ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- On most days, a steady wind sweeps through the emerald dales on the north shore of St. Thomas to blow past vacation homes and over the scenic fairways and greens of the sometimes-infuriating Mahogany Run Golf Course.
Long a destination course for celebrities and cruise ship tourists alike, Mahogany Run remains a difficult but rewarding 18 holes of golf for anyone carousing through the British Virgin Islands.
Bill Clinton played here back in January 1997. He left something of personal lament and signed an autograph of a photo of the course's most scenic hole, which is framed and hangs at the door to the pro shop. He wrote "only" got a four on No. 14 -- a bogey.
Michael Jordan and too many professional athletes to name also gritted their teeth at the challenges of Mahogany Run. Actors John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone have played it. All of them came because the course designed by George and Tom Fazio has some incredibly scenic, interesting and difficult holes.
There are space-launch tee boxes high above bending fairways. Mangoes, which are always refreshing, can fall to the frog hair around some greens. Pelicans work the surf on two of the three holes known as the Devil's Triangle on the back side, and you will see iguanas elsewhere.
If those thrills aren't enough, there are crazy, tight fairways, blind elbow doglegs and dinky, area-rug-sized greens. Then, of course, the wind brings another improbable degree of difficulty and a host of questions.
Like why is there a strong wind at the tee box yet the flag on the green hangs limp? And on the next hole: why is the flag starched stiff in an apparent gale-force wind yet there is not one whisper of a wind at the tee? The answer to these questions is simple.
It's a Devil's wind that sends only slightly miss-hit golf balls into the rough -- or, on two holes, into the surf. Down there with all those balls are parrot fish, tarpon, and tiny neon fish the size of your finger that cut across the reef like a silvery glimmering curtain. After golf you can visit them while snorkeling, another must-do treat in this lovely corner of the Caribbean.
Or sample a Devil's Dose at a popular local bar.
The Fazio fellows must have had one too many of those when they planned three seemingly simple but pretty infuriating holes at Mahogany Run: No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15. Called the Devils Triangle, any golfer who gets through the trio without a penalty gets a souvenir from the clubhouse.
The secret, of course, is accuracy with the irons and an extra club on No. 14, because the wind can tumble unseen down the hill, across the green and down the cliff side.
On No. 15, hit a wedge for a second shot no matter what you think because the fairway drains into the lake and so will most second shots, as these fairways are hard and rolling.
Expect to lose a ball on these three holes so you won't be disappointed when it happens. Birdies are possible for the golfer who has confidence with the putter.
Play and plan for the wind, no matter where you are on the course. Maybe it will bring a wind-fallen mango your way.
St. Thomas offers plenty of variety for visitors looking to stay overnight or longer:
At the top of the scale is The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas (ritzcarlton.com/resorts/st_thomas/ 340-775-3333) where service and devoted attention complement newly renovated grounds and suites with stunning ocean views. Some $75 million has been pumped into the facility, and it shows.
Best Western's Emerald Beach Resort (caribbeanbeachresort.com at 800-233-4936) also offers luxurious beachfront rooms, as well as a beachside restaurant. Here the white sand shore is only footsteps away from the hotel. Emerald Beach is but a short cab ride from the airport, while other resorts are 20 bucks away. By the way, call John "Big Pants" Henderson at (340) 777-3229 or his cell at 771-7541, and keep his number handy as you stay on the island. He will, says one local waiter, drive you all over the world and back if you want.
In fact, for a 7 a.m. tee time, he was cheerfully waiting at the hotel at 6:30 a.m., and that's after his last fare ended the night before at 11:30 p.m. Big Pants is the cabbie of cabbies.
For food, there are plenty of options but a trip to the award-winning Agave Terrace is de rigueur. This is where that big hitter President Bill whetted his appetite while staying at a private house on nearby Magen's Bay -- that house has a private beach and rents for only $12,000 a week.
Maybe the President ate Togaroshi-charred tuna in a seaweed salad and wasabi cream or perhaps enjoyed a pan-seared catch-of-the-day with a pineapple salsa and finished in a lemon-champagne caper butter sauce.
In town, detour to Duffy's Love Shack. It's a loud bar and eatery under the cabana in the parking lot of a strip shopping center in Red Hook that offers souvenir glasses with every tropical drink ordered -- drinks with names like: Surf's Up Mai Tai, Booty Call, Funky Monkey and Devil's Dose. Get a pirate mug or parrot glass that can double as a vase back home.
American, Delta, U.S. Airways and Continental serve St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which lie off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico. The course is a zig-zag cab ride to the central northern coast. St. Thomas is a ferry boat ride from the British Virgin Islands, a group of 50 cays and islands that is wonderful for sailing excursions.
Bill Gates (yes that Bill Gates) teed off in the summer of 2002 in wrinkled shorts and un-tucked shirt. Staff thought he was just another tourist -- a rumpled one for sure -- and learned he was the Microsoft founder only after the hotel called to make certain he had arrived.
August 15, 2003
John Eckberg has been a life-long bogey golfer, whose addiction to the sport began with nine-iron pitches to and from neighbor Frank Haines's back yard and on the golf courses in and around Akron, Ohio. His fondest golf memories date to his teenaged-years when he and his brother would annually sneak into PGA events at Firestone Country Club, then spend the day eluding marshals as part of the army that trailed Arnold Palmer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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