The ultimate golfer’s guide to Puerto Rico
With the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open on tap this week, here’s the skinny on where to play and stay in this tropical U.S. territory.
Every year on the PGA Tour, Puerto Rico plays second fiddle to a more prestigious competing event. In 2017, the Puerto Rico Classic is held opposite the WGC-Dell Match Play. Yet for scenery, friendliness and fun, Puerto Rico takes a backseat to no one. From the beaches to the jungles to the manicured golf turf to the rum-flavored beverages, Puerto Rico is a dynamic destination. Toss in the soothing, rhythmic “Ko-KEE, Ko-KEE” sounds of the Coqui, the tiny native tree frog and you have the makings of a truly one-of-a-kind getaway. With more than 20 courses scattered about the island, Puerto Rico has rightly earned the nickname, “the golf capital of the Caribbean.”
WHERE TO PLAY
Coco Beach Golf Resort & Residences, Rio Grande
Formerly a Trump-branded course, this 7,506-yard Tom Kite-designed tournament layout dishes out length, tropical breezes and a few eye-catching seaside vistas. Located on the island’s northern shore, 20 minutes east of San Juan, it’s not known for its individually memorable holes, but as a strong, handsome test of golf, it succeeds without question. Golf at Coco Beach is actually comprised of four individual nines, the Mountain, the Ocean, the Lakes and the Palms. For marketing purposes, however, they’ve been re-categorized as the Championship course (Lakes and Ocean), while the Mountain and Palms nine form the 6,869-yard International course, which plays much shorter, yet is nearly as challenging. The flat terrain doesn’t inspire course connoisseurs, but the tournament does shine a spotlight on youngsters like Tony Finau (winner in 2016) Sam Saunders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson—T2 in 2015) and Jordan Spieth (T2 in 2013). $160-$235
Royal Isabela, Isabela
Hewn from a cliff-top setting 75 miles west of San Juan, Royal Isabela exemplifies the finest in a secluded, almost boutique getaway. Its uncrowded, unforgettable 18-hole layout is the by-product of a collaboration between the Pasarell brothers of tennis fame and architect David Pfaff, a one-time Pete Dye associate. Without question, Pfaff incorporated Dye’s flair for the dramatic at every turn. No matter how low your handicap index is, you’ll likely need an extra sleeve (or two) to emerge with your dignity intact over the 7,667-yard, par 73 layout. Jungle-like rough and a fistful of holes that skirt the Atlantic Ocean, notably the 435-yard, par 4 12th and the 200-yard, par-3 17th may damage your scorecard, but it won’t wipe away your grin, so spectacular are the tropical backdrops. $175-$220
TPC Dorado Beach (East), Dorado
Branded as a TPC facility in the spring of 2015, this late 50s, Robert Trent Jones Sr. classic is renowned for its signature par-5 fourth, a Z-shaped 481-yard hole that sports two chances at over-the-lake glory, the very embodiment of RTJ’s “heroic” school of design. In 2012, Trent’s son Bobby tweaked his father’s iconic creation perfectly, lowering the fairway and slashing overgrown vegetation behind the green to open up long-lost vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, just 30 steps away. The West course at Dorado Beach, considered a tougher, if slightly less scenic test than its sibling, has been closed for more than five years. It’s undetermined when it will reopen. For history buffs, President Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed golf here and Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret captured the 1961 Canada Cup (now World Cup) here. $120-$282
TPC Dorado Beach (Sugarcane), Dorado
Another of the Dorado coastal courses 20 miles west of San Juan is a 1972 Robert Trent Jones Sr. creation once known as Cerromar. One of the two Plantation Club courses at Dorado (its sibling Pineapple layout is easier and less memorable, but still a pleasant vacation layout), the course was radically redesigned to incorporate multiple rivers and lakes. More drama, more splashed golf balls, but always interesting in the tropical breezes. $63-$170; doradobeach.com
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, Rio Grande
Home to two terrific, very different tracks, 20 miles east of San Juan, Rio Mar rolls out the 43-year-old George and Tom Fazio-designed Ocean course and the Greg Norman-designed River, which dates to 1997. The Fazios crafted the gentler of the two spreads, with the notable exception of the 238-yard, par-3 16th, which sits practically in the Atlantic. Norman’s layout is a hilly, jungle-laden adventure along the Mameyes River, with slender fairways and small greens. $144-$195
Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, Rio Grande
Redesigned in 2008 by Robert Trent Jones II, this sand-splashed, lake-studded 6,890-yard tropical tour de force hews closely to its natural environment in the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest. The 189-yard par-3 17th is a standout, edging the property’s two miles of private, iguana-friendly beachfront, where the Atlantic Ocean laps at its shore, partially hidden by stands of coconut palms that line the hole’s right side. $185
El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Las Croabas
This 1993 Arthur Hills design is a wild up-and-down affair amid 200 feet of elevation change, narrow, twisting fairways and reliably varied trade winds. Length isn’t the main challenge here—El conquistador is just 6,746 yards from the tips. Rather, it’s controlling your ball flight (and enjoying the views) from the many elevated tees, such as the 75-foot plunge at the 395-yard, par-4 opening hole that swings hard to the right as it affords handsome vistas of the 3,500-foot peaks of the El Yunque rain forest to the southwest and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. $135-$185
Embassy Suites Dorado Del Mar, Dorado
Favorite native son Chi Chi Rodriguez crafted this residential layout in 1998, not far from his home in Dorado Beach. Its fun factor is a reflection of the man himself. Perhaps the best value course in Puerto Rico, Dorado Del Mar features narrow fairways, multiple water hazards and a true signature hole, the 510-yard, par-5 10th, which climbs 50 feet. Your reward is a postcard view of the Atlantic Ocean and the entire resort. $75-$125
Palmas Athletic Club at Palmas Del Mar, Humacao
There are two solid courses here at Palmas Del Mar the Flamboyan, a 1998 Rees Jones design and the Palm course, a 1974 Gary Player creation. At 7,117 yards, the Jones course is longer and stronger. Named for the striking red- or gold-blooming tree that dot the landscape, the Flamboyan is a rugged romp through nature, with a 20-acre lake and the Candelero River providing both beauty and menace. The par-3 12th is especially compelling, with its elevated green and the island of Vieques in the distance. Jones created three new holes and reworked a number of others on the Palm, which has a more “resort-y” feel, but remains a solid challenge in the wind, thanks to inland lagoons influencing play. Lee Trevino dueled with Chi Chi Rodriguez on the Palm in a 1995 Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match. $105-$160
WHERE TO STAY
Royal Isabela, Isabela (rooms from $450)
For those thinking about making the journey to northwest Puerto Rico, rest assured that the lodging and service components match up to the spectacular golf. Twenty huge, one-bedroom casitas, superb dining at the Hacienda-style La Casa, private beach access along the Atlantic and unspoiled hiking and biking trails further define Royal Isabela.
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, Rio Grande (rooms from $219)
A half-hour drive east from San Juan on Route 3 brings you to this acclaimed Wyndham, with its 500 acres on the Atlantic, five restaurants, a half-dozen lounges and bars and next-door access to the El Yunque National Rainforest. Toss in a casino and a sybaritic spa and it’s all you need in for maximum stress-relief.
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado (rooms from $999)
This stunning, four-year-old boutique hotel is a AAA Five-Diamond winner and the Caribbean’s only Forbes five-star hotel and spa winner. It’s easy to see why. Exceptional service, blissful tranquility and incredible Atlantic Ocean scenery set the stage. The spa is one of North America’s finest, the TPC Dorado golf features seaside holes and caddies and the Mi Casa restaurant by chef Jose Andres might offer the greatest combination of inspired cuisine (Spanish-American) and setting (practically in the sand) in the business.
Caribe Hilton, San Juan (rooms from $141)
For a taste of classic, heart-of-San Juan excitement, the birthplace of the Pina Colada is the spot. From the airy, open lobby, to beachside pools to the palpable sense of history (Hilton’s first hotel outside the continental U.S. dates to 1949), this is an ideal, centrally located, large hotel (652 rooms) from which to discover the myriad charms of San Juan.
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Rio Grande (rooms from $639)
The first Five-Diamond resort in Puerto Rico blends the relaxed tropical setting of a coconut plantation, national rainforest and Caribbean Sea with refined touches such as round-the-clock butler service, Jean-Georges dining and the full-service Remede Spa.
El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Las Croabas (rooms from $156)
Among the attractions at this upscale, family-friendly retreat are the 24-acre Coqui Water Park, Waldorf Astoria service, a soothing spa, and ocean and jungle setting. Unique to El Conquistador is their Palomino Island, where snorkeling, water sports and horseback riding are highlights.