Ecuador as a golf destination

MANABI PROVINCE, Ecuador — Developers from Canada, the U.S. and Ecuador are moving mountains to develop the country's north coast as a golf destination aimed at wealthy Ecuadorians and North American retirees.

ALL YOU NEED IS ECUADOR

MANABI PROVINCE, Ecuador — Ecuador offers four worlds in one country: the Galapagos, the Rainforest, the Andes and the Coast. Even though it straddles the equator, the weather on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast is moderate year round and boasts 300 days of sunshine — which makes it ideal for golf.

Already named the No. 1 place to retire by International Living in 2015 (No. 2 this year), the country is working hard to become a golf destination, with three major projects under construction on the coast near Manta. Montecristi, Las Olas and Costa Jama all aim to attract wealthy Ecuadorians and retirees from Canada and the U.S. 

I had the opportunity to tour these resorts as a guest of the country’s Ministry of Tourism. Shown above is Minister of Tourism Fernando Alvarado Espinel (left) with Arturo Garcia Rosa at SAHIC.

Las Olas

From left at Las Olas: Dean Rosenberg, director of sales, founder David Maksymuik and Pascal Laflamme, director of marketing — overlook where the hill used to be.

From left at Las Olas: Dean Rosenberg, director of sales, founder David Maksymuik and Pascal Laflamme, director of marketing — overlook where the hill used to be.

“There used to be a 120-foot hill here. It took nine months to move it,” David  Maksymuik, told our group of journalists in late September as we overlooked the Pacific Ocean and the emerging site of Las Olas golf resort and equestrian centre following a harrowing uphill ride in an 11-passenger van. The view is magnificent, even though it’s fall on the equatorial coast, leaves have fallen and the landscape is dry. 

“That’s the golf course,” he said, pointing to a patch of green near the ocean. “And that’s the equestrian centre,” he added, pointing at a prime spot overlooking the Pacific. “People ask me why the horses have the best view.”

He pulled out his cell phone and showed us a picture of the same view in January, a lush forest in varying hues of green. “When the rainy season starts, it looks verdant and green. On January 15, the rain starts and by January 30, it looks beautiful. And it only rains every second to third day around 4 p.m.

“The acoustics are fantastic. You can hear the ocean up here,” he said. 

The community will be car-free, with a parking garage near the main entrance. Golf carts will shuttle residents up the hill.

The property’s Ceibo Valley Golf Course course is designed by Jerry Pierman. “Jerry has been involved in the construction or renovation of some of the best golf courses on the planet like Muirfield Village, PGA National, Glen Abbey and more than 45 others,” Maksymuik explained.

“Let me show you where the hotels will be built,” he said, as he drove us along the beach at breakneck speed in a four-wheel drive vehicle, dodging rocks with the confidence of someone who has done this drive often. “Our ultimate goal is four resort hotels with access to great golf courses, so people can travel Ecuador to see all it has to offer.

“The beach stretches from Bahia to Manta. I used to live in Bahia and would ride to work along the beach on my motorcycle.”

When completed, Las Olas will include more than 1,600 residences, a championship 18-hole golf course, equestrian centre, 300-hectare nature preserve, tennis club, plus shops and hotels. 

The homes will be built on terraces, so every home will have a view. Eighty per cent will have a view of the golf course and all of them will have a sea view. Since the area is earthquake-prone, residences will be constructed using Hormi2, a modern, reinforced concrete construction that offers protection in an earthquake, “like a box where all the elements of walls and slabs support the quake,” explained Maksymuik. 

Las Olas is billed as a luxury eco resort — which makes sense since Maksymuik, a Canadian from Oakville, Ont., spent 14 years as vice-president of finance for Ameresco Canada Ltd., a company specializing in conservation and renewable energy.  Solar power generation is part of the mix. Las Olas has its own sustainable wastewater treatment facility. Treated water is recycled and used for watering the grounds; furthermore, the sewage sludge is used as compost for the gardens throughout the community. There’s also a 300-hectare nature preserve for hiking and bicycling on the property.

Montecristi

Panama hats don’t come from Panama — they come from Montecristi, Ecuador. Dario Herrera explained this to us, handing out what should be called Montecristi hats as he escorted us to the club house of Montecristi Golf Club and Villas. The club house used to be the owner’s home, he added.

More than 460 lots, villas and condos have been sold in the last three years, in a development that includes an 18-hole, par-72 golf course designed by Kris Savignac Golf Architects. The club house complex has been in operation for more than a year with three restaurants, golf school, 19th hole, driving range, tennis and lawn bowling and several other facilities and areas for events. 

Plans call for a 55-key hotel next to the club house, with 22 owned condos and 84 independently owned. They are currently looking for a brand and an operator. In addition, there will be a 700-square-metre spa, next to the club house.

Cost of homes plus land will be $180,000 to $200,000 USD.

At a second location nearby on the beach, there will be a clubhouse, a 35-key hotel, beach villas, with 50 villas and condos, a restaurant at the pier and a sailboat marina to consolidate the project as a whole and turn it into an international golf and tourism destination.

Costa Jama

Glenn Goldhagen shows off the golf course that is under construction at Costa Jama in Manabi province.

Glenn Goldhagen shows off the golf course that is under construction at Costa Jama in Manabi province.

“Pardon my Spanglish,” said Glenn Goldhagen, founder of Costa Jama Beach and Golf Resort, as he served us ceviche and beer, and started a presentation that mixed Spanish and English.  Goldhagen, who hails from the U.S. and has lived in Ecuador for many years, says his resort is a four-hour drive from Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and two hours from Manta. 

The development, which has been underway for three-plus years, will include a four-storey apartment building, beach club, golf course and residences, tennis, soccer, scuba and whale watching. Prices range from $150,000 for a condo to $250,000 and up for houses with lots.

Highlights include 1,000 acres of virgin tropical forest reserve and abundant fresh water. They have 13 fresh water wells. “We pump the water uphill. It’s clean and potable and will be available for decades into the future,” said Goldhagen. The water is also used to irrigate the golf course.

The course was designed by Steve Smyers Golf Architects, who have done many projects in Florida. This is their first in South America.

As an avid golfer, Goldhagen noted that there is a PGA event in Ecuador once a year. “In three years, maybe they will hold it here,” he said.