Facebook and Twitter Quiz: #3 is not needed. Read on to find out why…
To begin, imagine you have the luck of the gods and you inexplicably find yourself living on a Caribbean Island. You wake up each morning surrounded by brilliant blue water, sublime island breezes and tropical song birds. But you notice that there’s no golf course or driving range. And that’s really okay, you are in paradise. There’s also plenty to do: snorkeling, diving, sailing, watching sunsets, mixing drinks… But then you miss being challenged in a way that only golf can provide. What do you do? Naturally, you reinvent the game of golf. And that is exactly how golf was pioneered on this Caribbean Island of Bonaire.
Golf on Bonaire began twenty years ago along the wide open, less inhabited east coast. On the east coat, the ocean strikes fiercely and the wind blows just sub-gale force all day on any given day. The landscape is harsh. Former coral beds, ancient cliffs and cactus forests dominate the landscape. Imagine the east coast of Bonaire as the Caribbean version of the wilds of Scotland where golf purportedly had its start. Although the Netherlands have a very strong claim, as well, to the beginnings of this game. Making perfect poetic sense that here we are on the Dutch island of Bonaire, again creating the game of golf to suit the natural, untamed local environment.
Our 21st century golf pioneer of Bonaire is Artie de Vries. Artie occasionally played golf on the neighboring island of Curacao but became frustrated continually returning to the game un-practiced and unprepared. Back home on Bonaire he began searching for places to hit a golf ball. He noticed that the flamingo-inhabited lake next to the airport gave way to a sandy driving range-esque field after each rainy season. That could possibly serve his purposes. However, as an instructor at a vocational school on Bonaire, he was searching for solitude from students and parents.
To avoid the crowds he drove far away (twenty minutes) to the less tropical, less-inhabited east side of the island. Artie began hitting balls on top of the old coral beds with the ocean breaking high against the rocks just yards to the west. Hit the balls. Collect the balls. Repeat. Losing a good percentage to the coral each time, he queried about a sandier solution.
In cooperation with Win Emerenciana, Artie’s practice range was moved just slightly south. A lot more cactus, a sandier surface and still the waves beating just yards away. Driving home from his isolated driving range, his golf clubs peaked interest of other island-stranded golfers. A few more golf addicts braved the heat, the wind and the eastern wilds of Bonaire to hit balls at this makeshift, environmental driving range. After the driving range, the players wanted the challenge of a target. Old tires were laid out through a cactus maze. Then as these things always happen, one thing led to another and 10 years after Artie began hitting balls atop the coral beds, an 18-hole course was created. Not a single cactus was moved. The wildlife, iguanas, goats and the endangered African Nubian Ass, always maintains privileges over golfers. Water is not wasted on grass-filled fairways. Tee Boxes are built from mounds of coral. At the end of each fairway you will find “Browns” instead of “Greens” because “To respect and maintain the existing environment” is one of the main principals at the Piedra So Golf Club. This course is created completely and respectfully from the local, natural environment.
My first 9 Holes at Piedra So.
When I arrived on Bonaire, I asked our hosts at Treasure by the Sea, Su and Chris, about the local “ecological golf course”. Chris said he knew it well and helped me get in touch with the course managers. Following meticulous, and somewhat complex, directions from Su, I wound my way from paved road, to dirt road, to a packed coral road. All leading me to a 3-foot chain link gate. On the gate hangs a weather-beaten driftwood sign, complete with yellow welcome finches, that reads, “For Tee Time Reservations, Call 717.8684”
It was Beb who met me at 8:30am on a Sunday to open the gate and to gather the rental clubs out of the canister that is used to store the club’s supplies. We started on the driving range. We each hit only about 20 balls. Only 20, because, just like Artie, after you hit the balls, you must retrieve them. Luckily the donkeys (the endangered Asses) were at about the 250-yard mark. With the wind blowing 25 mph head-on off the Caribbean Sea, there was no concern of my ball landing anywhere near the donkeys. Which is good, because like I said, wildlife has the right of way at Piedra So and is not to be disturbed.
After we gathered our balls from the driving range, Beb decided that we would play the back 9. The back 9 is less windy and I think she was concerned about taking the uninitiated, me, directly into the strong Bonaire winds on my first day at Piedra So. After all, there was already so much more for the uninitiated to learn. Beb led me to the tee box for the 10th hole. The mound of coral marked with the red rock is the ladies’ tee box. Atop the mound lies a grass mat. I pressed my tee into the mat and I was ready to send my first drive down a very picturesque desert fairway. Manicuring of any fairway vegetation is performed by goats, sheep and donkeys. The iguanas serve as Golf Marshal and Rock Kickers. Rock Kickers because I am fairly convinced they have taken it upon themselves to roll rocks out into the middle of the fairway. And then laugh into their scales when any given drive that could land softly in the sand is almost as likely to hit a fairway rock and go flying 20 yards in any unpredictable direction, including into some very forbidding thorny brush.
On my first drive, I aimed 40 yards left to compensate for the wind and the ball landed on the right side of the fairway. I was feeling pretty good. Next we prepared for our first shot from the fairway. Beb smirks and says that every shot gets a tee because the ground is just too hard to hit off. But the ground is mostly coral and is also too hard to press a tee into. So what is the tee? Donkey poo. Yep. Preferably very dry. You just flatten it with your foot and you place your ball on top. I got so used to hunting for and picking up dried donkey poo every time I hit a ball, in preparation for the next shot, that at one point I found myself sharing a personal matter with Beb, all while gesticulating with donkey poo in my hand. But I don’t think Beb noticed, or would have even cared. At that moment she was busy watching a baby goat. “Let’s go this way. The mother has moved away from us and away from the baby. We will go around.”
Piedra So is a distinctive course. It makes me think of what golf must have been like at the beginning of the sport: Innovative, unpretentious, played in the uninhabited wilds, and accessible to anyone with a stick, a ball, a sense of adventure and an independent spirit that is not guided by rules and peer pressure.
I’m looking forward to going back to Piedra So. And I’m looking forward to meeting more club members who have the pioneering and independent spirit to take a sophisticated sport like golf and remind us that golf is a sport for everyone and can be done anywhere. Even on the ancient coral beds of Dushi Bonaire (Sweet Bonaire).
P.S. The Pilates Golf Athlete is now Live on Apple’s iBookstore