Designed by George Fazio and constructed by his nephew Tom Fazio in the early 1970s, Cariari Country Club was the first 18-hole course to be built in Costa Rica – indeed, it was the only championship layout in Central America for nearly twenty years.Once a large coffee plantation in the middle of the Central Valley, close to the city centre of San Jose, Cariari has now matured into an impressive parkland layout with tree-lined, rolling fairways that, unfortunately, are off-limits to most visiting golfers as the course can only be played by members and their guests.
Cariara Country Club is a George Fazio design that when completed in 1973 became the first 18-hole golf course ever to be built in Costa Rica or Central America for that matter. This is a private course open to members and their guests, but visitors can play if you book through www.teetimescostarica.com.
Local knowledge is a huge factor here so the mandatory US$25 per cart caddy fee is well worth the cost.
Our guide nicknamed ‘Raffi’ was a 3-handicap and his compadre Christian was a 6 so they obviously know their golf and this course. Our host Fabio Solano told me that “All the club pros in Costa Rica started as caddies here”, so you know you are in good hands. As well he mentioned, the Costa Rica National Team train here and all major championships are played at this club, so you will certainly be in for a challenge.
Last year a huge storm washed away three of their wooded bridges and are still waiting for government approval to re-build them. Unfortunately, you must navigate your way around to detour the river.
Every hole is a test, specially the second hole where it is common to have a 180 to 200-yard approach shot to an elevated green with out of bounds on the right and multiple trees blocking your shot. You will need to play a slight draw to get it close to the hole or you be looking for another ball to hit. Once you are done with this test, the short third hole is no push over. Drive it over a creek onto a tilted landing area and then hit a blind approach shot to a green that you don't want to miss.
The 4th hole is a spectacular downhill par-3 over water but my favorite hole is the par-5 fourteenth hole. An elevated tee shot is followed by a blind second shot that requires you hit a draw and land about 40 yards short of the green, so you can play a precise lob wedge over a giant sand trap. The fifteenth hole is the hardest hole on the course (and that’s saying a lot) and the 18th is a beautiful finishing hole where you have to layup to the river to attack this an amphitheatre green.
Cariara is a mature parkland layout with very tight tree-lined fairways. Plus, there are plenty of low over-hanging branches, so you will need to have a ‘punch shot’ in your arsenal to succeed here. I’d call it “target golf on steroids” having played some of the toughest par-4s you will find anywhere. The Bermuda greens are fast with lots of movement and grain direction will be a major factor. Unfortunately, the bunker sand is very shallow and needs to be replaced. Bring your ‘A’ game and listen to your caddy or be prepared to be humbled.