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Golfing in Belize

INSIDE: Orientation; Golf; Lodging; Dining; Transportation

Lord and master of land and sea and the links that connect them: That's me.

I'm on a small private island in the Caribbean, playing on a dazzling course with nearly every hole beside the ocean. Along with an airstrip, yacht harbor, clubhouse and a few snazzy accommodations, this 7,000-yard links cost a staggering forty million dollars to build. All of this golfing splendor seems to have been built for me and me alone, for I am the only golfer on the island.

Slipping off my sandals at each tee box to feel my swing firmly rooted to the ground, I marvel at the wonder of the hole before me: number one, sharing a St. Andrews-size double green ninety yards wide and totaling twelve thousand square feet ("Hello, Mr. Four-Putt!"); number three, a 180-yard par three that traverses the island with ocean at both ends and a freshwater lake in the middle. Here my shot cuts through the wind and drops a foot from the pin, eliciting cheers from several greenskeepers.

Heading back toward the big green at number five, I survey the tight par four with an island fairway (!) and a treacherous crosswind that puts a little rubber in your knees. To reach the short par four seventh, all I need is a 260-yard drive over water to a small green, a shot I apparently do not have. The beauty of having the course to myself is that there's no one to report me to the course marshal when I hit a mulligan, or two.

One tight fairway leads to another, with freshwater lakes adding to the hazards of the ocean. Somehow it feels as if the course is forcing me to play well. The near-perfect conditions add to my confidence; on the entire front nine, I don't see a single divot or ball mark besides my own. By the time I get to the seemingly endless 623-yard par-five sixteenth, I'm gleefully dashing from shot to shot, a barefoot hippie golfer in his own tropical paradise.

The site of all these wonders is the new Caye ("key") Chapel Golf Resort & Marina, in Belize, the small Central American nation formerly known as British Honduras. Just south of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and about a two-hour flight from Miami, Belize is primarily known as the place to find some of world's finest diving, snorkeling and bonefishing. There are also incredible inland lodges near which jaguars, toucans and parrots live in jungle and pine-forest reserves. Now you can add championship golf to the list.

For the past twenty-one years, the island of Caye Chapel has been owned by an American industrialist named Larry Addington, who operated a small hotel, fishing lodge and a homemade nine-hole golf course. It was as laid-back a spot as you'd ever find anywhere, much of its business coming from British troops on R&R. But having envisioned an expanded course and an exclusive corporate retreat, Addington doesn't seem to have cut any corners in realizing his dream.

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