Puerto Rico not just another tropical golf setting
RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – Perhaps the best way to put perspective on a golf trip to Puerto Rico is to take a trip into the El Yunque National Forest (pictured above). Just minutes away from and above Trump International Golf Club, where the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open just concluded, is an area that’s just 28,000 acres, but important. It’s the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system, and it’s something that Puerto Rico takes great pride in preserving. El Yunque is currently under consideration for the new Seven Wonders of Nature in the World.
The golf courses around here have received hardly any rain the last three months, but that’s not the case with El Yunque, which can get around 200 inches a year. It has something to do with the elevation of the Luquillo Mountains, which quickly rise to 3,500 feet, creating sort of weather buffer. It’s also much cooler in the rainforest, which makes it a nice escape from the heat below, especially in the summertime.
About 600,000 people a year visit El Yunque, which home to thousands of native plants, including 150 fern species and 240 different trees. Nearly 90 of those trees are rare, and 23 are found only in El Yunque. And the same holds true for animal life. There are no large animals, but there are hundreds of smaller animals that abound in the forest, including the coqui, a small non web-footed frog native to Puerto Rico.
This frog, which sings like a bird at night, pretty much only survives in this climate. And the people here are used to listening to them at night. So much so, in fact, that when islanders leave Puerto Rico, some take recordings of the coqui’s song with them so they can sleep at night.
Apparently, though, according to our guide Hector, some coqui eggs did make their way to Hawaii, and now there are millions of the little frogs over there. The thing is, though, they’re not so welcome in Hawaii. With an absence of predators, their population has exploded. “The sound at night drives them crazy,” said Hector. “So they’re trying to exterminate them.”
But not in Puerto Rico, where the coqui is a national symbol. Here the frogs are loved, just as so many things are, like the food, the beaches and rum.
Golf, it seems, is a little further down the list, but it’s starting to catch on. There are 23 courses here, and there are certainly enough of them to warrant a golf vacation.
At the foothills of El Yunque is one of the better ones, the Bahia Beach Golf Club at the St. Regis. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., great care was taken to the preserve the environment at the Audubon-certified course.
I’ll wind up this trip on the other side of the island, checking out the new and unique Royal Isabela, a links-style course built by brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell. My advance scouts on the scene have returned glowing reports. I can’t wait.
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