The golf course of my winter daydreams has always been situated on an island in the Caribbean. It's lined with palms, bougainvillea and flamboyan, all rustling in a gentle breeze. The layout is tough enough to hold your attention but not too punishing. The greens roll smooth and true. Although you can always count on finding a game, the course is never crowded. The place is on no one's top-whatever list. Finding it feels like you've joined a swell little club.
To my delight, I recently discovered that such a course actually exists, in Coamo, Puerto Rico, about an hour's drive southwest of San Juan. People have been going to Coamo for years to soak in the thermal springs. I go for the golf.
Coamo Springs Golf and Country Club sits in a valley amid the island's Cordillera Central mountain range. Verdant hills frame the property, the land rolls naturally, and the greens are perched on hillside pedestals that provide glimpses of the Caribbean Sea, ten miles away.
The first attempt to build a course here was made in the 1960s by James Gilmore Harrison, who got his start shaping ground for Donald Ross. Harrison and his apprentice, Ferdinand Garbin, designed a layout at Coamo Springs, but the owner got into a dispute with the island government and the project was shelved. The land reverted to pasture until the mid-1990s, when new owners asked Garbin to try again. He completed the job in 1998, managing to recover fourteen of the original holes.
Garbin is particularly proud of one of the new holes, the eighteenth, a par four bisected by a broad ravine that must be carried from the tee.
It's not clear how much longer Coamo Springs will remain undiscovered. There's talk of plans to build a luxury hotel, and developers have already lined parts of the course with boxy yellow and orange houses and condos. All of which means, as golfers, we should visit Coamo Springs as often as we can while it's still the stuff of fantasy.
Playing Coamo Springs Golf and Country Club, RD 546 Barrio
Las Flores, Coamo, Puerto Rico. 787-825-1370, coamosprings.com. Yardage: 6,647. Par: 72. Slope:
134. Architect: Ferdinand Garbin, 1998. Greens Fees: $50$60.
Staying Ponce Hilton, 787-259-7676. Rooms: $190$230. Suites: $350$450.
Dining Chef Alex Bistro on the Green (Spanish Creole, $$$), 787-803-5555. La Cava (Puerto Rican, $$), 787-825-4843.