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Golfing in Puerto Rico

Forsaken for 500 years, Puerto Rico Finally Fulfills Its Promise as a Golfer's Eden
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98

(continued from page 3)

"This week is about having fun," says Cerromar Beach general manager Carlos Cabrera. "We have a serious side to the competition. Last June we had 34 Latin American countries involved. But we had the best parties we ever had. The one night out by the River Pool was just fantastic. There were 400 players and their guests. This has really become an annual event that we all look forward to."

There's another 18-hole course on the west coast that is worth a visit. Punta Borinquen in Aguadilla is part of the U.S. military's golf legacy to Puerto Rico, which also includes the nine-hole Luis Ortiz course near San Juan and the nine-hole course at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. Built in the '40s, Punta Borinquen is an attractive layout on the ocean, and the ocean holes have a genuine linksy feel to them. Dwight Eisenhower played golf here as general and as president. Another nine-hole course, Club Deportivo del Oeste, is in nearby Cabo Rojo.

The Puerto Rican Golf Association, whose president is transplanted New Yorker Sidney Wolf, has more than 4,000 players with registered handicaps and conducts a number of tournaments. Some kind of charity tournament goes on almost every weekend in Puerto Rico, some of them run by Luis "Papo" Velez, one of the best soccer players ever produced in the commonwealth. For vacationing players wanting some competitive action, these tournaments may be open and accessible through a hotel concierge.

There are plans for at least two more 18-hole courses, one to be designed by Jack Nicklaus near the El Conquistador, and another near Puerto Rico's second largest city, Ponce, on the south coast. After the depression of the early '80s stunted the island's growth and stained its image, the boom times of the 1990s have attracted tourists at record levels. They come for the beaches, the casinos, the nightlife. Increasingly, they come for the golf. The setting for golf was always there, of course, even before Columbus set eyes on the place. Puerto Rico was the perfect spot for a plinks, even if it took the better part of five centuries for the dreamers to finally realize it.

Jeff Williams is a sportswriter for Newsday.

A PERFECT DAY IN PUERTO RICO

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.


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