By Mimi Whitfield, Miami Herald, May 8, 2015
In the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the government regarded golf as a bourgeois hobby and the island’s few golf clubs were allowed to languish. But on the closing day of this year's International Tourism Fair, Cuba signed a letter of intent to build what would be only its second 18-hole golf course.
Cuba’s partner in the project will be China’s Beijing Enterprises Group.
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Tuo, Wang Dong, chairman of the Beijing Enterprises Group, and José Reinaldo Daniel, business director for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, signed the letter for development of the golf resort on Thursday, according to the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde. The golf course will be located in the Bello Monte area on Cuba’s north coast.
The paper noted that when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited in June 2014, 29 agreements to increase cooperation between the two countries were signed.
Despite the famous 1961 photo of Fidel Castro, dressed in fatigues, boots and beret, spoofing at playing a round of golf with Che Guevara, Cuba wasn’t much interested in golf until the 1990s when it began a serious effort to revive its tourism industry. At the time, there were just two nine-hole courses in the entire country, and the only 18-hole project that has come to fruition since then is the Varadero Golf Club, which was completed in 1998.
The Varadero course, which replaced a nine-hole facility at the site, was designed by Canadian Les Furber and uses the Xanadú Mansion, formerly owned by the duPont family, as its club house.
Despite talk of developing multiple 18-hole courses, Cuba has had a difficult time getting its golf program off the ground.
The golf course project is seen as part of an effort by Cuba to diversify its tourism offerings. New aquatic sports and nature and adventure tourism alternatives were all on display at the tourism fair, which attracted tour operators, travel agents and journalists from more than 40 countries. The fair was held in Jardines del Rey, one of Cuba’s fastest growing tourism areas.
Last month, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said tourism was up15 percent nationwide during the first quarter of the year. In the Janauary-March period, Cuba received a record 1.14 million visitors. Although new U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba are expected to increase the number of Americans visiting the island, Canada is still leading the way with 551,773 visitors.
U.S. visitors are not supposed to travel to the island for tourism, but efforts are underway in Congress to lift the U.S. travel ban.