Looking for a hidden gem when you visit Costa Rica and want to include golf with all the other activities? The Hacienda Pinilla course certainly fits the bill. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of Costa Rican grassland and forest in the Nicoya Peninsula in the Guanacaste providence not far from the fishing and beach village of Tamarindo, Hacienda Pinilla remains a golf course that is as yet undiscovered by most of the international crowd.
The Mike Young design exists in its own world, tucked into a gated community that now includes homes, luxury condos, a boutique 60-room LaPosada Hotel, a beach club and a 310-room JW Marriott rather than a desolate pastureland 40 years ago when purchased by Atlanta developer Hg Patillo. The roads are paved inside the resort, but you do have to travel on unpaved roads to get there for now. This is scheduled to change soon.
The course can be stretched to 7,296 yards, carrying the highest course rating in Costa Rica of 75.7 and a slope of 132. It’s no pushover from the blues (6,689 yards) either, but is probably more enjoyable for most from the whites at 6,176 yards where I played.
There is plenty of room off the tee, but accurate approach shots are necessary to avoid the many bunkers, including some like the ones in Scotland with steep walls. The sixth green is almost completely surrounded by bunkers, like an island. Golfers need to be careful to hit enough club for their approach shots on four holes on the front side (Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 9) because of the false fronts on the greens. This same advice applies to the dogleg left 10th with a long three-tier green guarded by a pot bunker. Water only comes into play only behind the green on the par 3. A statue of owner Hy Patillo with a friend stands overlooking this lake as you head to the 9th tee. Higher handicappers will have better chances to save pars when they miss the greens as there are closely mown areas instead of deep rough there.
You get a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean playing the par 5 14th and a even better view from the tee on the par 315th where the green is only a half wedge from the waves. Although the skies looked threatening and kept me from even hitting a shot, I toured the back nine so I could get a better view, but my wife and I got soaked before we could get back to the clubhouse.
Director of golf Jason Bauer, who moved here five years ago from Colorado, said, “It never gets old playing it time and again as it has a natural flow and conditions change with each season.”
Bauer pointed to winds, sometimes 30 or 40 mph during January through March, as adding to the challenge. Regulars know that if the wind is in their faces on the first hole, then the next six holes will be downwind. The course plays easier when they stand on that first tee and the wind is in their faces.
I remember teaching pro Ken Moss, who lived in Costa Rica for three years, tell students: “When it’s breezy, swing easy.” That’s always good advice.
Bauer feels that the greens are the best anywhere in Costa Rica. “I love playing fast greens and these can get sneaky fast,” he said. “You really have to pay attention.”
Green fees at the course, recognized as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, are $150 for 18 holes or $75 for 9 holes or after 2 p.m. and include a golf cart.
While my wife and I stayed at the beachfront J.W. Marriott, offering great ocean views and a gigantic swimming pool, I would probably consider the smaller La Posada, offering three types of rooms including full furnished villas, if I came with a group of golfers.
While there is really no need to leave the gated community, you might want to venture into nearby Tamarindo, better known as a great place for surfing. If you do, try one of the coconut cream homemade pies at Nogui’s. Travel & Leisure named nearby Nosara as one of the world’s coolest surf towns.