It scarcely seems possible that twenty years have passed since Aruba jumped into the ears and minds of Americans courtesy of the Beach Boys' monster #1 hit, "Kokomo." Indeed, "Aruba" was the very first word of the song and ever since, it has conjured up pleasant, dreamy images of surf, sun and, let's be honest, pure fun.
That's why enlisting comedian and political observer Lewis Black, "the grumpiest man in America," as spokesman for the island seemed like such a hoot. It calls to mind that old TV ad where they feed Life cereal to "Mikey," the little tyke that hates everything, and watching the older lads shout in amazement, "He likes it! He likes it!" Bottom line: If Lewis Black can find inner piece on Aruba, so can you.
Situated in the southern Caribbean, roughly 15 miles from Venezuela, Aruba is renowned for its breeze-fueled, year-round 80-degree weather, its gorgeous beaches and its active nightlife that features shops, restaurants and nearly a dozen casinos offering slots and table games. Caribbean stud poker was invented here, so we're talking big league entertainment.
Major full-service hotels dot the beachfront, each providing amenity packages that embrace all of the excitement of being on a Caribbean island. Snorkeling, cruising the sea on a catamaran or simply whiling away the hours on the meringue-white beaches are prime enticements. Curiously, Aruba isn't drenched with golf, as is the case with some neighboring islands. The good news is, what's here is wonderful and diverse. Even better, it's affordable, and accessible.
All talk of Aruba golf starts with Tierra del Sol Resort, Spa and Country Club (866-978-5158, www.tierradelsol.com; $92-$159). This Robert Trent Jones II-designed stunner brought championship golf to Aruba and 14 years after its debut on the northwest tip of the island, it remains one of the most eye-catching, honored jewels in Caribbean golf. Trent Jones' biggest challenge was finding water in this arid, sandy paradise and once he did, Tierra del Sol was off and running. Performing much of the design labor for the Jones organization was then-associate Kyle Phillips, whose prowess in crafting modern masterpieces in windy locales was realized via his 1999 achievement with Scotland's Kingbarns in St. Andrews. Here, Phillips and the Jones team basked in much more sunshine, resulting in an end product that even got Lewis Black to smile.
Encompassing four distinct natural environments dunes, cacti, stone and beach Tierra del Sol flows seamlessly between each. After reversing the nines a few years back, the 6,811-yard, par-71 layout now saves more of the drama for the back nine, though both both par 3s on the front, No. 3 and No. 7, would be all-stars anywhere. Both holes offer views of a white lighthouse that sits atop a high mesa. The effect is a Turnberry-like feel to the proceedings.
As we're swept along in the breezes, we reach the middle of the back nine and it's here the course bares its teeth, starting with the gallery of iguanas and goats. The par-5 14th hole is indicative of how a sturdy slope of 132 and a formidable rating of 74.2 are realized. Not long by today's standards at 534 yards, the No. 1-handicap 14th boomerangs to the left, skirting mud flats, strategically placed bunkers and a narrow arroyo. The hole lets you bite off as much as you can chew with a chance for birdie but if you don't succeed, well, at least a stirring ocean view awaits. For multiple plays, the best values are during April, when a 3-day golf package is $350 and a 5-day goes for $560.
If you're looking for a less formidable test, but one that's loaded with charm, a good bet is the Links at Divi Aruba (800-554-2008, www.diviaruba.com; $65-$105). The nine-hole, par-36 track is on the short side at 2,952 yards from the tips, but it's long on enjoyment, thanks to six holes that play over water or along lagoons, plus a terrific practice and teaching facility and ocean views throughout. Created by Florida's Litten/Viola firm, whose principals helped design courses by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Gary Player, Divi is a divine little nine that serves up one perfect lie after the next on player-friendly paspalum grass. Nine holes in prime time, through April 30, will run $75, but an extra nine is only $30 and includes the cart. Don't miss Mulligan's Cafe, or Windows on Aruba upstairs both with food and ambiance as great as the ocean views. A five-round package of 9-hole rounds costs $338.
Finally, for golf adventurers with a taste for history, head to the southeast end of the island for Aruba Golf Club (www.golfclubaruba.com, $20-$30) the nation's oldest course, that dates to 1941. After funding ran out in the 1980s, it reverted to a true grassless desert course with artificial tees and greens. Yet, 20 traps and a handful of water hazards spice the play and the spirit is infectious. For $50, the "Tourist Package" includes 18 holes with a cart, an Aruba Golf Club polo shirt and a beer. That's one sweet deal.
For a low-key, magical golf vacation in perfect weather, Aruba is impossible to beat. Of course, now I'm concerned about Lewis Black. Being a professional grump, he was very funny. If his disposition improves immensely based on his visits to Aruba, he might have to find a new line of work.
To improve your own disposition, contact the Aruba Tourism Authority at 800-TO-ARUBA or visit www.aruba.com.