Guanacaste’s Golf Courses World-Class

April 7, 2006

It’s all about climate and nature. Golf, the Costa Rican edition, may have teed off in the 1940s and still maintains its club members-only roots in the Central Valley.

But, arguably, it took the northwestern province of Guanacaste and its fabled warm, dry climate to bring the sport into its own as a true tourist activity.

“December through May is perfection,” explains Mauricio Zamora, head golf professional at the Reserva Conchal Golf Club, referring to Costa Rica’s dry season.

But even during the heaviest of the rains in September and October – this is when Guanacaste’s drier-than-the-rest-of-the country wet season shines – it’s not difficult to find decent golfing weather, at least if you arrange a morning tee time.

In a stroke of genius on the part of some one-time marketing executive in the tourist industry, of course, Costa Rica bills its May-November rainy months as “the green season.” The moniker is apt when it comes to golf.

“The courses are lush, green and soft in the green season,” says Chris Crabtree, Professional Golf Association (PGA) professional at Hacienda Pinilla’s course, for whom the low tourist season presents an ideal time to golf.

With just three courses – three world-class courses, nevertheless – Guanacaste is not yet the premier golfing destination that, say, Arizona or Florida have become, say the experts.

That is bound to change, they suggest, when Costa Rica’s famed natural beauty gets factored into the equation.

“Here’s a chance to take part in an elitist sport right in the middle of nature,” Crabtree says.

Indeed, iguanas, birds, howler monkeys, deer and even the occasional snake can be spotted on the course.

“They’d shoot an iguana if it ever walked on the course at Augusta,” Crabtree says, referring to the famous course in Georgia where the Masters Golf Tournament is held.

But Hacienda Pinilla enjoys Audubon certification as a wildlife sanctuary, a classification held by few other golf courses in the world.

“Just an added attraction in addition to the golf experience,” Crabtree describes of the opportunity to see wildlife in this part of the country.

Reserva Conchal bills itself as an “ecogolf ” experience, as well, with the same opportunity to spot animals while making your way down the fairway. And farther north on the coast, on the PapagayoPeninsula, 14 of the 18 holes at the course at the Four Seasons resort have stupendous downhill Pacific Ocean views from tee to green.

Guanacaste’s Golf Courses

Guanacaste presently has three courses, one public, one semi-private and one private.

The province’s oldest golf course, the Reserva Conchal Golf Club (Playa Conchal, 654-4123, www.reservaconchal.com), has the newest name. The 10-year-old course is affiliated with the Paradisus Playa Conchal hotel, but has been under new management since January. Future plans for a second hotel and course are down the fairway. The Robert Trent Jones-designed course (71-par and 6,956 yards) is not open to walk-ins, but works with several area hotels to arrange tee times for their guests.

The 72-par Hacienda Pinilla (San José de Pinilla, 680-3000, www.haciendapinilla.com) course partners with 13 hotels in the area, but is open to the public. Tee times can be arranged by phone or Internet. The Mike Young-designed course south of Tamarindo is Costa Rica’s longest: its scorecard tallies 7,264 yards from the back tees.

The Arnold Palmer-signature Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica (PapagayoPeninsula, 696-0000, www.fourseasons.com/costarica) sits on the grounds of the hotel of the same name and is open to resort guests only. Logging in at 6,788 yards, the 72-par course includes a putting green and driving range, and offers complete pro-shop services, instruction and club rental. Four Seasons offers one-time tee times or seven-night golf vacation packages.

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