By: Tim Baines
In the middle of Cuban beach paradise and a few miles of all-inclusive wonderfulness, there’s an 18-hole golf course that’s pretty good — and it’s got a strong Canadian connection.
Really, Varadero Golf Club has to be pretty good, since it’s got a certain kind of exclusivity in the country. Yep, it’s the only 18-hole course on the island, which is in no hurry to be the mecca of golf in the Caribbean. But it definitely should be on your vacation wishlist when you take into consideration all that Cuba, in particular Varadero, has going for it — things like a great pricetag, the best cigars in the world for those that like cigars, Cuba Libre (basic rum and coke with a neat name), a great time and best of all — great people. The beer of choice is good — Cristal, though you can find Bucanero. And did I mention the beaches? Ah yes, life’s a beach in Cuba.
I was there in December, spending a week at Tuxpan — for an unbelievably amazing $545, taxes in, flying out of Montreal. You sometimes hear complaints about the Cuban food — too bland, not plentiful enough. Blah, blah, blah. The Tuxpan wasn’t a five star, but that wasn’t what I expected. Sure, they weren’t serving Alberta beef and I couldn’t find a Caesar. But c’mon, get real. The staff was great, always a smile, always helpful. Cuba’s a bargain, it’s beautiful and it’s plenty of fun.
But back to the golf for a minute. Varadero Golf Club was designed by architect Les Furber, president of the Canada’s Golf Design Services LTD. The course, which took eight years to finish, covers a narrow 3.5-km strip of the snug little Varadero area — between Breezes SuperClubs, Tuxpan, Bella Costa, Melia Las Americas, Melia Varadero, Sol Club Palmeras and Sol Club Sirenas.
The par-72 course, a stone’s throw from the ocean, has five par 5s, five par 3s and eight par 4s. The classic design, with a target golf feel about it, has several salt-water lakes that connect directly with the ocean, a feature that gives it plenty of uniqueness.
Varadero Golf Club is divided into two distinct areas. Holes one to nine are considered slightly easier, with the back nine, holes 10-18, more difficult. Holes 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18 stand out for their complexity. The course description says this allows golf players to combine all the technical elements of the game with the beauty, peacefulness and quiet of the surroundings.
You can swing from the blue tee blocks (6,314 yards) or move back and play from the golds (6,856 yards). The red tees are set at 5,107 yards, or more accomplished ladies can play from the whites (5,742 yards). Holes 8 and 18 are oceanside bliss.
The clubhouse is the former DuPont mansion, Xanadu.
The Sunwing rep offered me a rate of $90 for a round of golf (in Cuban dollars, so it works out to a couple bucks more Canadian) and I was told that included green fees, cart fees, club rental (TaylorMade R7s, apparently) and some golf balls. So the price was right.
If you’ve got a hunger for golf and want something a little different, there’s also the nine-hole, par-35 Havana Golf Club. The story goes that after the 1959 revolution, Cuban leader Fidel Castro denounced golf as a “bourgeois” hobby. But it looks like the country is finally prepared to push ahead and develop more golf courses.
A Canadian, Howard Yin, won Varadero Golf Club’s annual Copa Montecristo tournament, with 100 golfers from 15 countries competing, last year. Castro’s son Antonio won the Esencia Cup.
Okay, so back to the other stuff — the wonderful things that keep millions of tourists returning to Cuba, again and again. There are great resort places like Holguin and Caya Coco, and there’s plenty of culture and history in Havana, but Varadero is where it’s at if you’re looking for sun and fun.
Some call Varadero the world’s greatest beach. Glistening white sands, cool tropical breezes and tranquil Atlantic waters provide the perfect backdrop for a broad range of resorts, from family-friendly to all-inclusive, and everything in between. The water showcases nature’s beauty — a Picasso snapshot of blues and greens and turquoises.
If you’re looking for adventure, there’s scuba diving, sailing and swimming with the dolphins.
Make sure you taxi into town. And take one of the cars that are right out of the 1950s — find a convertible. Check out the Calle 62 nightclub, which spills out into the street when the live entertainment’s playing at night.
You won’t go to Cuba just for the food, or just for the golf. But the country has plenty going for it. It’s sure as hell a terrific alternative to shovelling snow from your laneway.