BELIEVE it or not, golf in CostaRica got its start in the early 20thcentury with the opening of an exclusive,now-defunct course for UnitedFruit Company executives in thetown of Golfito, on the southernPacific coast. Its name? Golfito Golf,of course.Despite those long-ago beginnings,experts in the field call golf“still a new sport” in Costa Rica, butone that is beginning to movebeyond its traditional members-onlymonopoly in the Central Valley to anactivity enjoyed by a growing numberof tourists.“CLIMATE has been an importantfactor in growth of the sporthere,” says Eduardo Dragonne, generalmanager of Costa Rica’sNational Golf Association (296-5772, www.anagolf.com). Thoseparts of the country with the driestclimate (read: the northern Pacificcoast) have seen the most explosivegrowth in recent years.“In the rainy season, you justmake sure to tee off in the morning,”Dragonne advises.To be sure, San José’s westernsuburbs remain a stronghold of thesport. The first of the still-operatingcourses, the Costa Rica Country Club (SanRafael de Escazú, 208-5000) set up shop in1942; it was later joined by the Los ReyesCountry Club (La Guácima de Alajuela,438-0858). Both are private clubs, as is theCariari Country Club (La Ribera de Belén,293-3111), although the latter is open toguests staying at the nearby Herradura andMarriott hotels.The 18-hole, 72-par Valle del Sol(Santa Ana, 282-9222, www.vallesol.com)is the Central Valley’s only public course.The Marriott Hotel (La Ribera deBelén, 298-0000, www.marriott.com) offers a driving range andputting green open to the public.Bajo Par (Guachipelín de Escazú,215-1590) has a driving range andoffers classes.THE northwestern province ofGuanacaste offers what Philip Krick,PGA director of golf at the RobertTrent Jones-designed course atParadisus Playa Conchal (PlayaConchal, 654-4123, www.paradisusplayaconchal.solmelia.com) calls“that eco-golf experience”: a chanceto enjoy Costa Rica’s fabulousweather and stunning beach viewswhile playing on a quality course.You’ll likely spot birds, monkeysand iguanas along the way too,according to Chris Crabtree, PGAprofessional at Hacienda Pinilla(San José de Pinilla, 680-3000,www.haciendapinilla.com) ,designed by Mike Young and CostaRica’s longest course, weighing in at6,800 meters from the back tees.Hacienda Pinilla offers multiple teesets for varying levels of ability.“They’d shoot an iguana if itever walked on the course atAugusta,” Crabtree says, mentioningthe famous course in Georgiawhere the Masters is held. ButHacienda Pinilla takes pride in beingAudubon-certified, an imprimatur held byfew golf courses in the world.Playa Conchal and Hacienda Pinilla,open to the public, and the year-old ArnoldPalmer signature course at Four SeasonsCosta Rica (Papagayo Peninsula, 696-0000, www.fourseasons.com/costarica), opento resort guests, offer the best guarantee fora year-round golfing season. Krick saysthere are only two or three days a yearwhen it becomes necessary to close acourse in Guanacaste.WEATHER becomes a slightly biggerissue farther south on the Pacific coast.“We have great weather Decemberthrough May,” explains Julio Sandí, proshopdirector at the Ted Robinson-designedcourse at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean andGolf Resort (Playa Herradura, 630-9000,www.marriott.com). The rest of the yearcan be a bit iffy, but not always. Sandí citeda relatively dry 2004, which made for greatyear-round golfing on his sector of the centralPacific coast. And the advantage here isthe lush green scenery lacking farthernorth, he emphasizes.Two other nine-hole courses open tothe public hold court not far away, near thetip of the Nicoya Peninsula: Tango Mar(Playa Tambor, 683-0001, www.tangomar.com) and Los Delfines Golf andCountry Club (Playa Tambor, 683-0341,www.delfines.com), affiliated with thenearby Barceló Playa Tambor resort.“If you build it, they will come,”intoned Kevin Costner in the movie “Fieldof Dreams.” He was referring to baseball,but the same could be said of golf. Coursesup and down the coast have given rise todevelopment. The residential developmentsat Hacienda Pinilla and Los Delfinesare two of the biggest examples.“Golf is an important part of thetourism market,” explains Playa Conchal’sKrick. “The sport attracts a high-end typeof consumer.”“Real estate and business developmentnaturally follow,” he adds.