The Xanadu became the club house for the golf course…completed at the end of the 20th century, with 18 holes (par 72) covering some 6,269 linear meters from the first tee to the last hole, and 62 hectares of land. The Varadero Golf Club now offers a competitive, modern course that players complete in approximately four hours.
Upon hearing the word Xanadu, some might recall Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra, but a few will be transported to a high spot along the coast of the Hicacos Peninsula in the Cuban province of Matanzas, where a mansion was built in 1930, bearing this name, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem. Also known as Dupont house, it now sits aside the greens of the only 18-hole golf course in Cuba.
The multi-millionaire Irenee Dupont de Nemours, a U.S. magnate of French descent, built the luxurious property on the rocks of San Bernandino, after purchasing about eight kilometers of virgin beach in Varadero. The design was the responsibility of architects Félix Cabarrocas and Evelio Govantes, known for their important contributions to Havana’s cityscape.
From the very beginning, Dupont was planning on constructing an 18-hole golf course with the mansion, but was able to finish only nine holes, and so it remained until 1999. After the triumph of the Revolution, Dupont house served as a school for promising young swimmers, and according to its current manager, Jorge Luis Pérez, a restaurant was inaugurated there in 1963, with the Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in attendance.
With the passing of time, the Xanadu became the club house for the golf course, as it is today, a product of Canadian Les Furber’s ingenuity, completed at the end of the 20th century, with 18 holes (par 72) covering some 6,269 linear meters from the first tee to the last hole, and 62 hectares of land. The Varadero Golf Club now offers a competitive, modern course that players complete in approximately four hours.
POLISHING A DIAMOND
Throughout the mansion’s three floors, the glamour with which it was conceived has been preserved. The site was declared a National Monument of the Republic of Cuba in 2013, and is currently undergoing a new process of restoration under the direction of the non-hotel tourism services state enterprise Palmares S.A.
There have been appeals made for over 80 years to restore and respect the original architectural design of the mansion, which, it should be noted, has now become a charming hotel with eight rooms, several terraces, balconies, two bars, and a French restaurant, with much of the original furniture still in use.
According to Pérez, work is underway to ensure that every corner of the site is in good condition, especially areas serving visitors to the golf course, the lodgings, or restaurant.
Offering another point of view is Ricardo Figueredo, specialist with the non-agricultural cooperative Decorarte, which is participating in the restoration of the Xanadu, with the approval of those responsible for the investment at the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), the National Cultural Heritage Council and the National Monuments Commission. He reports that everything is being done with great care and precision, since the effort is not meant to repair, but rather recuperate, as much of the original as possible.
“It is an arduous task since the house has been repaired three or four times previously, and we are working with, or replacing, valuable hardwoods such as cedar and mahogany, which was brought from Santiago de Cuba in the 1920s to panel walls, staircases and railings, and floors which were made with marbles from Italy, Spain, and Cuba. We must use every resource that is needed and protect some elements that could be damaged when others are dismantled,” Figueredo explained.
The work is divided into two projects, one focused on the exterior and another on the interior. Figueredo reports that the first is already underway, “We have removed one of the balconies and are planning to recover the façade with a material called a top coat, made with cement and coloring, and which will give the place an appearance similar to the original. Moreover, varnishes that allow the wood to breathe must be used, and a mahogany colored paint will be applied, as was the case when the Xanadu was constructed.”
The cooperative’s project manager added that the restoration will be carried out very gradually, since despite Mintur’s support, there are delays in the wood work, because the varnishes are not manufactured in Cuba and must be imported.
AN EXCURSION WITH 18 STOPS
Given the panorama in which the country’s tourism industry is looking to promote the development of lodgings associated with golf courses, with the objective of diversifying options for visitors, the Varadero club is a point of reference for those who play or invest in golf. Since Havana’s golf course has nine holes, when the majority around the world have 18, all roads lead to Xanadu, for now.
International experts have commented that an ideal tourist destination for any golfer has at least three courses, a figure Cuba can reach.
Pérez insists, however, that even when there are many golf courses on the island, “We will have the privilege of having been pioneers, and we will continue to have the extra asset which is Dupont house.”
Pérez noted that when it comes to golf, the principal emissary market is Canada, while many also come from France, Britain, and Italy. He noted that since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, golfers from that country are arriving, along with others from Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Special mention must be made of the fact that the U.S. market, with its millions of golf enthusiasts, is not yet open to Cuba, since the blockade’s travel restrictions remain in effect, preventing U.S. citizens from engaging in tourism, using their credit cards, or making financial transactions.
He added, “There are many limitations which, although they are in the process of negotiation, have not been resolved, and continue to affect the flow of visitors and growth of tourism.”
The manager also noted that despite the high degree of loyalty and return visits by current clients, Xanadu is looking to diversify its market with a review of the culinary options in its restaurant.
One of the club’s greatest strengths lies in the reality that the first nine holes on the golf course are relatively easy, as compared to the last nine, which are more difficult. In the opinion of Pérez, “Clients like the challenge. Some of the holes which have caught tourists’ attention are number 8 and 18, because they are located close to the shoreline, and allow them to enjoy impressive views as they play.”
On other occasions, nature takes on a leading role in the game. Pérez mentioned that sometimes the wind is an opposing element presenting a further challenge for the player, though games are almost never interrupted due to weather conditions.
He also noted that the Golf Club, which has hosted major international events and figures including South African golfer Ernie Els, provides an example of experience, linking training and potential. “We have a staff that consistently improves and builds on feed back from visitors, to perfect the quality of infrastructure and services and adapt to client requests, which are becoming more demanding and varied,” he explained.
Those staying at Xanadu enjoy special facilities for golf, as do guests of hotels near the course. The club offers rentals of 70 golf carts, equipment and instruction. However, as is customary in a game defined by precision, players usually bring their own equipment and instructors.
Leaving no time for improvisation, golf requires beginners to learn off the field. For that reason, the Varadero complex includes a golf academy at its premises, and also avoids delays in a game in which the etiquette dictates that no one starts to play a hole until it is unoccupied.
In order to establish an annual event that promotes golfing and serves as a business and convention center, the Varadero Golf Club will hold, from October 4-8, 2016, the Cuba Golf Grand Tournament.
( Katheryn Felipe González | email@example.com)