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PUERTO RICO HERALD
With 7 New Courses Planned, Puerto Rico Aims To Be A True Golfers Paradise
By Gabrielle Paese
March 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Puerto Rico keeps giving golfers good news. The island, 100 miles wide and 35 miles deep as the crow flies, has 18 courses. That means that even if its raining in San Juan, theres still a good chance you can get in 18 holes at Coamo Springs (unless its hurricane season).
For 2003, theres even more good news. Seven new courses are expected to be up and running by the end of the year. Four of the islands most legendary places to play (Hyatt Dorado Beach East and West and Cerromar North and South) have either undergone (East and West), or are in the process (North and South) of getting facelifts.
"The construction of the new courses represents a percentage growth second to none in the world," said PRGA president Sidney Wolf. "I think the Tourism department put emphasis on golf as an attraction for Puerto Rico. Plus with hotel development comes golf."
The jewel of the seven new courses is Chi Chi Rodriguezs 18-hole El Legado, a planned hotel and resort community in Guayama on 285 acres of land on the south coast. When completed, it will be the second signature course in Puerto Rico designed by Rodriguez the first being Dorado del Mar just west of San Juan in Dorado.
Two golf courses designed by golfer Tom Kite are nearly finished in Rio Grande just west of San Juan and in the shadow of the El Yunque rain forest. When completed, Coco Beach will be part of Puerto Ricos first all-inclusive resort, Paradisius Sol Melia.
Costa Caribe, a 27-hole venture in Ponce next to the Ponce Hilton, is the first course expected to be completed this year, with April 26 targeted as its opening.
Fajardos Cayo Largo, on the grounds of the new Intercontinental Hotel, is also near completion as is Caguas Real Golf Club, just off the expressway at the Caguas-Cayey tollbooth. The 18-hole project is also expected to be connected with a Hampton Inn resort hotel.
Finally, Gurabo Country Club, in Gurabo, is an 18-hole venture with nine holes already operational and the rest due to be finished before the end of the year.
The Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Hyatt Dorado Beach West course reopened this week while Cerromar North and South (also Jones Sr. masterpieces) broke ground two days ago on a total renovation project due to be completed in time for the 2004 World Amateur Golf Championships, to which the hotels will play host. The $22 million project, which includes the changes to the Dorado West and East courses, is being supervised by the Raymond Floyd group.
Visitors to the island who want to play a round or two have a new link to the links.
Rob Holmes, a former Hyatt Cerromar golf pro, two years ago founded www.caribegolf.com, a service that finds tee times and takes care of all the details for golfers visiting Puerto Rico. Holmes, who also offers the service on other Caribbean islands, said he arranges as many as 3,000 rounds of golf per year.
"When I was the pro at Cerromar, I saw that people were having trouble booking tee times for the courses here," said Holmes. "They would sometimes need two days of lead time."
After working in Palm Springs, Calif., with a company that provided a booking service, Holmes decided to try one in Puerto Rico.
"Puerto Rico is an attractive destination for stateside golfers. You deal in U.S. dollars, you have the same postal service. I think Puerto Rico has the potential to be a golf destination along the lines of Myrtle Beach or Palm Springs," he said.
On the down side, a golf vacation in Puerto Rico remains pricey.
According to National Golf Foundation statistics, Puerto Rico is the most expensive place in the United States to play golf. A round of golf at one of the island's private courses averages about $100. The cheapest of Puerto Rico's 14 golf courses charges $250 annually for membership (Aguirre), while the priciest (Río Mar) runs about $4,000 per year.
Holmes called the Foundation figures conservative.
"A round of golf at the Westin Rio Mar will run about $190 while Bahia [Beach] at the low end, will cost around $85. Then you have your Aguadillas [Punta Borinquen] and Coamo Springs where you can play for between $30 and $40," he said.
With more golf courses in the works, a greater supply will likely drive down the cost of 18 holes.
"Its good news for golfers all the way around," said Holmes, who added that it might be cheaper to play golf in the Dominican Republic, but Puerto Ricos courses were of better quality.
In addition to the Hyatts four courses, Puerto Rico also boasts links designed by Greg Norman (Westin Rio Mar River) and Tom and George Fazio (Westin Rio Mar Ocean). Gary Player (Flamboyan) and Rees Jones (Palm) were the architects of the two Palmas del Mar courses.
For PRGA president Wolf, more golf courses means more opportunities for young people to play.
Wolf calls it the "Tiger Woods phenomenon."
"The interest in the junior program is up," said Wolf, who has his staff running weekly clinics as part of its "Golf para Todos" (Golf for Everyone) program to bring golf to young urban kids. "Were working to dispel the myth that golf is an elitist game in Puerto Rico. What were trying to do is take golf to the community."
Wolfs goal is to create a new generation of local golfers who will be inspired by the 2004 World Amateur Championships, which Puerto Rico will host at the Hyatt Cerromar and Dorado Beach hotels.
"Its really amazing what Sidney has done," said Holmes. "Hes taken a lot of his time to get the word out there and its the first time anyone has done that."
The PRGAs program visited the "Hogar del Nino," a home for young girls in Rio Piedras, last week. A group of 35 girls as well as the nuns who staff the home participated in the clinic, which was run with the assistance of golfer Wilfredo Morales. The program has already given clinics for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico as well as in various housing projects. Wolf said the program has also hooked up with the Justice Department as well as the Christian Private School League (LACC by its Spanish acronym) to introduce both groups to the game.
The clinics are part of an the Tiger Woods Foundations In the City program that the PRGA and the Foundation will host Aug. 28-30.
PHOTO CAPTIONS: More than 35 young girls and the Catholic sisters in charge of the Hogar del Nino participated recently in a golf clinic organized by the P.R. Golf Assocation (PRGA). The clinic is part of a combined effort by the PRGA and the Tiger Woods Foundation to bring the sport to urban youth.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.