Cuba: Varadero Golf Club

Golf Vacations - - Contents - by Kevin Pil­ley

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 iinfo@va­radero­golf­club.com The Hol­i­day Place of­fers a seven night hol­i­day to Cuba, stay­ing at Xanadu Man­sion. Visit hol­i­day­place.co.uk.

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