Tee Time: Club de Golf Habana
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99
(continued from page 1)
While Cuba is blessed with thousands of miles of beautiful coastline and sandy beaches, this inland course is more reminiscent of the mountains of North Carolina than the tropical Caribbean. Like the courses at Pinehurst, the holes are separated by stands of pines, and the fairway and rough grass is dark, thick and green, not the spongy Bermuda normally found in the islands. Only the azure-blue skies, warm sunny weather and the occasional palm and ficus tree give away the course's location. It is a wooded parkland-style layout, with parallel fairways, constant breezes and sudden elevation changes.
Throughout the course, the tee boxes are built up. The fairways are in decent shape and the rough is left to grow in the English manner, necessitating explosive wedge shots. The driving areas are wide and forgiving, however, and most of the bunkers are around the greens, so that the course, par 35, or 70 for 18 holes, plays well for all handicaps. The open pine stands make it difficult to lose balls, and in most cases invite daring recovery shots. The weakest parts of the course are the greens, which suffer from lack of modern agronomical techniques and a good mower. Having been invaded by several different grasses, they can be patchy and uneven, with occasional bare spots. Happily, when the renovation is complete, the greens will be replaced, providing more consistency.
Ironically, the asset most worthy of boasting is a feature found only at the very best courses in the States: caddies. The local labor situation makes hiring a caddy an attractive proposition, and some of the caddies are old enough to have worked their trade before the revolution, when Cuba was a popular golf destination and a stop on the professional tour. At just $6 for 18 holes, less than a pull cart rental at most courses, caddies are a luxury that is hard to pass up.
While the club's buildings are spartan, constructed of the whitewashed concrete typical to Cuba, and the pro shop offers little merchandise, the Club de Golf Habana is a complete country club, and guests are well advised to make a day of their visits. Five tennis courts, a swimming pool, squash, billiards and pool, and even a two-lane bowling alley round out the facilities. Professional instruction is available for golf and tennis, and food and drink are available throughout the club.
A cocktail and a cigar in the Hoyo 19 bar is a must before, after or during a round. The Brits did a good job with location, as the front door of the bar sits just four or five strides from the final green. The building is dark, with wood trim and ornate doors, distinct from the rest of the club's architecture. Hoyo 19 is reserved exclusively for golfers and members, who may sip a mojito or enjoy a cold Cristal, considered the best Cuban beer, and enjoy one of the bar's smokes while looking over the site plans for the new construction. The architects' renderings are proudly displayed on the wall alongside the obligatory list of members' handicaps, club tournament sign-up sheets and a handful of trophies. Substitute Scotch for rum, and ESPN for salsa music on the radio, and it would seem like a 19th hole anywhere in the world.
Larry Olmsted is a freelance writer living in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.
GOLFING IN HAVANA
The Club de Golf Habana, at Carretera de Vento, Km.8, Capdevila, Boyeros, Havana, is just 10 minutes from downtown, and even closer to the airport. You should arrive by cab, since the club is very difficult to find and the fare is only about $10. Telephone: (53-7) 33 89 19.
Greens fees are $20 for nine holes, $30 for 18. Caddies charge $3 and $6, respectively. Pull carts are available, motorized carts aren't. The pro shop offers high-quality club rentals; a set of Wilson Staff clubs with graphite shafts rents for $10. If you visit Cuba frequently, consider a club membership. After an initiation fee of $70, monthly dues of just $45 include unlimited golf. The course is par 70 for men and par 72 for women with a slope rating of 125. Until the expansion is complete, there is no driving range, but a practice green is available. Head pro Jorge Duque says you don't need to book times, but on weekends it's better to call in case a tournament is being held.
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