Built by the Pellas Development Group for a reputed $250 million, the low-density private beach community at Guacalito de la Isla on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast sits next to the stunning white sands of Playa Manzanillo and the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The golf facility is laid out across the southern slopes of an enormous 1,670-acre residential estate and the course is open to both owners of vacation homes and villas at Guacalito de la Isla and to guests at Guacalito’s 37-room Mukul Resort & Spa.
Designed by David McLay Kidd, the fairways were carved from tropical forest terrain, with many of the native trees removed during construction transplanted onto other holes, each of which is named after one of the arboreal specimens located on the course.
A number of arroyos come into play during the round, most prominently at the left dogged 517-yard 4th and the right doglegged 561-yard 16th, where they cross the fairway twice on each of these very testing par five holes.
Glancing at the yardage of the short par four 8th, golfers might consider it a potential birdie opportunity but it’s not stroke index 3 for nothing – trees on the left can block an approach shot and there’s yet another arroyo protecting the front of a two-tiered green.
On the back nine, the short 15th is a terrific hole – where the offset Biarritz green is guarded by a huge bunker on the left – but the best par three is kept until last at the 18th, where the home green actually nestles on the beach, entirely surrounded by sand.
The following edited extract by Casey Krahenbuhl is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at email@example.com.
“The real challenge of designing this course wasn’t designing it at all; the big challenge was how to make it a reality. The Nicaraguan workforce certainly had no experience in golf course construction, let alone golf course maintenance, and we were having a hard time luring any golf course contractors to the area without bringing sky-high prices along with them.
So, in the end, we built it ourselves, leading to our family moving to Nicaragua in 2010. David McLay Kidd and I assembled a small team of expats and a large team of local labour. We were on our way. We trained local subsistence farmers: most couldn’t even drive a car, to run heavy equipment, install drainage/irrigation, run expensive mowing equipment, and all other tasks required to build a golf course.
We taught them basic yet important tenets: how to cherish their environment: to transplant trees instead of clear-cutting them; the planting of local groundcover vegetation to reduce runoffs into streams; and to utilise the fallen dead trees for building material. However, it transpired that the men we trained to build the golf course had amazing skills of their own.
They, among other things, were experts in masonry and woodwork. They could all wield a machete with precision, and some could cut usable lumber with nothing more than a chainsaw. In fact, all twenty-two golf cart bridges were built with fallen lumber from the site and a team of locals with chainsaws and crude tools. Guacalito is an incredible adventure in this fragile environment, but its legacy may well be the local men and women who have made it their own.”