MANAGUA – Jack Nicklaus, arguably the biggest name in golf history, traveled to Nicaragua last week to unveil plans for his first championship signature golf course in Central America, The Seaside Mariana Spa & Golf Resort.
The 18-hole oceanfront course, which will be built on a stretch of pristine Pacific beachfront 60 kilometers southwest of Managua, aims to put Nicaragua on the map as a new golf-tourism destination, luring a whole new market of sophisticated travelers.
“The property lends itself to a very nice golf course,” Nicklaus said upon returning from the site. He said that the landscape of oceanfront, rivers and rolling fields will help create a challenging and fun course that “will bring some golf and tourism to your country.”
Tourism-investment consultant Raul Calvet says that international market studies show that the Jack Nicklaus brand name is an important tourism draw anywhere in the world. He says the Nicklaus name figures to be even more important in a country such as Nicaragua, which is in need of such internationally recognized stamps of approval.
Calvet said that the Nicklaus course, along with the nine-hole golf course at Iguana Golf resort and others under construction at the Gran Pacifica and Monte Cristo developments, should help Nicaragua make a name for itself as an emerging golf destination.
Calvet said that the golf courses here will complement the Costa Rican courses that already exist in nearby Guanacaste, and help this part of Central America become a regional draw for golfers.
Nicklaus’ firm, in fact, is already working on designing two additional courses in Costa Rica and one in Panama, according to his Web site.
In recent years, Nicklaus, who won 20 major golf championships during his legendary career, has become the leading name in golf-course design, with 325 golf courses around the world.
Nicklaus, who last week also traveled to South Africa and Argentina before coming to Nicaragua, says that his firm is now doing 80% of its business outside of the United States.
As his global empire has grown, so too has the influence of golf tourism, which is now a $17.5 billion industry worldwide, according to the International Association of Golf Tour Operators.
Though the “Golden Bear” is known for designing some very challenging courses, he said the goal for the Nicaraguan course is “to do a golf course that people will enjoy and have fun with; the people who live there, the people who vacation there, the people who go for conferences and the people who just come to play golf.”
Nicaragua – and Central America in general – have a lot of work to do to catch up to Mexico, which already has more than 150 golf courses. But the Seaside Mariana course will offer a unique draw in its natural beauty and ocean views, according to Nicklaus.
“There are not very many golf courses in the world that really sit on the ocean,” Nicklaus told The Nica Times. “There’s an opportunity to use ocean property and have people come and enjoy the golf.”
As for the particular design of the course, Nicklaus admits he likes to go into each one with an open mind, and “let golf courses evolve.”
The Seaside Mariana course, he said, will have 10 holes that play either toward the ocean, away from the ocean, or along the ocean or river. The other eight holes will be inland holes, playing to the natural contours of the land.
“We have the opportunity to have some very exciting holes and some very good holes,” he said.
Nicklaus, whose first trip to Nicaragua was 40 years ago to host an episode of the American Sportsman Fishing Show on the Rio San Juan, said that the Nicaragua course will take 12 months to build and should be ready to open by the beginning of 2010.
However, he hedged the announcement by saying there could be some hiccups trying to get environmental permits from government authorities here.
“I am sure that here in Nicaragua it will be a little more difficult; the people who make rules don’t know the game of golf,” he said.
“We will work with them and let them know what we are trying to accomplish and that we are here to work with the environment, not destroy the environment.”