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What the Golf Travel Press has to say:
Golf & Travel, By Bradley S. Klein, June/July 1998

Golf News, By Parker Smith, March 1998

On the Green Magazine, By James McAfee, Spring 1998

Corporate Meetings & Incentives, By Peter Huestis, April 1998

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, By Charles Clines, July-98

Florida Golf Monthly, By Jack O'Leary, Sept.-98

Score Fall issue "98 Costa Rica", Sept.-98 Travel, By Hal Quinn

Show Me the Monkeys!, By Turk Pipkin, T & L Golf Magazine

From Colorado Avid Golfer Magazine, by Matt McKay

Click to read the latest testimonialsCosta Rica - A Land Discovered Waiting To Be Revealed, By Robert Kaufman, January, 2004 issue of Houston Golf magazine.

Si Si Costa Rica, By: Mary E. Porter, Editor, Tee Time Magazine

Golf In The Wild, By Tork Pipkin, From Golf Magazine, January 2004

"Tico Time", Costa Rica, where golf takes it's place amid nature's splendor, By Dave Seanor, From Golf Week 7-31-2004

Golf Adventures fulfills the Blanks, By Dave Seanor, From Golf Week 7-31-2004

GNN Goes to Costa Rica, By Ryan Ballengee from Golf News Network, July 2007

The links in this section are for "flip-book" PDF articles:
Try one, you'll like it and if you choose to you can download the file as a PDF document.

Golf Vacation Magazine, Spring Edition 2004   Click Here
Golf Chicago Magazine, March 2004   Click Here
Links Magazine, May - June 2003   Click Here
Philadelphia Golf Magazine, March 2004   Click Here
Travel & Leisure Golf Magazine, November - December 2004   Click Here


More Articles:

Golf and Travel
By Bradley S. Klein
June/July 1998 

Nothing compares with a round of golf where the land tumbles into the sea—howling winds; variable weather; firm, sandy soil; and treeless fields of fescue and gorse. It also helps to have maddening greens, with bunkers and slopes to match. Unfortunately, there are only so many--or so few--seaside courses, and with environmental permitting so restrictive these days, the chances are slim that any new courses will be built on coastal sites.

Fortunately, four new, waterside public golf courses by noteworthy architects have managed to emerge that do give players a sense of the game’s links heritage. Not every course in this foursome is built on dunes reclaimed from the receding sea. But each sits along a vast, open body of water: Playa Conchal, in Costa Rica, runs along the Pacific Ocean.

Click to read the latest testimonialsBy law, a quarter of Costa Rica’s land mass is set aside for nature preserves and

National parks--much of it in the form of rain forests. As in many countries, the coastline is subject to particularly close regulation. With golf relatively new--the country has a 9-hole layout dating to 1942 as well as two courses open in the seventies, one in 1988, two in 1997 and one last February--the government is careful to monitor developers.

So when the mammoth Spanish hotel chain Meliá sought to build a tasteful 650-acre seaside resort and golf course along the Pacific Coast in Guanacaste Providence, it turned for guidance to a designer with impeccable credentials as a naturalist: Robert Trent Jones Jr.

At Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, Jones and his project designer Gary Linn were required to keep the golf grounds set back some 150 feet from the beach line. They so were not allowed to cut down any of the aged Banyan trees, which serve as a windbreak - and as it turned out, home to the area’s appropriately named howler monkeys. If you think their friendly chatter is amusing as a wake-up call each morning, wait until you waggle at the seventh tee, preparing to hit a draw shot on this lovely par-5; the darn monkeys just won’t keep quiet. But it’s a small price to pay for keeping the game in such pristine conditions.

A dry creek bed traverses Garra de León’s front side and many of the holes on this more open nine allow for broad views that take in the hills to the east and the ocean on the west. No one would mistake the Bermuda-grass course for a links layout. But while the shorter holes (like the 318-yard, par-4 first and the 145-yard, par-3 eighth) call for delicate shots over hazards fronting the greens, the longer holes are designed to accommodate shots struck low into the wind. The back nine has an especially natural feel, as holes 10 through 13 lie at the base of a hillside dense with hardwoods, and at the 16th green only a line of Banyon trees stand between you and the blazing white Pacific beach.

These new courses--each with its own distinctive use of lake, sea or ocean incorporate modern techniques of design yet look and feel as if they’ve been here for ages. These are precious examples of an age-old game where public players can experience a classic mix of traditional elements. When land hits open water, golf is at its most thrilling.

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Golf News
By Parker Smith
March 1998 

It’s the place everyone’s heard about. Someone retired there. Someone just went…just came back. But not you. Where is Costa Rica? Somewhere in the jungles...? Actually, it’s the most accessible, most affordable, friendliest destination outside the United States. With championship golf from the likes of George Fazio, Ron Garl and Robert Trent Jones II.... and weather that is always perfect on the coast....

Stop right now. Pick up the phone. Call the travel agent. Costa Rica is where you want to go for your next vacation--golf, fishing, surfing, hiking...relaxing... Did I say the Pacific Coast? Yes, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean...and the Atlantic--well, the Caribbean Sea, but you‘ll never again want to see the Caribbean Islands after you’ve seen Costa Rica.

This little country has twenty-five percent of its land mass devoted to preservation and public parks, possesses every climate known to the planet (something like 21 of 25) except the really cold ones, like frozen tundra’s and polar ice caps, and has enormous percentage of the life forms on earth. It is a visual wonderland, a tropic OZ waiting to amaze you.

Click to read the latest testimonialsThis magical part of the Central America peninsula, hanging loose between Panama and Nicaragua, has rain forests, volcanoes, hot springs, whitewater peaceful rivers, mountains, caves, savannas, deserts, oceans... It has no army, is an elected democracy, its smiling people have a 97% literacy rate... Nobody has their hand out.

Does it get any better than this? No.

Is your wife or girlfriend happy? Yes.

This is (still) a paradise. So go, but go now. Now is the time to enjoy...And invest. By the way, you won’t believe all the retired Americans already living there, enjoying the value of the dollar.

A typical journey might take you first and last to San José, taking advantage of better flight schedules into there while the Liberia airport on the West Coast still works on expansion. By going into San José, you get the old world while perching peacefully on the hillside above the city at Meliá Cariari, a comfortable resort with a George Fazio gem of a golf course that is filled with flowers, vistas, strong par-4s, and excellent caddies (ask for Martin or Umberto). Two or three days there, then on the bus to Guanacaste and the Meliá Playa Conchal. The Meliá Playa Conchal is superlative. A modern convention center with state of the art communications, a casino on a rich promontory overlooking the most incredible view of the sea you’ve ever been presented, and a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course that is really fun to play. Tennis, health club, parties on the beach...

A resident theatre group that provides live entertainment almost every night... Surfing, sailing, snorkeling, snoozing, schmoozing, a skinny dipping in the sea... The best sea fishing in the Americas... Terrific restaurants--you can be in Italy, America, Costa Rica....

None of us wanted to leave.

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On the Green Magazine
By James McAfee
Spring 1998 

Psst! Want in on one of the great golf destinations before others find out?

While Eco-tourism will probably remain the primary reason that people from all over the world visit, don’t be surprised if Costa Rica--especially the Golf Coast on the Pacific Ocean side--becomes a golf Mecca by the turn of the century.

Click to read the latest testimonialsThe Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call themselves, are polite and peaceful, and know how to make visitors feel welcome. In the midst of all of the political unrest in Central America, Costa Rica has remained an island of stability and peace, not even supporting an army.

Although Garra de León hugs the coast, it doesn’t have any dramatic ocean holes--the 16th green is 30 yards from the beach. But there are still beautiful vistas to enjoy and "mucha agua" to contend with, including water on a pair of par-5s where gamblers can take a risk and get home in two. The Campo de Golf is a formidable par-72 course. The 318-yard first hole challenges golfers with a wide ditch in front of the green to catch shots that aren’t long enough--just like at St. Andrews. Seven of the other par-4 holes measure more than 400 yards, and there is a good mix of par-3s that range from 138 to 207 yards, and require well-struck irons over water. Higher handicappers will be happy to learn that Jones does offer "bail out" areas near many of the greens where they can play safe and make bogey, or even save par with a good putt.

Near Conchal is Rancho Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, an 18-hole Ron Garl design. The front nine is relatively open and features gently rolling fairways surrounded by water hazards. In contrast, the back nine is cut through rocky terrain where a premium is placed on accuracy.

...Although many new courses are springing up along the coast and in the central region, a golf vacation in Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without visiting Meliá Cariari in San José, and playing at least one round at the George Fazio-designed Cariari Country Club. A par 71 layout with more than 1,000 local members (only 200 golf members), the course was Costa Rica’s first 18-hole design. Built on a coffee plantation 25 years ago, the trees put a premium on accuracy off the tee with landing areas as tight as those in the U.S. Open.

For more information about golf vacations in Costa Rica, contact Costa Rica Golf Adventures, the country’s only travel company dedicated to golf, at 1-888-536-8510.

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Corporate Meetings & Incentives
By Peter Huestis
April 1998 

San José’s Meliá Cariari Conference Center & Golf Resort was our first stop

Click to read the latest testimonialsWe received the VIP treatment from the resort’s staff, though the George Fazio-designed course was not nearly as hospitable! (Ray Floyd holds the course record) The golf course weaves through gently rolling terrain with fairways bordered by some of the most beautiful trees seen anywhere in the world. The tree trunks look like Jackson Pollack took his paintbrush and splashed on vivid colors.

Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort... One of the resort’s main draws is the championship golf course Robert Trent Jones Jr. cut from the jungle. Jones was on hand at Playa Conchal for the official course opening, and it was a thrill to meet and play with this legendary course architect. Our group competed on his challenging layout, which winds in and out of the hills around the resort. I will long remember the lovely views, exotic wildlife and lush vegetation that has put Playa Conchal on the must-play list for golfers from across the world.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By Charles Clines
July-98

The gallery continued to grow as the two golfers prepared to tee off on the par-3. It's not often a twosome of average golfers can attract an audience of 15 or so. Then again, maybe the onlookers were there just because of the nearby trees. Several were, after all, hanging by their tails from the limbs. Monkeys, you see, do that.

Even if the furry critters didn't seem particularly interested in the humans, the two golfers turned spectators for a while as the adult and baby monkeys frolicked in the trees next to the tee.

Click to read the latest testimonialsThat's the way golf can be in Costa Rica, a Central American country known for its wildlife.

In fact, most tourists visit the country to see the rain forests, volcanoes, wildlife and maybe catch a wave or two surfing. But the country that never turns cold also seems on the verge of becoming the next golfing hot spot.

There are few better courses than the year-old Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Garra de León Campo de Golf at the Meliá Playa Conchal Golf Beach & Golf Resort on the Pacific side of the country.

I was playing golf with James McAfee, former executive director of the Northern Texas PGA and now the director of golf at the Meliá Playa Conchal resort. We were playing in late June as the so-called winter (rainy season) was just beginning. At 85 degrees, the winter weather wasn't too bad and made one wonder why this is the country's off season. We practically had the course to ourselves.

Although indications are that the sport is ready to boom with at least two other 18-hole courses scheduled to be built, golf has been slow to catch on in this country that's more known for its natural attractions There are three 18-hole courses, and several 9-hole layouts. While not a lot to choose from, the 18-hole courses and the one 9-hole course I played, are excellent tests of golf and well-manicured.

If one likes to walk, the George Fazio-designed Cariari Country Club, which is part of the Meliá Cariari hotel, in San José has caddies Many of the caddies are students and get to play on Mondays and some afternoons, so they know the game. The ones we had read the greens to near perfection.

Joining us at Cariari was Landy Blank, who moved to Costa Rica two years ago to form his Costa Rica Golf Adventures company. He has several golf and sightseeing packages, and because he lives there, he knows the ins and outs of the country.

The nice thing is that Costa Rica is only 31/2 hours from Houston, where I left from on Continental Airlines. It's closer than Hawaii and cheaper, and the scenery is almost as good.

You can fly into San José and stay and play golf at the Meliá Cariari. From there, it's a 31/2-hour bus drive to the Meliá Playa Conchal resort. The Rancho Las Colinas, which features a rolling back nine, is about 20 minutes or so from there.

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Florida Golf Monthly
By Jack O'Leary
Sept.-98

Endless beaches gently washed by warm water waves. Lively music and laughter emanating from a small, palm-lined coastal village. Golf courses that blend in with all of the above to create an atmosphere in which even the most nervous golfer would crave a few lingering moments to savor the experience as if it were a mellow wine. 

Click to read the latest testimonialsWhat's missing from this picture? You are. If you want to be a part of it, you'd better hop on the next flight to Costa Rica because when the word gets out that the place is becoming the best tropical golf vacation spot in the northern hemisphere, things might get a bit crowded there. Seriously. It's that good and it's that accessible.

Misconceptions about Costa Rica abound. First, many people think it's an island. It's not. Rather, Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordered on the north by Nicaragua, on the south by Panama and the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans on its coasts. It is on the West Coast that golf is about to explode like one of the country's volcanoes. 

Second, Costa Rica, like many Central American countries, is often

Perceived as a "banana republic." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Costa Rica has no military whatsoever, and the absence of such force is reflected in the serene attitudes of the native people. 

Third, many think that Costa Ricans regard U.S. visitors as "ugly

Americans." Unlike many countries around the globe where American tourists meet with contempt, Costa Ricans actually welcome us with open arms. Fortunately, those arms aren't reaching for American wallets. There's no price gouging the visiting gringos, and tipping is done.

On a minor scale (Ten percent on meals, if not included in the bill, and a $2 tip for a bellman are sufficient).

The fourth misconception is that Costa Rica is so hot that it makes the Florida summer feel like the inside of a refrigerator. The truth is, Costa Rica has seven vastly different climates. The Guanacaste region is cooler than Florida in the summer, and reduced off-season prices make it a very attractive summer destination.

The fifth and probably biggest misconception about Costa Rica is that it has no golf courses. The truth is, Costa Rica offers some great golf today and it will offer even more the near future. The entry-level standard of excellence of Costa Rica's courses, those available for play now and in the near future, ensures that Costa Rica will soon be one of the hottest golf destinations in the world. While tourists once visited Costa Rica for its other beautiful attractions and discovered its golf courses accidentally, the tide is turning. Soon visitors will be booking golf trips and setting tee times first and leaving a few hours for the other beautiful attractions.

Golf isn't a totally new concept for Costa Rica. The game was first introduced in the capital city of San José 26 years ago. On the outskirts of the bustling downtown area of San José sits the Meliá Cariari Resort. Here, architect George Fazio was commissioned to create a golf course on a site that would challenge the creative abilities of any designer. The result? A wonderful golf experience that has changed dramatically through the years.

When Fazio was first issued the challenge, he had a small hilly piece of land to develop. Somehow he managed to build a very strong golf course that, at 6,590 yards from the tips, also is very playable. To add to the challenge, Fazio planted hundreds of trees. After 25 years of intense growth, those same trees now comprise a major part of the challenge of Cariari Country Club. It's safe to say that on just about every hole, accuracy is much more important than length on this course. If you miss a fairway, the minimum cost will be one stroke. The thick, wiry rough coupled with the dense forest dictate that you get your ball back in play. A good score is available at Cariari Country Club, but the double and triple bogey is always in play. Never be overconfident that you're on your way to a low round until you hole out on the 18th hole. You're always one bad swing away from disaster.

Because most flights into Costa Rica land in San José, Cariari Country Club will usually be your first Costa Rican golf experience. From there, you have two travel options to the province of Guanacaste in the country's northwest region. You can either drive over the Andes and through the coffee plantations of the central part of the country, an incredibly beautiful four-hour drive, or catch a commuter flight to the city of Liberia. Driving one way and flying the other is highly recommended because flying both ways will cheat you out of one of the greatest visual treats you'll ever experience. 

The golf flagship in the west is the Meliá Playa Conchal Resort. Owned by the same company that owns the Cariari Resort in San José, Conchal is the first major Costa Rican resort to offer a championship golf facility. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, Conchal stretches to a mighty 7,033 yards from the back markers with more playable courses at 6,593, 6,045 and 5,396 yards. Not only does Conchal challenge golfers with its length, it also confronts them with constant elevation changes. Sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic (e.g., the 100-foot drop from the tee box to the fairway on the 435-yard, par-4 12th hole), the elevation shifts play an integral part of every club selection you make. 

The key to success in playing Conchal is to hit the ball solidly. The course is too long to allow mis-hits to go unpunished. To balance out the demands of length, Jones provides you with ample landing areas on the longer holes. 

Unlike many resort courses, Conchal is a true test of golf from the opening tee shot to the final putt. You may be lulled to sleep by the relatively straightforward 318-yard, par-4 first hole, but the second tee will rudely awaken you. Forget that this may be one of the most beautiful holes in Costa Rica; it's also one of the toughest. Out of bounds creeps in close to the right side of the fairway on this dogleg left hole, and a ravine guards the left side of the fairway. This same ravine curls across the fairway to protect the front of the green. Miss the green to the left, and a cavernous bunker will all but guarantee a bogey. If this isn't enough of a challenge, factor in a subtle uphill elevation change that adds half a club to the equation.

If you master the second hole and limp away with a hard-earned par, the

467-yard, par-4 third hole will render your chances of maintaining that string improbable. Not only is the hole extra long, the second shot is uphill, and a pair of bunkers guards the left side of the green. The design dictates that you approach the green from the right side because the ball will feed to the green from there. There's just one other slight problem. Out of bounds runs close to the right side of the fairway all the way to the green, so don't give the right side of the green too wide of a berth, or the phrase, "I'm hitting a provisional ball," will be quick to you lips.

Even if the challenge of Conchal leaves you somewhat disheveled, relief is at hand. The Meliá Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort is a world class facility that caters to your golf needs while perfecting the art of relaxation in all its forms. The resort offers many ways to dust off the effects of a challenging round of golf. A dip in the long, winding resort pool surely will wash away all your memories of missed shots. A stroll along the adjoining beach will allow the gentle Pacific breeze to clear your mind as well. If you require a change of scenery, the villages of Flamingo and Tamarindo enable you to soak up some local flavor, and they're just a few moments away. After enjoy.

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Score Fall issue "98 Costa Rica"
Sept.-98Travel:
By Hal Quinn
There is a charming native expression that visitors to Costa Rica repeatedly overhear as they first acquaint themselves with this lush and brilliantly colorful land. They catch part of it, then have it translated, and within days they use it themselves. And between visits to this enchanted and little known jewel between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, it is something that they will always associate with this land and never forget: "Pura Vida."

Click to read the latest testimonialsTo the "Ticos" as Costa Ricans call themselves, the expression means, well, just about everything. It can mean a casual hello, or goodbye. It can mean "cool", "I agree" , "fantastic". In fact, "Pura Vida" means anything the Ticos -- and within days, the visitors -- want it to mean. It is pure life, pure joy. And now it is the best way to describe how golfers feel about Costa Rica.

Almost 500 years after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a potentially more dramatic discovery has been made. In the past decade, Baby Boomers have found that Costa Rica's stable climates -- both political and seasonal-- its three million friendly and well-educated citizens (the nation boasts a 93 per cent literacy rate), and its spectacular 51,000 sq. kms. of remarkably varied topography make it ideal for vacations, retirement and golf.

The modern day explorers to this tropical Shangri-La have names like George and Tom Fazio, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. They didn't come seeking treasures, instead they left them behind for all golfers who follow.

When Columbus arrived in 1502, the Ticos -- an amalgam of the rich and storied heritages of the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs -- were not amused. The determined resistance of the coastal tribes and the apparent lack of gold and booty to plunder encouraged the rampaging Spaniards to move on.

Costa Ricans fervently believe that the very absence of mineral wealth was their salvation then and the key to their future now. There has never been a reason for the conquerors of old or the conglomerates of today to despoil this paradise.

Their neighbors to the north, on the narrow isthmus of Central America, is the historically strife-torn Nicaragua. To the south is the perpetually contentious Panama. Spain laid claim to this spectacular land with its glacier-capped mountains, lush valleys, rolling highlands ideal for coffee growing, and 1,000 kms of breathtaking shoreline, but without enthusiasm. In fact, the Ticos only learned that Spain had given them their freedom when a rider on horseback brought the belated news from Nicaragua in 1821.

To this day, Costa Rica -- in such stark contrast to the other nations in the region -- has yet to find a need to have an army. A democracy since 1889, no civil wars or revolutions or military dictatorships have despoiled the land. It is because, as the Ticos say, they were too busy building schools.

In the past few years, and for many years to come, the Costa Ricans have been busy building golf courses.

Award-winning Canadian golf architect Les Furber has visited Costa Rica many times and is involved in developing a number of projects. Like everyone who makes the journey, he has come away impressed.

"Costa Rica is the place of the future, and they are doing it right too, said Furber, who recently restored the Banff Springs Stanley Thompson course. "Costa Ricans are very conscientious about the environment and of eco-tourism". They want to keep the green space around.

Indeed, the natural splendor that virtually overwhelms visitors is protected like no other place on earth. The parks, wildlife preserves, archaeological monuments, nine forest reserves, seven fauna sanctuaries and the National Forest total more than a million hectares and represents an astonishing 21 per cent of the country.

Costa Rica has nine active volcanoes, thousands of hectares of "cloud forest" on the upper reaches of the mountains and even vaster regions covered with unthinkably lush rainforests. Home to thousands of life forms in 12 distinct climate zones, Costa Rica has 850 species of birds alone! And now it has idyllic havens for the quixotic quests for the less colorful but equally rare birdies and eagles.

Fittingly, it all started in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, home to more than one million Ticos. Nestled at 3,800 feet above sea level in the cradle of the central mountains, San Jose is the epitome of Central American charm and natural beauty. ( Direct flights from Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Houston).

On the outskirts of the city, on the site of a former coffee plantation, world-renowned architect George Fazio (with considerable help from the equally respected Tom Fazio) created an 18-hole masterpiece.

In exchange for a residential lot (valued then at US $10,000) on the site of the Melia Cariari Conference Center and Golf Resort that is the centerpiece of the course, George routed a typically thoughtful and challenging Fazio layout. Mature, it opened in 1974, and elegantly traditional, the par 71 Cariari course plays longer than its 6,590 yards. Heavily treed, with amazing cacti and exotic native plants and stately palms as accents, the premium is on accuracy off the tee. The par fours are especially strong; the fives reachable only with precise shots. One of the full staff of caddies will help will all decisions, for a reasonable fee.

The course is open to members and guests at the Melia Cariari Resort, and guests at area hotels with playing arrangements. But a stay at the enchanting Cariari resort -- with open-air entrances to the rooms and vibrantly-colored parrots greeting guests each morning -- is worth the trip itself.
The same is true of the Melia Cariari's sister resort, the Melia Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort -- a four- hour drive from San Jose, or less than an hour's flight.

Surveying his truly remarkable creation, the championship course at the Resort on the Pacific coast in the northern province of Guanacaste, it is obvious that a year after its opening, Trent Jones Jr. still holds the land in a special type of reverence.

The resort itself is as unique and memorable as the Conchal Campo de Golf course. Set amid manicured grounds -- the enormous swimming pool, with its simulated bays, beaches, islands and swim-up bar is an architectural marvel itself -- the guest quarters are four-plex bungalows with individual entrances. From the balconies, the views include the palms and massive trees that are home to howler monkeys, the five-star open-air restaurant, the cafes, the beach and the crashing surf beyond. And, naturally, the golf course.

"I am very much an aesthetic person, I like things that are wonderfully beautiful, said Jones Jr., whose resume of award winning courses around the world includes the Chateau Whistler Golf Club in Whistler, B.C. "Nature provides the bounty. All we do is lightly work with nature and reveal her secrets."

From the first hole on this remarkably beautiful par 72 course, Jones Jr. design is 7,030 yards of nature stunningly unadorned. But as the golf purist in Jones Jr. reveals: "This course is relentless, you have to play good golf. If you are a good player, you are not going to record a par, or sub-par, round without really working at it"

Typical of his courses, Jones Jr. creates a pleasant rhythm with dramatic crescendos. The opening hole is the 17 handicap hole, expansive and the perfect warm up. The second, the 11 handicap hole, is another par four but narrower and with a deceptive elevated green. With a clash of cymbals, the par 4 third hole -- uphill and 467 yards -- demands two superbly placed long shot to reach a sloping, well-guarded green. It easily earns its number one handicap ranking.

And so it continues around this superb layout, that -- because of the almost year-round growing season -- belies its age. At a year old, it plays as a mature, championship course.
Also in the "Gold Coast" region about an hour's journey from the Conchal resort, is the Ranchos Las Colinas Golf and Country Club designed by Ron Garl. A gently rolling, relatively open and inviting front nine contrasts with the back nine carved from steep, rugged land. The river running through it, and the rock outcroppings, call for accuracy. And the calls from the howler monkeys and tropical birds -- and the views of one of Costa Rica's premier surfing beaches, Playa Grande -- ease the pain of errant shots.

Four more courses on the Gold Coast -- soon to be known by players as the "golf coast"-- will open soon. Besides the new Los Altos de Cacique del Mar, Resort Rancho Mary, Vistas del Flamingo and Monte del Barco courses, two more are in the planning stages.

And back where it all started, in the heart of the Central Valley in San Jose, two nine-hole courses followed the Melia Cariari example. Opened in the mid-1970s, Los Reyes Country Club and the Tango Mar Beach Resort and Country Club have nine-hole courses. And this year, the front nine of the Parque Valle del Sol of the 18-hole course is open for play.

Under construction along the Pacific Coast west of San Jose are La Roca Country Club, the Marriott"s Los Suenos at Playa Herradura. And the Tulin Resort is building an 18 course south of Jaco Beach. The rates are reasonable. For instance, at the Playa Conchal in high season ( Dec 15 to Apr 1) golf is US$100 for registered guests at the resort, $120 for visitors. Low season the fess are $80 and $90 and year round they include power cart, range balls, yardage book, bag tag and bottled water.

Not far from the first tee, from the terrace of the marble-floored and tiled roof open-air reception building at the Playa Conchal, with its view of the ocean, the guest bungalows and his beautiful course, Trent Jones Jr. mused: "You know, people really should come here now before the word gets out."

Indeed, everyone will soon hear about this unique and wonderful bit of paradise. And the words they'll hear will be; "Pura Vida."

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Show Me the Monkeys!
by Turk Pipkin
T & L Golf Magazine

Pura vida! It's practically the national saying of Costa Rica. A toast, a greeting, even an advertising slogan, it translates literally as "pure life," but pura vida also means "the good life." It means basking in the astonishing natural wonders of this place with friends and family. And in sports, it means those indelible moments when the superfluous falls away, and life and game meld as one.

Click to read the latest testimonialsI was having one of those moments on the seventh tee of Garra de León, a two-year-old resort course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Ahead of me was a long par five with thirteen bunkers and a green hiding behind a large lake. On my right, the resident pro was challenging me to go for it in two. That kind of pressure should have had me squeezing the life out of my driver, but my nervousness was erased by a large band of howler monkeys scampering across the fairway toward us, the last young howler not much larger than a kitten.

"We love our monkeys," director of golf James McAfee said, "but wait till you see the crocodiles on sixteen."

With all my confusing swing thoughts erased by visions of monkeys and crocodiles, I stepped up to the ball and ripped a long drive straight down the middle. "Pura vida, baby! Show me the monkeys!"

To adventurous travelers, Costa Rica has long been considered one of the world's finest unspoiled destinations, a country smaller than the state of West Virginia but one with an astonishing five percent of the world's total number of species. Even before the international boom in ecotourism, the country had its true believers--frequent visitors who made a point of not telling anyone back home about their secret paradise.

Word eventually got out, of course, resulting in ever-increasing tourism during the last decade, but only in the past year has Costa Rica joined the global golf boom. A forty-five-minute plane ride (or a four-hour drive) from the capital of San José, on a stretch of the Pacific coast known primarily for big-game fishing and near-perfect surfing, golfers are flocking to two playing fields of green--Garra de León, at Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, and its neighbor, Rancho las Colinas Golf & Country Club.

Both courses are in an area of dry tropical forest (as opposed to rain forest), on rolling land with huge trees--perfect terrain for dramatic golf holes. Garra de León (which translates as "lion's paw") is part of the impressive hotel complex Meliá Playa Conchal. Designed like a self-contained village, the Meliá provides lavish oversize accommodations in small buildings laid out in a cluster set amid the two nines of the course. Shuttles continually ferry guests to the pro shop, the restaurants, the sprawling free-form swimming pool or Playa Conchal itself, a long, palm-shaded stretch of beach made of tiny crushed seashells.

But Costa Rica is lined with beautiful beaches, and the reason for coming here is resort golf in the classic style that Robert Trent Jones Jr. has perfected around the world--wide fairways, short rough and large greens for your average hacker, but plenty of risk and reward for the brave or the foolish.

"It was great fun to work in an ecological wonderland," Jones says. "The feeling is that you come into that valley, and you're in a sanctuary."

The Meliá is also a cultural sanctuary, with many guests never leaving the hotel property.

That's a mistake, for just beyond the Meliá's impressive entrance lies the real Costa Rica. The area's formal tours range from rain forest aerial trams to horseback riding on the beach. But there is more to explore, and when you do, you'll discover that Costa Ricans are perhaps the friendliest people in Latin America. I ventured late one evening to the town of Santa Cruz, about forty-five minutes away, where the local fiesta of the bulls was under way. What I found was a raucous party and bullfighting, Costa Rican style, in which brave and inebriated young men spring into the small ring and demonstrate their foolhardy machismo by touching the bull's horns or grabbing his tail. Although the bulls are never killed, the young men sometimes are, making this strictly a spectator event for tourists.

The next morning I was up at dawn and off to the Flamingo Marina, headquarters to Permit sportfishing, one of the best companies of its kind in the country. My skipper for the day was Art James, who came here five years ago after raising his kids in Washington state. Like every other American expatriate I met on my trip, Art says he's in Costa Rica to stay.

As we motored into the deep blue waters of the Pacific, the ocean began to put on an impressive display. All around us, schools of small skipjack were feeding on the surface, manta rays were jumping completely out of the water and flying fish zipped fifty feet across the surface with amazing bursts of speed. Soon we were racing along with a vast school of spotted dolphin, stretching from our boat nearly to the horizon.

In the spring months, the main sport-fishing goal here is Pacific sailfish and the occasional marlin. There's absolutely no reason to kill these magnificent billfish; everyone practices strict catch-and-release. I'd carefully scheduled my trip to occur after the annual arrival of the sailfish from warmer waters to the south, but the fish were apparently using a different calendar. On the same day that I was skunked, the guests on another boat down the coast landed and released an incredible twenty-one "sails."

But that's fishing, and besides, on the way back to the docks, we trolled for a few minutes near the beach, where I "took the stink off the boat," as Art put it, by catching two fat jack crevalle. Both were strong fighters whose destiny was to provide a nice fish stew for Art's neighbors.

Back on shore I met another fishing guide named Craig Ledbetter (Wildlife Sportfishing), who was eager to show me his home course, the new Rancho las Colinas, located just fifteen minutes south of the Meliá course. Along the way we ate lunch at an open-air restaurant named Las Cruces, where I paid six bucks for a fantastic whole fried red snapper with plantains, and gallo pinto, the Costa Rican staple of black beans and rice.

With an old school design (and some clever innovations) by Ron Garl, Las Colinas isn't as lush as Garra de León, but it's every bit as much fun to play. The best holes are ten through sixteen, which form a full circle around a small mountain. The signature hole is thirteen, a par four spanning a creek and leading up a steep hill to a green atop a plateau carved out of solid rock. The stone face in front of the green makes this one of the most difficult approach shots in all of golf.

Because we were playing with Mike Osborne, one of the course's owners, who'd left his home of Las Vegas to take a gamble on Costa Rica, we made a Vegas-size wager: a hundred a hole. If the bet had been for dollars instead of colones--the Costa Rican currency, valued at about one-third of a cent--I'd have won more than a cold after-round drink at a neighborhood dance hall.

The third golf course of my trip was the nation's oldest eighteen-holer, the splendid Cariari Country Club, opened in 1974 on the outskirts of San José. It's a members-only course unless you're staying at the nearby Herradura Hotel or the adjacent Meliá Cariari Conference Center & Golf Resort, where I checked in and teed up within a half hour.

By any country's standards, this is an excellent track. Designed by George Fazio (and built by nephew Tom), the course features long, narrow fairways lined by towering pine trees. I was reminded of Torrey Pines, or Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, another alpine layout designed by the elder Fazio. At nearly four thousand feet above sea level, the air here is cool and refreshing, far from what you'd expect in Central America. With my foursome playing late in the day, two in the group were shivering by the time we made it to eighteen.

I took two non-golf side trips while I was in the country, both of them memorable. The first was a potholed but spectacular three-hour drive from the international airport at San José to the town of La Fortuna, which is located at the base of the Arenal volcano. Constantly active since a major eruption in 1968 (which killed seventy-eight people and covered an area of almost eight square miles in rock, lava and ash), Arenal is rightfully one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The premier hotel is the remote Arenal Observatory Lodge, built by the Smithsonian Institute on a ridge considered the perfect place to study and monitor the volcano's activity.

Depending upon the weather, the views of the volcano from the hotel's bar and rooms can be spectacular, though I was equally amazed by the tropical birds, whose exotic names--like red-legged honeycreeper, yellow-throated euphonia, and scarlet-rumped tanager--didn't do justice to their actual appearances.

The lodge's nighttime Hot Lava Tour takes you close enough to hear the whooshing roars of gas escaping the lava dome, and seconds later, to see bright red car-size boulders of thousand-degree lava falling out of the clouds and tumbling down the mountain toward you. Exhausted but exalted on the way back to the lodge, I stopped at Tabecón Resort for dinner, cocktails and a long soak in the spa's volcano-heated mineral waters.

Despite the natural beauty of Arenal, the highlight of my trip was Hotel Punta Islita, a secluded haven overlooking a small Pacific bay and surrounded by lush valleys and dramatic mountain ridges.

Most guests choose to fly here from the capital, but I made the three-hour drive from the Meliá Playa Conchal, stopping primarily to scout a couple of rivers I had to drive through that were running at least fifty-feet wide. Arriving at an architectural gem of thatched conical roofs and 360-degree views, I was so impressed that my very first item of business was to add an extra night to my reservation. I peeled off my dusty clothes after checking into my plush casita and slipped into the private plunge pool, staring out at the ocean and ducking a bit as three green parrots came squawking just overhead.

There are miles of hiking trails here, fine riding horses, the hotel's own fishing fleet and a beautiful beach club on a protected cove. The food at the hotel's formal restaurant measures up to the nighttime views. Seated beneath the stars after dinner, I enjoyed a Cuban cigar and began to dream of my next visit to Costa Rica.

My passion for the game is the strongest when I am playing somewhere new and wonderful, where the smells on the afternoon breeze are exotic and unidentifiable, where the crashing curl of the ocean waves in the distance matches the curl of a putt as it falls into Mother Earth, where the golf course becomes a part of its natural surroundings, not the other way around.

Though Punta Islita is not ever likely to have golf beyond its driving range, the most memorable moment of my trip occurred here on the beach. Crossing the curving stretch of sand and an area of cliff-side tidal pools filled with all sorts of mysterious creatures, I came to land's end, where I discovered a sea cave running into the tall cliff protecting the bay. Looking closer, I saw the rays of the afternoon sun coming through the opening and realized it was not a cave, but a natural tunnel, four feet high and maybe fifty feet long.

Even at low tide, the surge of the waves and the slick, wet rocks made the journey potentially dangerous, but I knew already that I had to go through that tunnel, had to see what was on the other side. Timing my jump with the ebb of t he waves, I scrambled down the slick rocks and made my way into the chamber. All around me, inches from my arms and face, thousands of fat crabs crawled up the sides of the tunnel to escape my progress. I pressed on, climbing the incline and emerging on miles of deserted beach with the last rays of a glorious sunset. I only had a few minutes of this splendor before the rising tide would block my return. But a few moments was enough, and I headed back into the tunnel, where the crabs again surrounded me by the thousands.

Pura vida they call it. And now I know why.

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TIP FROM THE PRO
Playing the Hills
At Garrade Leon and other courses in Costa Rica, the terrain is quite hilly, and a golfer is often faced with a sidehill lie. Here is my advice on how to play a shot with the ball above your feet:

Choke down on the club and play the ball back in your stance. Stand more erect than usual, with less knee flex and more distance between you and the ball. Put more weight on your toes because gravity will tend to force your weight to your heels. Take a flatter, baseball-type swing and don't use your legs as much because you might lose your balance. I prefer to take more club and use a three-quarter swing to keep my balance. Others might just take a slower full swing. Aim to the right of the target, as the normal flight is lower and right to left.
JAMES McAFEE, Director of Golf, Garra de León

TRAVEL AGENT
In Pursuit of Pura Vida
The unspoiled beauty of Costa Rica extends beyond the rain forests and volcanoes to the virtual nonexistence of addresses. Directions often sound something like, "The restaurant is three hundred meters south of the church that burned down five years ago." How to proceed? You can work with your hotel's concierge or call ahead. A better bet: Enlist a tour operator, such as Costa Rica Golf Adventures. CRGA will arrange all accommodations, golf itineraries and activities. Contact CRGA at 888-261-6645, or by e-mail, golf@centralamerica.com.

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From Colorado Avid Golfer Magazine
by Matt McKay

It seemed like another random turn in a narrow Costa Rican Highway on the road from San Jose to Jaco. But Landy Blank knew the road and smoothly pedaled the brake.

Click to read the latest testimonials"Look here. You can see all the way to the Pacific," Blank said, pointing out a gap in the mountains that revealed a glimpse of the West Coast.

"There are a lot of great views in this country, but this is one of my favorites," said Blank the president and founder of Costa Rica Golf Adventures. "When the mountaintops are misty and you can still see the ocean, that's really something."

I'd already heard - and by now, you've probably heard it too - that Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. But seeing it was something else; it's Jamaica without trash in the gutters, a Spanish-speaking Hawai'i.

I'd also heard it is difficult to fly into Costa Rica, and it takes hours to drive from the capital, San Jose, to any other resort area in the country.

I'm not going to tell you that's not true. There are great golf courses, and there are first-class hotels (and second-class, third-class, etc.). Travel into the country has always come through San Jose, and the drive to the Northwest coast takes nearly four hours because of the winding, two-lane mountain passes that must be negotiated.

The Guanacaste International Airport at Liberia, which serves the Northwest coast, is busy taking on new routes from U.S. air carriers, and a Four Seasons Hotel complete with an Arnold Palmer designed golf course is expected to open within months.

But a majority of gringos still enter through the capital city, then fan out to all points. That type of itinerary helps make up a portion of why any trip to Costa Rica - golf or otherwise - is an "adventure."

However, here's what you may not know. In this time, when it is fashionable to hate Americans worldwide, evidently Costa Ricans haven't been watching MSNBC or reading their newspapers at all. For their collective arms are outstretched to U.S. citizens, but not to try and sell them a wooden carving or cocaine. The Ticos appear to take great pride in the fact that foreigners of any nationality would choose their country to spend their hard-earned vacation dollars. Thusly, when they smile, nod, and reply to your "gracias" with "Con mucho gusto" - with much pleasure - it seems genuine.

There's a socioeconomic reason for the love affair. The U.S. has evidently been very good to the country for some time in terms of financial support, trade, and tourism, pouring money into the country during the late 20th century to keep tabs on its less-reliable neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama.

But as a tourist in 2003, it's easy to see the benefits of the Yankee dollar, and I'm not just talking about the McDonalds and Hampton Inn just outside the San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport. From the time you hit the tarmac in San Jose (or Guanacaste), you are made to feel truly welcome and at ease. While your dollars are very welcome and therefore deserving of a certain level of pampering, Costa Rica is a country with a wide economic base. As a result, even the street vendors have adopted a low-pressure approach.

Some gringos - and the number is growing daily - have grown so attached to the country they have simply pulled up roots and relocated. Or they have sunk thousands of dollars into land purchases, home construction, and locally-based businesses, all of which continues the love-and-money-go-round between the Ticos and the Americans.

Blank is one of those gringos who got in close to the ground floor. A native Pennsylvanian and former defensive back at North Carolina in the 1960's, Blank and his wife Susan fell in love with the country during their visits there in the early 1990's.

With his contacts in the golf industry, the incredible landscapes, the gringo-friendly environment, the existing courses, and the knowledge that several large companies had already planned golf destinations for the country led him to believe there was a market that needed promotion. And he and his wife were just the team to get it done.

Blank's company (www.golfcr.com, 1-888-536-8510) is sort of a one-stop shop for golf tourists considering a junket to Costa Rica. He won't personally be with you every step of the way as he was while serving as my host, but he or a member of his staff is a phone call away. And, because I was able to spend quality time with Blank while he served as my national golf tour guide, I saw with my own eyes that he has the knowledge, power and connections to fulfill nearly any travel request and to clear away any possible hurdles.

Among his premier partners is the Melia Cariari Conference Center and Resort between the San Jose city limits and the Santamaria airport, where guests can play the 6,700-yard par 71 Cariari Country Club. This is the course that can't be missed while in the country. And because it's near the San Jose Airport, it's quite easy to begin the adventure there. After a late flight, check into the Cariari and get the 6,700-yard George Fazio design (1974) under your belt.

The Cariari's challenge is a real 70's experience, like flopping into a beanbag under the swag lamp and digging your toes into a orange-brown-maroon shag carpet. Pines were planted early in the course's development in an attempt to get strategic trees up and growing. Now the pines choke down on the fairways, giving the illusion that some are so narrow players must line up single file to walk to their tee shots.

Some of the pines may eventually be cut back, which wouldn't harm the courses' playability - in fact, it would make the Fazio routing more accessible to the eye. In combination with the narrow, sloping fairways and greens, it is a championship challenge - the course has hosted the Costa Rican Open for the last several years.

Having notched the Cariari, fasten your seat belt for a four-hour ride through spectacular mountains and rainforests on your way to the Northwest coast. That's where the Paradisus Playa Conchal awaits with it's 7,033-yard Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed "Lion's Paw," and the lesser-known Hacienda Pinilla. The development lies minutes south of Conchal, and its 7,500-yard course was designed by Atlanta (Ga.) based architect Mike Young.

Players will be able to tell immediately that Jones Jr. considered the Lion's Paw to be a hands-on project. The wide fairways sweep through valleys and rise to ridges with greens perched atop, architectural principles employed by Jones' famous father. Players from Fort Worth's Shady Oaks Country Club to jetsetters familiar with Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island will not only recognize the Jones' family signatures; they'll identify it as one of Jr.'s best works.

Pinilla is a broad-shouldered course occupying land that Blank says reminds him of the African savannah (even though he's never been to Africa). Untamed grasslands and tree-covered emerald mountains surround the property and course, which twists and bends past parkland-style framing trees. The length, layout, and conditioning are worthy of a championship golf tournament, and should that tournament be played during the high season between January and March, serious ocean breezes add to the course's difficulty.

Both courses are located near the funky surfing town of Tamarindo, where the streets are lined with surf shops, tour packagers, boutique hotels, bars, and blonde dreadlocked gringos selling tye-dyed shirts and silver jewelry. It's rumored that the Nougi Bar has the world's best banana crème pie in the world, but that rumor went unsubstantiated on our visit.

Further down the coast near another surfing haven, Jaco, is one of the newest entries on the golf resort landscape. In fact, the 222-room Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort may develop a sparkling reputation from boaters before golfers can spread the word. Its deep-water marina is the only recreational stop on the Pacific between Mexico and South America.

The hotel was intentionally scaled down to help create a cozy and exclusive feel simultaneously. It's just steps from the front door to the golf shop, which administers to the 6,700-yard "La Iguana" course designed by Ted Robinson. Despite it's proximity to the ocean, the course reveals just how quickly the jungle gobbles up the seashore. The course is routed inland along a narrow river bed in an out-and-back fashion, and by the time players reach the fourth green, they are surrounded by tree-covered mountains that are home to a wide variety of domestic wildlife.

Although Blank runs Costa Rica Golf Adventures, he's well aware that tourists can visit the country and never strike a golf ball. Between horseback riding, surfing, hang gliding, touring volcanoes, and maxing at the pool, there's plenty for tourists to experience. But if golf is part of the adventure, there are venues to enjoy con mucho gusto.

Matt McKay is a freelance golf/ travel writer based in Dallas, Tx.

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COSTA RICA - A LAND DISCOVERED
WAITING TO BE REVEALED

By Robert Kaufman
January, 2004 issue of Houston Golf magazine.

I normally pride myself on my sense of geography, especially in the United States having been at least once to 49 of 50 states, only missing that great big one north of our Canadian neighbor. I know where Mexico is and I'm great with the global location of such major areas like Europe, Africa, Japan and the North or South Pole.

Click to read the latest testimonialsOne region that has always tested my internal GPS is Central America. Now, I know you don't need to be Christopher Columbus to realize it's between North and South America but it's all those little countries that rattle my radar screen - Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, San Salvador, Panama. There's one other little country (about the size of West Virginia) that I wasn't 100% certain was part of this line-up. I checked my atlas and, sure enough, there it sits, just north of the Panama Canal with the west fronting the Pacific Ocean and the east on the Caribbean Sea - COSTA RICA!

When the call came from the bullpen inviting me on a golf adventure to Costa Rica, even a greater surprise than confirming where the country is situated, was golf in Costa Rica! Thereupon discovering on the map that Nicaragua lies across its northern border, my next vision was confronting leftover Sandinista guerillas now working in some United States-sponsored caddy program in the jungles of Costa Rica. Maybe I should be packing a Super-size Greatest Biggest Bertha for extra protection.

I'm not totally convinced how invulnerable one is playing on any golf course but as a destination, Costa Rica is regarded as one of the safest places to travel. Although they disbanded their military over fifty years ago, it's a peaceful nation having essentially avoided the conflict and disorder that disrupted most of its neighboring Central American countries. In effect, all my fears of confronting any civil unrest were silenced in the days proceeding departure and whatever thoughts I had of schlepping any defensive gadgets in my bag were quickly laid to rest.

In another misconception, any notion I had about Costa Rica being at the far corners of the earth was eroded with the rapid ease in which I - and my golf clubs - arrived in San José, the capital city in the heart of the country. My first impressions of the Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call themselves, would prove everlasting as I came to realize they are an extremely pleasant, peaceful people proud of their culture and traditions and welcome visitors with open arms everywhere.

The slogan of choice in Costa Rica is "pura vida." With a literal translation of "pure life," it's a fitting catchphrase. Home to an astonishing five per cent of the world's total number of species on just a miniscule .01 per cent of the earth's surface, surely, there must be something amazing about this land. From an adventure standpoint, Costa Rica has long been regarded as a world-class haven for such activities as surfing and sport fishing or such unique adrenaline-rush experiences as canopy tours through the rainforests or getting up close and personal with one of the ten accessible volcanoes.

In a country better known for its natural attractions, it would seem inevitable that the golfing world would also unearth this region. Well, they have and right now the sport is becoming as hot as the year-around weather already is - although somewhat cooler than Texas during the summer. Right now, there are ten golf courses in Costa Rica (some are only nine-holes) with new ones on the drawing board and an Arnold Palmer course on the Pacific Ocean nearly complete to go with a new Four Seasons Resort.

The logical choice to begin a golfing expedition in Costa Rica is San José, where you can validate your mastery of the dimpled corrupter at two very diverse golf battlefields. Adjacent to the Melia Cariari Resort is the nation's oldest course, Cariari Country Club. Opened in 1974, this George Fazio design features unnerving narrow fairways guarded by towering pine trees. Taking along one of the home-grown trained caddies would be well advised, if not to help limit your putts, but to track down misdirected balls. As a bonus, if your swing isn't prone to distractions, you may get an upbeat sendoff from the jazzercise room overlooking the first tee. However, if Cariari is good enough for Tour players (Ray Floyd holds the course record at 66) who would stop by after it was first built and regard it as the best course in South America, than it's certainly worth a crack at shooting your handicap. If anything, after playing here, you'll be hard pressed to be intimidated by any course.

For a taste of what I like to refer to as "hardhat golf," just outside of San José is an old/new course called Valle Del Sol. Built as a nine-hole course fifteen years ago, it is now a rapidly developing golf course community with a new nine added four years ago and plenty of homes surrounding it with new being built. At an increase of $50 to $200 per square meter for home lots in just three years, they've filled up fast.

Depending on when you play Valle Del Sol, it can be a Jekyl and Hyde experience. For a tame challenge, tee off early or risk the arrival of swirling afternoon winds coming down from the surrounding Santa Ana Mountains. Otherwise, it's a pretty gentle, wide-open course where you can bump it around a bit and not hurt the scorecard much.

After playing two days, I also learned first-hand a key factor when timing your trip to Costa Rica. If you go during the rainy season (usually May to November), plan on finishing the 18th hole prior to 2:00pm. Like clockwork, in the early afternoon the dark clouds start building and then BOOM! Out of nowhere the sky opens and a torrential deluge immerses the landscape. If that's not enough, with the turbulent thunder and lightening side-show, I thought it was the onset of another revolution.

The real beauty of Costa Rica lies up in the mountains where the rainforests exist and on the coast - east or west. If you choose not to fly, the ground ride can be a little unsettling, especially when you're relying on one of the native drivers. You can practically hear the passenger's hearts thumping as our van whirled through the twisty mountain roads during this sometimes near death-defying, four-hour ride to the Pacific Ocean. Compounded by the fact we were driving though another afternoon downpour, I felt as if we were white-water rafting down Thunder Mountain in Disneyland. It was Noah's Ark on wheels!

Our destination, the Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort overlooking Herradura Bay, turned out to be a worthy respite following the invigorating E-ticket thrill-ride. This project, that started eleven years ago, now boasts a world-class resort hotel, million dollar-plus condos and, when complete, the Los Sueños Marina Village will encompass over 100,000 square feet of retail and commercial buildings.

Already available at the resort is one of the country's newer courses. Designed by Ted Robinson, Jr., the 6,707-yard La Iguana Golf Course offers some challenging opening holes that includes two par 5's in the first four. On the signature par 5, fourth hole, you'll need to stay away from the tee-to-green water hazard and big guayabo tree in the middle of the fairway. Unfortunately, the strong beginning is offset by some relatively weak finishing holes.

One thing you can count on is that the round will be an extraordinary encounter with nature playing through parts of a 1,100-acre tropical rainforest. If you're a bird over, this habitat, with over 300 known species of the winged creatures, may be the largest natural aviary in which you'll ever tee up a golf ball. Of course, be watchful of the wandering iguanas.

Motoring up Costa Rica's North Pacific Coast on the Guanacaste Peninsula, you'll run smack right into a 4,500-acre mega-development called Hacienda Pinilla. This rolling landscape with three miles of beachfront, has served as a cattle ranch for over 40 years but is now being delicately embellished with low-profile, upscale single-family and condo residences, luxurious hotel accommodations, beach club, equestrian club and yes, a golf course. After some encouragement by the owner, Steve Parlee visited from Atlanta, took one look at the property and decided within seven days to take up permanent residence and remain as the head professional.

Not even three years old yet, the links-style course that has already been certified by The Audubon Society, is a course where you not only have to co-exist with your playing partners but also the countless creatures calling this environment home. In addition to the multitude of colorful birds pitching their nests throughout the 196 native species of hardwood and fruit trees, it isn't uncommon to be cheered along by a gallery of native, tree-dwelling howler monkeys who, on occasion, have been known to swing down and be very ball-friendly.

With wide-open fairways and ocean breezes, the layout lends itself to a bump and run style game. Just be cautious of the many well-placed pot bunkers fronting a number of greens. With the course sitting next to the ocean, the closest you'll play next to the water is on only two holes. As the longest hole on the course, the 601-yard, par-5 fourteenth plays straight away towards the Pacific. Once you reach the green, the view is spectacular. The same can be enjoyed along the 163-yard, par-3 fifteenth.

About an hour's drive up the road, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. put his stamp on the Costa Rican landscape with the 7,080-yard Garra de Léon Golf Course at Playa Conchal. This ocean resorts design offers only a slight glimpse of the Big Blue but you'll see plenty of agua on the course to go with Jones' patented large undulating greens and spacious fairways.

As with all the courses - and the ones to come - in Costa Rica, there is tremendous sensitivity surrounding the environment when they are built. Required not to get the course any closer than 150 yards to the beach, Jones was also forbidden from cutting any Banyan trees. That was a blessing since, not only do many serve as a windbreak, but they also house those tree-limb swinging howler monkeys. How they love hanging around taunting golfers all day!

The championship course was certainly designed with the resort player in mind due to the fact it sits in the middle of the Melia Playa Conchal and Beach Resort, the first all-deluxe, all-inclusive beach and golf resort in Central America. Just like entering an amusement park, you'll be tagged with a colored wristband to verify you're a guest. This is truly a one-stop family vacation spot.

With the popularity of golf emerging in Costa Rica, there are bound to be a growing number so-called "experts." Costa Rica is a small country but one in which you can easily be misguided unless dealing with someone who knows the people, the best way to plan your experience and their way around the roads. Forget the Yahoo maps!

The track record in this department goes to Costa Rica Golf Vacations. "Not only do you get our eight years of experience but you actually save money using our services," says owner Landy Blank. "Most of all, one shouldn't discount that we're a local phone call away for any assistance."

Right now, it seems Costa Rica is caught in a catch-22 situation. It's long been viewed as a pristine, biodiverse, best-kept-secret country and would probably like to be kept that way. On the other hand, they're itching to show it off and the visionary developers are catching wind of that. It'll be a challenging balancing act.

As the motto goes at Playa Conchal, "Everyone is in search of paradise. Why not achieve it while still alive?

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Si Si Costa Rica

by: Mary E. Porter, Editor Tee Time Magazine ( www.teetime-mag.com )

For many years I have longed to return to Costa Rica in Central America, where I lived for three months as an exchange student when I was a teenager. It was one of the many highlights of my youth. Finally after 35 years, the opportunity arose for me to return. Landy Blank, the president of Costa Rica Golf Adventures, made the arrangements, and I was off on this exciting golf exploration.

The Republic of Costa Rica is second to the bottom in the spine of Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. The country is full of cultural, natural riches and has the friendliest people anywhere. Minus a military, Costa Rica is an elected democracy, has a very stable government, a strong police department, and a viable health care system for all of its citizens. In comparison to the United States of America, the country is about the size of West Virginia, about 150 miles wide and 260 miles long. Costa Rica is not only a wonderful and safe place to go on vacation but is quickly becoming a great place to live or retire.

Because of the topography, geographic features, vegetation, and climate, Costa Rica is rapidly becoming known as a first-class golfer’s paradise. Recently several courses have been developed that are attracting golfers from around the world. I had the pleasure of playing five of these picturesque courses during my recent tour. So I sharpened up on my Spanish, although it was not necessary, because most all the staff at the resorts speak English.

When traveling to Costa Rica you have two choices of airport destinations. The first is Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose. This airport is centrally located in the heart and capital of Costa Rica. The other airport is the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia. This airport is located in the province of Guanacaste, which is in the northwest quadrant of Costa Rica. If you are traveling to the northwestern coast, this airport is more convenient.

Click to read the latest testimonialsOur first day of golf took us to the Parque Valle del Sol (Valley of Sun) located in the Santa Ana Valley just 20 minutes west of the capital. Valle Del Sol is a 6,800 yard, championship par 72 course with wide rolling fairways, and multiple tee boxes. The course is recognized in the International Audubon Program with many tropical birds throughout. The backdrop of the distant mountains and quiet volcanos add to the natural splendor of the valley. The course is perfect for the golfer who enjoys the game while enjoying nature, scenic beauty and the incomparable Santa Ana weather. Designed by American architect Tracy May, this course offers golfers a superb experience.

On day two we played the Melia Cariari Hotel and Country Club in San Jose. Huddled in the central valley, the Melia Cariari Conference Center and Golf Resort is only 10 minutes from the airport and 15 minutes from downtown San Jose. This magnificent five-star facility has been host to not only Mary E. Porter, but many foreign dignitaries, celebrities, and vacationers.

In the early 1970's, George Fazio was hired to design the first 18-hole championship golf course in Costa Rica at the Cariari Country Club. For many years this course was considered to be the best golf course in all of Central America. The property was an active coffee plantation. Today hotel guests enjoy golfing privileges at this 18-hole, 6,590 yard, par-71 golf course just a two minute walk from the hotel. This heavily wooded course has mostly tree-lined fairways, thus making accuracy much more important than distance. Most of the Cariari's 18 holes play much longer than the yardage posted on the card. The fairways are narrow, with just a few fairway hazards and the well-tended Bermuda grass greens are large in size and well protected by meticulously placed sand traps. Putts roll fast and true to line. Other activities at the Cariari include tennis, swimming in an Olympic size pool, a health club, and a casino. Dining was a most enjoyable and delectable experience at the Cariari Hotel Restaurant.

Early the next morning the scenic four hour drive from San Jose to Jaco (pronounced Haco) was most thrilling. The two-lane paved roads were carved into the 5,000 foot mountains in the rain forest and included frequent hair-pin curves that made our palms sweat as the van sped around them. To make the ride even more exciting, we encountered a 30-minute torrential rainstorm that heightened our anxiety for a safe arrival. As our chauffeur promised, we arrived safely at the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort. Numerous flowers, birds, butterflies and lush green lawns surrounded this charming oceanfront hotel. We had arrived at yet another paradise.

After an elegant dinner in one of the many restaurants of the Marriott, we put on our swimsuits and set off to explore the pool and Pacific beach. Between the Pacific Ocean and the hotel meanders a gigantic free form swimming pool. Swim under foot bridges, past palm trees, a waterfall, colorful tropical flower gardens, or wade over to the swim-up bar to enjoy a tropical drink.

coati
Coati

After breakfast we met at La Iguana Golf Course, next to the Marriott, to play designer Ted Robinson’s course. This 18 hole, par 72 course was designed in a unique and dramatic tropical rainforest. Golf guides (caddies) are included with each round of golf. Our caddy was definitely an asset for us while we played this jungle course. Not only did he help us find our lost balls, he told us about every aspect of the course including the wildlife and vegetation we would experience during our round. Monkeys and toucans were plentiful and on the third hole we had the opportunity to get close to a critter called a Coati (see photo). While the caddy fed the cute little creature some crackers, we snapped several photographs.

Each of the 18 holes tests one’s talent or lack of it. The first nine holes take golfers deep into the rainforest along a narrow river. Within minutes, the sounds of jungle birds and cries from countless howler monkeys echo off the thick vegetation and mountain terrain.

Most of the holes are protected by sand traps, and several holes have streams that follow the fairway from tee to green. Hole two requires a long second shot either over or under two trees guarding the green. The big guayabo trees can be found in the middle of a few fairways making extra thought go into ball placement. I embraced La Iguana Golf Course and its natural magnificence.

The next morning we were off again traveling north through the seacoast town of Punteranous. A little further north our chauffeur stopped along a bridge where we could look down and see dozens of crocodiles sunbathing in the mud. It was quite the tourist stop, with dozens of vendors hawking their wares. It was a great place to buy trinkets to bring home, less costly than the gift shops at the hotel.

Our next stop was the Hacienda Pinilla (pronounced Pin-E-yah). The Hacienda Pinilla is located on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste just south of Playa Tamarindo. This area is one of the fastest growing regions of the country and is only a 50-minute drive from the Daniel Oduber Liberia International Airport. The entire Hacienda Pinilla project consists of over 4,500 acres of beautiful rolling terrain and sandy beaches along the 3.5 miles of Pacific coastline. Also on the property are several fresh water lakes, and two picturesque rivers. The property offers a large selection of residential homes and hotels and has many recreational activities. Hacienda Pinilla offers horseback riding, hiking, canopy tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, mountain biking, bird watching, and of course golfing just to name a few.

In 2001 architect Mike Young transformed this beautiful rolling coastal landscape into an 18-hole championship golf course. For over 45 years the coastal landscape served as a working cattle ranch. Ecologically-friendly, the Hacienda Pinilla Golf Course has been certified by the Audubon Society due to the vast amount of native trees and animals. The Mata Palo, Pochote and Guanacaste trees provide homes for an assortment of tropical birds, iguanas, and monkeys. Viewing the Howler Monkeys jumping playfully in the huge trees added in the enjoyment of the day on the golf course. The Tif Eagle Turf with extremely fine and erect leaf blades on the greens, deliver excellent putting trueness, making this course a truly pleasurable experience. The course weaves through native tropical dry forests and next to pristine white and black volcano sand beaches of the region. It doesn’t take long after arriving at this resort community to realize that this is a very special place where incomparable solitude and serenity can be enjoyed.

Our final day golfing brought us to the Playa Conchal Resort Beach and Golf Community, an upscale resort and private gated golf course community. Located on the beautiful white sand beach between the towns of Tamarindo and Flamingo, The resort offers guests 300 suites, five restaurants, four bars, the coolest swimming pool in Costa Rica, a gambling casino, an Internet Café and gift shops. The resort is home to the famed Garra de Leon Golf Course. Robert Trent Jones II designed this world class 18-hole championship golf course, which is set alongside the northern Pacific coast and lush Costa Rican landscape. The nearest airport is the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, a 45-minute drive by car. Garra de Leon (Lion’s Paw) is the highlight of this luxurious resort. This golf course design blends harmoniously into the terrain of this region. Five sets of tees are offered to suit all skill levels, with yardage that ranges from 5,464 to 7,080 yards. Most of the holes have spacious fairways. Panoramic views of the warm waters of the Pacific can be viewed from a few holes. Several lagoons and ponds enhance the layout where hawks and gorgeous colorful parrots fly overhead. Garra de Leon is a ‘must play’ when visiting this region of the country.

The next morning before our departure, we went snorkeling in the beautiful clear blue Pacific waters. The tropical fish were abundant, brilliant in color and friendly as they approached us in curiosity.

On our last stop before returning to San Jose for our return trip home, we had the opportunity to tour the new Four Seasons Resort, which is under construction in Peninsula Papagayo. The Four Seasons will open in 2004 with a 6,710 yard, 18-hole, par 72 Arnold Palmer course. The course has wide, undulating fairways and large contoured greens, presenting a fair but ultimate test of golf finesse. Even though the hotel and golf course was still under construction, the breathtaking views of two Pacific Ocean bays on 15 of the 18 holes made us want to return when it opens.

As you bundle up this winter and daydream of those five-foot putts you sank last summer, think about a trip to Costa Rica to play golf. A wonderful vacation is just two hours south of Miami. A vacation there will bring you to a wonderful Pura Vida (Pure Life) golf destination. I know you will savor the experience.

For more information, look on the web at www.costaricagolf.com.

Mary E. Porter
Editor - Tee Time Magazine
P.O. Box 225
54 Franklin Street
Whitman, MA 02382
781-447-2299 Phone
781-447-0013 Fax
www.teetime-mag.com

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Golf In The Wild
By Turk Pipkin

From Golf Magazine January 2004

Costa Rica is a, fantasyland for nature lovers and golfers, too.

Recipe for a golfer's paradise: Start with volcanoes, rain forests, water falls and miles of perfect beaches. Add exotic animals, spice with adventures like surfing, fishing and white-water rafting, then top off with five fine golf courses, including Arnold Palmers stunning, new Peninsula Papagayo. Thousands of years in the making, your feast is now ready; its time for the first course.

"Built on a former cattle ranch, the layout calls to mind an African savannah. Surrounded by mountains and ocean, the course is dotted with huge matapalo trees. Two of the trees resemble lovers, their trunks growing together into one and reaching to the sky. Creatures that call Hacienda Pinilla home—toucans, iguanas, deer, monkeys and the occasional black panther—are less menacing than Hacienda Pinilla's chest-high rough."

Most trips to Costa Rica start in the Central American nation's capital, San Jose. Perched at 4,000 feet, the city boasts wonderfully cool weather year-round and is a surprisingly easy three-hour flight from Houston or Miami. Five minutes from the airport you'll find the Melia Cariari Conference Center & Golf Resort, whose course was designed by George Fazio and built in 1974 by his now-famous nephew, Tom. Cariari is a 6,590-yard alpine track with tight fairways lined by towering pines. The downhill, down-wind 149-yard 4th hole over water is testy—a little local knowledge helps, so hire a caddie.

The rapidly developing heart of Costa Rican golf is in the province of Guanacaste. Many golfers take a half-hour commuter flight from San Jose, but driving is often the most enthralling part of the trip, despite roads that can be charitably described as bumpy. (A four-wheel-drive vehicle is a must, and driving at night is a must-not. Beyond that, safety need not be a pressing concern for tourists.)

Motoring along with my wife and 8- and 12-year-old daughters a few miles from the beach town of Tamarindo, I skidded to a halt beneath an entwined canopy of huge trees full of howler monkeys. Scrambling for a better view, we watched them swing from limb to limb. As my wife raised her camera to snap a picture, a baby monkey ran down a drooping limb and reached curiously for the lens, thereby redefining our idea of a Kodak moment.

On my first journey to Costa Rica four years ago, I stayed at the Paradisus Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, an all-suite, all-inclusive resort with a fine beach and Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s lush Garra de Leon Golf Course. Winding in two big loops from hilltop to seashore and back, this 7,080-yard track is as green as any course in Ireland, made all the more colorful by a veritable rainbow of birds and iguanas. The 420-yard, par-4 12th is a gem, dropping 100 feet from tee to fairway, then doglegging right and climbing to an elevated green.

This time, I opted to set up the family in Tamarindo, one of the world's great surf spots. At the serene Cala Luna Hotel & Villas, our two-bedroom villa with full kitchen and a private pool cost $237 per night, and our surfing instructor had the lot of us vertical within an hour. Best of all, Tamarindo is about 20 minutes from the Hacienda Pinilla golf course, a 7,274-yard Mike Young design. Built on a former cattle ranch, the layout calls to mind an African savannah. Surrounded by mountains and ocean, the course is dotted with huge matapalo trees. Two of the trees resemble lovers, their trunks growing together into one and reaching to the sky. Creatures that call Hacienda Pinilla home—toucans, iguanas, deer, monkeys and the occasional black panther—are less menacing than Hacienda Pinilla's chest-high rough. My favorite hole here was the 353-yard, par-4 10th, a dogleg left to a steeply banked, three-tiered green in the shape of a crescent moon. The course was far from crowded the day I was there, so, with a flock of parrots chattering noisily, seemingly egging me on, I fired up a Cuban Monte Cristo cigar (a legal purchase in Costa Rica and available in the pro shop) and played till dark.

Click to read the latest testimonialsLife should always be this good.

And it will get even better in Costa Rica in February with the opening of the Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo and Palmer's $25 million Peninsula Papagayo Golf Club. This gorgeous, oceanside track will play approximately 6,800 yards, with views of the Pacific Ocean from 14 holes. Elevation changes will include a 20-story drop from the tee on the 446-yard, par-4 6th hole. The ensuing approach to a cliffside green perched at ocean's edge is equally dramatic. The sparkling hotel and breathtaking setting above and between two pristine beaches may well make Papagayo one of the upscale hotel chain's finest resorts.

Continuing our driving adventure, we set our course to my favorite Costa Rican destination, the Hotel Punta Islita, an intimate resort with a dynamite restaurant and an infinity-edge swimming pool, all on a steep hillside overlooking a wide, curved beach. Getting there is half the fun. It's a five-hour trek from San Jose, including a half-hour ferry ride across the Tempisque River and a heart-pounding hour of four-wheeling over a mountaintop. There is a shorter route across a knee-deep river about a lob wedge wide. Either way, it's cheap thrills in my book.

Once at Punta Islita, we spent our days lounging in hammocks, as the grown-ups sipped pina coladas and everyone noshed on grilled shrimp. We explored tide pools and boogie-boarded for hours on end. As for the golf, well, the hotel's driving range is the only golf at Punta Islita. I fully intended to hit buckets of balls but found myself sidetracked—deeply ensconced in, and thoroughly enchanted by, la pura vida.

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"Tico Time"
Costa Rica, where golf takes it's place amid nature's splendor

By Dave Seanor, Senior Editor
Golf Week

From Golf Week 7-31-2004

What caused our family to freefall so deeply in love with Costa Rica?

So in love that my wife started taking Spanish language classes when we got back from an 8-day vacation there.

So engaged that I'm researching second-home mortgage rates.

So enamored that not once during our trip did my teen-age son complain about being bored.

Click to read the latest testimonialsThe answer is fourfold:

  • The richness of the land. When Walter Hagen advised to stop and smell the flowers, he must have had Costa Rica in mind. Few places on Earth can match its biodiversity and geological splendor.
  • The amiability of the Ticos, or native Costa Ricans. Laid back, unfailingly friendly, always ready to help. My kind of people, for they operate on "Tico time" - give or take a half-hour.
  • The climate. Sure, it can get oppressively hot - hey, its near the equator! - and there's a rainy season. But temperatures in the Central Highlands, where San Jose is located, hold steady between 65 and 75 degrees year-round.
  • Diversity of activities, including some pretty good - if not plentiful - golf. There are only six quality layouts in Costa Rica, which incongruously underscores the allure of this Central American nation as a golf destination. Here, golf is a worthy but secondary pursuit. It's not a destination for 36- holes-per-day buddy golf, unless your buddies also
    are heavily into fishing, surfing or bird watching.

"People in the golf business don't want to hear this," says Landy Blank, an American expatriate who makes his living here selling golf equipment and arranging golf tours, "but I want people to come here, enjoy what Costa Rica has to offer, and play a little golf."

I happened to play a lot of golf on this whirlwind tour, hitting five courses in eight days, including the world-class Four Seasons Resort on the Pacific Ocean in the Guanacaste region. But an experience I had en route bears telling, for it exemplifies the nature of the Costa Rican people.

Driving alone, I had missed a turn and gone 20 miles out of my way, into the town of Liberia. There I pulled into a Burger King parking lot and asked an exiting customer if he knew how to get to the Four Seasons. He spoke enough English to grasp what I wanted, but rather than offer directions, he said, "Follow me. I will take you there."

I protested, but he insisted it was neither an inconvenience nor out of his way. So I followed him for nearly a half-hour, directly to the Four Seasons' main entrance, where he smiled, waved and sped off before I could even thank him, let alone offer money for his trouble

You don't have to worry about being hustled all the time," Blank says of Costa Rican hospitality. "You don't have to put up with that. It's not part of the culture here."

The Four Seasons layout, designed by Arnold Palmer and opened last December, is carved into the mountains that overlook the Pacific. My playing partner was Rob Oosterhuis, the director of golf and son of television commentator Peter Oosterhuis.

The views here are stunning, especially on the stretch of holes 14-15-16. The course is being closely watched by superintendents and environmentalists as an experiment in water conservation. It was sodded tee-to-green in seashore paspalum grass, a variety that can be irrigated with low-grade water with high salinity. Paspalum has been used successfully on many seaside courses in the United States, but its tolerance to the Costa Rican climate has yet to be determined.

The property features all the amenities you'd expect from a Four Seasons - including tropical spa - but it felt somewhat claustrophobic to me, owing to the luxury private homes that are stacked on the cliffs surrounding the resort.

Which is one reason why my personal favorite was a pristine new resort and residential development farther south, called Hacienda Pinilla.

It's a 4,500-acre working ranch, with three miles of beach, owned by Atlanta industrial developer H.G. "Pat" Patillo. Hacienda Pinilla is his first foray into resorts, and is distinctive for its low density, environmentally sensitive master plan.

Patillo has engaged Hacienda Pinilla in some ambitious community programs, including the construction of three schools and the creation of an American college scholarship program for locals. The property includes an extensive on-site nursery, and student volunteers have helped plant 400,000 trees throughout Hacienda Pinilla.

A hotel deal is in the works (likely a Ritz-Carlton), but Patillo insists that it must be designed in a Spanish Colonial motif and not obstruct ocean views from the high ground. Meanwhile, a superbly appointed Casa de Golf guest house can accommodate 16 people.

Hacienda Pinilla's seaside golf course was created by Atlanta architect Mike Young, with input from PGA Tour player-turned-ESPN commentator Charlie Rymer. There was little earth moving during construction and the result is a free-flowing layout with a minimalist character that blends seamlessly into its environs.

While I took on the golf course, my wife Patti took to the horse trails, riding with a guide named Arturo, a Tico who spoke no English. They communicated with gestures, expressions and a common love for horses.

Their mounts were Criollos (cree-OH-yos, meaning born locally), a small, hardy breed found throughout Latin America and South America, descended from the horses ridden by Spanish conquistadors. Patti and Arturo rode through grazing cattle, into the mangrove and along the beach. It was the end of the dry season, and the stream that runs through Hacienda Pinilla was low - yet still appealing to a flock of flamingoes.

Along the trail, adult monkeys hung from tree branches, sleeping. Their babies acted like human children, taking advantage of no supervision, chattering and jumping from tree to tree.

The scene was decidedly less placid on the way back to pick up our 17-year-old son Nick, who had spent the morning fishing aboard the Plautus, a 40-foot Gamefisher based in Playa Flamingo. Patti and I stopped off at the Bohemian beach town of Tamarindo, where the Nuigi Bar - famous for its scrumptious banana cream pies - is a must stop. Allow time to linger here, have a few local brews, and people-watch.

We, however, had to fetch Nick, and found him at the Mariner Inn, which overlooks the dilapidated marina at Playa Flamingo and is a popular hangout for locals. Over beers, we were entertained by the skipper of the Plautus, Capt. Darryl, a transplanted Coloradoan who politely declined to reveal his last name.

"You can hear so many stories in this place, from so many walks of life," said Darryl, leading one to suspect he has a few roguish tales of his own.

Nick's passion is fishing and hunting, but he did join me for a couple of rounds of golf. The first was at Cariari Country Club in San Jose.

Cariari is a private club, but with playing privileges for guests at the adjacent Melia Cariari Hotel and Conference Center. The green fee of $60, including mandatory caddie, is one of the best deals in the Western Hemisphere. (The Four Seasons, by comparison, charges $180 for resort guests.)

Cariari, designed by George Fazio and opened in 1974, was the first 18-hole facility in Costa Rica. The three-minute walk from the hotel lobby to the first tee takes you past the club's Olympic-size swimming pool, where we paused to watch 2000 bronze medal winner Claudia Poll prepare for the Athens Games.

Cariari is a shotmaker's course, with narrow fairways and small, elevated greens. Typical of Costa Rica, it plays longer during the rainy season (May-November) and shifting winds give it teeth during the dry season. Playing Cariari is not unlike a suburban American experience -houses line most fairways - but it's no pushover. When Cariari hosted the Costa Rica Open in 2001, the winning score was 6 over par.

It was at Cariari that we first experienced the Tico way, after one of my contact lenses had fallen into the drain of our bathroom sink. A hotel maintenance worker was summoned, and he cheerily disassembled the drain trap. We found the contact and my new friend was as thrilled about our success as I was. He was genuinely grateful for the $20 tip.

The other round Nick and I shared was at the Los Suenos Marriott, near Jaco Beach on the Pacific Coast. Landy had wangled a foursome in the second annual Iguana Invitational on the resort's Iguana Course, a Ted Robinson design, carved into the rain forest. (Forecaddies accompany each group, and they're trained to identify the various birds, trees and wildlife encountered during a typical round.)

Our pro in the Iguana Invitational scramble was the delightful Carlos Rojas, a Tico who runs the show at Parque Valle del Sol, the country's most highly regarded daily-fee layout. We finished second on a match of cards - earning wood-carved iguana trophies.

The Los Suenos Marriott also has the most spiffy marina in Costa Rica; two mind-blowingly huge yachts were moored in the harbor when we began a day of family fishing aboard the decidedly more modest Estrella del Mar, a 37-foot Defender inboard diesel.

"It's not the best-looking boat in the marina, but it raises a lot of fish," said our guide, R.J. Lillie, explaining that the acoustics created by the hull design and the engine are enticing to curious fish.

Despite a late start, we enjoyed some success when we began trolling for sailfish, marlin and tuna about 35 miles off shore. Patti, Nick and I each reeled in two scrappy sailfish.

R.J. and his boss, Capt. Tom (again, no last name given), are at heart hippie surfers who use fishing to pay for their surfing habit. Capt. Tom is a transplanted Philadelphian who also has opened a cluster of moderately priced yet comfortable cabins near Los Suenos. They are called the Fisherman's Lair.

We stayed neither there nor at the Marriott, instead bunking in a spacious two-bedroom condo at Hotel Club del Mar at Jaco Beach. It has one of only two beaches we had time to enjoy, the other being at the Paradisus Playa Conchal resort in Guanacaste.

With it's golden sand beach, gigantic pool area, five restaurants, round-the-clock shuttle service, private guest bungalows and user-friendly golf course, this all-inclusive Sol Melia resort is a Costa Rican mecca for indolence. The Garra de Leon course at Conchal was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., with generous fairways and plenty of strategic options for the resort player. During my round, a pack of howler monkeys created a hellish cacophony, and I spotted too many species of ducks to count. As a Floridian, I'm used to seeing alligators on the golf course, but this was the first time I'd walked up to my ball near a water hazard and come face-to-menacing-face with a crocodile.

Which was no biggie, since encounters with fauna and flora are what attract most visitors to Costa Rica. To that end, we included among our adventures a day of whitewater rafting and a trek to the Arenal volcano.

The Reventazon River, which flows from the central mountains to the Caribbean, was our rafting venue. Our guide with Rios Tropicales outfitters was Karl Saalau, an ebullient 20-year-old student at the University of Costa Rica. Saalau prefers extreme sports, but as a business major, he's resigned to the golf eventually."

Saalau is among the many Costa Ricans concerned about protecting their nation's fragile ecology in the face of development.

"We have strict environmental laws," he says, adding, in true cynical student fashion: "But the big companies pay it off. The biggest problem is not enforcing the laws."

There were few signs of development on the Reventazon, where we made a 900-foot descent over class III rapids in about three hours. We were fortified before and after by a traditional breakfast and lunch - lots of fruit, fish and beans and rice - at Rios Tropicales' charming staging area, replete with bar, showers and nature walk. Lunch tasted extraordinarily good after the rush of rafting.

Riding the rapids may be a test of stamina and reflexes, but it's nothing compared to getting behind the wheel of a car in Costa Rica. The country has 35,892 kilometers of highways - 35,891 of which are in disrepair. Costa Ricans drive with audacity, passing at the most inopportune times as they engage in a national game of "chicken."

I remain baffled why Ticos, otherwise in no great hurry to get things done, are such impatient drivers. If there was any downside to our vacation here, it was the stress created by driving, especially the trip to and from Arenal, a journey that includes a 90-minute drive on pocked roads around the vast, manmade Lake Arenal, west of the volcano.

Nevertheless, our white-knuckle drive was infinitely worth the effort. A fun stop near the end of the lake loop is Toad Hall, a quirky delicatessen and art gallery. Owner Jan Warner says Toad Hall offers one of the best selections of authentic Costa Rican art in the country.

"We don't bring in junk from Guatemala," she says. "We're always scrounging for quality, which is real hard work."

Nick and I toured the rain forest on zip lines at canopy level, sharing air space with toucans and other exotic species of birds. Even in that rarefied atmosphere, we were awed by the brooding Arenal volcano but a mile distant. An ever-present plume of smoke warns that it could erupt in fury on a whim; when the sky clears during the wee hours of the morning, the sky glows as Arenal spits chunks of molten rock. The simmering volcano was in full view from our cabin at the Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa.

Only our final stop, Vista del Valle Plantation Inn, was more sensual than Arenal. It is owned by American ex-pats Mike and Johanna Bresnan, who came here more than 20 years ago.

Johanna accompanied Patti as they rode the mountainside on two of Johanna's sure-footed Criollos. Toward the end of their ride, through rows and rows of coffee trees, they were treated to the sight of scarlet macaws being flushed out of the bush as they passed.

Wine and laughter flowed freely during our farewell dinner that night, an exquisite affair poolside, by candlelight, with Johanna, Mike, Landy and his wife, Susan. Their affection for the land is unbounded.

"Costa Rica has been good to us," said Mike. "We flow in this culture."

For golfers who visit here, that's great advice. Embrace the adventure. Just flow with it.

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Golf Adventures fulfills the Blanks
By Dave Seanor, Senior Editor
Golf Week

From Golf Week 7-31-2004


Susan and Landy Blank

Nine years ago, Landy Blank and his wife, Susan, saw the future of golf in Costa Rica. They decided to be part of it. They sold the restaurant they owned in Charleston, S.C. They sold their home and most of its contents. They arrived here with four suitcases and three dogs and started a company called Costa Rica Golf Adventures.

"I tend to be realistic about things, but this was one time I threw caution to the wind," says Susan Blank. "It was one time when I wanted to take a chance, and I'm glad we did."

Costa Rica Golf Adventures brings close to 400 golfers to the country annually. The company hopes to boost that number with the recent launch of an affiliate program that compensates PGA professionals in the United States who make referrals or book groups through CRGA. The Blanks arrange transportation, accommodations and tee times. They'll also make dinner reservations and book side trips such as fishing, horseback riding and rafting.

"Once you visit, you go back again," Landy says. "If you go back twice, and interact with the people and get to know them, it becomes more than a vacation. You aspire to live here."

Golf hasn't exactly exploded in Costa Rica - there are fewer than 10 quality 18-hole facilities in the country, spread mostly along the Pacific coast - but the combination of golf with the multitude of outdoor activities it has to offer has enabled the Blanks to grow a business.

"We're relatively inexpensive," Landy says of his golf offerings, "but we're not cheap."

Click to read the latest testimonialsPackages put together by Costa Rica Golf Adventures typically run from $1,000 to $1,800 per person (double occupancy) for a seven-night stay and four rounds of golf. Ninety percent of the Blanks' bookings are customized to include additional golf, fishing or other side trips.

Blank figures his itineraries won't change much in the coming years.

"I don't really anticipate a lot of golf courses being built here," he says. "The country doesn't lend itself to golf all over the place."

Blank says that rather than new golf developments springing up, existing facilities will expand. New courses are on the drawing boards at the Four Seasons, Paradisus Playa Conchal and Hacienda Pinilla. Blank says there are at least nine properties under development on the high ground of the Papaguya Peninsula in the Guanacaste region, some of which are likely to include golf.

If they do, Costa Rica Golf Adventures undoubtedly will be the first to know.

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GNN Goes to Costa Rica
By Ryan Ballengee from Golf News Network

Photo Gallery By Ryan Ballengee Click Here

Day 1
Buenos dias from Costa Rica, amigos. The first day here has been fantastic, eye-opening, and jaw dropping. I arrived here about 40 minutes late on my flight, which is supposed to be pretty good for traveling to Costa Rica. Upon arrival, I noticed lots of Americans, lots of English being spoken, and a people very willing to welcome visitors to their slice of paradise. After a quick customs check, I was with my baggage and on my way into the real Costa Rica.

I arrived in the Ramada Herradura and was helped with my bags and check in was no problem. I will be here for Monday and Tuesday and leave on Wednesday morning for the town of Jacó Beach.

The room reservation was arranged by Landy Blank of Costa Rica Golf Adventures (the sponsor of this trip). The room was and is spectacular. It is decorated in a southwestern (for relation’s sake) style and is large and comfortable. The architecture of the hotel allows the cool breezes of the valley to move through the building. It is always temperate and this allows guests to be treated to beautiful gardens while walking to their quarters. The pool and spa facilities are top notch.

Since gambling is legal here in Costa Rica, almost every hotel has a casino in it. Ramada Herradura is no different. But, casinos here are different than those you imagine in the States. They are small, have a few tables of games, and are mostly populated by locals. You can still gamble just like you would in Vegas, but it is a more intimate and less intimidating experience.

You may be wondering what level (nivel) of Spanish comprehension you need to get around aqui. Well, the answer is that it certainly helps to be able to speak in simple phrases and read the language, but it is not impossible to get by with very limited Spanish. Most Ticos (residents) speak some form of English – ranging from those with formal education in English grammar to those who know only important phrases.

I have yet to have to exchange my currency for the national mark known as the Colon. Almost everywhere accepts dollars. This is true for most of Central and South America because the stability of the dollar caused merchants to find it highly desirable when the region had more difficult economic times. Dollarization of the economy here makes spending very simple. Just remember that 500 Colones equals one US dollar.

Now, back to the day’s action. After settling into the hotel, I was guided to the Cariari Country Club just a few moments from the hotel. I’ll play the course on Wednesday and provide a review, but I toured the grounds and had a lunch at the clubhouse restaurant. I had a wonderful salmon-stuffed chicken with a pesto sauce.

It was also my first foray into the beers of Costa Rica. From what I have experienced to date, there are three major beers here: Pilsen, Bavaria, y the national beer Imperial. All have good taste if you beer connoisseurs are wondering. They’re hard to find in the Estados Unidos, but I would recommend them.

After lunch, I returned to my hotel room to get ready for the evening ahead. We would be heading to downtown San Jose from the hotel in Herradura, which is essentially a suburb of the San Jose metropolis – which is estimated to house half of the population in Costa Rica. I would be joined in my adventures by a friend of Landy Blank named Billy Fernandes. Fernandes, like Blank, is an American who has lived here for nearly two decades and a pretty solid golfer.

Click to read the latest testimonialsWe gathered and headed downtown to experience the nightlife of San Jose for the first time. The city is vibrant at night and lots of people are on the streets until late hours who want to party, take it easy, and the like. Each bar is basically a casino, so I spent some time winning at blackjack. I made a cool $60 and taught a few things to the locals about the game. The service, from barstaff to casino employees, was fantastic and courteous.

Billy was fantastic company. He shared with me what brought him to Costa Rica, and we got to know one another in the midst of the locals. He shared that Costa Rica is a business friendly place, with laws in place to protect assets and business owners from frivolous lawsuits. He also mentioned that the highest concentration of the 4 million Costa Ricans is in San Jose. Billy estimated that more than half of the country was in the city. He provided me with a lot of bits of information that were of intrigue, but some slipped through my mind.

By the end of the night, I was much more comfortable speaking the Spanish that I still remembered from high school lessons. It gets easier each time I hear Spanish para me a escuchar y hablar la idioma. I am writing in Spanglish (Spanish and English), in part, to illustrate that the language quickly can become a blend of the two languages and almost goes unnoticed. It is a beautiful mix and match of words.

I returned to my hotel room around 1:00am to sleep on my comfortable bed and get ready for the first full round of golf in Costa Rica. More to come tomorrow!

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Day 2
Morning came early on day two. Morning and sunset are two things you could set your clock to here in Costa Rica. Since the country is located very close to the equator mark, there is very little tilt in the positioning of the country near the sun. That means that the days are almost the same length everyday – from approximately 5:30 to around 7:30 at night.

We took off from the Herradura and went toward Santa Ana and San Antonio to play golf at a resort community called Valle del Sol. In that short drive, I learned a lesson about driving in Costa Rica and other Centroamerico countries. Driving here is a new concept in a relative sense – less than 50 years of driving. There used to be taxes here that made owning a car very prohibitive and cost a lot. Also, people were rewarded for buying car that had a less than modern smog discharge. That ended twenty years ago and has cleared the way for beautiful, views not impeded by bad air, and fresh air everywhere.

But, because it has not been a very widespread thing to own a car for more than a few decades, the infrastructure for roads is in tune with that truth. Roads in San Jose are good and largely like American smaller roads. The problem is that most roads do not have formal names. In downtown San Jose, there is a grid structure of numbered roads called Avenida y Calles (Avenues and Streets). Also, there are no formal property addresses here. Therefore, directions are given in the number of meters plus the direction on the compass that you should travel against major landmarks. It can be a confusing experience if you are not good with directions. Thankfully, we had no such problem as Valle del Sol was a familiar place.

Click to read the latest testimonialsThe club had all of the amenities of any quality resort in the world. When we arrived at the clubhouse to get ready for golf, I was able to meet Carlos Rojas Soto who is Director of Golf for the community. I also met David Maddox, who is the director of the Central Valley Golf Association. The organization throws weekly tournaments at Calle del Sol and at other courses for giggles among Ticos and gringos. (Gringo is the word here for white person. It is not pejorative here like it is in other places in the Latin world.) The group has significant sponsorship and has a membership of 80 golfers or so.

We warmed up for a few minutes before teeing it off at the campo. The course is a fairly short and open golf course. Bad drives still had some kind of option to approach the green, although there was a fair share of places you clearly did not want to be. The ground was hard, but beautiful green grass covered the course. That made for true greens and the possibility of long drives with the right swing. It was not too windy when I played, but that was because of the season. The wind can pick up to very high levels for golf, especially in the dry season (November through April) and create a very confusing course. Also, in the dry season, all grass across the country browns and mutates the golf course into a more links-style golf course than this American golf version. The contrast is very palpable, even for someone who has only seen it once.

The course is situated in the valley (obviously), but with great views of the mountaintops that surround the valley. The jungles are a majestic site. The layout of the golf course is a part of the community surrounding it. The construction of more upscale homes in this part of the world is fascinating and so much different than what most people are used to seeing. It was a fun ride, a great course, and a wonderful time.

After grabbing a post-round beer and some chatting, we returned to Herradura for some rest. While I was resting in the hotel bar for a quick snack, I met a few Americans. It led me to realize that this country accepts a lot of expatriates from other countries in addition to the draw it is for an increasing number of American tourists. People come here for business, travel, and to live permanently. Everyone’s story is interesting in and of itself, but the people that move here permanently come here from so many backgrounds. The diversity is great.

Later in the night, went down to the Fiesta Casino in San Jose – near the Herradura. There, I met Nick Costas, who is the Director of VIP Services. He set us up in the VIP room with very comfortable conditions. Giving me a tour of the casino, it mirrored a smaller version of most Vegas casinos. They had all of the games you would expect, live bands, and the like. Costas indicated to me that the concept of a gaming-first casino is a very new concept to the country. Despite that, the idea of customer care was not. The drinks and snacks were great and the cigars were fantastic. The facility was impressive, enjoyable, and we all spent several hours sharing stories with good company.

Upon the return to the hotel, I was wiped! We play Cariari Country Club tomorrow. Hasta luego!

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Day 3
The morning – again – came very early. It’s not something I do normally, but here it is more than worth it. We went from the hotel to the Cariari Country Club. It is the major country club in the country and has been around since the 1970s. At one time, only members and guests of the Cariari Country Club could play the course. While it is still exclusive, that is not the entire policy of the club today.

The club is a solid facility that has a membership that is very engaging. Again, there are a good number of expatriates here from various countries. Also, there are a variety of Ticos that belong to the club.

Click to read the latest testimonialsWe teed off on the back nine because a women’s group had taken the morning tee times. Immediately, I realized that Cariari was a darned tough track. The 10th hole, while just 340 yards or so, is a tight driving hole for irons. Tall trees cover the fairways with a lot of shade, but they are so close that they eat up bad shots. If you make a mistake on any hole here off of the tee, you are almost guaranteed to have only one option – chipping out. It is very penal to be inaccurate here, unlike Valle del Sol.

The course is impressive, though, because it is a thinking man’s golf course. Each hole forces you to hit a certain type of shot – high/low, draw/fade – with precision in order to have any chance at decent scoring. The wind here, though shielded some by the large trees, is still significant on every hole. Again, during the dry season, the swirling winds in the trees could wreak havoc on a man’s game.

It takes a little while to think about this, but eventually it came to me that San Jose is situated 3000 feet above sea level. Because of this, the golf ball flies a lot further than you would anticipate at home. It can mess with the mind when the ball flies so much further – at least one club extra of distance as compared to sea level.

The holes are memorable because of what it takes to get around the course successfully. The greens are tricky because not only are they fast, but they are also small and have deceptively large break. A putt one might expect to be right edge could actually be six inches outside the cup. Even our caddy was fooled from time to time and the members I played with said that the greens were still surprising them after years of playing the course.

We finished up our round, gathered up a quick lunch, and then packed the car to head out of San Jose. Next, we were headed to Los Suenos resort just outside of Jaco. Although the drive is very minimal in terms of actual distance, I was told that it would take between two and three hours.

Why? One could be traffic. The other is that we would be driving up and over mountains for half of the trip.

The roads on the journey wove through the countryside, small towns, and into areas that simply could not be inhabited by anyone because of the steepness of grade. The drive is filled with sights to behold, though. The roads are fun in and of themselves. The sheer brightness of green of the jungle that surrounds the drive is amazing. Eventually, after the mountains are passed, the road takes you close to the Pacific Ocean in a way that is reminiscent of the Monterrey Peninsula. It is breathtaking to drive seconds from the Ocean.

In driving through small towns, I also noticed something about housing property here. Houses are fenced up here and basically locked down to the outside with a key to the fence or gate. The reason for it obviously is security, but the fences seem to be an accepted way of life. They are so accepted that many of the fences are beautifully constructed with intricate patterns, beautiful colors, and a sense of fashion – if there is such a thing for a fence.

Eventually, we arrived in Jaco and Los Suenos Resort. The property is owned by Marriott and includes a golf course, spa facilities, casino, and a fantastic view of the Ocean from the hotel and other condos.

I may have been mistaken in saying that the Herradura was the best hotel I have ever seen. This is the winner. The rooms are decorated in a mix of American and Central American style. They have all of the amenities and look great. The staff was very helpful with all of our needs.

We took a few minutes to relax at the restaurant there for a snack – with a very private view of the Pacific. After we had finished and washed up, it was time to leave the grounds and see Jaco Beach. As was described to me, Jaco is a developing town with nearly 2000 units under construction there. It is a boom town. In just a few moments after arrival, I figured out why. The town is small, but the beachfront property is beyond words. The buildings situated there all have their own private beach area. The spirit of the town is definitely a festive one and lots of people from around the world come to capture that spirit, or partake in their world famous surfing.

Since I’m no surfer, we went to Hicaco Restaurant for our dinner. The building, like most public buildings, is open to the air with a roof over top. Given the climate and the situation, it just makes sense. When we were seated, we selected the buffet for dinner. It was an all-inclusive meal. I had the best lobster tails I had ever eaten, some excellent bisque, and a little dessert. Following the meal, we spent some time in the bars of the area. The drinks are cheap. The people are kind. How could one not be living here?

We had to call it a fairly early night, though, because we have a round in the morning at La Iguana – the resort course at Los Suenos. After catching a little of the Open Championship on ESPN Deportes, we went to sleep.

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Day 4
During the drive here, I did not realize the change in climate that we would experience would be so significant for such a small country. It is very palpable, though, when you get up in the morning. It is sunny, hot, humid, and there is a good breeze off of the Ocean. I was reminded of the climate at home in summer.

Click to read the latest testimonialsWe loaded up the golf bags and headed over to the clubhouse for La Iguana Golf Course. Jose Quesada is Director of Golf there and got us on the course. Not many people were playing while we were on it. I’m not sure why, though.

The course is carved into the valleys of the jungle situated on the surrounding mountainside. The gardens around the course and the plant life are very diverse and will surely make one want to bring a camera along with their clubs. Iguanas can be found on the course in several places, but most appear to be shy.

The golf course is a stern test for any player. The first hole is a daunting, long par 5 with a tight landing area. Again, the hallmark of most courses here is that the landing areas are very tight. From there, it gets a little easier. The course is fairly short and you can usually get away with long irons off of the tee if you hit them over 200 yards. Until the final four holes that are situated on the water, the wind is not too significant of a factor. The undulation changes, though, are noticeable and come into play.

The biggest challenge about the golf course is the grass itself. It is a type of grass with which I am not familiar. It grows out as a coverage grass, but it does not cover with lots of singular blades. This makes playing out of the rough very difficult because the grass is grown high. The ball then slips through the lower density of grass blades and leaves you with a hardpan lie on the ground. A conventional chip shot will not work here. You must bump and run, no matter where you are, for any kind of chance.

The greens themselves also run a little slower than the other places we have played so far – perhaps because of this type of grass. It is an adjustment, but does make the course frustrating. Just make sure you spend some time on the practice green acquainting yourself with the surfaces. It will save you two or three shots.

The aforementioned final four holes around the Ocean divert from the green views of the first fourteen holes. The water view is simply amazing, though. I have never played a course like that before and it can be distracting. Luckily, the final holes are short and fairly easy. That left me with a lot of time to appreciate the view in a good mood and score pretty well as a result.

Not too long after the round, the weather sirens stationed throughout the course went off and alerted golfers to return to the clubhouse. The rain can happen quickly in Costa Rica and this was one of those situations. The stronger storms here produce lots of lightning strikes and golfers should get out of nature’s way at that point. Thankfully, we were through our round because we planned each round to start early in the morning. Afternoon rounds here likely result in someone getting a little wet.

The work had been done at Los Suenos and it was time to leave. Now we were headed to the Guanacaste province for our final destination of the week. I was alerted before the trip that the drive would be about 4 hours, so we might want to stop for some lunch. I was very glad we did.

We dined at a restaurant frequented mostly by locals, right on the seaside, whose name escapes me. Boats owned by the restaurant were out on the water catching the fish for the day. The red snapper here is a popular fish. When it is fried just right – like I had – it is a treat for the palate. It is also light on the wallet, too. While you may not know much Spanish, the local restaurants are cheaper and will give you a lot of value for your money.

We then got on our way. The drive, again, was very beautiful. The scenery changed, though. The land flattened out, the trees created a canopy on the road, and the mountains were not as prominent – much more in the distance. For the most part, the road was great. A little ways outside of our final destination, though, we took a shortcut to get to our hotel because using the prime roads would add an extra hour to our night driving. It was a good lesson in the road situation here. The roads used by tourists and major highways are in solid shape and a massive improvement over the past decade or so. Roads off of that path, though, can be difficult to maneuver. There are a significant number of potholes and the roads can sometimes simply be dirt. The joke here is that a drunk driver would get pulled over for driving straight down one of these roads instead of weaving in and out. Since there are few drivers on these roads, getting around is not a problem, though. The shortcut was well worth it.

We approached our last hotel for the trip. It is Posada del Sol, located at the Hacienda Pinilla. The Pinilla is a 4500 acre property that is privately owned and developed. It used to be farm land for cattle – hence the Hacienda in the name. On the property, the owner developed a modern road system, electricity grids, and access to clean water and sewage on his own dime. To access the hotel, though, the guard instructed us to go 8 kilometros. That is how massive the property is. We made the final few moments of driving and arrived at the hotel.

The hotel itself used to be where the employees of the property used to live. That is no longer so because of interest in staying in the area and there needed to be a place for prospective condo and home buyers to stay. A luxury brand hotel is under construction near the Posada del Sol and will be in operation soon. The Posada itself, though, is the most unique hotel of the trip. After all, it used to be a living quarters. It is not high on luxury, but the beds are good and the interiors are modern with all Centroamericano influences. It took some adjusting, but I really did enjoy the facility there. Also, the staff has been fantastic in answering any questions I had.

After unpacking, we went over to the poolside restaurant. It was another open air facility, but well lighted and decorated. The menu, though limited, was brilliant. Top to bottom, the food was delicious and the dessert especially so. After some good conversation, this tired body went to bed to prepare for a round at Playa Conchal. Hasta luego!

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Day 5
Another early morning – not something I’m used to on vacation. But, it was a beautiful morning. Each morning here has been. Today, we were to head off of the massive Pinilla and spend an afternoon at the Playa Conchal resort’s golf course. Playa Conchal is built in the fashion of Los Suenos, but further north in relationship to Jaco Beach. It is a community accessed by gate, but you can get to the golf course. The community is self-contained and guests of it (and people who live there) have access to every amenity they really need. For those a little afraid of taking a chance outside of the walls of comfort, they will not be disappointed. The property is beautiful and has access to beaches that are soothing and have very warm water.

Click to read the latest testimonialsWe were here for a practice round for the 5th Guanacaste Classic – a tournament played around this time every year to celebrate the annexation of the territory from Nicaragua. It is a two day event that has flights based upon handicap (assigned by governing body Anagolf, the USGA, or R&A) and had a division for professionals offering a first place prize of 1,000,000 colones. Remember, since 500 colones = 1 dollar, we’re talking two large for first place. That’s where the head pro at the Four Seasons Resort joined us for our round, as he was participating in the tournament.

The round was laid back from the start, but it was easy to see that Playa Conchal could play as a very difficult course. Conchal is a course that tests your ability to judge heights. There is a lot of undulation from tee to green. Many approaches are up or down hills. The wind off of the ocean makes judging those shots more difficult. That undulation and fast greens are the main constants of this course.

The holes vary, though, in the options available to the golfer. Fairways are generous on many holes. On others, there are bunkers and water hazards that make driving an exercise in thinking. The course has some very strong par 4s that are well over 400 yards. Playing these holes requires a mentality of survival. The uphill approaches can be taxing on a golfer who is not on their game. If a player can hold on for pars and bogies on these holes, the subsequent holes are much kinder. The par 5s are generally pretty accessible in terms of manageable distance, and the par 3s are not punishing golf holes by any stretch. One can make a mark on these holes and score well.

I noticed a change in my game, though, as I played along the seaside. The greens at Conchal (and Los Suenos for that matter) are no where near as, um, curvaceous as the greens I experienced at Cariari earlier in the week. Many of the putts are not outside of the hole, if but a ball or two in either direction. A good pace on the putt usually will allow a player to hit a fairly straight putt. If one can convince themselves that the putt simply will not move all that much, then they will save a number of strokes and some incredulous looks. It is best to forget Cariari on other golf courses here because it is the exception and not the rule when it comes to greens and their trickiness.

Still, I managed a very solid round – albeit mostly in the spirit of practice. The cap off was on the par 3 15th hole. The hole itself is not especially difficult so long as you never pull your drive to the left, so that is not what makes it memorable. Rather, it is the view at the top of a created hill on the cart path. A sign says “Scenic View.” If you look forward, you’d be left wondering what in the hell they meant. Though when you turn backward and to the right, the scenery changes from mundane to eye-opening. Bring your camera to snap pictures of the Pacific, lodging amongst some of the surrounding mountains.

That was more than enough to make my day. There was still so much to go, though. We mingled for a while amongst some of the other folks who would play in the tournament beginning tomorrow at Pinilla’s golf course. They were good guys who were enjoying the wonderful lifestyle an expatriate can appreciate in Costa Rica. A lighthearted conversation over a few cervezas made the afternoon pleasant. It was time to hit the town again and we had to say our goodbyes.

Tamarindo Beach was the next town on the tour. It is approximately 20 minutes of a drive away from Hacienda Pinilla. It is a smaller, quaint town on the seaside. Where Jaco Beach is clearly a party town, Tamarindo could be popular for so many reasons. It seems so remote, but recent development there has made it more modern. The beach is secluded, but accessible and well-known. A surfer would be in paradise here from what I understand.

We dined at the Tamarindo Diria, the major hotel in town. It is the only beachfront property in the town. Though we could not see the beach from the restaurant situated just paces from the beach, we could appreciate the nighttime glowing garden on the property. Palm trees canopied the garden and were well lit to showcase their beauty. The flowers and pathways were filled with playful visiting children – even during the downpour that accompanied our meal. During the daytime, visitors could get a wonderful drink on the beach and take in the atmosphere. Likely, one would never want to surrender their spot on the sand.

The nightlife here is different than in Jaco. It did not seem as crazy, but was equally as festive and happy. Lots of gringo travelers were here and would put to ease the mind of someone who fears being surrounded by the unknown. The music was clearly Costa Rican – upbeat, hopeful – and so were the drinks. The bar we went to, called the Crazy Monkey, was situated up on top of a hill next to a hillside hotel. Though the pool was roped off that night, I imagine that a good number of amorous couples had found their way there on a good night.

Time had caught up with us, though, and being tired set in just a tad. We called it a relatively early evening and headed back to Hacienda Pinilla. After all, a golf tournament is to be played the next day and it would probably be best to avoid working on a few hours of rest!

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Day 6
That morning came a whole lot sooner than I originally anticipated. Thankfully, we would be on the property for the golf tournament. Pinilla’s golf course was just a few minutes from our hotel room. We arrived early for the breakfast buffet for the 5th Guanacaste Classic. Somewhere in the area of 110 players were congregating for a shotgun start to begin, supposedly, at 8am. After receiving a generous goodie bag and partaking in some healthy Costa Rican breakfast, I was ready to go…at 8am.

Click to read the latest testimonialsIt was here that I learned what Tico Time really means. The phrase “mas o menos” (more or less) is used a lot in the language here. It applies to time as well. The tournament definitely did not begin at 8. That’s probably because no one had a watch because it simply did not matter. Time is merely an approximation of when something begins rather than an absolute marker. Regardless of the delay, we got onto the course to begin our round.

We were joined by a pleasant partner in our round – a local doctor who was a lot of fun. All of us embarked on a round that could have been a whole lot more brutal than it was. Pinilla can be a difficult golf course. It is not especially long. But, most of the holes play into the wind. The greens, like Conchal, do not move a whole lot. Despite that, there are a lot of treacherous pin placements. The course occupies a land that is largely flat. Therefore, the Conchal undulations simply do not exist.

A number of the holes played to around 370 yards. It made easier work for a guy like me who was struggling with his driver. The lesson learned at Pinilla is that sometimes it is best not to try to overpower a golf course. Rather, being a smart player and using what is working will result in a score that is just as rewarding.

Tell that to the professionals, though. The golf course is a tremendously long 7264 yards from the tips. With the wind, the course played to approximately 7500 yards. No matter your skill level, Pinilla can give you a solid experience.

Regardless of the tees the players competed from, they all experienced a par three situated directly on the Pacific Ocean. Go over the green, and you had a good chance of finding your ball on the beach – literally. Still, I managed a par and left with a smile for the chance to play such a beautiful hole.

In the midst of that, the sky opened up for a 20 minute downpour with the force of driving rain that some people may have never seen. That rain, though, was gone as quickly as I was beginning to appreciate it. It is a metaphor for life, probably.

After the round, everyone congregated to share golf tales and celebrate. Even with the players who had lousy rounds, the talk was still upbeat. How could it not be in this place? The celebration lasted for a few hours before returning to Posada del Sol for dinner and a poolside lounge.

In the fading light, we enjoyed dinner at the restaurant and I took a quick dip in the pool. I could hear howling monkeys in the background. It was an odd noise at first, but something I could appreciate pretty quickly because of how unique it is. This whole country is a unique experience and it was drawing to a close, sadly. In the morning, I will return to San Jose and head for home.

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Day 7
Getting up to leave here was not easy, but not because I’m dead tired. This is a beautiful country and a place I would love to share with friends and family – the people that will make me glad to be home while I feel bad leaving. Still, I didn’t make reservations forever.

Click to read the latest testimonialsI grabbed a taxi over the Tamarindo Airport. The road to the airport is short and made of dirt. The “terminal” is extra small. It consists of some benches, a small station for the regional airlines Sansa and Nature Air, and a few employees over one open-air pavilion. Its simplicity created efficiency, though. When the small plane landed, our bags were quickly packed onto it. Then, we moved down the runway after boarding, turned around, and flew.

The flight was not at the heights we are accustomed to as commercial plane travelers. It was at 4,000 feet or so. That made for a lot of photo opportunities, including some you’ll see. The flight was quick, too, so the beauty could not be appreciated for too long. When I got to San Jose, though I was still in Costa Rica, I knew my adventure would be over and quite a success. Though I’m leaving, I’ll be back one day with some friends – from home and from here.

Copyright, 2007, Golf News Network.

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