Golf in Costa Rica-Reserva Conchal

Going for the 18th green in two at Reserva Conchal

The first thing to know about Costa Rica’s Reserva Conchal Golf Club is that it’s hard to play there. Not that the course is exceptionally difficult. It’s just an ordeal to get on.

Call for a tee time and you’ll be informed that Reserva Conchal is a private club and allows non-members to play only if there is space available. There’s a pause and then–why, Heavens to Betsy–you’re in luck. You may be able to play. And at just the time you wanted, 8:30 on Saturday morning.
But first, you have to send an email to the pro shop, repeating your oral request. I’m not sure why this is so. Perhaps the club wants to Google your name and see if you’re on any terrorism watch lists. Perhaps it wants to run a credit check to determine whether you’re worth enough to drop a real estate salesman into your group. But you send the email and you get a response from the pro shop confirming your time.

The duffer-friendly hole location on No. 5

You’re still not on the golf course, though. The next day you arrive at the gates to Reserva Conchal and the turnpike is down. The guard insists on seeing your driver’s license and checking your name against a list he keeps on a clipboard. He checks. He calls. And magically, the turnpike rises.

You drive in. The grounds are carefully tended, planted with grasses and flowering shrubs. By the road, occasionally, you see yellow warning signs with silhouettes of Costa Rican wildlife, like iguanas and monkeys. This lets you know that despite the construction crews busily tearing up monkey and iguana habitat to build more condos, the owners of Reserva Conchal are eco-friendly.
Still not friendly to visiting golfers, though. There’s no bag drop at the clubhouse parking lot. You have to schlep your bag yourself, down a steep little concrete path to the staging area. Then you walk into the clubhouse, where your lack of membership is forgiven in return for a $180 swipe of your credit card. But there’s no locker room to change your shoes. You sit on a little bench in the pro shop and slip on your cleats.
All of which is a shame, really, because the pleasure of playing a fine course shouldn’t be marred by management that makes a player feel like a vacuum-cleaner salesman banging on the door of Buckingham Palace. And Reserva Conchal is definitely a fine course. The turf is smooth, almost flawless. The greens are quick. The practice area is lavishly endowed, with a grass-tee range and several practice greens for working on different chips and pitches. And–surprise!–there aren’t many people playing.

Lots for sale by the 13th fairway at Reserva Conchal

The design, by Robert Trent Jones II, offers enough challenge to make a winter resort course interesting. But it’s not so tough that play slows down. Jones got some hilly ground to work with, about a quarter of a mile inland from the beach at Playa Conchal. He responded the way any classic architect would, using the high spots for tees and greens and putting fairways in the valleys. Players at Reserva Conchal will see a lot of downhill tee shots and a lot of uphill approaches. (They won’t see the beach, though. Beachfront property apparently is destined for higher uses at Reserva Conchal.)

Forced carries are mild. There’s water in front of the first green, for instance, but it’s a drivable par four, so even short hitters need only a wedge to clear the hazard. At No. 5, a par three, hole locations on the right side of the green require a carry over water, but there are duffer-friendly areas on the left side of the green where the water is not in play.
The signature hole (you can tell because they have a sign by the tee that says “Signature Hole”) is No. 12, a dogleg right par four that plays 435 yards from the back tees. The tee shot has to carry a wooded ravine, then find a fairway that sits below a massive condo building. The uphill approach must carry several bunkers and hold a shallow green.
The most enjoyable hole may be the 18th, a risk-reward par five. A lagoon (lined by casita homes) runs down the left side of the hole. A line off the tee that carries at least some of the water sets the player up to try to reach the green in two. But the second shot will be almost entirely over water. There is, of course, an overland route for the player willing to spend three shots to reach the green.
The course plays  7,021 yards from the back tees, with a rating of 74.9 and a slope of 137. It has blue, white and red tees as well.
Reserva Conchal is near Brasilito and Tamarindo on the western edge of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. The property encompasses a Westin hotel, and guests there can presumably get on with less hassle than outsiders.