GOLFING IN THE JUNGLES OF NICARAGUA
While on a family trip to Nicaragua recently, I made sure to detour for a night from the sustainable farm we were staying at long enough to play David Maclay Kidd’s newly designed Guacalito Golf Course at Mukul Resort along the country’s Emerald Coast . . . twice. On the Pacific, the resort has been open less than a year.
The picturesque 18th green that has rounded the golf magazine circuit tops off an amazing round of jungle golf that blends into its environment so well that I got the feeling the howler monkeys probably never left during construction. Maybe they were as impressed as I was that not one of their trees was chopped down to create the tract. Fifteen hundred trees were relocated safely on the property to make the course easier for me, and the wooden beams used in the resort’s construction phase were expensively collected from the wakes of hurricanes to help me sleep better at night.
Starting with number one, Genizaro (a rain or monkeypod tree), every golf hole is named for a native tree found on it, and the artwork above my bed at night was weaved with reeds, made from the leaves of Nicaraguan coffee bean trees. The golf course and resort overflowed with domestic pride at every turn. The only thing that could have made each of thesegolf rounds more enjoyable would have been my two black labs running down the fairways chasing iguanas, while I played.
The first two holes are each par fours, and 250-yard shots down the middle of the fairway leave you fair approach shots, the second one being more uphill and over riskier terrain. Architect Kidd is building a stunning home overlooking the par three 3rd hole that, if he follows owner Don Carlos Pellas’s tradition, will be rentable while he is not in residence. Holes 4 and 16 are similar par five target golf holes, both fairways crossed twice with shot-stealing scrub ditches. The par five number 7 hole has some kind of weird dense-air-looking visual spatial effect that guarantees you will use too much club on your approach shot. You will be angry about this but will probably do it again the next day, too. The 8th green is accessed by a cool, locally fashioned suspension bridge that you will really like, if your ball is on the green already.
Hole #11 is a challenging downhill tee shot that leaves you, in my opinion, the hardest approach shot on the course. We agreed it was the hardest hole on the course, but it was rated as the 14th. I almost made par the second round and was elated. The par three 12th hole tee box was spectacular, and that was before we were treated to a flash visit from a troupe of howler monkeys. The Scotland-inspired, Redan-styled par three 15th hole was punctuated with a swale-divided Biarritz green (ha, ha, ha, ha . . . Golf Digest, here I come). The 17th hole was my favorite, and the 18th is a one of a kind treat, leaving you on the surf.
Adam Scott purportedly loves this place because he can be fairly anonymous and surf up from the Pacific Ocean to his golf cart and play. I scored well both rounds here. So, I would have to say it was probably the toughest course I have ever played. Joking aside, Kidd has made this a beautifully playable experience I could enjoy every morning of a vacation, however long.
The cliff-side bohio we were delivered to bygolf cart after our round was a top-five favorite for me. High ceilings, wood, balcony, whirlpool, marble, little pillows, and flat-out style showcased the unrealized tree fort of my adult dream life. The kind of place you ashamedly find yourself texting pictures of to relatives before you start unpacking your luggage.
A chauffeured golf cart ensured that we were on time for our evening trip to the five-star resort’s award-winning spa. Each of the six spa buildings that make up the relaxing compound boast ultra-unique motifs, personal post-treatment pools, outstanding smells, and extremely knowledgeable masseuses. I am nowhere near spa-educated enough to tell you just how good this one was, but I had the best foot rub I have ever had there, and it turned my wife into a noodle.
Dinner in the formal dining room was elegant. The mural-sized black-and-white photos of owner Don Carlos Pellas’s parents wedding gave us the feeling we were celebrating with the owner in delivering a legacy resort that Nicaraguans can be proud of. Ninety-five percent of the workforce hails from within two miles of the resort, and the Mukul team spent years training them to five-star standards -- another testament to the owner’s interests in the future of Nicaragua.
A breakfast decided upon the evening before magically appeared on our balcony table around seven, and we struggled with how to allocate our only hour left in a much too hurried visit. My wife chose a walk on the beach, and I finished a primo cigar from the evening before and scoured the ocean horizon hoping to see a whale. A shiny black sedan from Mukul’s fleet delivered us to the airport in Managua, and another Mukul team member stayed with us until we arrived at our gate.
A short flight later and an arrival home to roughly the same time zone we left from made the experience feel like a daydream. The only reminder of the recent past was the faint smell of cigar in my clothes, and the good taste it left in my mouth.
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