But that is a quibble. There is a legend, rooted in Puerto Rico's diverse heritage, borrowing from both Santeria and Catholicism. The legend tells of a deity called Yemaya who reigns in the heavens; and where the bottom of her mantle touches the earth, it turns into the ocean. The waves and the sea foam are her ruffles and lace. Anyone who seeks a boon from Yemaya must toss something into the sea—a bit of sugar syrup, seven copper coins or perhaps a few candles.
I had none of these when I played the finishing hole at Bahia Beach. The edge of a passing hurricane was blowing in from the sea so fiercely that the staff had removed the pins from the holes. Somehow, I managed to hit a three-iron approach that stopped only a few feet from a hole I hadn't seen. When I finished, I dropped the ball in the rough and hit it out into the waves, as an offering.
I wanted to return.
COAMO SPRINGS GOLF CLUB
Route 546, Kilometer 1, Coamo; 787-825-1370, coamosprings.com. Yardage: 6,647. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architect: Ferdinand Garbin, 1998. Greens Fees: $50-$75. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Friendly and unpretentious, this is the unheralded gem of Puerto Rican golf. Architect Garbin scored the best natural golfing terrain of any Puerto Rican course; it's set in the rolling foothills of the Cordillera Central. You'll find sidehill lies, blind shots, mountain views and, on the final hole, a daring carry over a ravine to cap your round.
HYATT DORADO BEACH, EAST COURSE
Highway 693, D orado; 787-796-8961, doradobeach.hyatt.com. Yardage: 7,000. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architects: Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1958; Ray Floyd, 1998. Greens Fees: $155-$195. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
The island's premier course when Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed it in 1958, and after a polishing by Ray Floyd, it remains so. The elegant layout includes Puerto Rico's sportiest hole, the par-five fourth, a double dogleg with two optional water carries; it climaxes with a plateau green overlooking the sea.
COCO BEACH GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB
100 Clubhouse Drive, Rio Grande; 787-657-2000, cocobeachgolf.com. Yardage: 3,499 (Lakes); 3,519 (Ocean); 3,524 (Palms); 3,500 (Mountain). Par: 36 (each). Architects: Tom Kite and Bruce Besse Jr., 2004. Greens Fees: $90-$110. T+L GOLF Rating: **** (potential)
Perhaps the finest land at this thirty-six-hole complex was given to the Mountain nine, which scales the foothills toward El Yunque National Forest. Judging by the quality of the first eighteen holes to open and a preliminary look at the second eighteen (scheduled to open in the spring), Coco Beach will soon take its place among the best resorts on the entire island.
EL LEGADO DE CHI CHI RODRIGUEZ GOLF RESORT
713 Highway 53, Guayama; 787-686-1806. Yardage: 7,217. Par: 72. Slope: n/a. Architect: Chi Chi Rodriguez, 2004. Greens Fee: $60. T+L GOLF Rating: **** (potential)
The course's name means "the legacy," and that's what Chi Chi intends it to be—his legacy to Puerto Rican golf. Judging from a round as it was growing in, El Legado will be an open, fun layout with wide fairways and testing green complexes demanding good decisions and shot making.
PALMAS DEL MAR COUNTRY CLUB, FLAMBOYÁN COURSE
1 Country Club Drive, Humacao; 787-285-2255, palmascountryclub.com. Yardage: 7,122. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architect: Rees Jones, 1998. Greens Fee: $95. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Palmas del Mar has poured money into maintenance the past few years. It shows. Flamboyán is solid, well-conditioned and superbly balanced, with power holes, finesse holes, holes that favor draws and holes that favor fades. The parthree twelfth is one of the island's best.
PALMAS DEL MAR COUNTRY CLUB, PALM COURSE
1 Country Club Drive, Humcao; 787-285-2255, palmascountryclub.com. Yardage: 6,675. Par: 71. Slope: 127. Architect: Gary Player, 1974. Greens Fee: $95. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
In recent years, this layout has been eclipsed by Palmas del Mar's newer Flamboyán course—and the many condos lining the routing don't help matters. But Gary Player got first choice of ground here and took advantage of it, designing a track that flows over hills and dells and merits a round by those who enjoy holes that make them think off the tee.
RIO MAR COUNTRY CLUB, OCEAN COURSE
6000 Rio Mar Boulevard, Palmer; 787-888-6000, westinriomar.com/golf. Yardage: 6,782. Par: 72. Slope: 132. Architects: George and Tom Fazio, 1974. Greens Fees: $100-$190. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Rio Mar boasts an unusual mascot: the iguana. Dozens of the fat, yellow-and-black lizards like to sun themselves on the course. You'll have to focus a little more than they do to score well here. The Ocean saves most of its challenges for the green complexes, allowing players of all abilities to putter around while keeping it interesting for the good ones.
BEST OF THE REST
There are twenty-seven holes at the Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club ($75-$85; 787-812-2650), and designer Bruce Besse Jr. was clever with his bulldozer on all of them, molding sizable slopes and well-placed water hazards. The owners of the River Course at the Rio Mar Country Club ($100-$190; 787-888-6000) gave architect Greg Norman a tough piece of land—low and marshy, without sea views—but he responded admirably, with a layout good enough to cohost the 2004 World Amateur Team Championship. The West Course at Hyatt Dorado Beach ($155-$195; 787-796-8961), with too many flat and straight holes, was always known as the relief course here, but after a recent face-lift by Ray Floyd, the greens and bunkers are much improved, and it's now far more than mere relief. Bahia Beach Plantation Golf Course ($70-$90; 787-256-5600) boasts three seaside holes that constitute the longest and best stretch of beach golf on the island. The rest of the course is tight and challenging. Some of the tees at the Wyndham El Conquistador ($110-$190; 787-863-6784) are so elevated that hitting the fairway is like driving a ball onto Fifth Avenue—from the Goodyear blimp.