Superintendent at Nicaraguan resort deals with demands others don’t.
Since taking over as golf course superintendent at Guacalito de la Isla on the southwest coast of Nicaragua, Eduardo Verdin has faced a number of challenges he never encountered in his 20-plus year career.
The most sobering, however, came with the scheduling of vacation time for his staff. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and many people still grow their own food as a means of survival.
“I have to plan around sowing and harvesting,” says Verdin, who worked on golf courses throughout Mexico before his move to Nicaragua.
The average annual income of a Nicaraguan is about $3,500 in U.S. dollars.
Guacalito is part of the Mukul resort, built and funded by Carlo Pellas, one of the richest men in Nicaragua. He has sunk a reported $200 million into the boutique resort so far, with the expected expenditure, including the construction of an international airport, to reach $1 billion. The entire project site is approximately 1,600 acres, much of it land Pellas has designated for protection. The course opened in 2013.
In 2011, Pellas sold BAC Credomatic financial network, which he founded, to GE Capital for a reported $2.5 billion, the largest business transaction in Central American history.
At the resort, Pellas hasn’t been hesitant to spend his money, and that includes on the golf course maintenance side.
Because there are only nine courses in Nicaragua (including the nine holes at Hacienda Iguana Golf & Beach Resort, about a 20-minute drive from Mukul), and not one golf equipment distributor in the country, getting replacement parts, never mind machines, is a logistical nightmare. Verdin said he has duplicates of nearly every piece of iron.
“We are far away from every supplier,” Verdin says.
This also affects the acquisition of pesticides.
“In some cases, I had to switch to agriculture products because it is a little less than impossible to bring in the ones used in golf,” Verdin explains. “A few products I can bring from the USA, but they spend a lot of time in customs, and [we] pay high importation fees.”
Compounding the problem, Nicaraguan customs can hold imports for three or four months, according to Verdin.
One surprise for him was the strict government rules concerning pesticides. The restrictions are even more severe for Verdin; Pellas demands that the tropical dry forest that the course winds through and alongside, a rarity in this part of the world, be protected. The property was a farm owned by Pellas’ family before the resort was developed.
“When I first came here I thought it was going to be an easy thing, and that I would spray whatever pesticide I wanted. Well, I was wrong,” Verdin notes. “There are strong government restrictions in the use of pesticides; besides that, Pellas is very careful and sensitive of the environment.”
Those restrictions, according to Verdin, lead to fungus problems on tees and greens during the start of the rainy season, which stretches from the end of June to mid-November.
“After many calls to other colleagues and Googling a lot, I found myself trying lumbri humus [a tea of the worm’s composts] with excellent results – no more fungus diseases,” Verdin says.
Chip Caswell, who grew in Guacalito as part of architect David McLay Kidd’s team, faced similar problems.
“There were two main restrictions as far as agrochemical applications to the golf course,” Caswell says. “We were not allowed to apply insecticides containing the active ingredient chlorpyrifos. We were also not allowed to spray when conditions were favorable for drift. This basically meant that, once wind speeds reached 8 to 10 miles per hour, we did not spray agrochemicals, including fertilizer.”
The winds there exceed 8 to 10 miles per hour daily.
Caswell says the products available aren’t the most modern.
“Agrochemical formulations are directed toward these low-tech ag users, and are formulations, chemistries and active ingredients that are now a generation old,” he explains. “Newer chemistries with new active ingredients and very low use rates that are now pretty common here in the USA are just starting to trickle into the market in Nicaragua. Fertilizers, for the most part, are agricultural-grade, large-particle size.”
According to Verdin, disease pressure is low, but he has an ongoing fight with unwanted plants.
“We have a massive problem with weeds,” he says.
There are also water issues. The quality is great; the quantity is not.
According to Kidd, he was told the wells would produce 750,000 gallons daily. He laid out the course with Platinum Paspalum on the tees, fairways and greens, thinking he had that much irrigation. In reality, the well is good for about 450,000 gallons a day. In early February, Kidd walked Guacalito with Verdin and selected out-of-play areas where irrigation could be eliminated.
“Thank God we used paspalum,” Kidd says.
If they had gone with bermudagrass, he says, it couldn’t have handled the stress and lack of irrigation.
The concern is probably temporary. When the luxury homes are built and the additional hotels constructed, the golf course will benefit from the effluent water produced, Kidd notes.
Even with all the problems associated with maintaining a new golf course, Verdin says he and his wife Elizabeth are glad they made the move to Nicaragua and Mukul. They both fish and he also surfs. Elizabeth enjoys the forest, as well, he says.
“I love it here. We are very, very close to the sea,” he says. “She likes to be in touch with nature.”
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF EDUARDO VERDIN