Minnesota native Andy Stockinger has worked in New York, California, India, Abu Dhabi, and England. But when Troon asked him to become the general manager at Reserva ConchalGolf Club in Costa Rica last year, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon arrival in Central America. What he found was a golf paradise surrounded by unspoiled nature.
“Every day when I drive around the property, I see something new,” he said. “The wildlife and natural beauty of this place is incredible. Many of our guests do not golf, but they take a cart and tour our Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course taking pictures of the incredible flora and fauna. It’s not just a golf course, it’s a wildlife adventure. The essence of Costa Rica is everywhere you look.”
EXCLUSIVITY & ADVENTURE
While the country may be best known for its flavorful coffee, surf camps, and adventure experiences, there is good golf too, particularly at Reserva Conchal.
Located in the Guanacaste Region on the country’s northwest coast, Reserva Conchal is a 50-minute drive from the international airport in Liberia. Direct flights are available to Liberia from multiple U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York City.
The course is part of an exclusive beach and golf community that spreads out over 2,300 acres along the Pacific coastline. There are two resort properties that perfectly complement the golf experience: the W Costa Rica that opened in 2018, and The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Reserva Conchal that opened in 2011. The Westin is the only all-inclusive Westin in the world. Both hotels offer exciting dining options with bold flavors and top culinary creations. Cocina de Mercado, Zona Azul Beach Club, and Latitude North are among the options, as well as lively spaces such as the Living Room and Wet Deck that host live music and offer creative cocktails in a tropical setting.
Developed on a former cattle ranch, the mixed-use development focuses on eco-friendly and sustainable practices at their facilities advancing towards a carbon neutral operation and restoring a vast majority of the land stripped bare for cattle. Reserva Conchal goes beyond national standards to ensure the protection of the area’s forests, mangroves, flowers, and wildlife through environmentally sensitive construction practices.
From onsite wastewater treatment that irrigates the golf course to organic compost that fertilizes trees, gardens, and nursery areas, 85 percent of all waste on site is recycled or reused in the best possible way. Initiatives to support and empower local women through their organic farming programs also supply fresh herbs and vegetables to restaurants at both hotels.
Visitors and residents can enjoy a plethora of activities aside from the natural beauty, like visiting an on-site 98-acre national wildlife refuge, mountain biking, sought-after surfing areas just a short drive from the resort, diving, paddle boarding, kayaking the crystal waters of Playa Conchal, hiking, white water rafting, fishing, volcano exploring, and zip line canopy tours. You can even take one of those zip lines directly from the W lobby to the Beach Club. The all-inclusive Westin comes with numerous themed restaurants, multiple pools, fitness center, a Heavenly Spa by Westin, and beachfront access.
Out on the 7,029-yard, par 71 course, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, you’ll find plenty of elevation changes across the rolling coastal terrain, plus more than a few stunning Pacific Ocean views. Since Troon began managing operations in September 2019, the primary focus has been on elevating playability to a level where the course can once again host an international tournament (the PGA TOUR’s Latinoamerica Costa Rica Classic, held here in 2017 and 2018, may return again in 2022).
“I think the course right now is in the best shape it’s ever been in,” said Stockinger, who credits the work of the grounds team, led by superintendent and Costa Rica native Sergio Jose Chaves Ramirez, for the stellar conditions. “The greens are rolling very well, and we’ve been seeing a large growth in rounds played, even during the pandemic. We’re also renovating the Catalinas Restaurant in the clubhouse. Overall, we have raised the member and guest experience to the Troon standard.”
Stockinger says Carlos Rojas Soto, director of golf at Reserva Conchal since 2007, is the backbone of golf operations. “He knows this place inside and out,” said Stockinger. “He has very high standards and now has the resource of Troon to make those a reality.”
Rojas Soto’s favorite hole is the fourth, a 592-yard par-5 that climbs uphill to a green that offers Pacific Ocean views. But better players will find a greater challenge at the second, a 442-yard par-4 with a very narrow landing area off the tee, hazards on both sides of the fairway, and a green protected by a Guanacaste tree and two deep bunkers.
Reserva Conchal was the first course in Costa Rica to be certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary back in 2002. “Trent Jones Jr. is very much into the environment and sustainability, and I think with this course he really took that to another level by building a natural layout into the landscape,” said Stockinger. “When you’re out there you feel like it’s your own private course.”
You won’t quite be alone, however. You may be serenaded by the famous howler monkeys singing their song from trees around the property, glimpse one of the 32 species of brightly colored birds, or even see one of the rather large iguanas moving very slowly along the course periphery.
You may also hear some familiar accents while visiting; the country is a favorite destination for thrill-seekers, retirees, and families from the U.S. The average temperature here on the coast is around 80 degrees (the rainy season usually lasts from October to mid-December) and the exchange rate is in your favor. And while soccer remains the national sport (Costa Rica reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014), the course at Reserva Conchal has gone a long way toward raising awareness levels when it comes to golf.
As for Stockinger, he is more than happy to have found a peaceful paradise in Costa Rica. “It’s such a spectacular place,” he said. “I just want more people to know about it.” ▪