Golfing in Puerto Rico

Forsaken for 500 years, Puerto Rico Finally Fulfills Its Promise as a Golfer's Eden

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Arising at 6:30 a.m. at the El Conquistador Resort on the northeast tip of the island, you are served breakfast on the terrace of your room. The gentle tropical breezes are just starting to blow, carrying the aroma of the coffee into your boudoir and portending sturdier, more challenging winds to come.

At the first tee of the El Conquistador Golf Course, you assess the foreboding opening tee shot, trying to remind yourself of what the pro and the starter said, that the landing area is bigger than you think. This is a thinking golfer's course, where position and accuracy are far more important than distance.

After you have thought your way around the course in a score more or less in line with your handicap, it's time for the boat over to Palomino Island for a couple of hours of bar food at the outdoor restaurant, a dip in the calm water of the gentle, protected beach, and a half hour or so of zooming back and forth offshore on a jet ski.

By three in the afternoon you can start making your way toward San Juan. If it is your last day, then you might want to make the El San Juan Hotel and Casino your last stop. It's on Isla Verde, not far from the airport. On your way, while contemplating dinner and a cigar at the hotel, you could stop for a quick back nine at Bahia Beach Golf Course, allowing yourself the simple luxury of playing the final three holes down the barren and stunning Atlantic beach.

Arriving at the El San Juan, it's time for a final dip in the pool or ocean before preparing for dinner, perhaps at the hotel's striking new restaurant, Aquarela, the creation of Douglas Rodriguez, one of Puerto Rico's outstanding chefs, and his partner, Thomas Nally. You must--simply must--have the seviche as either appetizer or main course, and for dessert have Rodriguez's famous chocolate cigar.

At the Cigar Bar after dinner, either smoke your own from home or one you purchased at the Smoker's Suite, one of the upscale shops that form the hotel's shopping arcade. The Cigar Bar is the vision of the hotel's president, David Kurland, a cigar smoker and occasional golfer.

After dinner and a cigar, the hotel's casino, the largest and most elegant in the Caribbean, beckons only a few steps from the Cigar Bar. If it is a weekend night during the season, the sizzle will leave an indelible impression on your psyche and provide an exhilarating end to a Puerto Rican golf day.--JW

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