Cuba, Libre? What The Latest News Means For Golfers

You may have heard the news last week surrounding the United States and one of its nearest neighbors and longest-running foes: Cuba.

President Barack Obama announced last Wednesday that he seeks to "normalize relations" with the Caribbean island nation of more than 11 million. So I could not help but wonder:

What does this mean for golfers?

Despite the current thin golf offerings, it turns out Cuba has an interesting history with the game, and that might help indicate whether you should be expecting to tee it up at, say, Trump International Havana anytime soon.

Here are the two important questions and their answers.

What's the history of golf in Cuba?

Before Fidel Castro took over in 1959, Cuba was a vibrant place for tourism, particularly from the US. Havana was a sub-tropical Las Vegas of sorts, with casinos, nightclubs and, yes, a golf scene. In fact, the Country Club of Havana was designed by Donald Ross. So was the Havana Biltmore Golf Club.

The communist revolution of 1959 and the ensuing decades more or less crippled the game, though. Today, there is a relatively pedestrian nine-hole Golf Club de Havana on a different site from either of the plowed-over Ross courses and, about 80 miles to the east, Varadero Golf Club in the seaside resort hub of the same name. Varadero is a scenic modern layout designed originally by Canadian architect Les Furber. The course measures 6,856 yards from the longest set of tees. It hosted European Tour Challenge Tour Grand Finals in 1999 and 2000, won by Stephen Scahill and Henrik Stenson, respectively.

That brings Cuba's golf complement to 27 holes. A $350 million resort called the Club at Carbonera is planned, with no word as to progress; it is supposed to be the first of as many of a dozen luxury golf resorts to be built in Cuba. The developer, the UK-based Esencia Group, has not provided news on the project since June 2013.

Can I visit?

If you're Canadian or European, you are able to travel to Cuba as a tourist and have been for years. If you're American, the answer used to be a pretty flat "No way." In the wake of last week's news, however, the answer is more like, "Kinda."

For Americans, there are now a dozen circumstances under which travel to Cuba is permitted. You can read about them all here .  The most important point, though, is that visiting purely as a tourist is still not allowed.

However, if you're truly interested, I may have found a loophole:

It's the Grand Tournament Cuba Golf , scheduled for April 10-12, 2015 at Varadero Golf Club. Yes, that's the same week as the Masters.

Men with handicaps of 24 or less and women with handicaps of 30 or less are invited, and given that the new rules on Cuba include "...public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions , and exhibitions..." it looks as if American golf travelers may have a back-door way onto Cuba's seaside course.

Men with handicaps of 12 and less compete in the "Open 1st Category" at medal play, while the other divisions (men with handicaps of 13-24; women with handicaps of 30 and below) will play in a Stableford format. Assuming the potential competition loophole is legitimate, we'd wager that this event might just top these six amateur events in great golf vacation┬ádestinations . With an entry fee of $150, which includes a practice round and two tournament rounds, it's quite reasonable (outside of the cost of traveling to and from Cuba, of course).

As Craig indicated, it's not as if Cuba is going to rival the Dominican Republic anytime soon. But if you have an adventurous spirit, you might consider it for more general exploration, with a side of golf.

What are your thoughts on playing golf in Cuba? Let us know in the comments.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Cuba, Libre? What The Latest News Means For Golfers
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