By Gary Trask
As the words come out of Oliver Riding’s mouth, you can’t help but be skeptical.
He’s played more than 100 golf courses in 18 countries, and there’s no doubt he’s well traveled and knowledgeable about the game. But since Riding has called Tierra del Sol Golf Course home for most of his career, his opinion of Aruba’s lone 18-hole championship layout isn’t without prejudice.
“I’ve traveled the world and have been fortunate enough to see some very cool golf courses,” said Riding, 45, director of golf operations since 2015 who also served as head professional from 2003-2010. “But, design-wise, it doesn’t get much better than Tierra de Sol. You can play it multiple times and you’ll never get bored. You get out there and you really feel disconnected from the world.”
As you begin your journey around the 6,400-yard layout on Aruba’s captivating, northwest region, Riding’s words start to make sense. As your round gains momentum and hugs the coastline — all but three holes have ocean views — you encounter goats, owls, ducks, exotic birds and palm trees. And in case you weren’t convinced of Riding’s assessment by the time you get to the 16th tee, try gazing down the 360-yard, par-4 fairway and seeing rugged desert, cacti, rock formations and dunes with the Caribbean Sea and California Lighthouse in the backdrop and not nod your head in agreement.
In short, this is Tierra del Sol. Arizona. Scotland. The Caribbean. All meshed into one.
“It’s easy to build a beautiful course but make it unplayable for the bogey golfer,” Riding said. “That’s not the case here. It’s gorgeous, but fair and playable.”
No portrayal of Tierra del Sol — Spanish for “land of sun” — would be complete without mention of the wind. A creation of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Kyle Phillips, Tierra de Sol demands a keen awareness to the steady breeze, so the designers were cognizant of the prevailing winds on each hole. That’s not a typo on your scorecard: There’s good reason the par-4, second hole is what seems to be an unjust 453 yards while the par-4, 284-yard fifth appears on paper to be an easy birdie opportunity.
“If you had to play 18 holes of golf with a crosswind, you’d go loopy pretty quickly,” Riding said. “The wind here is going to be a factor, but it’s consistent; always at your back, or in your face. You just have to adjust accordingly.”
The course, which opened in 1995 and hosted the PGA Tour Canada-sanctioned Aruba Cup for the first time last year, is an amenity of Tierra del Sol Resort & Golf, which offers condos, villas and estate vacation homes as well as a spa, salon, pool, tennis courts, beach access and restaurants. Green fees range from $109 to $169 depending on time of day and season, and Nike club rentals are available.
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