Courtesy of Hacienda Pinilla

If you are considering retirement in Costa Rica, you may well ask yourself: What about golf? While it’s not a universal interest, it is amazing how well golf and retirement seem to go together. With the luxury of leisure time and the desire to stay active, expats who once managed only an occasional weekend game now want to smack that little white ball around sand traps and water hazards as often as possible.

My husband Layne and I are no different although we’ve had little chance to indulge our golf passion here in Costa Rica. Ticos have yet to discover the joys of the game so most courses in the country are geared to tourists and often carry hefty greens fees. With that fact in mind, I have embarked on a research project to find the best golf courses in Costa Rica and will report on what I find in coming months. Of course, it is a tough job but for the sake of my readers, I am selflessly volunteering for duty.

First on the list is Hacienda Pinilla, a gorgeous 4500-acre beach resort and residential community that boasts a 7300-yard, par 72 golf course set amidst the tropical dry forest and dazzling Pacific coastline of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, just south of the tourist town of Tamarindo. Designed in 2000 by respected course designer Mike Young, Hacienda Pinilla offers friendly wide fairways and smooth true greens, making for an enjoyable round of golf even for the novice player like me.

Given my interest in all things ecological, I have wondered about the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on golf courses, not only for the integrity of the environment but also for the possible effect on our health as Layne and I walk those green fairways and breath in chemically-laced air. Historically, golf courses have not been seen as paragons of environmental virtue but that may be changing. According to Audubon International, golf courses can provide an ideal setting for wildlife sanctuaries if properly designed and managed. Non-playable areas comprise some 70 percent of most golf courses; that’s a lot of land left unpaved. These spaces offer opportunities for wild animal “corridors” and allow native vegetation to flourish. By practicing erosion control, water conservation and water quality management, employing careful and minimal use of chemicals and maintaining wildlife habitats, golf courses can be a positive, rather than a negative, addition to a community’s environment.

Putting on #15

To encourage the development of courses that are built and managed with such safeguards in place, Audubon International in 1991 in cooperation with the USGA established the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, an education and certification program that helps golf courses enhance natural areas and protect wildlife even as they educate golfers about the importance of these practices. Being designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary is a singular honor that is only awarded to those courses that adhere to the program’s high standards. Hacienda Pinilla is one of only a few courses in Costa Rica that have received this recognition from Audubon.

Besides their stewardship of nature, Hacienda Pinilla is recommended for a really fun round of golf, aided by a friendly and attentive staff. As soon as we parked and stepped out of the car, a smiling young Tico named Fernando was there to greet us and cart us over to the clubhouse to sign in.  While we donned shoes and gloves, Fernando brought our loaner clubs, since our own are still in the U.S. I loved my Adams Golf Tight Lie set, although I missed the dependable “thwack” of my own Cobra driver. But the Adams Hybrid Five Iron was my go-to fairway club; it carried the ball straight and long on the big expanses of the par 5 holes. The putter also served me well; I even managed to sink a ball from about seven yards out and just off the green, tying Layne for par.

Guanacaste province is the driest part of Costa Rica and the Hacienda Pinilla landscape reflected that, even though we were just weeks out of the rainy season. But with TifEagle Bermuda grass greens, cut very close, the ball rolls true and fast despite the dry appearance. Even so the surrounding terrain is lush untouched grassland and impressive Matapalo trees, with the eerie calls of howler monkeys in the distance. The broad fairways are not soft and cushiony but they have enough turf to hold the ball smartly for a good lie and a small divot.  Nowhere was the course comparable to West Texas courses we have played where a fairway shot was like hitting off concrete. Of course, other times of the year Guanacaste can get abundant rainfall but because the course was constructed with drainage in mind and Costa Rica’s soil sheds water like a turtle, there are virtually zero days when the course can’t be played.

The entire course is visually stunning but the dramatic oceanside holes are especially beautiful, with waves rolling onto the rocky shore just a nine-iron shot away. The spectacular 15th hole is probably the most picturesque, and it was memorable for me since I bogeyed the beachfront par 3 to beat Layne by one stroke on that hole. Perhaps we were so smitten with the view that we both lost our focus but it was a pleasure to do so.

Beware that sand trap!

Of course, there is much more to Hacienda Pinilla than golf. Hacienda guests can enjoy tennis, horseback riding, surfing, swimming or a quiet walk through nature trails. Rental options include the luxurious La Posada Hotel, where we stayed two nights in a comfortable Junior Suite, complete with a full kitchen, living/dining room and secluded patio, plus a huge sleeping area. The Villas and Townhouses, which offer attractive amenities for longer stays or bigger groups, can accommodate up to 10 guests in the Villa Marina and as many as 12 in Los Malinches del Mar Villas.

Greens fees at Hacienda Pinilla are somewhat less than other Costa Rican resorts, ranging from $185 for 18 holes for those who are not hotel guests to a $100 rate for golfers staying at one of the rental units at Hacienda Pinilla. Nine holes during regular hours will run you $95 with cart fees of $20 for 18 holes and $10 for nine. The best deal is the twilight rate of $75 in effect after 2:00 p.m. Rental clubs are available as well as lessons from the club pro.

Considering that profits go back into the community through support of local schools, scholarships for young people to attend college or to study in the U.S. and employment for local Ticos, one can see many benefits flowing from Hacienda Pinilla to the neighboring area. In fact, the only Gringo working for Hacienda Pinilla is the golf pro! Even that could change if Ticos become more attracted to the game.

With so much to offer, from golf to gourmet food to relaxing on the beach, Hacienda Pinilla makes an attractive holiday option for expat retirees in Costa Rica. The fact that it is also an example of a well-planned, environmentally sensitive development makes it just about perfect for a great round of golf.

Kat Sunlove for TheCostaRicaNews.com

Courtesy of Hacienda Pinilla

If you are considering retirement in Costa Rica, you may well ask yourself: What about golf? While it’s not a universal interest, it is amazing how well golf and retirement seem to go together. With the luxury of leisure time and the desire to stay active, expats who once managed only an occasional weekend game now want to smack that little white ball around sand traps and water hazards as often as possible.

My husband Layne and I are no different although we’ve had little chance to indulge our golf passion here in Costa Rica. Ticos have yet to discover the joys of the game so most courses in the country are geared to tourists and often carry hefty greens fees. With that fact in mind, I have embarked on a research project to find the best golf courses in Costa Rica and will report on what I find in coming months. Of course, it is a tough job but for the sake of my readers, I am selflessly volunteering for duty.

First on the list is Hacienda Pinilla, a gorgeous 4500-acre beach resort and residential community that boasts a 7300-yard, par 72 golf course set amidst the tropical dry forest and dazzling Pacific coastline of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, just south of the tourist town of Tamarindo. Designed in 2000 by respected course designer Mike Young, Hacienda Pinilla offers friendly wide fairways and smooth true greens, making for an enjoyable round of golf even for the novice player like me.

Given my interest in all things ecological, I have wondered about the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on golf courses, not only for the integrity of the environment but also for the possible effect on our health as Layne and I walk those green fairways and breath in chemically-laced air. Historically, golf courses have not been seen as paragons of environmental virtue but that may be changing. According to Audubon International, golf courses can provide an ideal setting for wildlife sanctuaries if properly designed and managed. Non-playable areas comprise some 70 percent of most golf courses; that’s a lot of land left unpaved. These spaces offer opportunities for wild animal “corridors” and allow native vegetation to flourish. By practicing erosion control, water conservation and water quality management, employing careful and minimal use of chemicals and maintaining wildlife habitats, golf courses can be a positive, rather than a negative, addition to a community’s environment.

Putting on #15

To encourage the development of courses that are built and managed with such safeguards in place, Audubon International in 1991 in cooperation with the USGA established the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, an education and certification program that helps golf courses enhance natural areas and protect wildlife even as they educate golfers about the importance of these practices. Being designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary is a singular honor that is only awarded to those courses that adhere to the program’s high standards. Hacienda Pinilla is one of only a few courses in Costa Rica that have received this recognition from Audubon.

Besides their stewardship of nature, Hacienda Pinilla is recommended for a really fun round of golf, aided by a friendly and attentive staff. As soon as we parked and stepped out of the car, a smiling young Tico named Fernando was there to greet us and cart us over to the clubhouse to sign in.  While we donned shoes and gloves, Fernando brought our loaner clubs, since our own are still in the U.S. I loved my Adams Golf Tight Lie set, although I missed the dependable “thwack” of my own Cobra driver. But the Adams Hybrid Five Iron was my go-to fairway club; it carried the ball straight and long on the big expanses of the par 5 holes. The putter also served me well; I even managed to sink a ball from about seven yards out and just off the green, tying Layne for par.

Guanacaste province is the driest part of Costa Rica and the Hacienda Pinilla landscape reflected that, even though we were just weeks out of the rainy season. But with TifEagle Bermuda grass greens, cut very close, the ball rolls true and fast despite the dry appearance. Even so the surrounding terrain is lush untouched grassland and impressive Matapalo trees, with the eerie calls of howler monkeys in the distance. The broad fairways are not soft and cushiony but they have enough turf to hold the ball smartly for a good lie and a small divot.  Nowhere was the course comparable to West Texas courses we have played where a fairway shot was like hitting off concrete. Of course, other times of the year Guanacaste can get abundant rainfall but because the course was constructed with drainage in mind and Costa Rica’s soil sheds water like a turtle, there are virtually zero days when the course can’t be played.

The entire course is visually stunning but the dramatic oceanside holes are especially beautiful, with waves rolling onto the rocky shore just a nine-iron shot away. The spectacular 15th hole is probably the most picturesque, and it was memorable for me since I bogeyed the beachfront par 3 to beat Layne by one stroke on that hole. Perhaps we were so smitten with the view that we both lost our focus but it was a pleasure to do so.

Beware that sand trap!

Of course, there is much more to Hacienda Pinilla than golf. Hacienda guests can enjoy tennis, horseback riding, surfing, swimming or a quiet walk through nature trails. Rental options include the luxurious La Posada Hotel, where we stayed two nights in a comfortable Junior Suite, complete with a full kitchen, living/dining room and secluded patio, plus a huge sleeping area. The Villas and Townhouses, which offer attractive amenities for longer stays or bigger groups, can accommodate up to 10 guests in the Villa Marina and as many as 12 in Los Malinches del Mar Villas.

Greens fees at Hacienda Pinilla are somewhat less than other Costa Rican resorts, ranging from $185 for 18 holes for those who are not hotel guests to a $100 rate for golfers staying at one of the rental units at Hacienda Pinilla. Nine holes during regular hours will run you $95 with cart fees of $20 for 18 holes and $10 for nine. The best deal is the twilight rate of $75 in effect after 2:00 p.m. Rental clubs are available as well as lessons from the club pro.

Considering that profits go back into the community through support of local schools, scholarships for young people to attend college or to study in the U.S. and employment for local Ticos, one can see many benefits flowing from Hacienda Pinilla to the neighboring area. In fact, the only Gringo working for Hacienda Pinilla is the golf pro! Even that could change if Ticos become more attracted to the game.

With so much to offer, from golf to gourmet food to relaxing on the beach, Hacienda Pinilla makes an attractive holiday option for expat retirees in Costa Rica. The fact that it is also an example of a well-planned, environmentally sensitive development makes it just about perfect for a great round of golf.

Kat Sunlove for TheCostaRicaNews.com