Category: Puerto Rico

November 24, 2013

Deal of the Month: Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico

Posted at 3:56 PM by Pete Madden

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Royal Isabela
Credit: Joann Dost


Draped atop rugged cliffs in northwest Puerto Rico, 75 miles west of San Juan, Royal Isabela dishes out a stunning (if ferocious) 7,667-yard par-73 replete with soaring Atlantic vistas. The 435-yard, par-4 12th and 200-yard, par-3 17th, which peer over the beach, are two of the hardest, most spectacular holes I've played. Pack an extra dozen balls -- and throw in another sleeve, just in case. Fortunately, Royal Isabela soothes in so many ways. On my visit, Rafael Bernaloa and his team of bartenders wiped away my double-bogey blues with a tropical-drink class, and head pro Miguel Suárez Igartúa patched up my swing at his academy. Toss in superior dining at La Casa and lodging in a huge one-bedroom casita, and you have the ultimate secluded seaside golf escape.

This month, the resort is offering a special to Travelin' Joe readers: one free round with each 3 night/4 day stay at regular rates. December rates start at $800 per casita, including breakfast for two. 855-609-5888,

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April 19, 2013

Robert Trent Jones's ultimate risk-reward hole makes a splashy return at Puerto Rico's Dorado Beach

Posted at 10:41 PM by Joe Passov

Dorado Beach Resort (East)

Dorado, Puerto Rico
7,192 yards, par 72
Green fees: $125-$250

Legendary architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. not only coined the phrase "signature course," he also conceived the concept of "heroic" design, or a hole defined by risk-reward elements.

His signature heroic hole? The par-5 4th at Puerto Rico's Dorado Beach East, a Z-shaped, 481-yard temptress that offers players two chances at over-the-lake glory.

The hole looks better than ever, as does the rest of the course, thanks to the vision of the Robert Trent Jones II company, whose design team tweaked the older Trent Jones's iconic concept perfectly, lowering the fairway and slashing overgrown vegetation behind the green to open up long-lost vistas of the Atlantic, just 30 steps away.

Elsewhere, new sand, repositioned bunkers, improved irrigation and a restoration of Jones Sr.'s classic runway tee boxes have reenergized the layout.

Toss in the palatial Plantation Club residences (available to rent), a new Ritz-Carlton Reserve boutique hotel skirting the beach and frequent Chi Chi Rodriguez sightings (he has a home on the East course), and it's easy to envision Dorado Beach returning to its Eisenhower-era heyday.

(Photo: Warren Grant/Windfall Golf)

April 12, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Scottsdale, Myrtle Beach, Puerto Rico and Pine Needles

Posted at 3:27 PM by Joe Passov


If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
Seven of us are headed to Scottsdale in May to play all of the top courses—Troon North, TPC, Grayhawk, Boulders and We-Ko-Pa. We've got room for one more course. Any suggestions?
Ray Talley, Medford, Ore.

My hometown is chockablock with second-tier tracks that would be trophy courses most anywhere else. It's tough to pick one, so here are three. Not far from We-Ko-Pa is SunRidge Canyon ($60-$170; 480-837-5100, in Fountain Hills, which, after a few years of neglect, is on the mend with new ownership. This layout boasts a back nine as rugged and scenic as any in the Valley of the Sun, culminating with a final stretch of challenging holes nicknamed "The Wicked Six."

Gold Canyon's Dinosaur Mountain ($45-$189, 480-982-9090, is marred by too many houses but redeemed by dramatic holes and views of the Superstition Mountains.

A half hour south of the airport is Southern Dunes ($25-$89; 480-367-8949, in Maricopa. Formerly a private men's club (members included Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones), this Schmidt-Curley design in a pristine desert setting has clever bunkering, sizable greens and nary a weak hole.

Dear Joe, I have a dilemma! Sixteen of us are going to Myrtle Beach, where I haven't been in 25 years. We're looking at two packages: Stay at the Legends and play all five courses (Heathland, Moorland, Parkland, Heritage and Oyster Bay), or stay at True Blue and play there, Grand Dunes, Man O' War, Caledonia and TPC Myrtle Beach. Your thoughts?
Stuart Ryan, via e-mail

This is a tough call. You've got a solid lineup of courses at the Legends (800-299-6187, I've played and enjoyed them all. I've also downed a few pints at the resort's charming Ailsa Pub, and even practiced after-hours on its 30-acre lighted range.

Now, if your crew is more into scenery and solitude, the True Blue villas (866-954-8311,, down south on Pawleys Island, is a better bet; plus, the region holds its own for restaurants. However, since you haven't been on the Grand Strand since Reagan was in the White House, play Caledonia. For its marriage of thinking-man's challenge and Low-country allure, Caledonia is my must-play course in Myrtle Beach.

Hi Joe,
My husband and I have been to Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for golf vacations. My brother-in-law just returned from Puerto Rico and raved about it. Where does Puerto Rico rate with you compared to the others?

Sue Thompson, Bay Village, Ohio

Puerto Rico's golf scene has made huge strides in the past two years. Start with the new lodging component and stunning cliff-top design at Royal Isabela ($150-$250; 787-934-5648,, which we featured last month.

Next on your list should be eco-minded Bahia Beach ($225-$275; 866-529-3996,, recently redesigned by Robert Trent Jones II, where a superb St. Regis hotel opened in December 2010.

Jones's newest venture on the island is a sympathetic restoration of the East course at Dorado Beach ($185-$250; 787-626-1001,, one of his father's true classics. Simply unforgettable are the risk/reward options and Atlantic Ocean views at the Z-shaped, par-5 4th. Lodging is lacking at Dorado right now, but a Ritz-Carlton Reserve boutique hotel is slated to debut late this year.

With a handful of other strong courses (many at bargain rates), a visit to El Yunque Rainforest, and the fine dining to be had in Old San Juan—and no passport needed—you've got a destination that's fast becoming a promised land for golf lovers.

Dear Joe,
My wife and I want to get away to the Southeast this spring for a week's golf vacation, and we want to get her lessons, too. What do you recommend?
Kent Cummings, Nutley, N.J.

Come spring, I'm partial to the Sandhills of North Carolina. With golf lore at just about every inter-section, Pinehurst simply rules. The iconic Pinehurst Resort (855-235-8507, offers fine golf instruction and the chance to tangle with the newly restored No. 2.

Yet for your specific needs, I'd pick Pine Needles Resort, next door in Southern Pines (May package rates from $270 and 5-day "Golfari" instruction packages from $2,545; 800-747-7272, With two Donald Ross courses and one of America's greatest learning programs for women, Pine Needles will get your wife's game razor-sharp in short order.

(Credit: Becky McBride/Pronghorn Golf Club)

March 10, 2012

Puerto Rico's spectacular new course is a jewel worthy of royalty

Posted at 8:51 PM by Joe Passov


Charlie Pasarell understands the meaning of patience. The native Puerto Rican tennis great is best know for his 1969 Wimbledon marathon against Pancho Gonzales, a 112-game affair that remained the longest match in event history until 2010.

But thanks to the new Royal Isabela layout in Puerto Rico, he may one day be better remembered for sculpting fairways than for crushing forehands. Pasarell co-designed the course with his brother Stanley and longtime Pete Dye associate David Pfaff, and the trio has delivered the most spectacular course in Puerto Rico and one of the most scenic in the world.

Draped atop jungle-strewn cliffs 75 miles west of San Juan, this semi-private stunner serves up a kaleidoscope of environments, from Hawaiian-like tropics to Old World links. Still, this beauty is a beast from any tee--notably the double-green clifftop 12th and 14th holes--and the forced carry makes the long par-3 17th a thriller.

In April, 20 casitas and a lodge will transform the property into a boutique resort. The tennis star turned designer lost that famed Wimbledon duel 11-9 in the fifth, but with Royal Isabela, it's game, set and match for Pasarell.

January 07, 2010

Ask Travelin' Joe: California, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Palm Springs

Posted at 1:22 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
We live in rainy Northern California. Do you have any ideas for the following criteria: 4- to 5-hour drive from the Bay Area, pet-friendly accommodations, warm weather, good practice facility, reasonable pricing? We want to jump in the car with the dog, drive a few hours, practice for two to three days and drive home.

V. Shellenberg
Via email

Cruise down the 101 to the town of Nipomo, just south of San Luis Obispo, where you'll find Monarch Dunes (805-343-9459,; $30-$78). Part links in the dunes, part parkland in the Eucalyptus trees, this collaboration from architect Damian Pascuzzo and six-time PGA Tour winner Steve Pate aces the scenery, variety and playability tests from start to finish. With Kemper Sports in charge of management and course conditions, a fine practice range and a new 12-hole Challenge Course that features par-3s ranging from 82 to 242 yards, Monarch Dunes should deliver just what you're looking for.

Rover can join you at the Best Western Royal Oak Hotel (, 805-544-4410), 26 miles back the way you came in San Luis Obispo. Best of all, the forecast from January 7 through the 15th touts sunny skies and daytime highs ranging from 65 to 71 degrees.

Hi Traveling Joe,
I am going to San Juan, Puerto Rico and need to find a couple of golf courses on the island. What do you recommend?

Bob Barth
Via email

If you like bells and whistles, you'll get fired — up — for Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico (787-657-2000,; $140-$180). The closest championship golf to San Juan (14 miles east), the 36 holes here still lack some maturity, but as a PGA Tour stop the past two years, they boast plenty of eye candy and challenge.

Among the better bargains on the island is Dorado del Mar at the Embassy Suites (787-796-6125,; $55-$120), a hilly 1998 Chi Chi Rodriguez design 45 minutes west of San Juan that features iguanas, swaying palms and a terrific 10th hole, a 525-yard par-5 that overlooks the Caribbean Sea.

Hi Joe,
I'm heading to the Palm Springs area in late January with some buddies to play as much golf as possible. If you had to choose between the two courses at Desert Willow or the two at Indian Wells, which would you recommend?

Alan Z.
Via email

Sorry to straddle the fence on this one, Alan, but it's nearly impossible to choose between Desert Willow (760-346-7060,; $95-$185) and Indian Wells (760-346-4653,, $130-$155). Both are similarly priced, impeccably groomed, offer terrific facilities and boast staggering mountain views. I'll pick Desert Willow's Firecliff course over its sibling Mountain View and call Indian Wells' Celebrity and Players a toss-up.

Firecliff offers bunkering that's so dramatic, it once made the cover of Smithsonian magazine, while Mountain View is the most forgiving of the four, if that's important to your group. Celebrity is a tad too tight in spots, but the shaping and landscaping is off-the-charts, while the aptly named Players, a John Fought re-design, offers the best test of shotmaking of the four. Pick any one — you cannot go wrong.

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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