The Story of Papagayo Golf and Casa Pila

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Costa Rica Living, EX PATS in Costa Rica, Newsletters

To tell the story of Papagayo golf and Casa Pila, I’ll start a few weeks ago. There was a gathering in the Central Park of Sardinal of all the street dogs that lived for miles around.  You see there was this one puppy, a real Black Sheep of the family type, and nobody knew what to do with her.  She smelled like trash, had bad teeth and bad skin, and she just flat out didn’t fit in.  After much debate, and a vigorous argument by her defense attorney, she was banned from the streets of the town and sent out into the cruel world to fend for herself. 

Fortunately, there was this was one alley cat, who felt sorry for this little creature, and secretly told her where to go.  “Just go down this dirt road, about 2 kilometers.  You will see a Cemetery, don’t stop there, that place is dead, keep on going.  Just on the other side of the mountain is a golf course, called the Papagayo Golf and Country Club (now Called Vista Ridge Golf and Country Club). Turn in the a green on the Papagayo golf coursefront gate, and find your way to the first green, and you will be safe. There is a stupid gringo there who takes in all the unwanted creatures from the street. He is a real sucker. His name is Mike and he lives in Casa Pila. If you can make it there, you will live in paradise for the rest of your days. There aren’t 70 virgins, only 7, but you will truly feel like you died and went to heaven.” Please meet my newest family member, Montaña.

Casa Pila. As many of you now know, I throw a heck of a party every December.  Actually I throw dozens of parties a year, but the real BASH is the first weekend after Thanksgiving.  I started doing this as a way to thank all my friends, clients and colleagues, along with many of the locals who I see around town everyday.  You see, in the USA or Canada, after you buy your house you will probably never see your real estate agent again.  Unless they happen to be an old friend, you are done with them after closing.  You don’t need them to help you with anything, as you know where and how to get everything. There are yellow pages, and Google search, and many things are common no matter where you move through out your country.  The mail delivery is the same in every city, there are grocery stores on every corner and if you need a cell phone you just walk into any mall and get one.  Not here in Costa Rica.  Nothing makes sense and you are like a deer in head lights the first day you arrive.  So I actually spend more time and work harder AFTER I sell you your house than I sometimes do before. 

New arrivals to our country need to have their hand held for every single thing they do.  We have to take them to the bank and introduce them to the manager: Walk them into the cell phone store and help them get a plan: Go with them to buy a car or negotiate a gardener or a pool cleaner, many times speaking Spanish for them.  Also, they want to meet people around town with similar interests so they have friends right out of the gun.  Who plays tennis?  Who likes Papagayo golf?  Does any one play cards or darts?  Where’s the farmer’s market or the local fish guy?  Where do I buy a car or what’s the best place to get a BBQ?  Which Vet should I use and who is the best Dentist?  The list goes on and on.  So I have found myself over the years, spending dozens of hours with new clients taking them personally and showing them all the secret spots of our little paradise.

Well, after 1,000 clients, it starts to get a little time consuming obviously, so I got this great idea one day to throw a Welcome to the Neighborhood party.  It was a way to introduce all the New Bees to all the Old Dogs, and let them sort through some of it themselves.

 I tell all the first timers “Don’t spend too much time with one person, like you might at a normal party.  Work the territory and mingle with the crowd” If you make a serious effort, you will meet everyone you need to know in one day.  The landscape guy or the painter: The interior decorator or the dog groomer: All the property managers and many of the attorneys.  You will find people that like to do all the stuff you like to do, and life long friendships will start.  Scuba divers, fishermen, sailors and surfers all attend my party.  Yoga instructors, massage therapists, chiropractors and personal trainers are just some of the careers on the guest list.  People from all over the world and dozens of different languages too.  This way, when you are wandering through town later that month, you will recognize the faces of many people that you met.  You might not remember their name, but you have a great way to break the ice.  “I know you. I met you are Mike’s big party”  Some of the neighbors have gotten very ingenious.  They have made business cards with their names, numbers and emails and hand them out at the big shindig.  Bill and Marie: Retired alcoholics: With a photo of a Margarita or something in the background of the font. It’s quite cute actually.

This year I had over 500 people, a fully open bar, live muMusician playing at Papagayo Golf coursesic from Marc and the One Juan Band, and the absolute best BBQ you have ever tasted from Uncle Earls. It is a great photo opportunity as well, and I love getting pictures of myself with 15 or 20 hot Ticas.  It makes me feel like the Rock Star I always wanted to be. We also supported the Coco Clinic this year, the newest charity taking hold in our area.  The local health clinic is in desperate need of a facelift, and it was amazing the generosity that was on display at my house. You can learn more about this incredible project by going to their website.  Please dig deep and help out. The local people need you.  Coco Ebais

So, what’s the deal with Papagayo golf and Casa Pila? As you expected that’s the topic of this particular Newsletter (You guys are actually getting smarter as we go aren’t you?).  You have to go back to January 21 2004. I remember the exact date because that was the day the Four Seasons Hotel opened out on Peninsula Papagayo.

That resort, single-handedly, lit a fire under this place that’s still burning bright to this moment. My phone rang early that morning, while I was enjoying my daily ritual of breakfast on the beach.  My friend David was on the other end of the line, and told me he wanted to meet me out in Sardinal later that day around lunch time.  He got this wild hair up his ass, and had bought 300 acres of farm land and was going to build the Papagayo golf course. He told me he wanted me to give him my opinion and asked if I would come out and take a look.  My initial reaction was one of total disbelief. “Sardinal! Who the hell would ever go out to Sardinal?  There is nothing out there but cows, chickens and pigs.”  You have to understand, that Sardinal, back then, was truly the middle of NO where and most people didn’t even know where it was.  I mean we were just barely starting to sell property in the hills above Hermosa, over looking the Pacific Ocean, and our town looked nothing like it does today.  We had no AutoMercado grocery store, no Pacifico beach club, just a couple of dumpy bars in Coco.

The entire beach front was lined with these old squatter shacks that had been there for decades, Dirt People as my Tico friends called them; the beautiful boardwalk was still 7 years away.  The airport was just a barn and we still had dial up internet.  Who would ever want to live on a golf course in Sardinal, I thought, but out of curiosity more than anything, I agreed to go.  I got in my truck and loaded up a cooler of beer, and off I went, figuring that if nothing else Dave and I could get drunk and have a few laughs.

I headed down this little one lane dirt road, from Sardinal towarEntrance to the Papagayo Golf Course and Country Clubds San Blas, to a pueblo called Libertad (Liberty).  What a great name for a town.  It wasn’t really a road as much as a horse path that meandered through flowering fields and small adorable houses owned by local farmers.  At the entrance to this finca was David, waiting in his pick up truck. I grabbed my cooler, threw it in the back and closed the barbed wire gate behind us, and jumped in shotgun.

My phasers were on stun as my head was spinning; still not believing David bought a cow farm.  As we continued, deeper and deeper into the property, we continuously had to stop so I could open another cattle gate, and close it behind.  The weeds were so high that you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you, the stalks of the grass slapping forward as we inched our way ahead.  Boom!  We would hit a small tree, back up and continue to the left.  Boom! We’d bump into a stump or rock and have to do the same trick all over again.  David spotted this hill and we headed to the top of the ridge.  “Let’s go up there and we can get a much better vantage point of the property” he said, the entire time I was chuckling with thoughts of insanity running through my mind. 

Panoramic view of the Papagayo Golf CourseOnce we reached the crest of the knoll, I literally held my breath, as this powerful view appeared in front of my eyes.  You could see for miles, all the way to the city of Liberia, and in the background there were 5 or 6 mountains and volcanoes.  Rincon de la Vieja, Miravalles and Tenorio were plainly in site and I squinted to see if I could spot Arenal.  There were miles of Sugar Cane and Melon fields and not a house in site. Hanging out on the hill with us were about a dozen Brahma, the local Costa Rican Cows drinking out of an old water trough that the farmer hadCustom home at Papagayo Golf Course built close to 100 years earlier.  Great steaks I thought and I popped open a couple frosty cold Pilsens.  David starting pointing this way and that as he explained his thoughts for designing the Papagayo golf course: various fairways, greens and tee boxes: showing me where the lakes and sand traps would go and told me of his plans to build a clubhouse and swimming pool.  It took me less than 5 minutes to get it!  Through all the farm animals, trees and weeds, I imagined this lush green golf course, a paradise in the middle of nowhere. I was sold.

Now you have to understand a little bit about David. I could write an entire book about a guy like this, he is right out of the TV show MacGyver.  Originally from Montana, this guy has seen and done it all, from being a fire jumper for the Forestry Service to a deep chamber welder for the US Navy.  He is missing a finger from a diving accident but I don’t think I have ever seen him without a smile on his face.  And truthfully, there isn’t much I don’t think he can do.  He said he was going to build this golf course and wanted me to sell the lots, and asked me if I was up for it.  “I got it easy” I told him.  “It’s much harder to build a golf course than market it.  But if you promise me you will complete it, then I promise you I will sell it” and we shook hands and consummated the deal.  I told him right then and there I would buy his very first lot, the one we were standing on.  “Whatever number this lot turns out to be, I will buy it, but don’t tear down that cattle trough.  We will never find this hill again without some definitive marker.”

There were dozens of hills, and they all looked the same at that particular time.  I can remember that conversation as if it was yesterday.  Amazing things happen because people take risk.  I wouldn’t be in Costa Rica, if I followed the same routine as everyone else, and I surely wouldn’t be this happy.  Life is a journey, not a destination and you have to take some chances and make some sacrifices if you want the good life.  Go for it.  There is an old saying, if you want to be a monk you have to eat a lot of rice. 

Golf course clubhouse under constructionAll of a sudden, out of the weeds, this monstrous black truck pulls up, and comes to a stop next to David’s pick up.  It’s the other partner in this adventure.  “Heh Bernie” David yells.  “We just sold our first property and we haven’t even broken ground yet.  Mike’s gonna buy this exact lot, so we only have about 99 more to go.”  I told him I would build a spec house on the lot, and I was sure that it would drive more business to their project. 

Bernie gets this wicked smile on his face, and proceeds to go into this long, drawn out rant. He tells me that I need to build a huge Rancho Bar, over the trough, so we all have a future place to party.  Also, that I should put TVs in every corner, so we can have our own private Sports Bar, out here at the Papagayo golf course and maybe even put billiard and ping pong tables he continues.  We won’t even need to go to Coco for NFL Sunday, and you can fill up the horse trough with cold beers and ice.  It will be a sports fan’s paradise. He reaches behind his seat and pulls out this big bag of fried chicken. “Anyone want lunch?”  Bernie asks as we pop a few more cold beers, and I stick my hand in and grab a leg.  I can honestly say I have never in my entire life tasted anything better.  Spicy and greasy, it was real Man Food; Colonel Sanders would kill for this recipe.  There is this tiny little corner stand, right by the park in Sardinal that says Pollo Frito.  If it was back home the health department would probably shut it down, but man do these guys sell chicken.  Tons of it.  Now, I didn’t say it was good for you, just that it tasted AWESOME.  There is so much grease in this unit you could oil a train track, and enough Cholesterol to kill a horse, but that’s why it tastes so good.  Health food?  Fagehtabowtit.

One of my clients is actually a retired NHL hockey player, built like a brick you know what house.  And he has 3 sons, all trying to be the next NHL superstar.  My point is these guys can eat.  They have a condo in Hermosa, but every time they come to visit, they drive the 15 minutes to Sardinal so they can buy this chicken.  Do you think they buy 6 or 8 pieces?  NO way.  They buy every single piece of chicken this woman has. Custom home in the golf course community of Papagayo ALL OF IT.  And usually come back for more a couple days later.  I mean, these up and coming professional athletes need calories baby and this is as good as it gets.  Next time you come to paradise, take a quick trip and grab a bucket.

Fast forward a couple years.  I have sold most of the lots. One of the local builders, German Mike convinced me to let him build my spec house.  There are so many Mikes here that nobody goes by their last name.  I am of course Tres Amigos Mike.  The German is one heck of a builder and we designed this killer little shack up on my lot, being sure not to knock down the cattle trough.  If you are considering building a home here in paradise, he is definitely one of the best.  Originally, my plan was to sell the house and move on to another project, but I found myself enjoying this pad, more and more every trip I made to visit the site.  One day, I was going out to meet him, to pick tiles or something, and I was coming up the hill to the house.  The first fairway was not quite finished, so there wasn’t really a road or cart path yet, and I was still kind of driving through the weeds to get to the property.

Beautiful tree with yellow flowers in Papagayo Costa RicaAnd then I saw it.  And when I did, I literally slammed on my brakes and got out of my truck.  Just over the hill was the most incredible tree I have ever seen, with thousands of yellow flowers blooming throughout the branches. They are called Cortez Amarillos, my favorite in Costa Rica, and they are one of the predominant trees here in Guanacaste.  Every summer (January to March) the hills look like someone took a brush and a bucket of yellow paint and just smeared it across the mountainside as it is truly one of the most incredible sites you will ever see in your life.  What a creation, I thought, as I got back in my car and headed over the crest of the hill.  It was right then and there that I realized, this tree, this EXACT tree was on my property, and it was in full production.  I know this will sound corny, but it was like a revelation, right there in my driveway, and I noticed what an astounding property this house was sitting on.  There was no noise, NONE, not a sound.  Not a car or truck, just Mother Nature.  I could hear hundreds of birds chirping, monkeys howlin’, and a smell that you could literally taste, that told me “It ain’t gonna get much better than this Mike.”  I walked around the back of the house, and the volcanoes were as clear as I have ever seen them; Like a painting. Crisp and vibrant. Let me tell you people, Ocean View is over rated.  Right then and there I decided this house was no longer for sale.  I was going to live there.  I felt like singing the theme song from the Jeffersons.  Moving on UUUPPPP.  To the East Side!

There are 17 houses out here today, and plans for 6 more very soon.  All 18 holes are open along with the clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop, swimming pool and the 19th hole.  The original Monkey Bar from Hermosa was relocated here too, piece by piece, and put back together exactly as it stood for a over a decade near the beach.  You still have to pass the cemetery to get there, we call that the FINAL HOLE.   The Papagayo golf course is Golf cart at Papagayo Golf coursesurely not an Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus signature course, but it’s a tough bastard to play.  Besides, most of the golfers I know are Yahoo Hackers anyway and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with 3 tries.  The fairways are narrow and the greens are fast, so bring extra balls.  You can play in Tank Tops and Flip Flops if you want to and if you need someone to go with call me.

I don’t golf, but I drive a mean cart and mix one hell of a cocktail.  Most of the lots are sold, but there are a few left, so don’t procrastinate too long.  Every single morning, I take my dogs for a run around the course, before it opens, and sometimes at sunset too.  People talk a lot of smack about golf courses, how they aren’t environmentally friendly etc.  Bullshit I say.  The Papagayo golf course has more wildlife, than any of the eco-resorts around the country; it is a true animal sanctuary.  There are thousands of birds, squirrels, iguanas and monkeys, and on any given day you might see something totally unique.  Macaws, parrots, and parakeets are very common, along with white tail deer, wild turkeys, skunks, raccoons, jaguarundis, sloths and pizotes.  Someone even spotted a puma one time. 

But it is the people that make this such a great neighborhood to live in.  It is not quite CHEERS, but everybody knows everybody, and what a great group of neighbors I have.  We have Canadians and Americans, German and French.  Philly, New Jersey, Nebraska; Carolina, California and Alaska.  We have a wonderful woman from Nicaragua and a car salesman from Costa Rica too.  The best part of it all is that I wake up everyday and I LOVE MY LIFE.  

The road is still not paved, but its 2 lanes wide now, graded and smoothClubhouse at Papagayo golf course.  It’s more like Dirt Super Highway, and you find yourself flying down this puppy.  It reminds me a little of those oval dirt track racing cars, because if you get going too fast, you start bumping and bouncing, fishtailing a little towards the ditch.  Woaaa Turbo!!!  Take it easy Batman!!!!  They tell us we are next on the list for paving every year, but somehow they always seem to run out of money.  Next year gringos, next year they say, as the Mayor in Filadelphia keeps buying a new pickup truck every Xmas.  Hmmmm.  Some things never change with governments.

Well, make a long story short, I built that rancho Bernie talked about, and it is one serious place to party.  It is almost 1600 sq feet with TVs in every corner; Billiards, Ping Pong, Air Hockey, Video Games, Foosball and Darts; I even built a regulation sand volleyball court.  There is a full fledged bar and it is always open.  There are seats built right into the swimming pool, so you can just sit in the water, sucking back a cocktail, working on your skin cancer and liver poisoning.  Of course there are TVs there too.  Can’t possibly miss a football game.  No Sir.  And that cattle trough?  Well it’s still there, right where the farmer built it in 1905, and it has become the center piece of my man cave.  Just for the record, it holds 64 cases of beer and 212 bags of ice, in case anyone is counting. 

Oh yeah, they call these things a pila, so of course I named my house CASA PILA.  As I bumped my way through the party last week, I realized how lucky I am to live my life.  I have met some of the greatest people in the world, since I moved to Costa Rica, and I am honored to have them as my friends.  My hoorah isMike Simons with friends at Papagayo over but a few remnants still remain from the big bash.  This morning I found a couple beer caps, stashed in a planter, and a bottle hidden behind one of the rocks.  I still have a few gallons of booze left, so feel free to just stop in for a quick hello and a drink, after you putt out on the first green.  If you are thinking about living in paradise, and want to meet and talk to others, email me and I will invite you next year.

If you already live here and you weren’t invited, well….. Maybe you need to be a little nicer to me.  I gotta take the dogs to the beach and get ready for NFL football.  My new little puppy seems to fit right in with the rest of this motley crew and I know she is excited to hit the waves so I am gonna go now.

Casa Pila in Papagayo Costa RicaPura Vida.

Talk to ya soon.  Michael and the gang.

A COSTA RICAN INDIAN CHIEF, SEATTLE, ONCE SAID: “We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us. As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you”

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If you have had a great experience with my office and Costa Rica, I want to hear about it. Please send us a video of yourself telling us WHY and I will post it to my website for everyone to see. Or send me an email and I will put it in my Testimonials. I appreciate your business and that you have decided to read this Newsletter more than I could ever tell you. THANK YOU. Please take a little more time and check out the entire site. We have added a lot of information lately that I am sure you will find helpful. Also, please forward this to any friends you think might be interested in learning more about Costa Rica. Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course, but you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop procrastinating and hurry back!


Tank Tops Flip Flops Newsletter edition no. 13


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