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Between the Greens

by Jay Trettien

Teeing off on the short, fourth hole at the Cariari Country Club, I had to wonder for a moment what Alberto's caddy was doing. The tee is elevated and the shot to the green must carry over a small but menacing pond. Alberto is not much of a golfer but he's difficult to beat because his education failed to teach him how to count beyond five. Many strokes are lost or forgotten when Al disappears into the rough looking for the errant drive.

"Hey Al, what's your caddy doing?"

I really should have known what was up because the caddy had already gone three holes with us and had a clear assessment of our game. He was ahead of us and below the tee next to the pond. Off came his T-shirt, then sneakers and socks. Crossing his arms, he waited for Al to hit.

"Hey Al, not much of a vote of confidence there."

"What's he doing?"

"Well, I could be wrong of course, but I suspect he's expecting you to end up in the pond."

Al gripped his nine-iron a little tighter, mumbled something about the caddy's tip and splashed the ball right in the middle of the water. The caddy, in quick pursuit, dove into the pond, emerging not only with Al's ball but five or six others which we promptly bought from the young, enterprising guy as we had to look forward to another tough fifteen holes. Costa Rican caddies do not make their money reading greens or estimating yardage to the pin but rather in their dogged determination to see that you never lose a ball.

The Cariari is the only 18-hole course in Costa Rica. It's a tough, demanding course that holds up to international scrutiny, hosting many of golf's legends, including Arnold Palmer and Chi Chi Rodriguez. The last international pro tournament held at the Cariari was won by Ray Floyd, who's now the hottest newcomer to the Senior Tour.

Visiting pros often compliment the Cariari's second hole as one of the top par fours they see. Tight fairway, two-tiered, elevated green and usually the tee shot is straight into a gusting wind.

The tourist in Costa Rica who wants to get in some golf must do a bit of planning. There are no public courses, no driving ranges. The sporting authorities of Costa Rica do not, in fact, consider golf as a "sport" but rather a "hobby." Therefore, there is no governmental support and the game is generally enjoyed by the more privileged Costa Ricans and foreigners; usually diplomats, businessmen or retirees.

To get in 18 at the Cariari, the tourist must be a guest of either the Cariari Hotel or close neighbors, Hotel Herradura or Cariari Residencias de Golf. But these rules, as all rules in Costa Rica, change.

If you are a guest in any major hotel downtown, find a concierge with a friendly, persuasive manner and things do happen. If you are a member of any club outside Costa Rica, mention that to the concierge, and get that message across to the pro you'd like to talk with. Country clubs throughout the world share a reasonable amount of reciprocity. All the pros speak English and some are excellent teachers. Asking for a lesson is a great way to get a foot in the door.

Green fees at the Cariari are about $35, an electric cart, which only the Cariari has, $20, and a caddy, cart or no cart, $8. Expect to pay about $75 for a round of golf, after a snack and a few beers.

Los Reyes Country Club is about 20 minutes past the Cariari. Just nine holes for now but plans for 18. The course is a legitimate test for any golfer, and recently hosted the national championship. Los Reyes, like the Cariari, is set beautifully within the Central Valley, surrounded by spectacular views of the mountains. Tip: Work on your hook . . . the course seems to tilt toward the right. Los Reyes is less expensive than the Cariari but be sure you've made arrangements at the gate for admission.

The Costa Rican Country Club in Escazú has the most beautiful clubhouse in Central America. The course is short by most standards but pretty and again, private. Another tip: If your opponent has trouble counting beyond five like Alberto, slip his caddy a few hundred colones to count his strokes. Guaranteed to pay for itself in the final tally.

Fourth and last course is on the Nicoya peninsula . . . the luxury resort, Tango Mar. Great setting for a course as it wanders along the Pacific. Tango Mar is about five hours by road and ferry from San José but there is an airstrip. A world-class resort perfect for those who like some privacy to work on their game. For some reason, Tango Mar has ten holes . . . maybe you play the ten but turn in a score for your best nine?

Golf in Costa Rica is in its infancy. There are about 35 resort projects now in planning that include courses. The project most likely to see the earliest end of the tunnel is Rancho Las Colinas, located between Tamarindo and Flamingo. The first holes, designed by well-known course architect, Ron Garl, will open soon.

Recently, Robert Trent Jones, perhaps the world's most famous course architect, was in Costa Rica advising on two projects.

To be fair, Alberto is really not that bad a guy. Last week we were out and both our drives went astray into the trees but our caddies signaled we were both in play. Needing a beer, we let some people play through. After the rest, we went to the second shot but could not find Al's ball. Certainly logical that the caddies of the players we waved through picked it up by mistake.

Al pleaded convincingly but I had to insist, Sorry Al, no ball, loss of stroke. I helped him look for the allowed five minutes but then had to get the rule book out and settle the matter in my favor and eventually winning a significant hole in a skins game.

He fumed and fussed for the next three holes, until on one green he struggled for the final moral high ground. I can only guess that he thought there was some compassion in my golfing heart. Al confessed that he had considered dropping another ball when I wasn't looking, saving the penalty.

Had to tell him, "Alberto, if I had seen your ball in play, I'd have kicked it so far out of bounds, it would still be rolling."

Copyright © 1995 Jay Trettien. All rights reserved.

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Updated on April 13, 1996 by M.L. Smith