Golf in Cuba
The long history of golf in Cuba has never been fully recognized internationally. Some Cubans can currently be found on the two existing courses [Varadero International and Boyeros Club of Golf Havana], but most of the golfers are foreign tourists or ex-pats living in Cuba. However, two more golf course resorts are planned: one in Matanzas and the other in Guanabo.
Boyeros Club de Golf Havana
Boyeros Club de Golf Havana, in the Havana suburbs, is a real ‘country’ club, as its setting is definitely rural with a natural landscape of sloping hills, a variety of trees and other vegetation, and streams, bordered by fincas (small farms). You might even occasionally see a cow or goat wandering across a fairway.
It was originally designed in 1943 by an Englishman as a small, three-hole course. At that time the course was associated with the old Havana Country Club and only members of the club, who happened to be all British or Americans, were permitted to play there.
After the Revolution, the course was opened to the public in 1970, and in 1980 was officially named Club de Golf Havana. Over the years the course was developed further with 9 holes, but by doubling up, 18 holes are possible.
Orlando, at 71, is one of the oldest Cuban golf instructors. He has a 10 handicap and has been at the course for the last 50 years, from when the course still had only three holes (at the age of 30, his handicap was 4!). The famous footballer, Maradona, played the course during the four years he lived in Cuba and, due to his leg injury, was the only golfer permitted to use a motorized cart.
The club is a convenient, 20-30 minutes from center city Havana. It has a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, and function room, as well as tennis and squash courts. You can sometimes hear the poolside salsa and reggae from the fairways.
Membership is 45 CUC per person per month, 60 CUC per couple per month. For non-members, a 9 hole game is 20 CUC; 30 CUC for 18 holes. If you don’t bring your own, rental of golf equipment is 15 CUC with golf instructors and caddies available for a fee.
Varadero International Golf Course
The Vardero peninsula, famous for its beaches and all-inclusive hotels, is a two-hour drive from Havana and boasts a golf course of international standards. Near many of the hotels, the 9 and 18-hole courses are laid out between palm trees, caves and lakes, at times approaching breathtaking beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
Its challenging or Target Golf design is of modern style with narrow roads and heavily protected greens surrounded by sand traps and lakes. The course has several salt water lakes that connect directly with the sea, a feature that makes it almost unique worldwide. The Varadero Club has a players’ reception at the Caddie House, a Pro Shop and Snack Bar. The ‘19th Hole’ Bar on the top floor of the club has a bird’s eye view of the course, the sea and the miles of pristine white beaches along the coast. Naturally, the bar is the place to end your game with a chilled Mojito or iced cold beer.
Back when the DuPont family owned much of Varadero peninsula, there were very few hotels, and the famous French-American multimillionaire, Dupont de Nemours, commissioned an 18-hole golf course that opened in December 1931.
The course is overlooked by the famous Xanadu Mansion, the former DuPont Villa. The mansion is a magic place and the most authentic in Varadero since it was there where the peninsula planning began, the great project of DuPont, who left Cuba in 1957. The mansion’s restaurant is the ideal place for a gourmet meal and fine wine and cocktails while savoring a Havana cigar as you watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. It also has six guest bedrooms and a bar on the top floor with panoramic views.
The club continues expanding its ambitious facilities, including opening the first golf academy operated by PGA professionals and instructors from the Cuban Golf Federation. It has the organized international golf tournaments and hosted European Challenge Tour Grand Finals.
The club provides golf carts, golfing equipment, instructors, a driving range and putting practice greens. Green Fees for 9 holes is 48 CUC, 18 holes is 70 CUC. Rental of golf equipment is 30 CUC with cart rental also 30 CUC. Golf instructors are available for an extra fee.
Up and coming Cuban golf star
There are a small number of Cubans who play golf and one of the promising Cuban women is Iliuska Gonzales William, who began golfing just over a year ago and plans to work toward playing professionally.
Iliuska, born and raised in Holguin, is 25 years old and now lives in Havana. She spent three years studying gastronomy in college and is now studying English and IT computing. Iliuska practices and plays as often as she can between her studies and working out at a gym, and has one of Cuba’s best golf instructors, Gabriel (see above).
There are regular monthly golf tournaments at Boyeros where the competition has helped her improve her handicap. You will find her at Boyeros several days a week, usually dressed in pink to match her golf equipment. She also often goes with her partner for a weekend of golfing in Varadero to experience an international standard golf course and improve her skills.
It is hoped that golf will become more recognized in Cuba so that Cuban golfers will have the opportunity to play in international tournaments and even in the 2016 Olympics in the UK. Perhaps Iliuska will be one of them.