Guilt Free Golf In Costa Rica

I'm 13 minutes into my round and I'm already seeing something I'd usually see on a National Geographic special, a family of Howler monkeys.
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I'm an avid golfer that regularly pontificates about environmental conservation. Golf courses, with their use of fertilizer and chemicals, aren't exactly good for the Earth, which means I've had a guilty conscience for some time.

While on vacation in Costa Rica I discover a way out of my predicament: an Audobon-certified golf course.

Jay Miller is the superintendent at Four Seasons Costa Rica Golf Club at Peninsula Papagayo and he is responsible for the course being a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Before playing I sit with him and quickly learn that this is no rubber stamp process. Five distinct requirements must be met including reduction of pesticide use/environmental safety, water quality, community outreach, wildlife habitat management and education/safety. The initial process takes a year or two. But what sets Audobon apart from other certification programs is that they require proof of continued compliance every two years. No easy task but Jay has a whole country and culture on his side.

In fact, Costa Rica has set a goal to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world and the people seem to be hardwired to make this a reality. When the course was originally being constructed, Jay asked the Ticos (a nickname for Costa Ricans) to clear brush from certain areas of the course. When he checked on their progress, he noticed that they had cut small circles around what looked like tiny weeds. Upon closer inspection he discovered these were very small saplings. In this culture, even 6-inch tall trees are sacred.

Hearing this story, my burden is lightened. Unfortunately, I've got a new reason to feel guilty, a slight man crush. Jay's personal ad might read, "I live in paradise. I enjoy playing golf in the middle of what is essentially a nature preserve. I also enjoy surfing the many perfect breaks that surround me. Most of all, I love helping to insure the survival of cute and cuddly wild things." I convince myself it's really a lifestyle crush and head to the first tee to see if the tale is too good to be true.

After only a few holes, it becomes clear that the tale is even better than originally told. The combination of the dramatic shape of the land with its humps and bumps and uneven lies, the massive elevation changes, the long meandering drives from one hole to the next under the cool, dense canopy and the stunning vistas from 7 or 8 holes makes it feel like one part golf course, many parts nature trail. And on any other day, I'd rate this as one of the most memorable golf courses I've played. The problem, on this particular day, is the abundant wildlife is truly making the golf feel secondary. It's as if there was a breakout en masse from a local zoo.

On the first hole, I encounter a family of iguanas sunning on some rocks, pleasant but nothing earth shattering. However, on my way to the third hole, I come upon some fellow golfers staring upward, oohing and ahhing. I'm approximately 13 minutes into my round and I'm already seeing something I'd usually see on a National Geographic special, a family of Howler monkeys moving through the canopy. When I finally make it to the 3rd tee, I'm greeted with a stunning 360-degree ocean view and a tree-filled with a raucous band of 50 or 60 parakeets (yes, the ones you typically see in a pet store). I could care less that the racket continues unabated during my back swing. As I'm teeing up my drive on the 9th hole, I look up to see two coyotes meandering across the fairway. I spend at least 5 minutes watching them act all coyote-like. On the 14th hole I notice a coati, a strange looking creature that looks a cross between a raccoon and an anteater, poking away at the ground for what I later learn is its method for getting to the delectable grubs it so enjoys. And, as if on cue, I walk off the 18th green only to be greeted by a group of Capuchin monkeys swinging around a fruit tree.

I leave the course and wonder if Jay, like a modern day Tarzan, simply summoned his "friends" to impress me. Oh geez, a tinge of man crush returns. Perhaps I'm just hardwired for guilt but at least, for a brief moment, I experienced what it was like to be guilt free.

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