Rio Grande, PR
In reply to that age-old question, "What's in a name?" the answer is: a lot - especially when it comes to golf destinations. Take South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, for example. Following its discovery in 1663, what we now think of as a gorgeous golf getaway was known as "Trench's Island" for many years. Yuk. Can you imagine bragging to your buddies that you're traveling to "Trench's Island" to tee it up for a few days? They'd probably look at you like you'd lost your grip, or hold their noses as if they'd just whiffed a sickening smell. Tell them you're going to Hilton Head, however, and their jealousy will be palpable. The same is true for a beautiful tropical island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World in 1493 (Ponce de Leon was a member of the crew, by the way), the idyllic island was originally named San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. No offense to anybody, but "San Juan Bautista" does not exactly conjure up swaying palm trees, miles of pearly white beaches and an average annual temperature of 80° F (26° Celsius). Mention to your neighbor that you're going to put it in the air in Puerto Rico, however (thankfully the name was changed in 1521), and you'll probably get two reactions: (1) "Man, does that sound great!" (2) "They play golf in Puerto Rico?"
Oh, yeah. Exactly when golf arrived in Puerto Rico is something of a mystery. Considering the fact that the game was exploding in America at the same time that the island came under U.S. control (1898), its introduction here was inevitable. What's known for sure is that the residents of Puerto Rico (deemed U.S. citizens and a U.S. Territory in 1917) were teeing it up on a regular basis by 1930. Coincidentally, perhaps, future PGA Tour star "Chi Chi" Rodreguez was born here in 1935. Long before Chi Chi became one of golf's greatest ambassadors, however, word had already gotten out about Puerto Rico as a potential golf destination. During World War II, you see, a number of golf facilities were created for the enjoyment of the military personnel stationed at the bases here. Returning home after the war, these veterans no doubt raved about the sun, sand, surf, succulent seafood and sensational scenery that Puerto Rico had to offer. Enterprising developers took note and were soon on their way to the island. Today, Puerto Rico not only boasts some of the best weather in the world but some of the best golf resorts as well.
Thirty minutes to the east of San Juan, in the equally historic city of Rio Grande (founded in 1840), you'll find another very pretty place to play golf: Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. Wyndham Grand Rio Mar offers two championship golf courses, stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby mountains, and all of the amenities you could ask for. The Ocean Course, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar's original layout, was designed in 1976 by the architect team of George and Tom Fazio (nephew Tom refined and refurbished the course in the late 1990s). At 6,782 yards from the back tees (three other markers are available), the Ocean Course is not terribly long by today's standards. However - like it is at all of the courses on the island - the cooling but capricious trade winds can cause this layout to play a lot longer than its yardage. And with water in play on at least eleven holes, how you handle the wind could determine whether you achieve a good score ... or just achieve a good tan. The "signature" hole here - the 16th - is often called "the best little par three in Puerto Rico". The part about "best" may certainly apply but "little" doesn't. From the tips, this ocean-side beauty measures a back breaking 238 yards. Good news, though: should you hurt yourself trying to reach this "little" hole in regulation, any necessary repairs can be made at your choice of Wyndham Grand Rio Mar's soothing spa or fitness center. Equally welcome is your choice of accommodations at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. The resort's 600 guest rooms includes 72 suites, and each features fully furnished balconies, stunning views of the ocean or mountains, high-speed Internet access, and a level of luxury to match even the highest imagination. Additional amenities include 12 restaurants and lounges, two outdoor swimming pools, a mile-long beach and a casino, and other activities include scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and a hike or tour of the beautiful nearby El Unque National Forest. Oh, and there's another golf course.
The River Course at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, opened in 1997, is one of newest layouts on the island. Designed by two-time major championship winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member Greg Norman (the Aussie's first effort in the Caribbean), the River Course was created to be just as playable as it is pretty. The fairways are wide, the good-sized greens aren't overly sloped, and - believe it or not - there's little rough to contend with. A walk along the Mameyes River? Hardly. From the tips, the River Course measures almost 200 yards longer than the Ocean Course (6,945). In addition, many of the holes play alongside or over the river or tropical wetlands. Plus, there's plenty of sand - both along the fairways and around the greens - and, of course, there's that refreshing but often confusing trade wind. However, even though many visitors believe the River Course is the tougher of the two at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, the numbers don't bear it out. From the back markers, the River's slope/course rating is 130/74.5; the Ocean's is 132/73.8. Pretty much even, any way you look at it. The best way to look at either course at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar is from the tees that match your ability. After all, the name of the game is to have a good time, right? Well, the name of that tune - with its sensational weather, succulent seafood, spectacular scenery and superb golf - is Puerto Rico.