My Town: Chi Chi Rodriguez's Puerto Rico
The flashy member of golf's Hall-of-Fame takes you on a tour of his homeland
Chi Chi Rodriguez
Rodriguez joined the PGA Tour in 1960 and competed for 25 years, winning eight times and playing for the 1973 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He moved to the Champions Tour in 1986, where he won 22 times and became a fan favorite for his unique "swordsmanship" with his putter after making lengthy putts. Off the course his humanitarian work has raised millions of dollars for his youth foundation in Florida.
Chi Chi Rodriguez's story is one the latest generation of golf fans might not be familiar with but would be worth learning about. From humble beginnings (one of six kids whose father worked on a sugar-cane plantation), Rodriguez took to the game at a young age, first as a caddie then an aspiring player. Through hard work, he went on to an impressive career on the PGA Tour and a notable encore on the Champions Tour, earning a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The foundation of Rodriguez's success was his emotional ties to Puerto Rico, where he was born and still resides with his wife, Iwalani. "Everything on this island is beautiful," he says. "There are so many things to enjoy, so many things to see. The flowers, the birds, the people, everything."
Now 76, Rodriguez doesn't play as much, but remains partial to golf available on the island. "All the courses are different," he says. "They each have their own character. The variety is why it makes for such a great place to take a golf vacation."
Dorado Beach Resort & Club is a very impressive place. There are four courses. They just opened the East course after an 18-month restoration, and it's gorgeous. The new bunkers are amazing. They have a rolling look that makes them seem as though they are part of the distant ocean. And the redesign allows golfers of all skill levels to enjoy the course.
El Conquistador Resort is another breathtaking course. You can see the ocean from practically every hole. There's a lot of variety. You'll have downhill, uphill and sidehill lies. The undulations make the course a challenge.
The two courses at Rio Mar are also a lot of fun. They have beautiful views and amazing wildlife. You're likely to see a few iguanas during your round. I'm a bit partial to the Ocean Course, an original Tom and George Fazio course I helped redesign. The River Course is a Greg Norman layout that makes great use of the landscape.
The PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open is played at Trump International GC. The Championship course has great greens and a lot of character.
The food at all the resorts is first rate, and varied. For instance, at the Grand Melia, there is an Asian bistro, an Italian restaurant and a café that serves Latino food. Same at Rio Mar, where the restaurants also vary from casual to fancy. ... If you go off resort property, in Dorado Beach I like the Chop House, which is a teppanyaki grill and sushi bar.
WHERE TO STAY
Each of the courses I recommend has an accompanying resort that is really second to none. The Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa has all the amenities you could ask for. El Conquistador Resort has a water park for kids and a private island called Palomino that guests can reach by boat. Gran Melia Resort is affiliated with the Trump courses and is breathtaking too. And a new Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort is scheduled to open at Dorado Beach in December 2012.
The Isla Caja de Muertos, or Coffin Island, is just off the south coast near Ponce. It has fantastic scuba and snorkeling opportunities. ... El Yunque National Forest, near Rio Mar, is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. national forest system. It rains more than 300 days a year there. A little frog called the coqui lives there and is a big attraction. ... Rio Camuy Cave Park is in northwest Puerto Rico and is the largest cave system in the Western Hemisphere. ... A tour of Old San Juan, which is billed as the oldest city in the U.S., is well worth it. The cobblestone streets and 17th century buildings take you back in time. Be sure to visit the El Morro and the San Cristobal forts.