Cuba: Varadero Golf Club
There cannot be many golf courses which celebrate Mayan cosmogenesis. But in the left common Bermuda grass rough, 150 yards or so off the papsaculum tee of the eighteenth at Varadero in Matanza, two hours from Havana, stands a rock boulder statue (“The Watchman” or “Guardian”) which is laden with layered meaning.
Post-revolution, ploughing up golf courses represented a utopian dream of social masses. Castro turned the courses, built in the 1920 by the likes of Dornoch and Pinehurst’s Donald Ross, into barracks and social housing projects. The original 1911 “Havana Country Club” (Rovers Athletic Club) was bulldozed to become an arts school offering terracotta painting studios and music rehearsal space to the masses. The capital’s golf club moved to the airport road, surviving state land seizures. Until it was nationalized in 1980 and purged of “anti-social elements”, with Castro becoming its President and Secretary, and holding meetings on its putting green, it was a diplo-course with a British committee. It hosted the “Havana Invitational” and attracted famous golfers like Snead, Saracen, Casper and Palmer. Today, it has forty members. Mostly embassy staff. Its facilities include a swimming pool, bowling alley, snack bar, Basque sports court and electronic games consoles. The fairways of the up-and-down course are prone to anthills and the cups to mosquito nests. Yardages are daubed on trees and the flags are bamboo poles with tatty red rags. There is a small pro’s shop or room. Pro Johan Vega, a greenkeeper’s son, gives 30 minute lessons at 20 CUC ($20 US) a time. But nobody wants them. “You will have the course to yourself always,” he says. The largest Caribbean island has just two golf courses. Three including the “Lateral Hazard” at Guantanamo Bay. Off-limits to anyone but military personnel and DoD (Department of Defence) civilians. But more courses, resorts and “golf associated with real estate” developments are planned. Golf is at the forefront of the tourism drive. Cuba hopes to be a major golfing destination within thirty years. One course has even been mooted on the Isle of Youth where Fidel and brother Raul were imprisoned. One of Fidel’s son, Antonio, loves golf and won the Montecristo Tournament at Varadero in 2013. No handicap certificate is required at Cuba’s only 18 holer. The scenic par 72, 1998 Varadero (meaning in Spanish, “dry dock”) course - 6865 yards off the “Oro” (gold) backs with shoreline holes and sea water lagoons - was designed by Canadian Les Furber, protégé of Robert Trent Jones Sr.. A green fee with buggy and club rental costs what a Cuban earns in three months. The 1927 four-story, eight-bedroom beach front “Xanadu Mansion” on the San Bernardino bluff overlooking the Gulf
of Mexico was built by French-American chemical magnate, Irenee Dupont de Nemours. It is both “19th Hoya” and hotel. The five-star, five restaurant all-inclusive “Melia Las Americas” is next door. Delaware’s Dupont retired to Cuba, buying himself some of the Hicacos Peninsula. This included 8 kilometers of beach. He installed Italia marble baths and the largest privatelyowned organ in all of Latin America. It called his guests to dinner. Al Capone was a guest. “Xanadu” cost over a million dollars to build. The gardens were planted with coconut, banana, avocado and papaya trees. Parrots and cockatoos were imported to make the prime location “more tropically enchanting”. The Cuban national monument is currently undergoing a million dollar facelift, courtesy of Cuban Tourism. At $275 a night, meals included, you can stay in the six second floor rooms – “Califa” , “Oasis” , “Irenee” , “Samarkanda”, “Marco Polo” and “Kubla Khan”. And enjoy the view of the sea and scaffolding. It has been said that Cuba’s three main problems are breakfast, lunch and dinner. But Xanadu’s restaurant menu offers Lobster Dupont-style (Warm Caribbean lobster salad with soja) and Canadian/Uruguayan Chateaubriand. Chef Lima’s signature desserts are chocolate fondant and apple pie. Naturally , “Xanadu” has its own extensive cigar menu. You have to smoke it outside on one of the two putting greens. Haute cuisine and golf all began at “Xanadu”. In 1933, a hurricane swept away five holes of Dupont’s original pitch ‘n’ putt. Over $10,000 worth of soil was needed to reopen the course in 1936. A green fee was a buck. Half went to the caddy and the rest to a local school. In 1963, on the day Dupont died at the age of eighty-five, Xanadu’s “Las Americas Restaurant” was officially opened by Russian astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Only in Cuba. Home of “El Vigia”, “The Guardian”. Xanadu Mansion www.varaderogolfclub.com email@example.com The Holiday Place offers a seven night holiday to Cuba, staying at Xanadu Mansion. Visit holidayplace.co.uk.