By Steve Wheeler
If you would like to see a confused look on the faces of family and friends, tell them you are planning a golf trip to Honduras. Once the initial shock and disbelief fades their likely response will be either “You are going to get killed” or “There’s no golf in Honduras.” Luckily, they will be wrong on both accounts. A golfing expedition to THE Banana Republic is a rewarding endeavor on so many fronts. First, you will get to experience a wide variety of architectural styles.
Thanks to Honduras’ tropical coordinates, the courses here cover an interesting ecological spectrum from seaside links to rainforest parkland. If you are accustomed to shelling out pricey greens fees for golf in the Caribbean, Honduras will be a welcomed financial relief. During my six-course tour of this wonderful country, prices went from a low of $8USD to a high of $75USD. It is quite possible to run the table on all golf course offerings for less money than one round in Hawaii. How’s that for cost effectiveness.
While Costa Rica receives the lion’s share of attention for eco-tourism in Central America. There exists a bounty of adventure sport pursuits in Honduras for the times you are not chasing the dimpled orb. It is so easy to combing world-class diving/snorkeling with the undulating topography of Black Pearl Golf Club on Roatan. Or how about mountain biking through Garifuna villages before tackling the ocean-spray soaked layout at Indura Golf Resort near Tela. Even if you are in transit through San Pedro Sula, it is possible to play 27 holes located only 10 minutes from the country’s busiest airport. So what are you waiting for?
The easiest point of entry into Honduras is through the commercial and economic heartland of San Pedro Sula. Bad press and skewed statistics have not been kind to this city of 720,000. Lazy journalists eager to capitalize on a sensationalized story about murderous mobs in Central America have dubbed SAP the “murder capital of the world.” A quick internet search will reveal loads of articles warning of instant death the exact minute you enter the city limits. Sadly the biggest crime being perpetrated here is on the country’s image. Sure, if you wander off into the “wrong” neighborhood trouble could be lurking. That is true of any city on the globe including Detroit, Oakland and Chicago. If the same statistical analysis got applied to these metro areas, would anybody visit?
Honduras Golf Trip: San Pedro Sula
My quick stay in San Pedro Sula was limited only to golfing pursuits with a one-night stay in the foothills of the dazzling Sierra Merendon. With more time, hiking and mountain biking could have been added to a museum and shopping roster. The two golf courses in SAP are 30 minutes from the city proper in the former United Fruit stronghold of La Lima. La Lima’s proximity to the international airport makes it possible to tee off with-in 60 minutes of your flight landing. The first course of my tour must be considered Honduras’ most quirky. Built by United Fruit back in the heyday of the banana trade, Lima Verde Golf Club (Triple Bogey +) is a 9 hole layout which plays to a maximum 2980 yards as a par 35.
Different teeing options are available should you choose to add a second loop to your resume. Very walkable, the compact track is a great way to shake-off any lingering jet lag. Just don’t expect to consume green-in-regulation credits at a rapid clip. Small, elevated end zone targets fend off attackers with concrete-like subsurface and bumpy rolling texture. Several crazy cross-fairway installations give the feel of Hawaii’s Hamakua Golf Course. Beware of a callous hook on the soul-crushing 221-yard, 9th. My wild 4iron release bucked hard left and, at the very least, rattled a few windowpanes on the musty clubhouse. Be sure to check for incriminating evidence when you visit the site of my best Central American up and down to date.
Better golfing environs wait just five minutes up the road from Lima Verde. Club Campestre La Lima (Bogey +) was founded in 2004 as an honest to goodness tournament-quality golf course. Don’t be fooled by aerial views, which don’t do justice to the routing intricacies of a surprisingly fun and challenging 6,520-yard circuit. The peaceful atmosphere inside the private gates exudes an undeniable Central American flair. Unique design declarations have created something of a palm plantation ambiance. A pervasive use of barrancas as one of the main defensive features will likely give first time visitors fits. These serpentine flowing ditches affect a vast portion routing concerns here, most notably at the signature, short par 4, 15th. Beyond the palms and tropical tree delights there exist four brutally belligerent par 4’s. All are contained on the front nine and will certainly expose any weakness in your golfing arsenal.
Honduras Golf Trip: Roatan
Regular flights between San Pedro Sula and the island of Roatan make travel to this Caribbean paradise a breeze. Unless you book passage with a dubious local airline like I did. More lies than a campaign speech were told during an interminable delay. I got to explore every nook and cranny of a spartan airport terminal. While Roatan is best known for sporting diversions on or under the water, golfing pursuits gloriously exist at a resort development know as Pristine Bay. North Shore exposure serves up many memorable Caribbean Sea vistas from the wildly undulating links of The Black Pearl Golf Course (Birdie +). Pete and Perry Dye’s masterpiece was completed in 2010 as the first golfing installation on Roatan.
Dramatic topography transports golfers from a sea level start up to panoramic elevations. No two holes are remotely similar, a testament to the architectural brilliance of the Dye family. Afternoon visits are usually accompanied by lusty on-shore breezes, which make a difficult 7,064-yard course even more belligerent. Selecting a favorite hole here is like choosing the winner of a beauty pageant. They are all stunning. Special consideration, however, should be given to a pair of extraordinary par 5’s. A special blend of architectural sorcery guides the 530-yard, 2nd on its curvaceous run up to a crazily contoured putting pedestal. Navigating the seas of bunker congestion and dicey fairway turns will likely earn you par treasure or at least a quotable tragic tale. Alpinistic charm graces most of the 546-yard, 13th. This rollicking ride over aggressive mounding and surreptitious swales encounters a dizzying compendium of pot bunkers. Most of these sand hazards form a satanic ladder leading up to a revealing putting shelf. Sea views are completely amazing from this prestigious perch.
Honduras Golf Trip: La Ceiba
Golfers who chose the ferry route for their return to the mainland will come into contact with the lazy port city of La Ceiba. A pervasive tropical indolence wafts through a town which has so much unrealized potential. If you are hell-bent on completing a study of Honduran golf courses, a stop at D’Antoni Golf Club (Triple Bogey) will be compulsory. Built in the 1950’s the 2,739-yard, 9-hole course has been divided into three separate sections. Orienteering acumen requires to locate a first tee far removed from the diminutive clubhouse. Hint: It’s by the tennis courts. Enjoyment of design oddities and La Ceiba’s jaw-dropping mountain curtain will likely atone for the appalling turf conditions. For the lempira equivalent $8USD, who’s complaining. Once you marvel at the tightly-laced driving chute at #1 and survive crossing Calle 22 twice, it will be time to move up the coast to Tela where two vastly different golfing experiences await.
Honduras Golf Trip: Tela
Opting to end this discussion on a high note, I will start by bringing you to the oldest golf course in Honduras. Not a whole lot has changed since Telamar Golf Course (Triple Bogey +) opened its doors back in the days of colonial conquest by U.S. fruit merchants. In a nostalgic sense, that is a good thing. No external development intrudes upon a 2931-yard, 9 hole loop set between the facility’s namesake resort and Highway CA 13. Regal palms and other assorted tropical flora frame short, intricately devised holes. Clearly controlling your ball ranks paramount to raw power. Elevated turtle-back greens similar to the ones found at Lima Verde will test your patience and tolerance for stroke surplus carnage. This is a great course to walk and enjoy the parkland surroundings of a unique golfing property. Holes 2, 8 and 9 make the courses signature statement inside veteran palm boundaries.
All five of the courses previously visited served as an appetizer for the trip’s main golfing event. The highly anticipated 2014 unveiling of Indura Golf Resort (Eagle) added one of Central America’s finest golfing venues to the Honduran roster. 1,800 acres of prime coastal, jungle and lagoon environments comprise a luxury development whose centerpiece is a sparkling 7,250-yard Gary Player layout. Player’s commitment to ecological preservation fashioned a course that harmoniously coexists with native flora and fauna. Natural diversity extends to the architectural offerings at hand. This vast array of golfing challenges yields only to the most exceptionally executed shots. The annual host to a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event requires deft course management skills to negotiate a mine field of demanding diagrams like the water-wracked par 4’s at 1 and 9. While four greens overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea receive the lion’s share of attention, equally worthy attractions get uncovered across the aggressively mounded 4th and mangrove-fringed 17th. It all adds up to the finest golfing experience I have ever had in this region of the world. Creature comforts at the adjacent resort will make you think about extending the vacation a few extra days.
Off the radar. Perhaps that is both the beauty and curse of Honduran golf. Whether on its own or in combination with golfing stalwarts like Costa Rica, a visit to Honduras will reveal more than your swing’s shortcomings. Enjoy the culture, food, weather and above all the friendly people
Steve Wheeler is the Lone Linksman. He has played over 2,000 golf courses around the world and developed a unique “Golf Experience Rating” system, which aims to identify the finest golfing treasures on the globe. Visit www.lonelinksman.com for more information about course rating information or to see where Steve has played.