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Caribbean the answer for nervous golf travelers

Jason StahlBy Jason Stahl,

OK, it's been a long winter and you can't wait to take your sticks and head to some place other than Hilton Head (been there) or Myrtle Beach (done that) for a little links action. In fact, you want to become an international man and go somewhere beyond the borders of the good ol' U.S.of A.

But wait. Scratch that. An eighth trip to Orlando looks pretty good right about now. There's a mysterious respiratory illness spreading in Asia. Terrorists seem to be lurking everywhere. And you're an American, which means you might as well put a bullseye on you as soon as you hit foreign turf, right?

Relax. Take it easy, mon. International travel may not be as risky as it seems, especially if you're heading to the Caribbean Islands.

Marcella Martinez, owner of the public relations agency Marcella Martinez Associates, Inc., represents the Tryall Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She offers three good reasons why travelers should have no fear of venturing to this jewel of an island for a top-notch golf vacation.

"First, we are the nearest country to the U.S.," Martinez says, "only one and a half hours from Miami. Second, there are non-stop airline connections from all over Jamaica, both scheduled and chartered. That means people don't have to hang around airports as long. Third, you can be in constant touch with home because all the villas (at Tryall) have phones and satellite television. And there are also computers at the main clubhouse for e-mail." Let's say you're one of those super jittery types, a compulsive worrier. You're still not convinced that Jamaica is as safe as a baby's crib, especially for an American whose country (in some people's minds) wrongfully invaded Iraq. Well, it's time to take a seat back in History 101.

"Jamaica isn't involved at all in the dispute," Martinez says. "Because of its standing in the United Nations, it hasn't had to take a position." Meaning, of course, that there's no reason for those who hate the U.S. and anybody else on its side to target Jamaica for attacks.

If you still don't buy into this logic, Martinez recommends that you check with the State Department to see if it has issued any recent advisories. But how's this to help you get over your paranoia quickly: rates will be going down 35 percent after April 15 (the off-season). And, with sensitivity toward those wary of travel in these tumultuous times, the Tryall Club has this offer: if you make a booking and either pre-pay or plunk down a deposit, you can delay your trip for up to a year without losing your money.

Resorts aren't the only ones being more sensitive to nervous travelers. U.S.Airways, which offers direct flights to Jamaica and a number of other destinations in the Caribbean, has instituted a "Peace of Mind Travel Flexible Policy." The policy allows travelers who purchase international tickets on or before April 19 for travel through June 17 to make changes to their itinerary without incurring a standard change fee. Travel can then be rescheduled for on or before December 15.

If you're still not comfortable with teeing it up on foreign ground, try the U.S. Virgin Islands. That's right - the U.S. Virgin Islands. You cross the border but you're still on American soil spending American currency. The Buccaneer Resort with its scenic golf course is a good bet.

"We're a self-contained resort on an island with excellent infrastructure," says Vicki Locke, Buccaneer's Director of Sales. "And you don't have to go through Customs on your way in."

Puerto Rico is almost like being in your own backyard, too, as it is a commonwealth of the U.S. That means that it is a political unit that governs itself but is voluntarily united with the United States. English is spoken everywhere there, and, like the Virgin Islands, there's no currency exchange or immigration process. Kathy Casper, Regional Director of Public Relations for Wyndham International, Inc., adds that there are more flights coming into Puerto Rico from the United States than any other island in the Caribbean.

Wyndham's El Conquistador Resort with Arthur Hills-designed course is one of over 20 tracks in Puerto Rico. As a result of Attorney General John Ashcroft 's initial heightened security alert announcement, Wyndham required that all of the property managers at its hotels beef up security so as to heighten security awareness and make the hotels less attractive targets to potential threats.

Despite what's been going on in the world, most resorts in the Caribbean report lucrative winter seasons with full bookings and minimal cancellations.

"I think the bad weather helped, and the fact that the war only broke out a few weeks ago," Marcella Martinez says. "Plus, there are lots of flights, good prices and communication. People aren't quite as nervous. Maybe it's because we're not located that far away."


International travel tips

Regardless of where in the Caribbean you plan to hit the links, there are a few bits of advice you should heed prior to embarking on your adventure. These safety tips have been created by the U.S. Department of State and can be viewed in their entirety in their brochure, Department of State Publication 10942, Bureau of Consular Affairs, March 2002. Also, check out www.state.gov.

What to bring on your trip - A lot of this is common sense. Avoid appearing affluent by wearing flashy jewelry. Bring travelers checks and credit cards instead of cash. Put ID badges on your luggage.

What to leave behind - One general rule: Don't bring anything you'd hate to lose.

Learn before you go - Check out the Department of State's consular information sheets, which are available for every country of the world. They describe entry requirements, currency regulations, unusual health conditions, the crime and security situation, political disturbances, areas of instability, and special information about driving and road conditions.

Things to arrange before you travel abroad - Your itinerary, legal documents, credit and insurance. Leave a current will, insurance documents, and power of attorney with your family. Make a note of the credit limit on each credit card you bring. And find out if your personal property insurance covers you for loss or theft abroad.

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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