The beautiful country of Costa Rica draws expats and tourists from around the world who come to enjoy its golden-sand beaches, rainforests teeming with exotic life, and intoxicating culture, summed up by the country’s Pura Vida (“pure life”) attitude.
But if you’re an avid golfer, as I’ve been for over 10 years here in Costa Rica, you have another reason to enjoy this Central American paradise. As Costa Rica has over a dozen courses in operation, you can have a wonderful time golfing here. The incredible sunsets, the howler monkeys roaring overhead as you make your way to the next hole, and tropical birds greeting you at almost every turn all make for a truly exotic golfing experience.
I have played in recreational and national tournaments here in Costa Rica over the years, and it is a wonderful country for the novice and advanced golfer alike. Not only are the conditions of the courses exceptional, but—compared to prices in the States—golf here is a true bargain. Most green fees are well under $100, and if you live here, the rates can be even cheaper.
The larger resort courses located in the northern Guanacaste region are geared for the experienced golfer, and they come with heftier green fees. Courses centered around the capital, San José, are better suited for novice golfers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to play up and down this country. Here are three courses I keep coming back to.
Cariari Country Club
A top-of-the-line golf experience for sure, this place offers a private country club experience at a fraction of the cost—figure green fees of just $60.
Famous celebrities like Bob Hope, John Wayne, and Joe DiMaggio (rumor has it that he brought Marilyn Monroe with him) came to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of Cariari Country Club over the years. In the city of Heredia, around six miles north of San José, the course was once a working coffee plantation. The name Cariari derives from a native word. It refers to the pristine beach region of Puerto Limón, where Christopher Columbus landed in 1502.
Known as Costa Rica’s national course, this semi-private property sits on 53 hectares and has a world-class hotel (DoubleTree) on site. With the 18-hole championship course measuring at 6,577 yards, par 71, this is one of George Fazio’s masterpieces. The course itself is a wonderful journey through massive, tree-lined fairways frequented by wild parrots and monkeys, and with beautiful views of the mountains that surround San José.
Most of the courses have caddies available upon request. They are not mandatory, but they really make a difference if it is your first stroll around this beautiful course. See: Clubcariari.com.
Situated in Guanacaste, and minutes from the popular beach town of Tamarindo, this gem is a must-play for any golf enthusiast in Costa Rica.
One of a few hundred courses in the world that is certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, which encourages golf courses to be environmentally friendly, this 18-hole championship course hosts many national tournaments. It is considered one of the most challenging courses in the country, due to its length. (However, at 7,274 yards and par 72, its five different tee boxes make it a fair game for golfers of all skill levels.)
Entering the property is jaw-dropping, thanks to all the magnificent trees, multicolored flower beds, and exotic wildlife. I really like the water fowl that fly around the course, diving into the lakes to grab fish. The holes themselves, as you go down toward the ocean and view the beautiful coastline, with white-sand stretches and sea otters frolicking in the nearby tidal pools, have names like Oxcart and Sloth Tree.
Try to save the 15th and 16th holes until the evening, when you’ll be treated to the most spectacular displays of orange, yellow, and blue, as the sun sets over the Pacific. Easily one of the best golf settings you can imagine. And for a green fee of $125, it’s a steal. See: Jwguanacastegolf.com.
Parque Valle del Sol
If there is one golf course in Costa Rica that can be called “the locals’ course,” this is it. It’s a great place to mingle with Tico golf enthusiasts and meet expat golfers who also come here.
Lying in Pozos de Santa Ana, a suburb of San José, this 7,011-yard, par-72, 18-hole, championship golf course can be enjoyed by all. Green fees ($67) are modest, and you also have a full-service restaurant. The course is always immaculately manicured, and the greens are amazing. Membership here will also give you access to semi-private courses throughout the country.
Local tournaments are held on Wednesday mornings, and you can test your skill among the other players. There are “get-away” tournaments at other courses, so you can play with your friends at discount prices. Go in and ask about locals’ and twilight rates, as well as maybe getting a quick lesson by teaching professional Mainor Castillo Bolaños, considered one of the top choices in the Central Valley. See: Vallesol.com.