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Golf on the Forbidden Island

The project, the first of its kind in Cuba since the revolution, cost millions of dollars, part of which was picked up by European investors, principally Spain's Sol Meliá--owners of the neighboring Meliá Las Améri- cas Suites & Golf Resort and one of Latin America's leading hoteliers. It was they who had hired Les Forber to design the course, and he had done a masterful job, threading his course along the sandy bluffs, creatively using the salt-pond wetlands to create a spectacular four-hole finish. The course ends overlooking the ocean--and the Florida Keys less than ninety miles away--with a rugged par four that ends by the beautifully refurbished Du Pont estate mansion.

The next day on our way out of Havana we drove past the ornate, crumbling Havana Yacht Club, past the decrepit mansions of the old Havana Country Club neighborhood and the old Biltmore Yacht and Country Club, which was being converted from worker housing into a swank "business center" and which was rumored sometime soon to boast a golf course once again. Heading west on a state highway that took us through sugarcane fields and rolling hills, we arrived eventually at the remains of an eighteenth-century coffee plantation, a gorgeous 4,199-acre spread called Angerona, where Fidel Castro stabled his horses and where the government has plans to create a resort complete with a topflight hotel, private bungalows, a world-class equestrian center--and a golf club.

We were met by Guillermo Gárcia Frias, Cuba's former transport minister, its premier horseman and one of the revolution's original comandantes. A short, muscular, friendly man in his sixties wearing a tan western-style shirt and brown cowboy boots, he served us a splendid lunch of seasoned pork and cold tomatoes, strong coffee and cold Bucanero beer in the shadow of the plantation ruins and later drove us around the stunning property where the resort would be. More than four hundred acres of pristine land, some of it in rolling grassland and other parts in tropical rain forest, had been earmarked for the golf course. I asked the comandante why golf was suddenly so important to Cuba, telling him that in the days since I'd arrived I'd heard about at least half a dozen projects.

"Ten years ago," he replied, as he steered his Land Cruiser down a rutted path into the rain forest, "nothing was happening in Cuba in terms of tourism. But life changes and we have learned that tourism is good for Cuba. A million tourists will come to Cuba just this year. Our economic future is going that way. Tourism is more important to Cuba than sugarcane, than rice. This is a new moment and we are preparing.

"Right now there is a lot of talk, many potential investors. The challenge is to find the right people who can help us do the right thing. I think someday soon Cuba will be one of the best places in the world for golf."

"Do you play?" I asked.

The comandante listened to the translator and gave a sly smile.

"No," he said. "I ride horses. There is only so much room in a man's life for the things he loves."

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