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Exquisite fairways, painstakingly manicured greens and views from the tee box so breathtaking that you’ll reach for your camera instead of your driver. This is the golf experience in Guanacaste, Costa Rica — the home of some of the best golf courses in the tropics.
The northwestern province of Guanacaste is home to at least three award-winning golf courses that should be on every links lover’s bucket list: the Ocean Course at Peninsula Papagayo, Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club, and the Reserva Conchal Golf Course.
Nestled on the Pacific Ocean shores, Guanacaste golf courses offer world-class service, astounding natural beauty, a plethora of wildlife and a challenge for any handicap.
Ocean Course at Peninsula Papagayo
Designer: Arnold Palmer
Hotel affiliation: Four Seasons
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the designers at the Ocean Course at Peninsula Papagayo took that adage to heart. When driving into the golf course, you know you’re arriving at someplace special.
A ribbon of roadway cascades into a tunnel of royal palms on your drive. Ocean vistas and lush jungle greet you when you arrive, as well as the face of a friendly caddy who’ll happily remove your clubs from your trunk. You realize that even if you score nothing but snowmen, it’s still going to be a great day.
It’s no wonder golf legend and renowned course designer Arnold Palmer chose this location in the Peninsula Papagayo — a thin stretch of land separating Culebra Bay from the Pacific Ocean — for one of his most prized international golf courses.
The location allows ocean and jungle views from every angle. That, combined with white-faced monkeys, colorful birds, and Jurassic-like iguanas create a distracting environment that may faze even the most focused golfer.
In his words, “We were honored to have been chosen to design the first golf course at Peninsula Papagayo. We were given an excellent piece of property, a lush tropical landscape, exciting elevation changes and 360-degree ocean views on many holes. The course is not only beautiful but a fair test of golf.”
Golf Digest magazine ranks this course as one of the “Top 100 Courses Outside the United States.” There’s no better example of the amplitude of beauty here than Hole 3, a beautiful par-four with a 360-degree view of the peninsula’s cliffs, ocean and forests. Arriving at this tee box may make you believe God wore plaid knickers when he created this space.
Lace up your soft-spikes and follow these tips from those who’ve played this course before:
- A solid, straight driver will do you well here, as tight fairways hug diverse terrain.
- The course has many elevation changes and undulating paths, so a cart is necessary.
- The forest affords this course a lot of shade. It also protects your ball from the strong winds that can swirl through this area.
- You’ll see a lot of wildlife, including a curious iguana on the 18th hole who wants to know if you have any leftover snacks in your golf bag (but please don’t feed the wildlife).
- Beginner golfers may find this course too difficult.
- Strict dress codes apply.
The Ocean Course at Peninsula Papagayo is open only to guests at the Four Seasons, which offers several golf packages for individuals and families, plus lessons with the club’s experienced pros.
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Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club
Designer: Mike Young
Yards: up to 7,200
Hotel affiliation: J.W. Marriott
The Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club lies just south of the tourist center of Tamarindo. The links snake between forest, grassland and the blue Pacific Ocean. The world-class course is public and is popular with locals and tourists.
Renowned architect Mike Young designed Hacienda Pinilla. Young believes “the best golf courses are the ones that provide solid, strategic challenge within a natural environment.” This course incorporates the area’s natural beauty that offers golfers an unforgettable experience.
Have your camera ready for Hole 15, a par five that leads you through the dry forest to a stunning green nestling the rocky ocean shoreline. A selfie from this green will make everyone back home green with envy.
Hacienda Pinilla is one of the more accessible golf courses in the region. It has different rates for high and low seasons, plus discounted twilight rates. Keep these notes tucked in your pocket when you tee off.
- Hacienda Pinilla provides your best chance at a hole-in-one. It has many short par threes. However, although these holes may tempt you to go for the cup, they’re also unforgiving and will severely punish the slightest mistake. For example, Hole 7 features an inviting green, but a water hazard directly behind it may shake your confidence on the tee box.
- The clubhouse features a small but superb restaurant. You may never enjoy a grilled salmon this delicious in your lifetime.
- The course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary because of its commitment to sustainability and conservation. It means they often don’t water the fairways during the dry season (December through April). You may hit some of your longest drives as your ball rolls an extra 20 yards down the hard fairway.
- The Papagayo winds arrive in Guanacaste during January and February. Hacienda Pinilla’s open design doesn’t afford much protection from these strong winds, which can hit 60 mph and knock you over just as you’re about to tee off.
- Watch for deer running across the fairways.
- This course is walkable if you want some exercise. There are no mobile beverage services.
- Anyone with a registered handicap can sign up for Hacienda Pinilla’s best-ball tournament, held the first Saturday of the month all year long.
- Lessons are available. All the pros here are fantastic, and Edwin is an exceptionally talented teacher.
- Strict dress codes apply.
Reserva Conchal Golf Course
Designer: Robert Trent Jones II
Hotel affiliation: Westin Hotels & Resorts
The Reserva Conchal Golf Course hugs the beautiful Costa Rica coastline just south of the breathtaking vacation rentals in Playa Flamingo. It’s the most difficult of the three courses profiled here, designed by renowned international golf architect Robert Trent Jones II.
The course features undulated fairways and fast greens that are always meticulously maintained. Club staff treat you like royalty from the moment you enter the club’s parking lot with personalized service that’s second to none. A round here is a perfect combination of natural beauty, luxury and challenging golf.
This championship course has hosted the TLA Costa Rica Masters in 2008, the highest level professional golf tour in Latin America.
If you’re going to golf in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, you’ll want to visit Reserva Conchal. Here are some pointers to help you get prepared:
- This course is really tough for beginners. Reserva Conchal is so challenging that novice golfers may want to give up halfway through and enjoy the scenery.
- Reserva Conchal lies at the bottom of a valley. It means it can get quite hot, especially under the glaring sun in the middle of the afternoon. Sharp winds can also jet through the valley and push your ball around in the air.
- Reserva Conchal has two pro shops and a wide variety of golf lesson packages for the whole family.
- This clubhouse boasts arguably the best restaurant of the three courses mentioned here.
- Strict dress codes apply.
Beautiful yet sustainable
Reserva Conchal, Peninsula Papagayo, and Hacienda Pinilla are the only three golf courses in Guanacaste designated as official Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.The international program helps businesses improve efficiency, conserve resources, and promote conservation efforts. Feel good knowing that you’re supporting a golf club committed to keeping this beautiful area pristine for future generations.
Golf in Guanacaste, Costa Rica: the 19th hole
Each one of these Guanacaste golf courses is unique for its own reasons, but all will challenge your game. The three are conveniently situated less than a two-hour drive from the Liberia international airport and in areas that boast magnificent vacation rentals in glorious seaside locations. Guanacaste is a golf lover’s tropical paradise, so put Costa Rica at the top of your list for your next golf vacation.