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|The 16th green on the Westin Rio Mar's Ocean Course caps one of Puerto Rico's most popular holes. (Jason Deegan/TravelGolf)|
Sometimes just the first glimpse of a hotel lobby warns you to beat a hasty retreat.
The lobby at the Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort and Spa in Puerto Rico has the opposite effect. It makes you want to move in and stay awhile.
Beyond the all-glass back window, palm trees meld with miles of sandy beachfront. The blue Atlantic shakes hands with the shore and drifts away. If it were a postcard, it'd definitely make the folks back home jealous.
If you take only one Puerto Rico golf trip in your life, this is the place to stay. Links magazine readers recently ranked the Westin Rio Mar No. 4 among Caribbean golf resorts. Its Ocean and River golf courses trade off the top spot for Puerto Rico in Golf Digest's Planet Golf ratings.
Less than hour from San Juan and right across the street from El Yunque, the United States' only tropical rainforest, the Westin Rio Mar boasts an unbeatable location to go with its 11 restaurants, casino, Mandara Spa, two pools, 11 tennis courts and new state-of-the-art fitness room.
The 600 guest rooms and 72 suites feature Westin's signature Heavenly Beds, and the 48,000-square-foot Oceanfront Conference Center boasts the Caribbean's largest ballroom at nearly 21,000 square feet.
A recent $10 million renovation to celebrate the resort's 10th anniversary touched up every detail -- even the shuttle buses that run guests to and from the airport.
The first Puerto Rican resort to outfit its carts with GPS, the Rio Mar hosted the 2004 World Amateur team championship and annually attracts a top collegiate field for the Puerto Rico Classic.
The 6,782-yard Ocean Course at Rio Mar, designed by George and Tom Fazio, looks simple enough, but its plateau greens will confound your short game.
"The greens are difficult to read," Director of Golf Robert Moreno said. "People think they can take it deep [under par] and the scores don't reflect that."
Course name notwithstanding, the Atlantic doesn't come into view until No. 16, a beach-hugging par 3 that is one of the island's best-known holes. Unfortunately, the high-rise condo construction going on next-door at this writing detracts somewhat from the waterside setting.
The 6,902-yard River Course at Rio Mar has more twists and turns than a murder mystery. Mangrove swamps and the Mameyes River play major roles in Greg Norman's layout.
The river demands a heroic carry off the tee of the 392-yard 17th and guards the entire left side of the 448-yard 18th, with bunkers on the right catching any timid swings. It's a "good gambling golf course," according to Moreno.
"There are good finishing holes when there's money on the line," he said. "The bets can change in a hurry."
Some critics complain about the resort's pricey restaurants, but you get what you pay for - good meals in romantic settings. If you're sufficiently well-heeled (or on the corporate dime) there's a restaurant for every taste at the Rio Mar.
AAA Four Diamond award-winner Palio offers Italian specialties in the main hotel. Fresh seafood and the sound of the ocean draws guests to the new Aqua Luna, part of the $10 million upgrade. Asian bistro Shimas periodically opens a sushi bar, while steaks predominate at the golf clubhouse's Grille Room.
The resort's dining mainstay is Marbella's, where there's a huge breakfast buffet every morning and family-friendly fare for lunch and dinner.
Between golf and gourmet, the Bali-inspired Mandara Spa offers 7,000 square feet of serenity, with 11 treatment rooms, steam rooms and a full-service hair and nail salon.
The menu of more than two dozen exotic therapies includes facials, massages, rituals and wraps based on traditional and contemporary healing techniques that capitalize on products indigenous to Puerto Rico. The couple's scrub and massage is a candle-lit escape for two that ends with the partners holding hands as a bell rings them back to reality.
April 5, 2007
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Click here to read his golf blog.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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