No island golf destination has faced more adversity in recent years than Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricane Maria in 2017, closing one course (the Pineapple at Dorado Beach) and causing heavy damage at another major golf resort (El Conquistador, which was a Waldorf Astoria Resort at the time). A 5.8-magnitude earthquake in January brought more heartache to the southwest side of the island.
Golf has always done its part to help the island rebound. This week, the PGA Tour returns for the Puerto Rico Open at what used to be Coco Beach Golf Resort. Since 2008, the tournament has raised more than $1 million dollars for local charities.
Tourism is a huge part of Puerto Rico. Traveling golfers can pump up the local economy by teeing it up on any of the island's 18 courses, all open to the public. In this version of The List, I'm sharing my favorite choices. All of them are attached to resorts, so they're perfect for a stay-and-play Puerto Rico golf package.
The Links at Royal Isabela
Cliffs that drop 200 feet to the ocean provide a spectacular setting for golf roughly an hour and a half west of San Juan. Check out the photos here. A wild array of nuances make the Links at Royal Isabela feel more like an adventure than just another round.
Conventional rules of golf architecture don't always apply. The course was built with an amazing number of 132 total tees, blind shots galore, a tiny island-green par 3, deep pot bunkers and even two extra holes. There are two holes at no. 6 because brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, who are developing this environmentally conscious residential and resort community, couldn't decide between building a par 4 or par 5, so they kept both. It's a fun four hours of linksy golf.FROM $439 (USD)PUERTO RICO | Enjoy 3 nights' accommodations at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort and 2 rounds of golf at Rio Mar Country Club - Ocean & River Courses.
East course at TPC Dorado Beach
A 2011 renovation of the famed East course at TPC Dorado Beach introduced me to a local golf legend: The putter-wielding Chi Chi Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a long history with Dorado Beach, working at the East Course during its heyday in the 1960s. He beat Doug Saunders in a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf event there in 1964.
The work by RTJII added length to the 7,192-yard course, repositioned bunkers, restored his father's signature runway tees and converted the greens to ultra-dwarf Champion Bermuda. A clearing of undergrowth and brush opened up ocean views from 15 holes and made the entire layout more playable. The first hole runs right along the beach. The better holes on the back nine climb into the jungle and feature rolling fairways.
St. Regis Bahia Beach and Golf Resort
I haven't played the St. Regis Bahia Beach and Golf Resort in years, but all the recent Golf Advisor reviews confirm what I recall about the Robert Trent Jones Jr. course. The place is pure. Avoiding lagoons and battling crosswinds are a big part of the challenge.
User 'SRT8' .. called it the "Best Course in Puerto Rico" in his five-star review in 2019, adding "This is a very nice course with enough water to make it challenging, combined with wide fairways. There are several ocean holes worth bringing your camera for."
Championship course at Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico
If you want to play where the pros play, head to what used to be known as Coco Beach Golf Resort. The newly rebranded Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico received extensive renovations last December thanks to new owners.
The Championship course has always been the host of Puerto Rico's PGA Tour. Players such as Jason Day, Tony Finau, John Daly and others have tackled its wind-swept fairways. Both courses at the resort are Tom Kite designs from the mid-2000s. They feel like traditional Caribbean courses lined with palm trees, bunkers and lagoons. A couple ocean holes on the back nine are the highlight. If you play it, watching the tournament on TV becomes a must to relive the round.
This year is a big one for "El Con". The entire 750-room resort could reopen as soon as August. Roughly 250 rooms are already online. I loved the old resort, and I'm sure the new version will be spectacular again.
As for the golf, Arthur Hills did his best to tame the wild site of hills. It's a challenging journey of awkward lies and sloping narrow fairways that kick balls into ponds, bunkers and jungle. The views from its elevated tees are one of a kind. The 15th tee seemingly overlooks the entire island. These panoramic vistas help make up for the lack of oceanfront holes and beachfront greens.