Now, 50 years later, foreign developers say the Cuban government has swung in nearly the opposite direction, giving preliminary approval in recent weeks for four large luxury golf resorts on the island, the first in an expected wave of more than a dozen that the government anticipates will lure free-spending tourists to a nation hungry for cash.
The four initial projects total around 1 billion, with the government's cut of the profits about half. Plans for the developments include residences that foreigners will be permitted to buy - a rare opportunity from a government that all but banned private property in its push for social equality.
Castro and his comrade in arms, Che Guevara, who worked as a caddie in his youth in Argentina, were photographed in fatigues hitting the links decades ago, in what some have interpreted as an effort to mock either the sport or the golf-loving president at the time of the revolution, Dwight D. Eisenhower - or both.
But Cuba's deteriorating economy and the rise in the sport's popularity have softened the government's view, investors said.
For the past three years, Cuba's only 18-hole course, a state-owned spread at the Varadero Beach resort area, has even hosted a tournament. It has long ceased to be, its promoters argued, a rich man's game.
"We were told this foray is the top priority in foreign investment," said Graham Cooke, a Canadian golf course architect designing a 250 million project at Guardalavaca Beach, along the island's north coast about 500 miles from Havana, for a consortium of Indians from Canada. The company, Standing Feather International, says it signed a memorandum of agreement with the Cuban government in late April and will be the first to break ground, in September.
Andrew Macdonald, the chief executive of London-based Esencia Group, which helps sponsor the golf tournament in Cuba and is planning a 185m country club in Varadero, said, "This is a fundamental development in having a more eclectic tourist sector."
The other developments are expected to include at least one of the three proposed by Leisure Canada, a Vancouver-based firm that recently announced a licensing agreement with the PGA for its planned resorts in Cuba, and a resort being designed by Foster & Partners of London.
The projects are primarily aimed at Canadian, European and Asian tourists; Americans are not permitted to spend money on the island, under the Cold War-era trade embargo, unless they have a licence from the Treasury Department.Cuba and foreign investors have long talked about building new golf resorts, but the proposals often butted up against revolutionary ideals and red tape.
Several policy changes adopted at a Communist Party congress in April, however, appear to have helped clear the way, including one resolution specifically naming golf and marinas as important assets in developing tourism and rescuing the sagging economy.
"Cuba saw the normal sun and salsa beach offerings and knew it was not going to be sustainable," said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Standing Feather. "They needed more facets of tourism to offer and decided golf was an excellent way to go."
The developers said putting housing in the complexes was important to make them more attractive to tourists and investors, and to increase profits.
If the projects are built as envisioned, the tourists will enjoy not just new, state-of-the-art courses and the opportunity for a second home in Cuba, but shopping malls, spas and other luxury perks.
Standing Feather promises 1,200 villas, bungalows, duplexes and apartments set on 520 acres framed by mountains and a beach.
Standing Feather said that to build a sense of community and provide the creature comforts of home among its clientele, the complex will include its own shopping centre, selling North American products under relaxed customs regulations.
Politics may also be playing a part in its location. As Cooke, the golf architect, made clear: "It's in Hoguin Province, the area that Castro is from."