Teaching Golf in Cuba by Greg Salazar
I visited the Melia Las Americas hotel in Veradero, Cuba, a few years ago on the advice of another USGTF member, Bill Bath. Veradero is on the north coast of Cuba, about 140 km (87 miles) east of Havana. Bill said it was a great place to visit, and the golf was pretty good, as well. Bill had been to this location and was invited to teach there while on a working vacation, so to speak. With both of us being Canadians, we have no travel restrictions in going to Cuba.
I took his advice and booked a trip. He was quite correct in his assessment of the hotel and the golf course. He made sure that I met the golf director at the hotel and introduced myself to Mr. Reynaldo Diaz, a fine gentleman. Reynaldo visited Canada a year after my visit, and Bill and I took him to play a round of golf at the Royal Ashburn Golf Club in Ashburn, Ontario, which is near our homes. Reynaldo thoroughly enjoyed the golf and our company.
A year later, Reynaldo invited me to come back to his hotel as a guest instructor, which I could not do at the time he requested. He asked me again this year, which I did in February. What a great experience! I thought I would share it with our members.
The hotel is a four-star by our standards. Having stayed there before, I knew exactly what to expect: great food, fantastic service, great views from the room
(overlooking the 10th and 15th holes and the Caribbean Sea in the background), and right on the beach. A big bonus is that the golf course pro shop and first tee are a short par-3 from the back entrance to the hotel – how perfect is that! You can even leave your clubs at the pro shop storage area so you don’t have to haul them back and forth to your room.
The golf course is a typical resort-type golf course with some very challenging holes, two holes directly on the water’s edge, fantastic vistas, and is very challenging when the wind is up. There is a driving range and two short-game areas.
The local pros expect that you will be there teaching and have an understanding with the hotel, so we got along really well. There is no animosity against guest instructors, as they know we are not there to take their jobs or teach any lessons for money. This service is provided by this hotel only and is purely a perk for registered guests of the Melia Las Americas.
The course averaged 200 rounds a day while I was there, so it was very busy. My job was to provide a shortgame lesson in the morning every other day, and provide
a playing lesson on alternate days in the afternoon for the guests that wanted to play with the pro.
I met some wonderful folks from Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, and Italy; even met four missionaries from the good old USA. A gentleman
from Sweden played junior golf with Henrik Stenson and was a single-digit handicapper; he played really well. Most guests spoke English, but some did not speak it very well, and it was interesting communicating in gestures and movements to get my message across. They say a good teacher should be able to have five different ways to communicate a point; I think there are now six.
A neat story about one of the cart girls: I noticed one day that she had a gorilla head cover in the front of the cart, so I asked her jokingly, “Is that your pet gorilla?” She answered no, someone left it on the course and I have been trying to find the owner. I said, “When did you find it?” She replied in November – and this was February. We had a good laugh, but it just goes to show the sincerity of this individual, and of all the Cubans I met on this trip.
In my experience, golfers are generally great people, friendly, caring, and sociable. Most folks spoke English, but of course the locals are predominantly Spanish. I don’t know how many of you may have had the experience to teach outside your home country, but I will tell you it is a wonderful experience learning other cultures and meeting people from various nations was such a pleasure.
This is a special relationship, and one I hope to have for a very long time.