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Golf Options Abound On Panama Canal Cruise
By Kelly Hill

A well-dressed older man, complete with wide-brimmed straw hat, waited patiently at the elevator door, resting only slightly on the golf bag that stood in front of him. The scene, so common at resorts throughout the Caribbean, drew no particular interest initially. Upon closer examination, however, I realized that this golfer was without one of his arms. I silently commended this gentleman for his obvious passion for a game that is difficult enough to play with two, healthy arms.

As the elevator doors opened, we were greeted casually, the doors closed and we headed downward. The ground floor was not our destination, because there was no ground floor. Our resort was the Sun Princess, a Princess Cruises ship and the common destination of everyone aboard that elevator was the gangway. The Sun Princess had docked at the island of Barbados in the West Indies and we wanted to get ashore.

The golfer I initially had scarcely noticed upstairs, was headed for a round of golf at the Barbados Golf Club, a newly renovated course that was the island's first championship course that is open to the public. While the picturesque course was inviting, I was headed for a game that I had never played and had never even seen played. I was headed for Kensington Oval and a cricket match between the West Indies team and the visiting South African club.

While I opted not to golf in that port of call, the opportunity to play presents itself on virtually every cruise in the Caribbean, even those cruises that begin in the Pacific Ocean and end in the Atlantic Ocean. The Panama Canal is obviously the main attraction for those who take a cruise aboard the Sun Princess between October and April, but when the ship is in port, the clubs come out.

Costa Rica, not exactly a golfing hotbed although perhaps one of the most beautiful countries in this hemisphere, is the point of embarkation for eastbound cruises. Passengers traditionally fly into the capital city of San Jose, then take a bus to shore of the Pacific at Puerto Caldera. Approximately one hour south of the ship's first port of call, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, lies Los Suenos Championship Golf Course, located at a Marriott hotel property at Playa Herradura.

While Los Suenos was not offered through Princess Cruises as one of its shore excursions at Puntarenas, the ship's tour desk was more than eager to arrange transportation to and from the course, as well as whatever else might be needed, such as rental clubs or shoes. Designed by Ted Robinson, Los Suenos is an ecologically sensitive golf course that plays into Costa Rica's spectacular rain forests and back to Herradura Bay. The 6,696-yard, par-72 course is challenging, but the vistas, tropical flowers and wildlife reward even the most challenged golfers.

Sports Ashore is a program developed by Princess Cruises to offer it passengers active alternatives while their ship is in port. While most of the sports-related shore excursions involve water sports--for the most obvious of reasons--anyone who wants to play golf or tennis will find several opportunities. On the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, several golf excursions are offered which can be booked months prior to your cruise. While most passengers book island or city tours from the cruise line's extensive list of excursions, some book rounds of golf. The excursion fees, which normally top $100 but which also vary according to the season, include transfers between the ship and the golf course, greens fees and use of a golf car. Rental equipment is an additional fee.

Following embarkation and one port of call in Costa Rica, the Sun Princess then spends an entire day at sea as it travels to the Panama Canal. Another full day is spent passing through one of the greatest engineering wonders of the world. The next port of call is Cartagena, Colombia, which is one of only two ports on this itinerary that does not offer visitors a chance to golf.

Aruba, one of the southern Caribbean's most popular islands, is the Sun Princess‚ next port of call and the home of Tierra del Sol Aruba, a Robert Trent Jones course that is available to play through the ship's shore excursion directory. Located on the western point of Aruba, Tierra del Sol combines sensational vistas with the island's desert terrain to produce a par-71 desert links course with large, subtly contoured greens. Consistent trade winds, however, add another challenge when playing this course. Lunch is available at the course, but also is not included in the excursion cost.

When booking a round of golf as a cruise ship passenger, it is best to book directly through the cruise line's shore excursion desk. Golfers who book in such a manner will receive transportation between the ship and the course, greens fees and a golf car are included in the cost and, perhaps most importantly, the ship will not sail before all of those passengers who book shore excursions are comfortably aboard.

After another full day at sea, the Sun Princess calls at Barbados. Barbados Golf and Country Club course originally was designed by Colonel J. Harris in 1974, but then sat quietly for more than 20 years. In August of last year, course architect Ron Kirby completed work on a complete renovation of what is now known as Barbados Golf Club. The 6,805-yard, par-72 course features mature trees planted when the course first opened 26 years ago. Two lakes on the course create what has come to be known as "Amen Corner," on holes 15 and 16. A series of coral waste bunkers also gives the course personality.

Barbados Golf Club also features Jeremiah's, a restaurant serving fine dining in a casual environment. Because the course is located on an island in the eastern Caribbean, the pro shop is also a duty free shop.

Dominica, a largely undeveloped island known for some of the best whale watching opportunities in the Caribbean, is the second of the Sun Princess‚ ports that does not offer golf. A mountainous, secluded island with one small, under-developed city, construction of a golf course on Dominica would be extremely difficult.

St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the Sun Princess‚ final port of call on her eastbound Panama Canal cruises. For a shore excursion fee of $129, which drops to $118 from October through December, passengers can play golf at Mahogany Run, a Tom Fazio course that recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration. The relatively short course, a par-70, plays just 6,022 yards, but also features some of the most frequently photographed landscape in the Caribbean.

As the Sun Princess sailed from Barbados on a warm, calm April evening and I headed for dinner, I encountered that older gentleman who had been heading out to play golf earlier that day. He had a wide smile on his face and an extra spring in his step. He must have hit them well.

Sept./Oct. 2001 Issue Table of Content
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