have Tom Doak, David Kidd, and Greg Norman courses in the pipeline, I'm afraid they all went on hold when the recession hit.”
I was part of a CRGA trip about six years ago, and since then only nine new holes have appeared – at the San Buenas Golf Resort 200 miles south of the capital San José. Canadian architect Dan Lavis whose work appears predominantly in Ontario and who is also ‘Keeper of the Green’ at Tarandowah GC in Springfield, Ont., designed the holes that will one day be joined by nine more.
Though highly-regarded, San Buenas’s nine holes are hardly enough to tempt you all the way to southern Central America. But the courses that were here before the global economy went sour certainly are.
Landy Blank has long maintained his adopted land probably isn’t a genuine golf destination with only six public-access 18-holers separated by some pretty arduous driving. But among that half-dozen are some absolute peaches.
Cariari Country Club, a heavily wooded inland course seven miles from the capital of San Jose, was designed by George Fazio in 1973. Though short, you can’t overpower it, thanks to multiple hazards and pinched fairways.
Close to the Pacific Ocean, I liked the “eco-golf” at Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Garra de León at the Melia Paradisus Playa Conchal property.
But my favorite was Hacienda Pinilla, designed by Athens, Ga.-based Mike Young, who built some lovely holes through a very low-density 4,500-acre property purchased and first developed in the early 1970s by Atlanta businessman H.G. Patillo. Last September, the company that manages the resort, Agroganadera Pinilla S.A., announced it would be auctioning off the property with a sale price expected to be close to $2b. Patillo’s plan is to use the money to fund two NGOs (involved in healthcare, education, and affordable housing) he established in the province of Guanacaste.
Arnold Palmer’s course at the Four Seasons Resort on the Papagayo Peninsula is another wonderful round with a handful of holes you can’t take enough photographs of. Besides the memorable golf, the attractions here include capuchin monkeys who have now watched enough golfers putting to know exactly when to start screaming.
Until recently Blank’s clients were not able to play the course unless they were staying at the resort, but the course has now been made available to them. “That makes for the perfect beach trip with golf and an overnight at the Hilton by the Liberia airport,” says Blank.
Costa Rica boasts one of the region’s most stable economies and governments, a high environmental awareness, and delightful culture (Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos.”) The Costa Rica golf trip may be one of those you take when you’ve been everywhere else, but you’ll certainly be glad when you get there.