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October 8, 2004
Golf is big here. Very big. On an island that prides itself on wooing big business from head honchos, a golf course is a must for every self-deserving mega resort. There are more than 20 world-class golf courses in Puerto Rico, now placing it at the top of the list when it comes to worldwide golf destinations. Plus, as a tropical "fun" package, it can be sold on the notion that it is safer to tee off here than anywhere else in the world, especially in this fear-friendly day and age.
Golf in Puerto Rico is doing the unthinkable: booming. Note the recent additions to an already ballooned list: the Sol Melia Paradisius Coco Beach Resort & Casino (36 holes by architect Tom Kite with Bruce Besse of Willowbend Design) in Rio Grande, Inter-Continental Cayo Largo Resort (18 holes by architect Ron Garl) in Cayo Largo, the Caguas Hampton Inn Golf Club (18 holes) in Caguas, the Hilton (27 holes) in Ponce and the El Legado Golf Resort (18 holes) in Guayama.
Yet nothing compares to the old favorites, the golf havens that summoned legends, kings and Hollywood royalty: the likes of the Kennedys and the Eisenhowers, of Liz Taylor, Bob Hope and Ava Gardner. The best part is that these legendary courses are clustered around the sparkling clean town of Dorado, in the northeast.
I grew up behind such a golf course. Behind the Cerromar Beach Hotel in Dorado. Yep, right smack in front of the chain link fence gate that separated us, the local beach dwellers, from the transient, pastel-colored golfers. I bore witness to the sight of these older men whizzing by, lazily swaying in their golf carts, not understanding what thrill they sought nor their infinite patience to get such a tiny pockmarked ball into such a tiny hole from so far way. There was never any shouting like in baseball, or the ruckus of a basketball and sneakers skidding on a court, or the warrior cries of female volleyball players when they hit the ball. It was just a "tic" with the clubs on the ball, and then the mild "zipping" of the golf carts engine. The interaction between the players was civilized, hushed, even holy. Maybe because what was said then belonged to the realm of the mighty. Indeed. (Plus, you had to be careful, you never knew when one of those projectile balls would go astray and knock you unconscious.) But the fact is, that to get ahead in the game, at some point or another, golf was, and still is, the name of the game.
Dorado has always had a reputation for welcoming and coddling foreign bigwigs. Since the 50s it was already a top jet-setting place. Its proximity to the capital as well as its rolling hills, splendid beaches and perfectly manicured town beckoned the Joneses like no other. Its no wonder that the late Laurance Rockefeller, well-known supporter of green conservationism and proud owner of Rock Resorts, quickly decided to set camp here in this golden tropical Eden. What was first envisioned as a quiet spot to consort with his friends swiftly became one of the most sought-after golf destinations in the world.
Following are Dorados golfing hot spots:
Hyatt Regency Dorado Beach & Cerromar Beach Golf Courses
The Dorado Beach Resort, and its sister lodging, the Cerromar Beach Plantation, truly offer the pick of the litter when it comes to Puerto Ricos golf courses. Four award-winning layouts designed by the illustrious Robert Trent Jones await your swinging prowess.
The hotel complex now boasts a massive $55 million facelift on these vintage courses. This includes a new, state-of-the-art clubhouse at the refurbished Cerromar Plantation, a now improved residential and tourist complex, major improvements throughout the four 18-hole courses, and a brand new 30,000-square-foot golf clubhouse at Dorado Beach that is the new pride and joy of Puerto Rican golfers.
All four courses feature Jones signature runway tees, broad bunkering, and huge, sculpted and slick greens, as well as the tropical factors of wind, ocean vistas and lagoons. The first (and still the best) is the East Course, home to PGA Tour World Championships. They have all now been renovated and upgraded by architect Raymond Floyd. And of course, these guys are pros at handling the sheer volume of golfers and their clubs, so service is now even less of a worry. Simply put, the best, just got better.
Dorado Beachs East Course
This 18-hole, 7000-yeard beauty has played host to a World Cup of Golf and a Sr. Tournament of Champions. Being right next to the ocean, it features some tricky gusts of wind. After the renovation, its bunkers have been reshaped, its greens elevated a bit and tee boxes repositioned to double the challenge for players of all skill levels. Its famed hole is the fourth one (formerly the 13th), which Jack Nicklaus deemed it among the worlds toughest, a 500-yard par-5 with a double dogleg around two tricky water obstacles. Greens and fairways are in Bermuda grass, collared shirts and Bermuda shorts are required and the earliest tee time is 7 a.m. There is a soft spike policy. An 18-hole play costs you about $145 per day. But check for special deals, especially in the afternoon. Of course, its tropical landscaping is classic and cant be beat. It boasts splendid views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Dorado Beachs West Course
This one snakes its way around lakes and lagoons and also borders the ocean, yet it has more water hazards than its twin brother. It features 18 holes and 6858 yards. Fairways on the West Course scatter all over in all four directions, subjecting golf buffs to the whims of the wily and salty winds. Here youll find one of the most difficult par-3s in the complex, including the 170-yard 13th hole, which plays right into oceans buffeting breath. Look out for sand traps, coconut palms and citrus trees, plenty of water hazards and those damn doglegs. Also has a soft spike policy.
Cerromar Beachs Plantation North Course
Offers a challenging sand game and incredible mountain views. The 175-yard seventh hole boasts a "Circle of Life"-type panoramic view unrivaled in this side of the island and a challenging par-3 shot into a tricky wind scheme.
Cerromar Beachs Plantation South Course
Water, water everywhere you look, even on the three longest runs. Windier than the rest, it is certainly a challenge. The 17th hole is a 200-yard par-3 with water flanking you on the right and behind the green and two bunkers positioned in front.
Dorado del Mar Golf Course
Designed by local golf god Chi Chi Rodriguez in 1998, this carefully manicured layout is a landmark within the ever-increasing golf community. It features tight fairways and 12 holes with enough water obstacles to make you ponder long on your game. The signature tenth hole, an uphill dogleg par-5, also ends up in front of a beautiful scenario right by the ocean side, where you can look back on the sun-kissed golf course and feel like the King of the World. The erratic wind shifts, four-inch-high rough and many scattered bunkers add to the adventure. Morning fee is $102. Weekday afternoons cost you $87 on your first tee. There is an after 4 p.m. special on weekends: Play all the holes you want for only $40. Cant beat that.
So there you have it, Dorados finest. Come and feel how the air of the Gatsby clan sweeps you off your feet. At least learn how to keep a score, and be able to wing it while you hobnob with the bigwigs in the biz.
Puerto Rico Golf Association
These guys should help the most.
Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Golf Club
Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach Plantation Golf Club
Tel: (787) 796-8915
Dorado Del Mar Golf Club
Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org