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Cruise: Caribbean

A Swinger's Paradise

Golfaholic finds five rounds in seven days is better than par

September 08, 1996|JEFF WILLIAMS | Williams is a golf writer for Newsday

ABOARD THE MONARCH OF THE SEAS — Each year, a zillion tourists invade the Caribbean in an armada of cruise ships. They are in search of pristine beaches, sparkling jewelry and charming natives who will entertain them with song, dance and plenty of the local spirits.

Of that zillion, a handful are golfers. From port to port, they are in search of some little jewel of a course far from the wheeling and dealing of an island's jewelry district, far beyond the incessant rhythms of steel bands.

Golf in the Caribbean is escape. Golf while cruising is exotic and a little weird.

"What did you do today?"

"Went to the beach, snorkeled, touched an angel fish and bought a palm frond hat."

"What did you do today?"

"Went to Colombian Emeralds, bought a two-carat number with diamonds and got them down $300 on the price."

"What did you do today?"

"Played golf."

"What?"

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 22, 1996 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Caribbean golf--Due to an editing error, a photograph of a woman playing golf that appeared on the cover of the Sept. 8 Travel section was not credited. Mark Lewis of Tony Stone Images took the photo.

Yes, this spring I took a seven-day golf cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruises' 880-foot, 2,740-berth Monarch of the Seas. It sailed round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, with stops in Martinique, Barbados, Antigua, St. Martin and St. Thomas.

The ship was first class in all respects. The boat was impeccably maintained, the crew friendly, the food decent, the entertainment better than good and the golf program, called Golf Ahoy, far more adventurous, far more exhilarating, far more satisfying than I could have imagined.

One thing I couldn't get used to was playing on sea legs. As any sailor knows, the rhythm of the sea becomes the rhythm of your body. It's not conducive to good golf, but that wasn't the object. The object was to prove that you can cruise and play golf and make that an experience in itself.

Day One, at sea

I overslept the Golf Ahoy meeting. After lying in bed for an hour, maybe two, I wondered why so many people where digging into the ice machine near my room at 4 in the morning. I then cannily deduced that it might not be 4 in the morning. It was quarter to 10.

I hurried to an aft lounge and managed to catch the final five minutes of the meeting where a bored Brit, a member of the ship's shore excursion staff, was explaining how you couldn't get a refund on your golf tickets unless you canceled 24 hours in advance. The cruise line made all the arrangements for golf in each port including transportation, greens fees and cart. Cost varied between $64 and $101.

There were about 40 potential Golf Ahoylics at that first meeting, though far fewer would venture ashore to play. When the Brit said he was sending players off in fourballs, the mostly American and Canadian audience looked puzzled. "Fourball" in England means what we have come to call a foursome, or a grouping of four players. It pained the Brit to explain this.

After the meeting it was pool time, where I would begin the first-class suntan required of such an adventure. Later, I engaged in another part of the warmup process: shooting clay pigeons off the stern. Thought it might loosen up the old left shoulder. I didn't hit a single target the first go-round, an exhibition of expertise that blends oh-so-perfectly with my golf game. I hit two pigeons the second time, still an embarrassing total considering that a woman in front of me, who had never held a gun, hit three.

Late that night I practiced putting in my cabin. (I brought my own clubs.) The first putt would break left across the cabin carpet, the next right, the next was uphill, the next downhill, depending on how the frisky Caribbean was pitching and yawing and rolling the Monarch's massive hull.

Day Two, Martinique

Fort-de-France is a tattered town, made more graceless and grimy by a gray, misty sky. About 14 of the original 40 Golf Ahoylics assembled in front of the shore excursion desk at 7:30 a.m.

We marched to a lower deck to exit the ship and there stood John Lennon. John Lennon is actually Jim Riddle, who is John Lennon in the astonishing Beatlemania group Rain. Rain had given a sensational performance in the ship's Song of Music Theatre the night before. I just had to play with John Lennon.

I introduced myself; Riddle introduced me to the group's technician, Randy Kuehn; and we were an instant threesome.

It's a 45-minute ride to Golf de la Martinique, the first part through the busy streets of Fort-de-France. Mercifully, the second part is through some rather gorgeous countryside. I knew nothing of this course, laid out by Robert Trent Jones, one of the world's top course designers. It turned out to be one of the finest courses I've ever played, and though it lacks some in conditioning, it's perfectly playable for the average golfer while being perfectly challenging in the process.

The course slides up and down the hillside and around the bay. The green sites are marvelously natural. The 16th hole is a Trent Jones classic, a par five that sweeps around the bay. There isn't a weak hole on the course.

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