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Ecogolf in Costa Rica

Pura vida! It's practically the national saying of Costa Rica. A toast, a greeting, even an advertising slogan, it translates literally as "pure life," but pura vida also means "the good life." It means basking in the astonishing natural wonders of this place with friends and family. And in sports, it means those indelible moments when the superfluous falls away, and life and game meld as one.

I was having one of those moments on the seventh tee of Garra de León, a two-year-old resort course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Ahead of me was a long par five with thirteen bunkers and a green hiding behind a large lake. On my right, the resident pro was challenging me to go for it in two. That kind of pressure should have had me squeezing the life out of my driver, but my nervousness was erased by a large band of howler monkeys scampering across the fairway toward us, the last young howler not much larger than a kitten.

"We love our monkeys," director of golf James McAfee said, "but wait till you see the crocodiles on sixteen."

With all my confusing swing thoughts erased by visions of monkeys and crocodiles, I stepped up to the ball and ripped a long drive straight down the middle. "Pura vida, baby! Show me the monkeys!"

To adventurous travelers, Costa Rica has long been considered one of the world's finest unspoiled destinations, a country smaller than the state of West Virginia but one with an astonishing five percent of the world's total number of species. Even before the international boom in ecotourism, the country had its true believers--frequent visitors who made a point of not telling anyone back home about their secret paradise.

Word eventually got out, of course, resulting in ever-increasing tourism during the last decade, but only in the past year has Costa Rica joined the global golf boom. A forty-five-minute plane ride (or a four-hour drive) from the capital of San José, on a stretch of the Pacific coast known primarily for big-game fishing and near-perfect surfing, golfers are flocking to two playing fields of green--Garra de León, at Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, and its neighbor, Rancho las Colinas Golf & Country Club.

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