It’s not every weekend your private butler rings to wake you before delivering a coffee warmed or iced to your preference in order to ease you out of bed. And it’s not every weekend a friendly driver rings the bell at your private hacienda-style luxury hotel suite to whisk you off through verdant Audubon-sanctioned grounds to a beachside breakfast at a top-notch golf club. But when you’re staying at the St. Regis Bahia Beach in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, and you’ve redeemed a portion of your Starpoints—the loyalty points accrued by Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG, members (the St. Regis brand falls under the Starwood Hotels and Resorts umbrella)—for a one-of-a-kind SPG Moments golf weekend, then casual elegance and unfailing service are par for the course.
Recently, the St. Regis Bahia Beach was host to PGA Tour professional Trevor Immelman as part of the Starwood Preferred Guest Moments program. The unique experience was exclusive to SPG members and included a day of golf at one of Puerto Rico’s premier golf courses, Bahia Beach Golf Club, along with an intimate golf lesson with Immelman himself. Moments by SPG are designed to create a once-in-a-lifetime memory for Starwood Preferred Guests, with experiences ranging from exclusive concert tickets to dinners with celebrity chefs. SPG members participate by trading in their hard-earned Starpoints for an experience of their dreams.
This weekend began on a Friday with a welcome reception that included the famous St. Regis champagne sabering ceremony at sunset, followed by a casual dinner in the gardens of the resort for all participants. On Saturday, guests got to warm up at a private driving range and enjoyed a golf clinic hosted by Immelman, the 2008 PGA Masters Champion who has emerged not only as one of South Africa’s leading golfers but one of the world’s most elite professionals.
Immelman kicked off the pre-game clinic by taking some wedge shots and talking his way through his strokes and swings. Against an intensely blue sky and the roar of the Caribbean surf just feet from the fairway, Immelman described how that morning wasn’t unlike the morning of so many tournament games for him. “I usually get to the course an hour and a half before, start out by hitting some long putts before my round, get a feel for the speed of the green,” he explained, effortlessly hitting ball after ball to varied “oohs” and “ahhs” from the small group of SPG devotees before him. “I’ll also hit some chips and bunker shots for the same reason—to get a feel for the texture of the sand and to see if the ball is skipping when it’s landing on the green…just little things like that you pick up. And then I’ll come out to the range and start my warm-up—just try to loosen everything up—try to formulate my thoughts and feels for the day, and cycle through them.” He does this because each day is different, and something that worked, say, yesterday might not work today. “I have a few different feels that are comfortable for me with regards to my game,” he went on, “so at this point, I’m trying to get a feel for where things are and what I may need to adjust while I’m out there. The game is brutally difficult at every level, and you never get to a point where all the work is done. At every level, players are striving to improve and trying to figure out little parts of their game. I think part of the reason is because every time we play, we play a new golf course with new challenges and different elements—wind direction, grass, stuff like that—so that’s why I believe it’s the most challenging sport, and a sport you can play for a lifetime, because of that—because it’s hard to get bored.”
That morning, for one, was free of any sign of boredom. It’s hard not to be charmed by Immelman, a warm and easygoing guy who speaks in a soft-spoken South African accent. Still, beneath all that approachability stirs the young, focused player who was declared the 2006 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, ultimately finishing seventh on the official money list. In 2008, Immelman claimed his first major title at the Masters, making him the second South African in history to do so, behind Gary Player.
“It’s going to be a sort of open, all-day-long, any-questions-asked kind of day,” Immelman declared while chipping a shot, “so please, fire away, and I’ll be as honest and open as I can. We’re really going to have a great day.” With that, the SPG members were divided into foursomes before taking to the links for a round of golf at the stunning Robert Trent Jones, Jr.–designed course, which features two miles of beach, a native maritime forest, and views of El Yunque rainforest from nearly every hole. Immelman then divided his day by playing a few holes with each of the different foursomes, offering to either hit a few shots or give individual or group lessons. It was, as he had promised earlier in the morning-hour sun, both easy and fun (or as easy as the game can get when a pro drives your ball down the green then guides your putt calmly to the hole).
A post-play cocktail reception at the St. Regis brought the festivities to a close later in the evening. The weekend was capped at 20 SPG members, creating an environment where each guest could receive personalized attention from Immelman, who by this point knew guests by their names, was signing photographs from earlier in the day, and could be spotted exchanging social media handles and hashtags with some of the participants. At one point, he excused himself to get a drink at the bar. “I’ll be right back,” he said, which one guest took as a sign that Immelman was politely ducking away for the evening. In fact, he returned just a few minutes later, cocktail in hand, ready to pick up where they had left off. “Hopefully I’ve given you guys a little something to go home with from the standpoint of your game—or the game of golf itself—that maybe you can put to use in the future, and improve,” Immelman said. And though it was too soon to tell if anyone’s game had been bettered or not, one thing was clear: the weekend itself could not have been improved upon.