Teeing it Up in Puerto Rico
By: Dan Shepherd
Rafael “Rafa” Campos was smiling freely and chatting with well-wishers while warming up on the practice facility at The Resort at Coco Beach in Rio Grande last February. He was at the 36-hole, oceanside golf club preparing for that week’s Puerto Rico Open, a PGA TOUR event. Beneath an azure sky and bright yellow sun, Campos didn’t seem to have a care in the world. An Island native, he was a Korn Ferry Tour winner in January, and playing on his home turf had him feeling happy and appreciative.
“It’s an honor to play in a tournament that showcases our Island’s beauty and our courses,” said Campos. “Puerto Rico is about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide, so people are shocked when I tell them we have  golf courses. You look at them and the perfect shape they’re in and you’d never know we had a devastating storm. While it was extremely difficult for us, we’re so much better now and the golf is perfect.”
Like Campos, who clinched his 2020 PGA TOUR membership this summer, Puerto Rico is rising. Two years after Hurricane Maria, the golf courses, resorts, and overall destination is thriving. According to Discover Puerto Rico, the Island’s Destination Marketing Organization, tourism numbers in several key categories are at or exceeding record highs. Most Island golf properties are mirroring the positive trends.
On Puerto Rico, where high season runs roughly from December through May, visitors can expect an array of tropical courses, lodging venues, and an eclectic spectrum of eateries make traveler friendly Puerto Rico an island oasis where everyone’s tastes and preferences are welcomed and satisfied.
Arriving in Puerto Rico is a relative breeze. Air hub of the Caribbean, it is particularly appreciated by American citizens who don’t require a passport to enter the bilingual Island where the U.S. dollar is its currency. Further enhancing travel convenience, Puerto Rico features numerous non-stop flights from major cities in North America, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard.
Lodging choices proliferate, from boutique resorts (Royal Isabela) and first-class hospitality brands – Hyatt, Wyndham Grand, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton Reserve – to hundreds of Airbnb locales, all located near one or more of the Island’s 17 golf courses. Choices range from romantic suites or sumptuous private villas, to a variety of amenity-rich hotels that cater to families, business travelers, or groups.
Golf choices include something for every level of player. For trophy hunters who want to play where the pros play, The Resort at Coco Beach is a top choice. Home to 36 holes designed by Tom Kite, the Puerto Rico Open is played on the Championship Course, with its oceanside location. But the less-celebrated International Course is also an excellent layout, with palm trees, water hazards, and omnipresent views of lush green mountains.
Located near San Juan, Coco Beach is one of many seaside golf resorts on the Island. Others include TPC Dorado Beach, Royal Isabela, St. Regis Bahia Beach, Palmas Athletic Club, Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club, and Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf and Beach Resort.
Palmas Athletic Club is located on Puerto Rico’s East Coast in Humacao near Farjado. Having two highly regarded 18-hole courses that are open to the public – Palm by Gary Player, Flamboyan by Rees Jones – is one reason why the club is a popular place to enjoy the Island life. Other attractions include the family friendly Beach Club, Tennis Center (with 20 tennis courts), and breathtaking ocean views. “The Palmas Athletic Club is more than just recreation and entertainment, it is a great tourism destination, reflecting the values that have characterized the Palmas del Mar way of life, where the relaxing and safe environment allows for a very exclusive community.”
Those who enjoy going to places outside of more populous metro areas and prefer modest, non-resort courses have several popular choices. Punta Borinquen Golf Club sits stunningly on a promontory overlooking the sea in northwestern Puerto Rico near where world surf championships have often been held. Club Deportivo del Oeste is in the Cabo Rojo municipality. It recently built a new practice facility to complement its favored course, and new hotel stay-and-play package will soon debut.
The courses at Rio Bayamon, El Legado, and Caguas Real provide a set of playing selections that exude authentic Puerto Rican culture and diverse after-golf leisure attractions. Rio Bayamon is particularly well-liked for its convenient location near Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan. Golfers often play a morning round there before flying out, and the course is also popular with cruise ship customers who enjoy playing golf during their Island port of call.
Puerto Rico gratifies food and beverage aficionados. There are more than 4,000 restaurants on the Island. Gastronomic delights accentuate stay-and-golf experiences in Puerto Rico, which is renowned for its flavors and food fusions. From Puerto Rican Street Food Tours to multi-course meals at five-star restaurants, everyone can find their culinary sweet spot. Birthplace of the Pina Colada, the Island’s Bacardi factory is a popular stop for tropical libations.
Fall is laden with travel value in Puerto Rico, where high season begins after Thanksgiving. It’s a prime time to enjoy special rates at lodging venues and the 17 public-access golf courses, which span from luxury resort to municipal, spread across all four sides of the Island and inland. Ocean front views, omnipresent palm trees, and mountain and rainforest vistas define their settings. Price points, terrain, layout style, and related amenities are varied and complementary.
And keep a lookout for Campos at Island courses; he might just be practicing for his next tournament.
For more information on Island golf courses, resorts, and other destination attractions, visit: www.discoverpuertorico.com