Restoration of golf to Cuba to benefit boaters as well
By PETER SWANSON
Cuba Cruising Net
Published Dec. 16, 2011
Florida has more than 1,200 golf courses, more than any other state. Cuba has two, but that’s changing. And as it does, more marinas also will be built to accommodate foreign boats. Once it was believed that the growth of marine infrastructure in the island nation was dependent on normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. That appears less the case now, after the government of Raul Castro made a key change in landownership laws.
In 2010 the Cuban regime changed its laws to allow foreign investors to lease state-owned land for up to 99 years, instead of 50. In June, Cuba’s Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told a conference in Europe that Cuba is looking at joint ventures to build 16 golf-villa complexes in the near future. Five have been announced for the North Coast and are in various stages of planning; four of them have major marina components, totaling hundreds of slips.
The turnabout is delicious. Soon after coming to power, Fidel Castro closed Cuba’s golf courses as symbols of bourgeois decadence, but not before playing one last round himself. Famous news photos show a young Fidel and Che Guavera playing golf in fatigues and combat boots, presumably mocking President Dwight Eisenhower’s love for the game. Now a Castro regime that is increasingly pragmatic and business minded has rehabilitated what could well be called “The Sport of Presidents,” an about-face to attract billions of capitalist dollars
.Three of the golf projects are planned for a 60-mile stretch of coast due south of the Florida Keys. Their marinas would provide stepping stones for boaters transiting eastward between Marina Hemingway in Havana and two marinas in Varadero, which is the Cuban equivalent of Cape Cod and the Jersey Shore. A Cuban military subsidiary is now rebuilding one of those marinas to become the biggest in the Caribbean, more than 1,200 slips.
Tarará was origionally developed in the 1940s by American visionary and engineer Royal S. Webster. He anticipated the neo-urbanist movement later in the century by designing Tarará as an organic community, including stores, movie theater and a small marina, still in use. Ernest Hemingway used to stage some of his fishing exploits from here, and the waters off Tarara are known as the “Hemingway Mile.” Now, a Dutch developer wants to expand the marina to 270 slips as part of a multi-step plan that includes megayacht docks, hotels, bungalows, condos, restaurants, shops and an 18-hole golf course.
Tarara is 18 nautical miles east of Marina Hemingway. Twenty-two miles to the east of Tarara is Playa Jibacoa. Leisure Canada Inc. has plans to partner with the Cuban government in an $800 million golf and marina complex on more than two square miles of oceanfront here. Its CEO, Robin Conners told Cuba News, a monthly newsletter, that Jibacoa would compete with Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, one of the most upscale villa complexes in the Caribbean. The marina would be situated at what is now a cove open to the north, so considerable resources would have to be devoted to either breakwater construction or excavation, if the marina is going to be tenable during winter.
Heading east along the coast for another 7½ nautical miles is Bacunayagua, a wooded area with a few rustic tourist amenities. Spanish developers partnering with Cubacan, a subsidiary of the Cuban military, plan to spend $500 million developing two golf courses, 2,000 villas and a marina with a historical design motif; a developer’s rendering shows a breakwater that resembles 16th century fortifications. From Key West to the castle tower at the entrance to this proposed marina is about 83 nautical miles, making it the closest Cuban port.
Twenty-seven miles eastward from Bacunayagua lie the breakwaters of Varadero basin. The basin is home to Marina Marlin Varadero. Marina Gaviota (the one being rebuilt to accommodate more than 2,000 vessels) stands at the other end of the 10-mile peninsula. Varadero happens also to have Cuba’s only existing 18-hole golf course.
Another planned development west of Havana would have strategic implications for American boats bound for the Western Caribbean. A Spanish-British consortium seeks to redevelop more than 4 miles of vacant waterfront and sugar fields into a huge community with four golf courses and a 260-slip marina. The project is called La Altura, and it would be developed under the auspices of the British architectural firm Foster & Partners and Las Palmares, a subsidiary of the Cuban Security Service.
Once the U.S. government legalizes our travel to Cuba, a place such La Altura can serve as a waystation for Belize-bound Americans, particularly those which lack tankage for long passages. Key West to Isla Mujeres in Mexico is about 335 nautical miles. La Altura is 130 nautical miles from Key West and 217 nautical miles from Isla Mujeres. One strategy would be to clear into Cuba at Havana, proceed to La Altura and then to the existing marina at the western tip of Cuba for jumping off for Mexico.
Between La Altura and the western tip at Cabo San Antonio is a 50-mile passage protected from ocean swell by a system of fringing reefs. With golf courses and the rough equivalent of an Intracoastal Waterway, western coastal Cuba may begin to resemble Florida in a fractured mirror image kind of way.
Meanwhile, a coastal city just west of Havana is the site of a huge development project to create a major modern port. The city is Mariel, known to most Americans because of the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, during which 125,000 Cubans fled to the U.S. from it harbor. The Brazilian company Odebrecht is financing the entire project, having spent $400 million so far and approved $200 million of $800 million pledged.
This time it’s not about golf. Cuba’s port infrastructure in Havana is decaying and Cuban planners have wanted to shift industrial functions to Mariel. With shipping facilities and industry moved out of the capital, Cuba’s leaders will set about to re-invent Havana Harbor as a cruise ship destination and, while they’re at it, create a destination for American recreational vessels as well.
(Further reading: Cuba News is an excellent source for current information about development in Cuba and other political and economic analysis. Visit www.cubanews.com)