Tierra del Sol, Aruba
Arid, windy Aruba is one of three islands (Bonaire and Curacao are the others) in the Netherlands Antilles just off the coast of Venezuela. Better known for obvious reasons as the "ABC" islands, they all have a rare cultural mix of European customs and architecture and the inimitable flavor of the Caribbean.
Aruba is especially popular with Americans because of its near-perfect beaches - seven miles of powdery white sand lapped by an ocean too blue to believe. Together, Palm Beach and Eagle Beach make up one of the Caribbean's most inviting coastlines for beach activities and water sports.
The northern coast is desolate and rugged, laced with caves and strange rock formations. It's a wonderful area to explore on horseback or all terrain vehicle, and there's not much chance of getting lost. The island is only 20 miles long and six miles wide.
As delightful as it is, Aruba seems an unlikely place for golf, which makes the presence of a world-class layout like Tierra del Sol the icing on this island's cake. For many years the only concession to the game was a nine-hole layout with oiled sand greens. Then, in 1995, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., crafted a dramatic desert-style layout with something most desert courses don't have -- ocean views from 15 holes.
"It was a very risky project because there was no water," says Jones. "Because it was so dry, when we planted the first few fairways and the grass started to grow, thousands of wild goats and burros descended on it to graze. They must have thought it was Thanksgiving, this cornucopia of green grass. The Scots used sheep as mowers to good effect, but these creatures were eating it all right down to the roots, so we had to fence the entire course. It was a challenging project, with the salt and rocks and lack of water, but I like a challenge. It's like a hard par-5."
Jones built the course with the blessing of environmentalists. Very little dirt was moved in the building of Tierra del Sol, so indigenous plants and wildlife are nicely integrated into the course. A saltwater salina on the course is home to wild parakeets, egrets and other waterfowl. Wild burros graze within sight of the fairways, and iguanas scamper among rock formations around tees and greens. Aruba's endangered burrowing owls sit atop small coral caves near the par-3 fifteenth hole. The course twists through cacti, limestone cliffs and wind-twisted divi-divi trees.
Despite the desert setting, the 6,811-yard route has generous fairways and greens. It also has some impressive elevation changes for a course no more than 98 feet above sea level. From the first tee, a bruising par-5 stretching 600 yards into capricious winds, the entire front nine can be seen against a backdrop of ocean. The third hole, a 190-yard par 3, tees off from a mesa shared by the island's famous California Lighthouse to a green framed by sand dunes and sea.
Within the 23,000-square-foot clubhouse overlooking the front nine is the popular Ventanas del Mar restaurant. The course is the centerpiece of a master-planned community with amenities such as two swimming pools, a fitness and tennis center, and a world-class spa.
Tierra del Sol is not far from Palm Beach, which is bordered by high rise hotels and casinos, and Eagle Beach, which has more low-rise hotels and condos.
The streets of Oranjestad, the capital, are lined with stores and boutiques. There's good value to be found here on duty-free buys from all over the world.
Because of the island's many cultural influences, dining is an adventure. Grilled fish and goat stew are traditional Aruban dishes. Dutch cheeses go into the popular keshi yena - a meat-stuffed Gouda cheese pocket. Funchi (polenta) and pan bati (Aruban griddle bread) are mainstays of the Aruban meals. Rijstaffel, a smorgasbord of meat, vegetables and rice dishes, comes from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. If the exotic is not your style, all-American fare is also available.
For more information, call 011-297-860-978 or visit www.tierradelsol.com.