A tropical and culturally exhilarating golf and travel adventure awaits you in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico! You will be greeted by friendly locals, waving palms, a warm Caribbean breeze, sparkling turquoise blue waters lapping on sandy shore lines of beach that surround this United States Island. Many U.S. East Coasters say this is the “Hawaii” of the East! Infamous for the 1493 Spanish claim by Christopher Columbus; Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule until 1898, when Spain was taken by the Americans in the Spanish-American War. The Spanish influences are evident today in the Spanish Colonial architecture throughout their old cities, especially Old San Juan, in their Spanish-Caribbean infused cuisine, and their colorful arts and flare for Latin music. You will find Puerto Ricans to be heritage-proud, rich with family values, and are hard working individuals. Travel to Puerto Rico from abroad is relatively easy, as it is the second largest Cruise port in the Western Hemisphere, and 17 airlines provide flights in and out of Luis Muoz Marin International Airport from over 50 destinations. English and Spanish are widely spoken all over the island, and if you are a U.S. Citizen, you do not need your passport, only a driver’s license. Island climate is tropical with temperatures ranging from the 70’s to 90’s year-round, perfect for outdoor activities. Most days are consistently in the 80’s, although tropical rain showers may make an appearance every now and again, however they never last very long. For those over the top for golf, you will be pleasantly surprised by the options and over 20 choices for golf on the island, with the most popular located on the East side of the island, especially in Rio Grande. Plan your stay for at least a week, so you can experience ancient culture in the Old San Juan area, sip some of the finest world renown rums, dine is Puerto Rican fusion establishments, golf some of the best courses on the island and experience the most popular activities in Rio Grande, which is just minutes from the airport and located in the Eastern region of the island.
Stay at the Gran Meliá, a stunning Coco Beach Resort that has views of the El Yunque National Rain Forest, backdrop of mountains and panoramic ocean views, is home of the Trump International Golf Club and the PGA Puerto Rico Open. This resort is perfect if you are traveling on business and need an extended day or two to relax, or if you are on a true golf vacation by yourself or with other avid golfers. The Gran Meliá also is a fine choice as a “home-base,” as the offerings are abundant. Stroll the tropically lush, manicured property to experience fine dining with your choice of eight lounges and bars, hopping nightlife in their open air bar and casino, lagoon style pools with Bahia beds, and for well deserved down time, the YHI Spa that offers over 60 treatments to choose from. You will find yourself in a relaxation paradise, as every room is a spacious, oversized junior suite supplied with the finest amenities, and views range from the lush mountains, soothing ocean, or tranquil garden. This all-inclusive resort is the perfect STAY experience, and since it is situated on the northeastern coast on a flourishing peninsula minutes from the airport and Old San Juan City, you can easily take a taxi to the city to experience local cultural. And, PLAY is just a short shuttle ride to 36 holes of championship golf! To book, www.gran-melia-puerto-rico.com.
Play If you stay at the Gran Meliá, a quick shuttle ride will drop you at the Trump International Golf Club, where you have an option to play the championship course or the international course, both world class 18-Hole Tom Kite designed courses. The Tom Kite 2004 design was renovated and redesigned, when Donald Trump took over ownership, to reveal a full 7,526 yards of stellar fairways and greens. In 2008 the Par 72, Tom Kite lengthened tees in the Champion course, repositioned bunkers and reworked the greens for faster play. Since the courses are set on the peninsula with the resort, the views are breathtaking and add to the whole Trump golf experience. The Trump International Golf Club is home to the Puerto Rico Open, an official PGA Tour event, since 2008, and the event is dedicated to Ambassador and PGA Professional Chi Chi Rodriguez. The two 18-Hole Championship Courses are set on 1,000 acres of tropical landscape, that encompasses lush groves, man-made lakes and water ways, ocean front and El Yunque Rain Forest Views, and is the only challenging course that sites on green mangroves and features silica sand bunkers. The clubhouse in itself is grandeur in nature, and has an air of “Casa Blanca” elegance. For more information, www.trumpgolfclubpuertorico.com.
With so many resorts to choose from, one can get quite confused as which resort would fit their needs best. For example, one family golf vacation choice stay would be the El Conquistador Resort, which is a Waldorf-Astoria property and has many activities that focus on all ages. In addition, you may choose from five villages, with five different levels of experience from peaceful relaxation to pure indulgence with 24 hour service in a private villa. This four-diamond resort is perched over 300 ft above the ocean, so panoramic ocean views are abundant at the Grand Hotel guest rooms, villas, the casino, restaurants, and swimming pool areas. Take the family to the property Coqui water park, which is equipped with Slide Tower, La Mina Lazy River, Rope Bridge, and the Coqui Kids Slide, then enjoy a bite at the Oasis Bar and Grill, which overlooks the private marina. For a more private afternoon, take a short shuttle boat ride to the private island and beach of Palomino, and you will be set for sunning and water sports! The 100-acre private tropical oasis beacons you to lounge under palm trees, sip a tropical drink and snorkel among the coral reef that separates Palomino and Palominito Islands. The ultra-small Palominito Island was used by Actor Johnny Depp in filming the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies - - the island he was banished to! In order to make this a full-relaxation experience, you must wander through the property gardens to the Golden Door Spa and indulge in the Ayurvedic Body Treatment. The Ayurvedic treatment is a 5,000 year old Eastern Indian health tradition that will assist you in achieving balance of your body, mind and spirit. The “Spirit of Life” incorporates a combination of these treatments where your body and mind become calm to allow you to enter a State of Nirvana….and ready your mind for your golf game.
PLAY at the Arthur Hills Golf Course, opened in 1993, is a 72-Par, 18 hole golf paradise for all skill levels. It is challenging, yet player friendly with ideally planned bunkers, daunting hills, and unforgettable views of the El Yunque Rain Forest and the Atlantic Ocean from every hole. With an elevation change of more than 200 vertical feet, which is quite rare among Caribbean golf courses and resort, you will find open fairways that are palm-tree lined, lush island botanicals, and dotted with planned trouble to make your game even more challenging! One of the truly majestic holes is 18, where spouting fountains are the front to the last shot of the game and spectacular water fall. Some of the most daunting holes can be affected by the well known Caribbean Trade Winds which will require an intense evaluation of play. Speaking of wind….Hole 5, a Par 4 at 431 yards from the back tee, is named Diente De Viento – “Teeth of the Wind” as play is into the wind, but also on a forgivingly wide fairway. Aim should be toward the right to stay away from the lake on the left. Although the entry to the green is flanked by bunkers, so a nice shot to the mid or backside of the pin is recommended. The Nido de Aguila “Eagle Nest” Hole 15 is the most memorable hole on the course due to a drop of more than 200 vertical feet. Perched above this Par 5, a drive to the left will set you in perfect position to use a long iron for placement just in front of the three bunkers – one to the left and two to the right. Finish at Hole 18, a Par 4 at 357 yards with a strong direct drive to the center fairway to avoid bunkers and water that surround, will allow you to shoot with a short iron over the water hazard with an easy putt to the pin. Remember, any strays will land in the drink or on the beach! For the ultimate experience, www.elconresort.com.
If you are travelling with a significant other, then a stay at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club would be a suitable choice, as you will feel like you have been marooned on your own private island –opulence style. Set on 483 acres of lush native maritime forest, richly lined with coconut palms and on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, this magnificent vacation getaway boasts grand luxury villa rentals from a one bedroom plus den to an estate home that are located on 2 miles of sandy beach. Guests will be able to enjoy sailing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, sports and fitness, and of course, golf along with nature walks and hiking on 65% of the property that is a preserved sanctuary. For a whole body renewal, the Remède Spa is the spot for world-class spa treatments and a full assortment of amenities from a body polish to the Taino Warm Native Stone Ritual, where Obsidian stones cultivated from the region will revive fatigued muscles and rebalance the body, combined with an intense deep tissue massage for a renewed feeling. To book a room and spa treatment, go to www.stregisbahiabeach.com. Play golf at the Robert Trent Jones Jr. 18-Hole Championship Course The golf course was built around a network of saltwater lagoons throughout the 483 acre property, and was designed smartly to include the preservation of the natural integrity of terrain and lush forest fauna within the very scenic 6,979 yard layout, with the last three holes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This course serves all levels of players, however ultimately pleases the most demanding players with the highest levels of course maintenance and service. In chatting with Robert Trent Jones Jr., world re-known and award-winning golf course designer and architect, he confided “I don’t have one particular favorite hole, however if you are a great hand player, then holes 9 and 10 will stand out, holes 14 and 18 have a fantastic great setting, and for a wonderfully challenging finish stretch of holes, then 16 through 18 will provide that for you!” Mr. Trent-Jones Jr. named the Bahia course the “New Diva”, and he says, with a twinkle in his eye, “I named her the New Diva because she is so beautiful, she dances with you and the wind, and is all too demanding!” It is true, this course, set on such a picturesque setting is daunting and distracting, especially the last 3 holes of the course. If you are not tending to your game, you will end up in turquoise blue water of the nearby ocean or in the lush, pristinely manicured vegetation. Referring to the spectacular views from the golf course, Golf Pro, Jeff Wilkenson commented, “In playing this course, you will definitely tend to use your camera more than your golf clubs!”
For a more laid back experience, choose to STAY at the Rio Mar Beach Resort – A Wyndham Property set ocean side on 500 lush acres with the 600 guest room hotel set on one mile of secluded beach with two oceanfront swimming pools, exclusive Mandara Spa, and a 7,000 sq.ft. Casino. PLAY the Rio Mar Golf Courses, designed by Tom and George Fazio and Greg Norman, where you have the option of an ocean front golf experience and the river walk golf experience. Play both courses in one day for the whole experience! If you are looking for some brush up on skills, the Chip Koehlke Golf Academy is worth looking into. Chip Koehlke and his staff can create a private development package which includes one-on-one personal instruction featuring a full personal practice plan, full swing video analysis, with optional on-course instruction. In a lesson with Chip, he commented, “With the service I provide, golfers are able to go back home, re-watch the video lesson on their smart phone, and practice while they are on the course.” “You don’t have to try to remember what the instructor said, it is all on video.” This is one of the great benefits at the Rio Mar Beach Golf Club. Once you have had a refresher, then it is time to apply your learning to the course(s). The Ocean Course is a Par-72 at 6,782 yards, and is a little shorter than the River Course, is over 35 years old with push up greens, and is a great course to get your flow back. The River Course is a Par-72 at 6,945 yards and is styled after a championship golf course with many challenging hot spots. At the turning point at Hole 10, Par 3 at 177 yards, might seem like relief until you see the water to the left and large bunkers to the right. A straight shot is in order to land on the green in order to stay out of trouble. Challenges erupt at Hole 15 Par 5 at 544 yards, where you are forced to snake mid-fairway to avoid numerous bunkers and lush flora. This course will test your abilities to shoot straight and accurate for sure! www.wyndhamriomar.com
Squeeze in some culture for sure, by checking out the San Juan Metro Area of Old San Juan, also referred to as the historic district Viejo San Juan, located next to the Bay of San Juan. In addition to casinos, exclusive shopping, museums, fine dining and trendy nightclubs, you will find perched above the bay the El Morro Fortress landmark and the Fort San Crisóbal, both of which protected Old San Juan from invaders for hundreds of years and boasts six terraces of ramps and rooms. Don’t miss the Plaza San Jose, which is the oldest of the old city’s plazas, and is surrounded by some of the earliest structures including the Dominican Convent, which was a monastery for Dominican Friars, the 15th Century San Jose Church, which is the second oldest in the New World. After a tour of the old town, it is certainly time to nosh on Puerto Rican cuisine! Take walk several streets through town, and you will find the very quaint El Jibarito Restaurant where they serve authentic Puerto Rican specialties including the Mofongo (mashed plantains) with Conch. Most of the island cuisine is a fusion of Creole cooking, Spanish and Latin American styles, which result in an exotic blend of spices, seasonings and ingredients indigenous to the region, including papaya, plantain, coriander, cacao and yampee. For those yearning for more of an American style menu, you will have to travel to the Eastern part of the island to Luquillo to the Brass Cactus Bar and Grill where they offer steak, burgers, pasta and fish dishes.
Ready for some adventure? Venture to the El Yunque Rain Forest, one of the most spectacular rain forests in the world and the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. This Caribbean national forest is home to over 240 species of tropical trees, wildlife and exotic flowers. If you are fortunate enough to see the Coqui, the region’s tree frog, it is considered a sign of good luck. There are numerous trails for all skill levels and a Portal education center where you will learn about the history of the forest and the fauna and flora that flourish within it. For a phenomenal finish to the day, travel to Vieques, Mosquito Bay or Bioluminescent Bay for an evening kayak ride. The bay lights up and glows from the harmless bioluminescent organisms that live there, and as you kayak through overgrown canals that lead to the bay the glowing is much more visible. It is quite romantic with a significant other!
In addition to the multi-million pharmaceutical and biotech industries, that attributes to a large portion of the Puerto Rican economy, the production of Rums as contributed to the economy since the 1600’s. With Christopher Columbus introducing the sugar cane to the “New World” in 1493, the Puerto Rican sugar cane fields flourished, and by 1650 Puerto Ricans were utilizing the waste product from the sugar cane, which was distilled, to make the spirit - Rum. Therefore, a visit to Puerto Rico is not complete without a trip to the Bacardi Rum Distillery, which is located on the far side of San Juan Bay. It is the largest rum factory in the world, and has an interactive visitor center with tours on the half hour, where you will learn about the Bacardi Family history, rum production, and have an opportunity to sample the different Bacardi rums. The onsite gift shop offers souvenirs from clothing to bottles of Bacardi rums in all sizes.
Whew! A vacation at a Luxury resort, spa treatments, endless rounds of golf, a little culture and adventure coupled with some fine Puerto Rican cuisine and nightlife, and you are ready to experience your next destination golf vacation! Look for your next issue to find out where! For complete information on all Puerto Rican island accommodations, activities, culture, and dining, please go to the Tourism of Puerto Rico’s website: www.seepuertorico.com, as this all-inclusive website will direct you to the above mentioned properties and more.