Monday, December 29, 2014

Cuba's golf revolution - But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take
'bourgeois' game to its heart?
Fidel Castro ridiculed the sport – but now investment in leisure resort
projects is welcome
JAMES CUSICK Sunday 28 December 2014

Barely days after the fall of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in
1959, two of the world's most famous revolutionaries, Fidel Castro and
Che Guevara, walked into Havana Golf Club and, still dressed in military
fatigues, proceeded to mock a bourgeois pursuit of the rich: they played

The pair putted, swung clubs and probably joked about their plans to
close the dozen or so Cuban clubs that had once been the playground of
wealthy American tourists.

The tanks of Castro's revolution were soon on the island's fairways,
most of them destined to become military facilities or schools. Half a
century later, the Royal & Ancient game is no longer a capitalist pariah.

President Barack Obama's recent announcement that the US would end
long-standing trade restrictions with Cuba and normalise their
diplomatic relationship, puts golf at the forefront of international
investment projects expected to flood into Castro's former fiefdom.

Cuba, just 90 miles south of Miami and with 3,500 miles of Caribbean
coastline, has been topographically surveyed over the past 20 years by
many of the world's leading golf developers, all waiting for the day
when access to this natural treasure would be possible.

So is golf about to explode in Cuba? Jeremy Slessor, managing director
of European Golf Design (EGD), which has construction projects in
Morocco, Bahrain, Germany, Portugal, Finland, Italy, Turkey and Russia,
thinks it is "inevitable". Mr Slessor said: "There have been a lot of
people and international companies who have been talking about
development in Cuba over the past five years or so."

EGD has American owners who have been careful about operating within US
federal laws that clamped down on investment in Cuba. Other
international developers, however, have been less patient. The
Independent has been told that leading investment companies, who
specialise in property linked to golf developments, have already
commissioned detailed analysis of prime Cuban sites.

A source at one design company, which has US backers, said: "If Obama is
right, and trade relations become routine, then Cuba inside a decade
could be on track to becoming one of the world's major golf
destinations. It won't take much to green light what will be another

The low-key nine-hole Havana Golf Club is the capital's sole-survivor
from the Batista days.

Varadero, on the thin Hicacos peninsula, used to be part of Irenee Du
Pont's pre-revolution estate. In 1999, Spanish companies were allowed to
invest in hotels on the peninsula, and an 18-hole course was opened. But
that was it.

Other resort projects have been listed, promoted, talked-up, but never
happened. Red tape and Castro's communist legacy often proved a
substantial barrier.

At the beginning of 2014, Grupo Palmares, the Cuban state company
responsible for golf development, announced a joint deal with Esencia
Hotels, a UK-based firm with a lengthy track-record of investment in Cuba.

Esencia's chairman is the former Labour energy minister, Brian Wilson,
who also runs the company's Havana Energy division in joint partnership
with Cuban state entities.

The Cabonera Golf and Country Club is a $350m (£225m) project by
Esencia. The Cuban tourism ministry expects another venture east of
Havana, run jointly with a Chinese firm, to be completed soon. Spanish
firms have two proposed projects: El Salado, west of Havana, and Punta
Colorado, in Pinar del Rio.

Other resorts are planned for Camaguey in eastern Cuba, in Covarrubias
and Las Tunas in the south-east, and for Cienfunetos and Rancho Luna on
the south coast.

These projects were given a boost early this year when the National
Assembly approved a law on foreign investment, which ensured tax
incentives for partnership projects forged with foreign companies.

However, it is Mr Obama who is the game-changer. The projects above the
Cuban state radar are expected to be joined by numerous other
below-the-radar deals that were kept quiet until the US lifted sanctions.

The Obama declaration, bringing Cuba in the from the cold after 50
years, points to America's big-spending golfers soon having new
Caribbean fairways to play on.

Source: Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take
'bourgeois' game to its heart? - Americas - World - The Independent -

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