These 7 gems show why Puerto Rico is ‘the golf capital of the Caribbean’

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is one of the largest Caribbean islands measuring some 100 miles long by 40 miles wide, but it is still quite surprising how many great golf courses abound on the so-called ‘Island of Enchantment’.

With around 30 courses to choose from and a few more under development, Puerto Rico already has a great selection of highly accessible layouts.

Here we take a look at seven of the best.

Palmas Athletic Club (Palm)

The Palm Course (also called the narrow course) was created by Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player and provides any serious golfer with a tournament-level challenge.

Water and wind test the player’s abilities on the compact front nine, which requires accurate shot-making ability. The back nine is radically different, with longer, broader, more elevated holes that enable you to appreciate the beauty of the course while relaxing your vigilance a little. Holes 14 and 16 include views of the Caribbean and Vieques, allowing the player to marvel at nature’s splendour.

Grand Reserve (International)

This project, developed by Bruce Besse of Willowbend Golf & Land Design, was Tom Kite Design’s first non-US assignment, and it resulted in four 9-hole loops, initially titled Mountain, Palm, Lakes, and Ocean.

An ownership change saw the Lakes and Ocean Nines become the Championship course and the Palms and Mountain Nines become the International course. These two layouts represent as fine a 36-hole golf complex as you can find any place in the Caribbean.

Palmas Athletic Club (Flamboyan)

The Flamboyán Course, which provides a tough challenge as well as a gorgeous environment for golfers of all abilities, has been named as the second-best course in Puerto Rico by Golf Digest (November 2003) and the greatest course on the island by Barron’s Magazine (March 1999).

Built on a former sugar cane plantation, the course was designed to take advantage of the prevailing trade winds. This is notably evident on two of the longest holes on the course, the par 5 seventh and par 4 ninth.

Grand Reserve (Championship)

While the International has several significant elevation changes on its front nine, which some golfers cite as the main reason they prefer it to its sibling, other visitors cite the Championship’s greater variety of terrain, including a number of water hazards, as justification for choosing this course as their favourite.

As you tee off towards the beautiful wooded slope of El Yunque National Park, the craftsmanship and attention to detail in Kite’s design is evident. The Championship layout, while lacking the dramatic elevation changes of the International course’s first nine, takes you on a wide and engaging tour through a variety of locales. The first holes skirt part of Coco Beach’s residential development, with tiny lakes posing several aquatic hazards if your driving is erratic. The par-4 10th through the considerably water-protected par-4 13th lead you clockwise around a small lake, temporarily bringing you beside the ocean at the par-4 12th, which shares a double-green with the International course’s 17th hole.

Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club

Almost fifty years after Robert Trent Jones designed the Dorado Beach courses, his son Robert Junior’s first design project in Puerto Rico, the 483-acre St Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club, was inaugurated in 2008 and soon revealed to be a masterwork.

Bahia Beach Golf Club, located on a forested site between the now-defunct Berwind Country Club and Coco Beach Golf & Country Club to the north east of the island, winds its way around 80 acres of saltwater lagoons before concluding with three holes along the Atlantic shore.

Royal Isabela

The course is set on a 426-acre location along the seashore from the 19th-century village of Isabela, and it is divided into two unique 9-hole circuits. The front nine has been characterised as “equatorial parkland” in nature, with a hole that allows players to aim two separate greens.

Hole 6 is fittingly dubbed “Fork in the Road,” and golfers tee off to a landing area from where they can go to the par four to the right or the par five fairway that finally leads to a three-tiered green in front of the clubhouse. The front nine closes with Charca del Diablo, a terrifying short par three to an island green.

The action on the back nine picks up after the par four 12th, with five of the seven greensites – including the double green at 12 and 14 – placed near the edge of the sheer cliffs that run along the shoreline.

TPC Dorado Beach (East)

The restoration of the historic East Course to its original design by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. turns a classic coastal course into a contemporary championship configuration that challenges players of all ability levels.

Jones extended the course by 700 yards, bringing it to a challenging 7,200 yards, with many holes playing against a strong trade wind. Greens were redesigned to reflect original characteristics and planted with Champions Bermuda, resulting in very fast and smooth putts. Bunkers were redesigned and filled with beach sand from the local area. Although the East is regarded as a difficult test at the Professional level, the numerous tees present a pleasant challenge for layers of all skill levels. On 12 of the 18 holes, the original panoramic views of the ocean were restored.