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The game of golf in Cuba is being reborn. During the pre-communist years of the 1920s through to the 50s, the Caribbean country was home to at least seven courses. Visitors included Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. But following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Fidel Castro closed all the courses, considering them to be the epitome of bourgeois excess – despite famously playing a round in Havana when he took on fellow revolutionary Che Guevara dressed in military fatigues. Today, just 27 holes remain on the island.
There is one 18-hole course, the Varadero Golf Club, a nine-hole course near Havana, the Habana Golf Club, and a course at Guantanamo, used by the US military, which is naturally out of bounds. But there are plans to build several new courses and luxury resorts as part of a multi-billion dollar commitment between the Cuban government and foreign investors. With its rolling topography, abundance of oceanfront and vibrant culture, Cuba has the potential to be a golfing mecca.
The par-72, 6,855-yard layout at Varadero has hosted European PGA tournaments and is Cuba’s only world-class championship course. Opened in 1998, it was designed by Canadian Les Furber, a former pupil of the renowned Robert Trent Jones. The course plays similar to those found in Miami – mostly flat and peppered with palm trees. Greens and fairways are irrigated and there are plenty of bunkers and water hazards. Some holes border the beach, providing spectacular views of the sea, particularly the eighth and 18th. There are three putting greens, one pitching green, practice bunkers and two driving ranges.
The elegant 1930s clubhouse, known as Xanadu, overlooks the beach from an elevated coral outcropping. There is an excellent restaurant serving French-style food, a wine cellar and a pleasant terrace bar as well as other facilities. Alongside the clubhouse is a large pro-shop and caddie house with lockers and a bar. There are caddies and electric carts readily at hand and professional instruction is also available.
Bordering the golf course is the 5-star luxury Hotel Melia Las Americas which faces the beautiful Varadero beach. It has 220 standard rooms, 18 suites and 90 bungalows, various restaurants and bars, plus five swimming pools. Taken together, the Varadero Golf Club and the Hotel Melia Las Americas make a first class golfing resort.
The nine-hole, par-35 course at Habana Golf Club survived the Castro regime as a venue for foreign diplomats and visiting businessmen. Originally called the Rover’s Athletic Club, it was established by a group of British diplomats in the 1920s and was the venue for the Castro vs Guevara publicity match played soon after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
The course may not be to the standard of, say, an equivalent course in Florida, but it’s ideal for the more casual golfer. The holes are testing enough and lined with palm trees and bunkers, and there’s a cafe and bar serving local specialities. The course is just 20 minutes from Jose Marti international airport and close to the island’s exciting capital city.
Included in the various ambitious plans to improve Cuba’s golf facilities is a huge luxury resort just an hour by car from Havana and 20 minutes from Varadero. The Carbonera Club will include a world-class, 18-hole course by Tony Jacklin Design, the Jacklin Academy of Golf, a five-star hotel and spa and water sports and tennis clubs. There will also be properties for sale, from private villas to 1-4 bedroom apartments. It promises to be Cuba’s first five-star resort to combine world-class golf and gated community real estate.