The breeze that pushes three
irons toward the ocean in North Carolina and later lifts wedges into the pot bunkers of
Wales and Scotland has its roots here at Tierra del Sol Resort and Country Club on
the rugged north coast of Aruba.
If golf is a game of strategy and skill - an historic battle between a golfer, the land
and the wind - then the frontline of that centuries-old fight is here on Aruba, where the
Gulf Stream wind is born and blows from this island north past America to Great Britain.
A challenging championship course of stunning beauty close to the shoreline of the
churning Caribbean Sea, this stretch of 18 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones II is at
times otherworldly. Great and memorable vistas stretch past a raw and rugged moonscape of
rocky shore. Lizards duck and dodge through the tawny landscape, a desert that burns in
stark contrast to the emerald green of the course. High above is a big blue umbrella sky,
and all is framed by the turquoise sea.
A lighthouse is an ever-present symbol of the danger of the ocean,
and for a golfer, it is a reminder of the sneaky wind that keeps the golf, even on simple
holes, challenging and rewarding. What seems like a slight breeze from the tee is a fairly
stiff wind up there where the ball soars. It costs the unwary golfer 20 or 30 yards of
carry and probably five or six strokes per round for under-clubbed shots.
A global positioning system in the golf carts provides tips and keys to each hole with
suggestions about how to each the shot. Drift one out over the traps, reads one tip, the
wind will bring it back. It does, too. Pay attention to those tips.
In the past, few have come to Aruba to golf. Why would they? The place has more wrecks
for scuba and snorkeling anywhere in the world. There was that wind and besides, lazy
afternoons at the beach are an ever-present temptation.
Most visitors to this island about 20 miles from the Venezuelan shore also came for the
casinos that are downtown or out on the north shore. They came for the glorious food, the
steel bands playing in the afternoon sun, the friendly locals and for the brilliant green
sea and soft sand beaches. That is changing as Tierra Del Sol (literally Land of the Sun)
develops its reputation among European, English and American golfers. Americans have
already discovered this course with about eight of nine rounds played by visitors from the
U.S.A. It is the only championship course on the island because, after all, one exotic
golf course is enough for one exotic vacation.
Serious golfers should not scoff at this courses 6,811 yard length from the gold
tees, 6,453 yards from the turquoise tees and 6,011 yards from the white tees. Most
tourists tee it up from the white tees, says Tierra del Sol professional Aaron Ressler, a
28-year-old transplant from Olympic Hills Country Club in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Ressler, who is in his second year here as head pro, has seen the furrowed brows of
scratch golfers in the clubhouse, guys who think that modest length will make this course
a babycakes afternoon of pitch and putt. He lets them find out for themselves that Tierra
Del Sol is a barracuda.
"It looks a lot easier on the scorecard. They see the 6,800
yards and think, oh, its a short course but here the biggest misconception is
playing what looks like an open shot," Ressler says. "They dont allow for
the wind. "Golfers look, think eight iron and theyll play it here because the
wind doesnt seem that strong. Its never enough." His favorite hole is the
par 5 No. 14 because it probably is a little unfair and certainly is challenging enough
for every golfer who gazes out at its 534 yards from the gold tees and thinks driver,
three-wood, short iron, birdie. "You have to hit each shot perfect," Ressler
says. "The fairways are narrow and even if you nail your drive, and second shot, you
can find yourself 190 into the green." And yes, those are red OB stakes there just a
club-length or two from the left fringe of the green.
The course meanders past the sea for the first couple of holes and then heads inland
through a dusky landscape of cacti, rock and divi-divi trees, which always lean west with
the wind. Look for fast but fat iguanas, some as long as your arm. Sometimes wild goats
find their way onto the course, too, and then disappear into the scrub just as quickly as
they arrived. There are screeching parakeets, too, and shorebirds that play on the breezes
above the Bermuda grass and fairway bunkers. The course never absolutely hugs the
shoreline but the ocean is there all the time. You can hear it or taste the briny breeze
on all of the holes.
The second nine twists inland past golf villas and resort homes that rent for as little
as $325 per night for a two-bedroom condominium and $455 a night for a three-bedroom house
that sleeps six people. Tack on an extra $50 a night for a place with a private pool. The
rent brings with it unlimited daily golf and a cart. It is an extraordinary deal. The
package also offers beach access at the nearby Holiday Inn SunSpree Beach Resort.
Tierra del Sol is a course that is meant to be enjoyed more than
once in a lifetime. Just ask Paul Ladwig. He is one American golfer who cant get
enough of this course. The executive director of communications and marketing for Ohio
University in Athens, Ohio, he has played Tierra del Sol 15 times. He has plans, too, to
play it at least 15 more times in the years to come and who can blame him for that?
"Playability is the key. From the par shooters to the high handicappers, the course
is fair and a wonderful golf challenge," Ladwig said. "The scenic views on the
course make it tough at times to keep your thoughts on golf. For me, its the best