There was a breeze in the Mexican cypress and palm trees. The smell of barbecued chicken drifted over the brick patio. David Maddox poured ice into chests of yellow-and-red beer cans, and the first of 103 golfers wandered off the course into the banquet set up outside the tennis center Dec. 5.
Most were gentlemen, middle-aged and older, and they teased each other in English, turned in their scorecards, flirted with the handful of female employees and settled in to eat and drink.
It was the CVGA Open – the year-end highlight of Costa Rica’s Central Valley Golf Association. Twenty-six teams played in the morning’s Four-Person Scramble at Valle del Sol golf course, the club’s weekly stomping grounds in Santa Ana, southwest of San José.
As with other retired or semi-retired expatriates in Costa Rica, many CVGA members sport gray hair and pink faces, command a basic level of Spanish and have the money for a relaxed lifestyle. Most, but not all, are men.
The CVGA, which began in 1997, is the second of at least two Costa Rican golf associations. Golf isn’t as immediately traditional here as in North America or Europe, but there are 10 courses and dozens of tournaments for rising numbers of golfing residents and visitors.
Maddox, director of the CVGA, is a 55-year-old retired police officer from Texas.He has energy to organize golfers and a good knowledge of the game. Too busy to play in the tournament, he looked forward to playing later in the week in a tournament sponsored by the Spanish Ambassador to Costa Rica. Maddox sends detailed e-mails twice weekly to CVGA’s 140 members, who hail from 23 countries.
His business card says “Join us every Tuesday at Parque Valle del Sol in Santa Ana. Be there before 7 a.m.”
Some 30 or 40 golfers do just that, playing one of golf ’s many formats, from Modified Stablefords (collect points for your skill on each hole) to Two-Man Scrambles (hit the ball from where the better of your team’s shots landed) to Best Balls (keep only the best teammate’s score for each hole) to combinations of several formats.
Nick Costas and Michel Laporte, first- and second-place CVGA players of the year, are more often than not at Valle del Sol on Tuesday mornings. Laporte, who lives in one of the houses surrounding the course, said it’s fun to play with others in formats other than the standard lowest-score-wins.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-place players of the year were Norman Sklar, Bryan Hopwood and Michael Hawkins. Their rankings came from a point system based on performance in the weekly matches.
A few months ago, Laporte, a 43-year-old asset manager from Montreal, got the best score possible on Valle del Sol’s fifth hole. He made the 143-yard shot with an eight iron, watching the ball land six feet before the hole and roll to victory.He jumped up and down, and, after a $100 tip to his caddie, “…just like on TV,” and $200 in rounds of beer, he took home almost $700 from the CVGA hole-in-one pot.
Each Tuesday, players who want to participate pay $2 – since Laporte’s June 27 hole in one, the pool has risen to more than $1,000. CVGA doesn’t have a membership fee, but players put up about $6 each week, most of which is split among the day’s winners. A portion goes to the CVGA to organize more tournaments.
Parque Valle del Sol charges Costa Rican residents $22-34 for a round of golf, and $65-85 for foreign visitors (the visitor rate includes a golf cart).
How does golfing here compare to that in North America?
“The season is about six months longer,” Laporte said.
Costas, 54, said the day’s conditions were similar to those of his native Texas: lots of wind. Costas has been in Costa Rica two years. He runs the VIP service at a casino in Alajuela, northwest of San José.
Gerardo Dragonné of Anagolf, the largest of the Costa Rican associations, founded in 1971, said there are about 2,000 golfers in Costa Rica, fewer than half a thousandth of the population. In the United States, one in every 10 people plays golf, he said. Applying this percentage to North Americans coming here to retire, he figures there will be a Costa Rican golf explosion within 10 years.
Approximately 240 of Anagolf ’s 600 members are foreign residents, he said. Dragonné is from Mexico, and has lived in Costa Rica six years.
Relations are friendly between CVGA and Anagolf, and many are members of both, Maddox said. Anagolf is licensed by the U.S. Golf Association to calculate players’ handicaps. Roughly defined, a handicap is the number of strokes above par a particular player should be able to shoot on a good day.
“It allows everybody to play fair,” Laporte explained.
“Unless you cheat,” Costas said.
Some players complain that others manipulate the handicap system to win Costa Rican tournaments, but Costas said everyone should relax.
“We’re not curing cancer or anything,” he said. “We’re playing golf … having a good time.”
While some went to take advantage of the tournament’s ¢20,000 (about $39), liquor-included fee, Maddox tallied the scores and prepared to raffle off a long list of door prizes. The tournament’s winners were the “Canucks” (22.9 under par, factoring in the team’s combined handicap), followed by “Los Ticos” (-19.4), “Scotiabank” (-18.6), “The Swiss” (-18.4) and “Cariari Mac’s” (-17.4). Amid cheers and cries of “Sandbaggers!” the players of the year lined up for photos. One hundred three golfers carried on with the barbecue, cheered the prizewinners and generally appeared to be having a good time.
296-5772, 296 5773
Parque Valle del Sol
282-9222, ext. 218