Golf now Guevara's game

VARADERO, Cuba — A few hundreds of a second used to make or break Ana Guevara. Now, she’s just hoping to break 90 during a few hours on the golf course.

The former world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 400 meter dash will lend her name to the Ana Guevara Cup, a pro-am golf tournament that will be held in Cuba from Oct. 13-17.

It will bring as many as 140 Mexican participants to Varadero, a resort of white-sand beaches and sparkling, clear-blue surf east of Havana that has the country’s only 18-hole golf course.

“I’m back and doing something new, a sport that almost no one knew me for,” the 33-year-old from northern Mexico said Sunday at the Varadero clubhouse on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It used to be known as “Xanadu,” an 11-bedroom mansion built by U.S. chemical tycoon Irenee DuPont.

Guevara said she had never picked up a club until 2003, when her trainers ordered her to take a monthlong break from sprinting. She said the game left her with soreness in muscles she didn’t know she had.

“I played 18 holes, three days in a row. I almost couldn’t move afterward,” she said. “But I was comfortable … I picked it up quickly.”

Since retiring from track and field, Guevara sometimes plays twice a week. She has lowered her score from 120-plus to the low 90s and said she thinks she will shoot 89 or better before long.

That’s already a lot better than the brief attack on the links by Cuba’s more famous Guevara, Che. Accompanied by Fidel Castro and wearing combat boots, he managed a 127 on a par-70 course in Havana in 1961, then abandoned the game forever.

The sprinter said it took her time to warm to the game.

“It seemed very boring to me. Actually, I didn’t even think it was a sport,” she said. “But it required great concentration, great technique.”

Guevara was a world champion in the 400 meters in 2003 and won bronze in the event at the world championships in 2001 and 2003. She took silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004, but retired abruptly in January 2008, when many had expected her to compete at the Beijing Games.

Her longtime trainer is Cuban Raul Barreda, and she said that she traveled to the island so much while working with him that lending her name to the Varadero tournament is like “returning to my roots.”

“I hope this can be the vehicle that opens doors for this sport in Cuba,” Guevara said.

In May, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said the communist government had approved construction of residential projects linked to resorts — possibly opening the door for villas that could one day ring oceanfront golf courses.

But he gave no details about whether Cuba will allow tourist developments that include residences owned by foreigners.

While Fidel Castro long dismissed golf as a sport of the rich, Cuba has said it would like to build 10 more 18-hole golf courses around the island. It has yet to break ground on any projects, however.

Lavish golf tourism does not easily equate with the egalitarian society Cuba has sought to build, but tourism revenues have dropped in recent years due to the global economic crisis, leaving officials scrambling for new sources of revenue.

Che wasn’t Cuban. He was an Argentine.