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Ponce's No-Name Costa Caribe Golf Course Has A Little Bit Of Everything


November 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved. 

"It never rains in Ponce," the elder gentleman said and he should know. The great-great-great grandson of one of those Spanish conquistadors of Puerto Rico and a wealthy man with rum distilleries and other interesting stuff to his name he's also one of the people about to make Ponce as well known for golf as San Juan is today.

Let's be clear, from time to time it does rain in Ponce - but not a lot. This thriving cultural and economic nexus on the south side of the island is so well protected by the central mountain range that most of the rain driven in by the prevailing easterlies gets caught up and wrapped around the hillsides so although one can actually see plenty of rain from Ponce very little, normally a mere misting, drops on the town itself.

My knowledgeable informant explained that, even although the Spanish-American war ended in 1898, many of the customs, practices and laws of Puerto Rico date back to the Spanish colonial era, including rights to water.

"The way it worked was that for all river water, that's to say water running off the mountains, the King of Spain decreed that landowners would be allowed a certain allocation and that is still exactly how it works today. And because it never rains in Ponce, having access to river-hill water is essential for industry, and naturally the new golf course."

That course is the new Costa Caribe Resort, a twenty-seven-hole layout that is simply stunning and with a five-star Hilton hotel just five shuttle-minutes away plus casino, this is certainly set to be one of the top golfing attractions in the entire Caribbean region.

Bordering an ultramarine sea and using the latest in Paspalum-grass technology (the grass that actually thrives on salty water and uses considerably less water than conventional golf course grasses such as Bermuda or bent) early in 2004 the Costa Caribe was given a test-drive by a bunch of top professionals in the first Puerto Rico Open for 37 years and guess what -- the golf course won, hands down. Rodolfo Gonzalez's winning four day total was a well-earned 6-under par, and that required a birdie-par-birdie finish in the final round.

Admittedly a good deal of the challenge comes from the almost constant wind, in fact in some respects it is rather like playing golf on Scottish links-land but with three distinct advantages. Bright sun, blue skies -- and of course, as you now know, it never rains in Ponce.

Oddly enough, in these days of million-dollar golf course designers, this fine example of rolling land, expert shaping and creative use of artificial lakes comes without a name tag at all, simply an in-house design by the hotel's golf-projects people.

Known as the Pearl of the South, Ponce is Puerto Rico's second largest city, population around two hundred thousand and founded by Juan Ponce de Leon's great grandson in 1692. In the past the main reason to visit Ponce would have been February's Carnival or to view the site in nearby Arroyo where Sam Morse installed Latin America's first telegraphic wire.

This Costa Caribe Resort is going to change all that. With a luxurious clubhouse near completion and a village complex of townhouses and apartments already roofed and soon to be occupied, this is one of finest hidden gems I have come across during recent travels.

What's special is the course has a little of everything. Some long-slog par fives, but a couple that run with the prevailing wind and therefore allow us to boast of our phenomenal power, a few dainty par-fours that are teasingly almost reachable but woe betide you if you don't catch the tee-shot exactly as planned. There is a delightful mix of par-threes and the fourteenth is an absolute stunner. The tee is high, the green is surrounded by water and it plays a moderate one hundred and eighty yards.

This is no TPC where the slightest error is full disaster. The green is enormous, enough landing area in front and behind so that a small error is only slightly penalized. It is a hole with picture postcard elegance, the on-facing pilings shaped so that combined with a long Japanese-style bridge, there's a hint of the Orient in the air.

So this fourteenth sounds easy, right? Well, the real problem is it plays straight into the prevailing wind and as you stand on the high tee with the green below, the visual effect of the water is several times more intimidating than the distance suggests. In all one of these holes that is truly a memorable experience that you'll plays over and over in the mind as you fall asleep to the whisper of Caribbean breakers outside your bedroom.

Ponce is an hour and a half drive from San Juan and if planning a trip be sure to hire a car, booked in advance, as there seems to be a scarcity during holiday times. Unless you have no other choice, a cab ride is not a good idea. The fare is one hundred and twenty US dollars and Mr. Cabbie San Juan also expects a lavish tip for taking him that far from home.

David Mackintosh is the press officer for the PGA's Tour of the Americas. The Tour of the Americas stops in Ponce for the Puerto Rico Open in January 2005 for the second year.

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