Mofungo and Mulligans: Golfing in Puerto Rico
They might as well have handed me a magic wand for all I knew what to do with a golf club.
My trip to the northeast region of Puerto Rico called for a golf-centered adventure hitting up all the top courses on the island. At first the talent of the other players was overwhelming as they traded handicap stats and knowledge of the pros standings back and forth. But I diligently practiced, observed and eagerly embraced the sport "“ not hard to do in the palm-tree laden, spicy environment of an underrated U.S. destination.
Where to Hit the Links
Sporting a sunhat, sturdy shoes and shades, it was time to grasp the art of a game that's been around since the 15th century.
Wyndham Rio Mar
Double the courses means double the choices. The Wyndam Beach Resort and Spa sits directly on the beach and has two 18-hole courses that wind through the property "“ one by the ocean and the other along a river. I admired the ocean course, designed by golfing legend Greg Norman, as carts breezed by holding players judging wind direction and slope of each challenging hole. Most holes are steps from the beach, but par three, hole 16 kisses the sand and is certainly a highlight. Tee times are available all day so guests can play early and still have plenty of time to sightsee, shop or eat at the resort.
This course went through a total redesign in 2007 with sleek updates to enhance the experience even more. Several holes are located steps from a long private stretch of sand as well, ideal for a quick break from playing to soak up a unique view. Look upwards to the surrounding vistas of El Yunque National Rainforest too and feel transported to golfing paradise.
For a beginner golfer it was reassuring to know Bahia Beach caters to all skill levels. Although the course hosted the qualifier for the Puerto Rico Open, when open for casual use there are options for professionals, amateurs, ladies and even children. At each hole there are markers illustrating where a player should tee off according to their category, making a game manageable and fun no matter how eclectic the group participating might be.
How to Eat Puerto Rican Style
Good mofungo, whether it's found on the street or in a fancy restaurant, needs a few key elements. The base is plantains,Â which are a starchy, non-sweet banana.Â They fry it in chunks, mash it up, then fry them again, forming a thick patty or impromptu bowl. These plantains are loaded with beef and tomato sauce, or a variety of other meat fillings. Paired with the signature beverage on the island, a cold Medalla beer, this is perfection on a hot day.
It's easy to work up a craving for hearty meals while watching sporting events and playing a few rounds. After 18 holes at Bahia Beach, I had a lunch of mofungo at Molasses, one of the scenic and stylish restaurants at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.
The Puerto Rico Open
A little time on the driving range was all it took for me to feel like a pro. I was feeling confident for a few hours until we reached the Trump International Hotel, home of the Puerto Rico Open. Top international players gather on the island to compete at the iconic course for first place glory and thousands cheer on their favorites.
Luckily the golf fans with me pointed me in the right direction when it came to figuring out who to watch and what to look for. I ended up following in the footsteps of John Daly. Knowing little about the sport beforehand, seeing him was a treat "“ this man swears like a sailor, chain smokes and has a few vodka libations all while playing in a professional tournament. Being able to stay within earshot of this display was something else. Not to mention, watching some of the local superstars like Rafael Campos clad in pastels and winning smiles up close was also something to remember.
Easy Breezy Accommodations
With miles of endless beaches to be had along the coast of Puerto Rico, it can be tough to stick with one perfect place to stay. But after exploring a little of the city, I ventured northeast to the El Conquistador for stunning views, endless activities and private islands. Did I mention the private island? El Conquistador sits atop a hilly cliff, (complete with stunning golf course) then cascades down toward a lively marina. As the beachfront is missing, they simply grant guest access to a nearby island covered is beautiful white sand and a couple fun beach bars.
After lounging in the sun, I grabbed a kayak rental, snorkeling mask and took advice from the staff to paddle out to the neighboring Palominito, the mini version of Palomino Island. This small patch of sand and brush a few hundred feet away was used in the famous "Where's all the rum gone?" scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. Soundtrack stuck in my head, it was a fresh way to spend the afternoon getting a little exercise and feeling slightly off-the-grid, away from the bustle of the resort.
This time on the islands was appreciated after days of learning the game of golf, swinging and missing many balls, then playing my actual first real hole just one over par. Surprisingly, I took a real liking to the slow, patient game loved by millions worldwide. It's always incredible to pick up something new while on the road, as it makes you realize how there's something to learn around every corner "“ if you're open to exciting opportunities.
Eileen CotterÂ is a freelance travel writer who has a few notches in her belt throughout North America, Central America, Asia and Europe. She currently resides just outside Boston,Â Massachusetts. While writing for a wide variety of websites and travel magazines,Â herÂ preferencesÂ so far has been covering various unique festivals worldwide, trying strange foods at tasty restaurants and encountering eccentric landmarks. By far her favorite place to roam isÂ southern Spain and her future dream trip is exploring the Fiji Islands.Â Her blog isÂ CrookedFlight.com.