Awesome Aruba

Constant trade winds make for cool days and challenging golf

By Rob Duca

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Day One in Aruba:

I’m smoking a cigar on the balcony of my room at the Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort, gazing toward the soft white sand of Eagle Beach and the turquoise Caribbean water beyond. It’s a prelude to a dip in the resort’s infinity pool, where I swim up to the bar and order a piña colada.

Night One in Aruba:

Dinner at a poolside table at Papiamento Restaurant, sitting beneath palm trees that are gently swaying in the ever-present trade winds. What was Kramer’s refrain in Seinfeld?

Serenity now!

Day Two in Aruba:

Waiting to be served at breakfast as a blue lizard scampers past and an iguana sits upright inches away, his head pointed toward me. Four waitresses carry on a lengthy, animated conversation before eventually bringing me a menu. I’ve officially been introduced to what is affectionately referred to as “Island Time.” Amazingly, it doesn’t bother me in the least.

Later on Day Two:

Golf, at one of the most spectacular, unique courses I’ve ever visited. Who knew?

Few people would ever travel to Aruba for a golf vacation, there being only one 18-hole championship layout on the island. Aruba is more about relaxation, with daily temperatures 82 degrees and cooling trade winds.

Dazzling sunsets, the world’s most beautiful beaches, a vibrant nightlife, casinos, snorkeling, scuba diving and shopping are all reasons tourists flock to this tiny oasis. And on an island only 20 miles long, it’s easy to do all of the above. During a five-day trip to Aruba last summer, I managed to squeeze in three rounds of golf, a Catamaran sail that took me snorkeling above the shipwreck of the World War II German U-boat “Antilla,” a tour of Arikok National Park, and a few hours at the roulette table. And there was still plenty of time to lounge on the beach.

The road not often traveled

Arikok National Park consumes nearly 20 percent of the island and is a fascinating way to begin exploring Aruba. The journey along the winding and bumpy road into the park takes you past goats and donkeys grazing on the hillside, along with a variety of birds, snakes and lizards. We stopped at Quadirikiri Cave, a tunnel with two roof openings frequented by hundreds of small bats. The park’s barren terrain stretched to the ocean, where we stood from high above looking down upon a natural pool that was formed within rock and volcanic stones.

Since this was my first visit to Aruba, I was not as shocked as others when I awoke on my second day to suffocating humidity and no wind whatsoever.

Our local guide assured us that this was a virtually unprecedented occurrence. Although Aruba is below the hurricane belt, the effects of Hurricane Isaac, which was heading toward Florida, resulted in a rare weather pattern that silenced the trade winds. And I believed him when I saw him that night at our outside dinner table constantly wiping his brow and complaining about the heat. When he left dinner to cool off in his air-conditioned car I knew he wasn’t kidding about the unusually steamy conditions.

The heat also affected my first day of golf. Tierra del Sol Resort, Spa and Country Club is a picturesque and challenging layout. Located on the northwest point of Aruba, 15 miles from Venezuela, it opened in 1995 and was designed by Robert Trent Jones II, with much of the work being completed by his former associate, Kyle Phillips, whose imprint is also on the dazzling Kingsbarns in St. Andrews, Scotland.

But Tierra del Sol was created with the trade winds in mind, with the shorter holes playing into the wind and with the breezes at your back on the longer ones. So the rare windless day created an initially false impression, while also unleashing a swarm of bugs on the back nine that made it nearly impossible to play.

Fortunately, things returned to normal for the following two rounds, and Tierra del Sol could be savored in all its stunning splendor. This par-71, 6,811-yard course is unique, with one tee stationed 98 feet above sea level, affording sweeping views of Aruba and the Caribbean Sea. With extraordinary elevation changes alongside parched terrain, Tierra del Sol is like playing a Scottish links course in the Arizona desert. Ocean views are paired with lush, green fairways framed by waste areas, cacti and stone. Blue lizards, iguanas and baby goats are only a sampling of the wildlife to be seen.

Scenic from the start

Everything about this course is distinct, beginning with the practice range. The club’s head pro, Adam Williamson, a transplanted New Englander, fondly calls it “the world’s worst driving range.” Indeed, it is rudimentary, with dirt dotted by thin patches of grass serving as the tee areas, and a field of more dirt and even less grass in the landing areas. But the ocean view from the elevated range is magnificent.

Tierra del Sol is a visually striking course, matching wastelands against the ocean backdrop. It feels a bit like playing golf on the moon. The extensive variation of holes, from distances to doglegs and forced carries, makes for a constantly stimulating set of challenges. Goats graze on a hillside as you aim your approach on the third hole toward the famed California Lighthouse, which sits 30 meters high and was named after the ship California that wrecked nearby in 1891.

Tackle the course when the trade winds are blowing and you’re faced with a rigorous challenge. The short par-4’s cease being easy pars, the long par-4’s are nearly impossible to reach in regulation, and the par-3’s, all of which are superb, require terrific shots with little room for error.

Brutal finish

The stretch that begins at 14 and ends at 18 represents the meat of the course, especially when factoring in the trade winds. The 14th plays 505 yards from the members’ tees into a prevailing wind. The second shot must carry a hazard, and long hitters looking to reach in two need to be precise to avoid another hazard that runs along the left side all the way to the green on the slight dogleg left hole. I played with a big hitter on the day the wind was howling and he couldn’t reach with driver and 3-wood.

The 195-yard 15th must carry another waste area and a rock wall that rises above the left side of the green. There isn’t much room to miss right, either.

The 16th is an uphill, dogleg right par-4 of 366 yards with bunkers lining the right side, while the 17th is another wonderful par-3 of 200 yards where there’s no room to miss long or short.

The closing hole is a par-4 gem of 445 yards. Playing uphill, although usually downwind, the approach is blind to the green and demands a solid and precise iron to land on the putting surface.

Head to Aruba for the beaches, the nightlife and the cool ocean breezes. But make some time to play Tierra del Sol. You won’t regret it.

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