Ottawa-based group hopes to build Cuban resort

A Canadian company has won preliminary approval to build a 36-hole golf complex in Cuba, and ground could be broken on the courses sometime next year.
 
No, I’m not talking about Leisure Canada.
 
I’m talking about Standing Feather International, an Ottawa-based group that plans to build a 510-acre resort community near Guardalavaca Beach in Holguin Province, in eastern Cuba. Besides the golf courses, Loma Linda Estateswill include 1,200 villas, bungalows, and apartments, a 170-room waterfront hotel, and a shopping area.
 
Standing Feather hasn’t yet inked a final deal with the Cuban government, but it expects to complete the negotiations this summer. If all goes as planned, the company wants to break ground on Loma Linda’s golf courses in 2012. Because of the logistics involved – in particular, the need to bring in earth-moving equipment and experienced shapers – it hopes to build both tracks at once.
 
Loma Linda Estates is one of four golf-centered projects that have recently been blessed by the Cuban government, which is desperately seeking to boost its tourism income. Golf, once scorned as ugly capitalist decadence, is now being welcomed with more-or-less open arms in Cuba, as the nation’s tourism officials seek to build 16 golf resorts over the next decade or so.
 
Think of it as Cuba’s next revolution.
 
“The government has gone through major changes and taken steps that are serious moves,” says Graham Cooke, the Montreal-based architect who’ll design the courses at Loma Linda Golf Club. “They don’t want to delay. They want to move forward and bring golfers to their country. This is something they want very badly.”
 
Standing Feather is led by Vincent McComber, who grew up on an Indian reservation outside Montreal, and Chris Nicholas, who’s been working in Cuba for two decades. The company is developing Loma Linda Estates with a state-controlled entity, Grupo Extrahotelero Palmares SA, in a joint venture called Cuba-Kanata Golf, SA. Virtually nothing in Cuba gets developed without Palmares, which oversees the nation’s tourism activities, restaurants, arts and entertainment venues, and sports centers.
 
“Cuba is where Vietnam was 15 years ago,” notes Nicholas. “There are a lot of groundbreaking things happening in Cuba, and our project is one of them.”
 
Cooke is doing his first work on the island. His courses haven’t yet been designed, but he expects the Ocean course to be a 7,000-yard, links-style track, while the Meadows course will be a traditional parkland-style layout that could stretch to nearly 7,300 yards.
 
Cooke was recommended for the work at Loma Linda by Cuban officials, says Nicholas, because “they researched golf thoroughly and determined that he would be most appealing to Canadian tourists.”
 
Cooke has designed dozens of courses in eight Canadian provinces and others in the United States, Italy, India, and Finland. His course at Club de Golf les Boises de Joly, in Joly, Quebec, is slated to open this summer, and a nine-hole, par-3 course he designed for M3M Golf Estate in suburban New Delhi, India is expected to open next year. One of his courses in Italy, the nine-hole Paradiso track at Golf Club Villa Carolina in suburban Genoa, is building a second nine that’s set to open in 2012.
 
He’s also working on new courses in Canada (in Toronto and Ottawa), Russia, Finland, Croatia, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.
 
Cooke, who’s in his mid 60s, began looking for work in Cuba while he was in his 20s. He was among the architects who, in the late 1990s, attempted to win the design contract for Vardero Golf Club, a job that went to Les Furber, another Canadian.
 
Varadero is still Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course, and one of just two currently operating on the island. Of course, it may soon be joined by the three other projects that have been given preliminary approvals.
 
Esencia Hotels & Resorts will build the Carbonera Club just outside Varadero, a vacation hot-spot roughly 100 miles east of Havana. Leisure Canada plans to build Jibacoa on a coastal site near Santa Cruz del Norte, about 30 miles east of Havana. And Foster + Partners is representing a Spanish firm that aims to build an unnamed resort near Bahia Honda in Pinar del Rio Province, about an hour’s drive west of Havana.
 
One more thing: The Cuba Standard reports that a fifth group, also from Spain, is negotiating to build a large golf and marina resort on the Guanahacabibes peninsula, in the westernmost tip of the island.
 

This story originally appeared in the World Edition of the Golf Course Report, in a slightly different form. For a sample copy of the World Edition, call 301/680-9460 or write to WorldEdition@aol.com.

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