San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Granada Driving Range Redefines ‘Water Hazard’

During a recent golf outing one sunny day in Granada, John Sauter hit all his balls right into the lake. Several dozen of them, in fact.

First he teed-up with a driver. Smack, right into the water. Then, a four iron. Kerplunk.

Finally, he pulled out the pitching wedge, usually the most accurate club in the golf arsenal. He stroked the ball smoothly, arcing it high in the air before dropping with a splash alongside the others in Lake Nicaragua.

For most golfers, it would have been a lousy day at the course. But for Sauter, it was all part of the fun at Granada’s new floating ball driving range on the shore of Lake Nicaragua.

“Who would have thought you could ever hit into Lake Nicaragua,” said his wife, Linda.

The Sauters, both avid golfers from Florida, were among the historic first in a city steeped in tradition. Home to colonial cathedrals and homes, Granada now boasts the country’s first floating-ball driving range, which opened in late March in front of the Granada Beach Club on the lakeside tourist strip.

“It took 500 years for golf to come here,” said Jay Smit, the main person responsible for starting a practice course completely surrounded by water. “I feel like Christopher Columbus.”

The gentlemanly pastime is made possible by a unique evolution in sports technology: golf balls that float. The red-and-white range balls bob in the water like the colorful boats that pass nearby, and get pushed back to shore by the tide.

Facing a headwind, golfers here can aim for one of two makeshift flag poles, knocking ball after ball into the lake with the confidence that they will make it back eventually.

Smit credits the idea to his younger brother, Casper, who saw the potential for a waterbound golfing range after visiting from California three years ago. Named after the famous U.S. golfer from the 1960s, Billy Casper, the younger Smit tracked down the floating balls from a U.S. manufacturer, while the older Smit worked on shipping the clubs and other golf essentials to Nicaragua.

The driving range has three astroturf tees, several full sets of Wilson clubs, and several golf gloves, a must for any serious-minded player. Golfing on Lake Nicaragua comes with its own unique distractions – namely, beachcombers, bathers and others who walk in front of your shot on the beach, or swim into the line of fire 250-yard outs.

But the “course manager,” so to speak, helps make sure that spectators don’t wander too close during play. The “greens keeper” – the only one in the world whose official outfit is a bathing suit – swims out to get the balls. The bar and restaurant at the Granada Beach Club doubles as the “19th-hole club house.”

The driving range is a fun place to work on your swing before trying out Nicaragua’s growing number of golf courses.

For years, the only place to play was the charming Nejapa Golf & Country Club, outside of Managua.

But the Iguana Golf and Condo resort near Gigante beach has added a sparkling 9-hole course, and several other Pacific coast developments, including Gran Pacifica, have also broken ground on new courses.

The Granada practice course, located halfway down the lakeside strip known as “el turismo,” is generally open most of the day, except on weekends and major holidays, when the beach crowds make it impossible to “play through.” The early morning and late afternoon hours offer the most relaxing times to hit, when the sun isn’t as intense.

A bucket of 25 balls costs 50 córdobas ($2.70), if you pay a modest year-long membership fee.Non-members pay slightly more.

Despite the balls’ ability to float, the specially designed balls fly about as far as a regular Titleist. Few things beat a perfectly stroked shot that splits the two red flags as the sun sets over Lake Nicaragua. Having a cold beer nearby to celebrate your swing is also a good idea.

Smit said the course may have to close a couple times a year when the rare offshore wind threatens to carry the balls across the lake toward Chontales, rather than back to the shore.

“When there is an offshore wind we don’t play,” Smit said.

For more information, stop into El Quiote or Zoom bar in the center of Granada, where you can sign up to play. Golf instructions are available upon request.


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