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Las Colinas Golf Course, Blow by Blow

by Landy Blank

I am writing this article on the first anniversary of my wife and I moving to Costa Rica. It often feels as though we arrived here just yesterday, and at other times I don't remember living anywhere else. However, I will always remember the reaction of friends and family upon being told that we were packing our bags, three large dogs, and heading to Costa Rica.

"What will you do on that island?"

"We'll bring people to Costa Rica on golf vacations, and it's not an island."

"Oh, I didn't know it was a golf destination, they must have some great courses."

"Well, not exactly, but they do have one great course, the Cariari, and more are being built."

"Landy, they only have one course and you're going to sell golf vacations?"

"But new courses are being built!"

"When will they be finished?"

"That's a tough question, nobody seems to know, but it will happen! The only way I can find out is to move there, get the real facts, and be ready when they do open."

Inevitably at this point in the conversation there was a rolling of the eyes and a small smile would pass across the face of my friend, family member, or golfing buddy.

"Why in the world would you want to leave Charleston? You get to play golf as part of your job at the country club, and then go downtown and eat and drink for free at your restaurant. You must be crazy."

How do you explain that Costa Rica has gotten into your blood; the people, the beauty, the climate, and despite all the hassles, you're determined to live there. So what if you have to wait for a few golf courses to be built! It didn't take long for these conversations to become tiresome, and as quickly as possible we made our move. With dogs, computers, golf clubs, and anything that would fit into a suitcase, we were off to Costa Rica in search of our destiny.

We were fortunate to have an old friend in Costa Rica, and new friends were acquired during our many visits here over the previous five years. They were kind enough to introduce us around the community where the conversations would go something like this:

"Are you retiring in Costa Rica?"

"NO, do I really look old enough to be retired? Hell, I wish I were, but I've got to make a living."

"What are you going to do to support yourselves?"

"We'll bring people to Costa Rica on golf vacations."

"Oh, I didn't know Costa Rica was a golf destination, do we have enough golf courses?"

"Well, not exactly, we do have one great course, the Cariari, and many more are being built."

"Landy, we only have one course and you're going to sell golf vacations?"

"But new courses are being built!"

"You did just get off the boat, didn't you? This is Costa Rica and there's a better than even chance you'll be on the Senior's Tour before any new golf courses are completed here. When do you expect these courses to be finished?"

Well, you've got the idea by now, but the phone call I had been waiting for came shortly before press time. The caller, Jack Osborne, is one of the owners of Rancho Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, calling to invite me to Playa Grande to play a pre-opening round on their completed 18 hole championship golf course. I called Phil Krick, pro at the Cariari County Club, and invited him to join me for this historic event. Phil's 8 eight-year-old son Michael rounded out our threesome.

We teed off at 7:30 from the Blue Tees which measure out to a healthy 6,410 yards and play to a par 72. Following is a hole-by- hole description of what we were up against.

Hole #1—470 yards, Par 5
I hate an opening hole where the architect tries to prove that you are playing the toughest course on earth. Thankfully, this architect, Ron Garl, did not do that to us here. This is a short par five that lets you get the juices flowing without ruining your day. A decent drive, a lay-up to the left of the pond protecting the front of the green, a chip, and two putts gets your round off to a pleasant start.

Hole #2—298 yards, Par 4
A short and undistinguished par 4. Keep it straight and you are even par after 2.

Hole #3—353 yards, Par 4
Beginning with this hole, your warm up period is over. Your tee shot must avoid large bunkers running along the left side of the fairway. The small green is bunkered front and right with moguls framing the balance.

Hole #4—168 yards, Par 3
Straightforward, level par three. Green is bunkered on right. Hilly backdrop with thick, high rough. Don't go long.

Hole #5—337 yards, Par 4
This starts a three hole run along the Montapelo River, and you are likely to see and hear howler monkeys in this section. 5 tee boxes give this hole a lot of different looks. Your tee shot must carry the lake that lies in front of all the tees. Placement of your drive is key to a happy ending. Bi-level green is wide but not deep. This is a beautiful hole. Try the elevated pro tee box.

Hole #6—212 yards, Par 3
Difficult par 3. Trees line the left side of the fairway with a large single tree protecting the green on the right. Green is tucked into trees on the river bank and forms a natural amphitheater.

Hole #7—385 yards, Par 4
Last of the river holes. Bunkers left and right along the fairway. Green is bunkered front, right and back.

Hole #8—516 yards, Par 5
This is a serious golf hole. Water runs along entire length of left side, up to the green. Carry over water on your drive. Don't try to bite off too much here—no benefit. The fairway is narrow with rough covered moguls lining the far side. Possible to reach the green in two with a long second shot over water in front of green. Most of us will hit a middle iron and use a wedge over the water and front bunkers. This is one of those "play it safe and move on" holes.

Hole #9—430 yards, Par 4
The finishing hole on this side is a pretty golf hole with mountains as a backdrop. Water on right and bunkers on left side of a wide fairway. Large bunkered green.

Because of the river and lagoons on the front nine, there is wildlife everywhere: monkeys, parrots, motmots and other colorful tropical birds, and lots of waterfowl.

Hole #10—343 yards, Par 4
Accuracy of your drive here will go a long way to starting your back nine favorably, but your driver is not necessary. Slight dogleg to the right with fairway falling down to a large green. Hit short to avoid severe drop off behind green.

Hole #11 —170 yards, Par 3
This hole is a beautiful par 3. From an elevated tee, you are looking at a large sand trap from the right front of the green that must come back 100 feet towards the tee box. A large shade tree hovers on the left edge of the green to catch those tee shots shying away from the trap. Fast two-level green rolls left to right.

Hole #12—549 yards, Par 5
Big fairway slopes down to a lake bordering the right side. Dogleg right with narrow opening between trees 100 yards out from green. Possible 2 shots to the green with favorable winds and a large drive.

Hole #13—366 yards, Par 4
From the tee box you look up a gradual hill to a green on a natural rock plateau. Keep it straight and use extra club on your second shot.

Hole #14 —136 yards, Par 3
Another elevated tee to a large two-level green. Steep hillside on left and sharp drop-off both front and right. Fast green slopes back to front, so if you bail out long, you'll have a tough chip coming back.

Hole #15 —598 yards, Par 5
Very important to forsake your long game for accuracy on this long par 5. The only safe place is on the green after navigating a long and narrow fairway. Be smart, be patient, take a par and move on.

Hole #16 —121 yards, Par 3
Finally, an uphill par 3. Not long, but wind can play serious havoc with your tee shot. Take an extra club and swing easy.

Hole #17 —540 yards, Par 5
The degree of difficulty of holes 17 and 18 is affected a great deal by wind conditions. Hole 17 is a three shot par 5 with the wind generally in your face. A humped green makes your third shot the most important. Pin placement can be treacherous.

Hole # 18 —418 yards, Par 4
The finishing hole, and the wind is blowing at your back. Be careful not to let the wind blow your ball into the lake on the right, about 240 out. The real test here is the second shot into a well protected narrow green. A rocky stream on the left side is a definite must to avoid.

Both Phil and I agree that Rancho Las Colinas is a great golf experience. The course offers a lot of variety. It is challenging, and will reward the smart player more often than not. I won't bore you with our scores, but Michael shot an impressive 54 on the back nine!! Smooth swing with no fear. Ah, to be young again...

It was a tremendous pleasure to play a different 18 hole course in Costa Rica. Please don't misunderstand me, I love the Cariari, but variety is the spice of life. Only time will tell if Rancho Las Colinas will be considered a great course—maturity and fine tuning being so important to the development of outstanding golf courses. Rancho Las Colinas already has all the right ingredients, so play the course and enjoy!!

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