When it comes to planning an island vacation in the Caribbean, there are tons of choices, big and small, with a case for just about every location. But if you’re a golfer, the options dwindle considerably. There are several smaller islands with one or two good courses, but when it comes to critical mass, the kind of assortment that makes places like Scottsdale or Pinehurst golf destinations, there are really only two contenders, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
For the traveling golfer who loves variety and wants to play multiple courses rather than the same one over and over, Puerto Rico is the winner. I love the Dominican Republic and it has some amazing golf resorts, but they tend to be isolated because most Americans don’t want to drive, so the vast majority of golf travelers here only go to one place to stay and play. Although there are several courses in different locations, this variety is underutilized. But when you compare how easy it is to rent a car, drive around Puerto Rico, and visit multiple locations, the appeal increases dramatically, and what’s more, all courses in Puerto Rico are accessible to the public, while that the DR’s top golf course, Playa Grande, once a resort course, has gone completely private and no longer allows non-members. Even the famous Casa de Campo golf resort includes a private facility that hotel visitors cannot access.
Puerto Rico is easy to navigate and very easy to get to, with many non-stop stops in San Juan, when many travelers to other Caribbean destinations have to fly here anyway and then make another connection . This means that many travelers can arrive in time to play golf the same afternoon, or play a last round in the morning before heading to the airport, a much more efficient way to go on vacation. It’s especially COVID-friendly as it requires no testing to get home or back (no risk of getting stuck there in quarantine, unlike every other golf destination in the Caribbean except the U.S. Virgin Islands) and it has the highest vaccination rate of any place in the United States
I have been to Puerto Rico several times and have just visited again, and it reminded me of how good and varied the accommodations, entertainment and above all the food is in addition to the golf, with something for everyone tastes and budgets – there are over 4,000 restaurants here and I haven’t had a less than outstanding meal throughout my trip. Plus, there are tons of non-golf related attractions, from the historic world’s largest rum distillery (Bacardi) to natural wonders including the only rainforest within the US Forest Service (El Yunque ), rare bioluminescent bays and courtyards, beaches.
But when it comes to golf, the island has 18 courses, many of them over the ocean, while El Yunque, the spectacular rainforest, can be seen from several high-level courses. The designers read like a Who’s Who of great golf architects including Greg Norman, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Robert Trent Jones Jr., Chi Chi Rodriguez, Tom Fazio, Tom Kite, Rees Jones and Gary Player. Here are some highlights:
Historically, the largest golf resort on the island was the Dorado Beach resort, originally built by Laurance Rockefeller as part of her Rockresorts brand, and for a long time was home to two sister Hyatt resorts and four 18 hole course. It has been reborn in recent years as the only Ritz-Carlton Reserve property in the United States, Reserve being the top tier of the luxury brand with just five locations worldwide. Today, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach is an exceptional luxury resort that is home to two courses including the 36-hole TPC Dorado Beach, the only member of the PGA Tour’s TPC network in the entire Caribbean. A drastic growth in residents and members (including several Major League Baseball stars) has forced the resort to limit play to its overnight guests, so you need to stay here to play those. If you can swing, it’s worth it, as the East Course, still the most famous of the original four, has one of the most memorable tee times in all of golf with a long seaside drive into the cart to the first tee and a beautiful ocean. views from the start, whereas many “coastal” models wait over three hours to reach the sea. It also comes down to the same great views on arrival. TPC Dorado Beach is a premier operation with forecaddies and excellent conditions, and construction is underway on a third eighteen here, which will put it on par as the largest golf resort in the Caribbean.
In my opinion, the best course on the island is the beautiful Royal Isabela, which is part of a resort on the less visited northwest coast. It’s a gorgeous resort with its own farmhouse for the restaurant, and all accommodation in self-contained casitas with private pools and terraces. The golf course is as close to a course as you can get in the area, exquisite with many spectacular holes on top of a cliff hugging the ocean, you can ride it with caddies, which is rare, and when it opened ten years ago, I talked about it in detail Here at Forbes (which can be dated). I said then it’s like Pebble Beach Golf Links transported to an even more scenic setting, and I stand by that assessment – no matter how much golf you’ve played in the world, you’ll find this course exceptional.
The PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open (historically held in late February/early March) has brought superstars such as Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Speith and Tony Finau to the island, and is held on the Hyatt’s championship course Regency Grand Reserve. The Hyatt is priced lower than the Ritz-Carlton and nearby St. Regis Bahia Beach, but it’s an excellent full-service resort with excellent dining options, top-notch accommodations, a huge pool complex lagoon-style with cabanas and a stunning beach – so stunning that the new version of the TV show Fantasy Island was filmed here. I have stayed at the property and would be very happy to return. The Hyatt has two of the best golf courses in Puerto Rico, both designed by Tom Kite. These are a little more Florida style with lots of water in the courses, sometimes on both sides of the fairway, in addition to ocean views.
The St. Regis Bahia Beach is the other top luxury golf resort here, and like the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which is part of Marriott’s leading Bonvoy rewards programs. Many golfers are familiar with the Audubon International Sanctuary program which certifies environmentally friendly golf courses that use fewer chemicals, protect wildlife and meet many other standards. But the group has expanded to certify entire communities and resorts as well, and Bahia Beach was one of the first to earn this, and it shows in the lush greenery and tropical flowers at every turn of the road. attractive property. About 65% of the nearly 500 acres are preserved as green space, sanctuaries or nature trails, and there is a very extensive network of trails throughout. The golf course is very different from its neighbours, meandering through thick jungle-like foliage with narrow fairways as it winds away from the two-mile-long beach, located at the foot of the Utah National Rainforest. El Yunque of 28,00 acres.
I didn’t stay myself, but another top pick for a golf vacation in Puerto Rico is the more affordable Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, a full-service resort with two outstanding courses. The Wyndham is large with about 400 rooms, multiple restaurants, a full casino, and is located on two miles of uncrowded beach. It has the most things to do under one roof in Puerto Rico, and golf is particularly varied, with the ocean course designed by Tom Fazio with its famous 16 hilland hole, and the Greg Norman-designed river course, which has deceptively wide fairways, a plus given that the river is well used throughout, and offers great views of El Yunque. I had one of my favorite meals on the island in the clubhouse here, and the Ocean Course also has a beloved open-air bar/restaurant, Hole in One, at its center, overlooking a and ten.
There are many other options, and I haven’t covered them all yet. El Conquistador is another well-known golf resort with an Arthur Hills course (and a private island and water park). Punta Borinquen is Puerto Rico’s oldest golf course, built by the military in 1940 as part of a base and considered one of President Eisenhower’s favorites. When the base closed in 1973, it became an accessible public course and is perched atop dramatic seaside cliffs near Royal Isabela. There are many other stand-alone courses, including the 27-hole Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club with its iconic island green. Although I regret not playing some of them, it’s nice to have reasons to return to this tropical golf paradise.
Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s visitor bureau, has several helpful golf articles grouped by topic such as “near San Juan”, “most affordable”, and profiles of individual resorts, all of which can be found here .