BAHIA BEACH RESORT & GOLF CLUB
Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
St. Regis room rates in February from $739
The best indication of how serious Bahia BeachPuerto Rico's newest golf resortis about honoring its setting in the lush foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest may be the 17th hole on its Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course. On the 222-yard par-3, which skirts the property's two miles of private, iguana-friendly beachfront, you can hear the Atlantic Ocean lapping against the shore, but you catch only glimpses of it. That's because of the stand of coconut palms that line the right side of the hole. Bahia's developers chose to leave the trees in place, even though upending them would have revealed unspoiled ocean views.
It's eco-minded decisions like that one that have helped Bahia become a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary, a distinction awarded to just 21 other courses worldwide. Which isn't to say that Bahia is a minimalist, grass-hutted outpost. On the contrary, the resort rivals some of the most sumptuous experiences in the Caribbean, with the brand new 139-room St. Regis hotel (787-809-8000, stregisbahiabeach.com) and 25 separate fully-loaded residences (both offer personal butler service); a Jean-Georges restaurant and full-service spa; and a 7,014-yard course with enough teeth to host Monday qualifying for the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open; it's no surprise that boxing legend Oscar de la Hoya and New York Mets star Carlos Beltran bought homes here.
Though the Bahia layout may not offer the variety or drama of some of Jones's other island designslike Princeville in Hawaii or Royal Westmoreland in Barbadosits smattering of salt-water lagoons and the three closing holes strung along the coast provide plenty of memorable moments. Another boon: Bahia's accessibility. The resort is just 16 miles from the San Juan airport.