Cuba Golf Project Gets Approved

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In “Cuba golf project gets green light,” Sarah Rainsford writes on a British project—a luxury golf resort with an 18-hole course, Carbonera Club in Varadero. She writes that five decades after Fidel Castro ordered Cuba’s golf courses to be closed down because he considered them “elitist,” the island’s communist government has approved this construction. Currently, there is just one 18-hole course in Cuba, at the Varadero Golf Club.

The $350m (£227m) Carbonera Club proposed by British firm Esencia is the first of a dozen similar initiatives that have long been under consideration. The move is a sign of the changing times here, as the government seeks new revenue sources to fund its socialist revolution. “It will be a major complement to the tourist offering of [the resort town of] Varadero and the start of a whole new policy to increase the presence of golf in Cuba,” Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told the BBC during a visit to Varadero. He confirmed that a formal deal had been reached for a joint venture between Esencia and the Cuban government to develop the Carbonera resort, a short distance along the coast.  “We’ve been working on this for seven years, step by step, so we’re very excited it’s finally going to happen,” Esencia’s CEO Andrew McDonald said on a tour of the 170-hectare (420-acre) site.

Mr McDonald said he expected building work to begin next year on a design which would transform the area. As well as the golf course, the plans include the construction of an exclusive, gated community of some 650 apartments and villas. There will also be a hotel and a country club, complete with tennis courts, spa and a yacht club.

And Carbonera is not the only project in the pipeline. A second golf project, with Chinese investment, is expected to be approved by the end of this year. Other resorts will then be rolled out gradually across the island with Spanish, Vietnamese and Russian funding.

[. . .] Foreigners will be able to buy property on the developments, the first time that has been allowed anywhere in Cuba apart from a short-lived experiment in the 1990s. “People retiring in Canada and Europe often look for a second home,” says Gabriel Alvarez, the Cuban official charged with developing the new sector. Cuba has all the conditions to be an option for them: safety, nature, culture. So why not come here?” he asks.

The luxury developments will remain, for now, the only place foreigners can buy in Cuba. Early figures suggest high demand for a market that has been off-limits for decades. The plan is to turn the island into a golfing destination to rival nearby alternatives.

[. . .] “Of course it’s not for all Cubans at this moment,” admits Enrique Nunez, owner of a successful Havana restaurant and recent golf convert.  A round costs five times the average monthly state wage here. But there is already talk of creating a golf federation for locals, taking advantage of the new tourist facilities. “I think golf could have a good future here. We love baseball, and the swing is similar,” Mr. Nunez suggests. Even though the sport was banned for so long, “we could be naturals,” he says.

For full article, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22507776

[Photo above, the Varadero Golf Club.]

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