Tom Kite opens new 36-hole course in Puerto Rico
By BRUCE VITTNER
RIO GRANDE, PUERTO RICO — PGA TOUR professional Tom Kite was on hand for the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the Coco Beach Golf and Country Club that he co-designed with Bruce Besse, Jr. of Cape Cod. “This is truly going to be one of the premier golf spots in the Caribbean,” said Kite to the assembled VIP’s, and writers from Puerto Rico and the United States.
The property, 14 miles from San Juan and located right on the ocean in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, had been owned by the Diaz family for 45 years, but this project just began six years ago. “This is a dream come true after all these years,” said Don Arturo Diaz. “We are overwhelmed by the resort we have created and are so pleased with the 36-holes designed by Tom Kite and Bruce Besse, Jr.,” replied his son, Jorge Diaz.
We had the fortune of touring the course with Kite and Besse before the ribbon-cutting event, and then played a combination of the different nines later in the day. How much better to learn about the course from the two men who designed it.
“Bruce really did the nuts and bolts of the design for this property, and I just tweaked it a little,” commented the humble Kite. “Not true,” said Besse who relied on Kites professional experience and ideas to come up with the completed project. “I think when they asked me to put my name on the property, that I would have little input, but that’s not the way I operate,” smiled Kite who admitted that he made ten trips to the course as well as many meetings in Austin, Texas with Besse.
The course is unique. It actually is four courses, and they are appropriately named. There is the ocean nine, palms nine, lakes nine and mountain nine; and they are all quite different. The ocean nine has two holes close to the ocean. The palms nine is lined with palms and runs along the river that empties into the sea. The lakes course traverses many of the 28 ponds that were dug on the property to provide irrigation and drainage for the course. My favorite nine was the mountain. Some of the most spectacular holes I have played in the Caribbean are in this nine.
“We realized that the property really had four distinct types of topography,” commented Besse. It was decided to make four-nines instead of two 18-hole courses. “This gives the players a chance to play six different courses, and we hope that is what they do,” explained Kite and Besse about the mathematical progression. “They could stay all week and play a different 18 every day,” they said.
The architects explained that they tried to put hazards on only one side of each hole, and we could see this as we traversed the property. The greens are undulating but are large enough to have six pin placements. There are four sets of tees on each hole. Kite and Besse had numbered the holes 1-36 and they were having trouble converting holes to the numbers on the nines in our tour. “Number 23 is nice,” said Kite, then he remembered that it is really Palms, number 2.
Both architects really smiled when we headed to the mountain nine. Holes 2 and 8 are both par 3’s that drop about 65 feet to the green. “It was really a job getting these tees up here, but isn’t it worth it,” enthused Kite. The view of the Atlantic and the large mangrove forest is awesome. Besse explained that these holes needed to be par 3’s because of the potential to be farther off line and lost if drivers were in the players’ hands. Number 5 on the mountain course might be the most difficult on the island.