The swashbuckling Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez dramatically punctuated holing key putts by waving his putter in the air like a make-believe sword. The flamboyant Rodriguez, a popular draw on the PGA Tour for decades, has long been the face of Puerto Rican golf.
Rodriguez’s native island is as colorful and lively as its best known golfer. Sun-drenched, pristine ocean beaches quickly give rise to fog-shrouded mountainous rainforests along parts of Puerto Rico’s coast. Exotic iguanas freely roam across its golf courses like prehistoric forecaddies. The imposing colonial forts of Old San Juan meld into the nearby Ben & Jerry’s commercial hipness of the vibrant new sections of the city.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. Territory that requires no passport for travel, serves as the perfect getaway destination for a hassle-free golf escape.
Rodriguez has personally designed several courses in his homeland. It is a land where he once worked as a laborer in the sugar cane fields during his youth. El Legado Golf in Guayama and Dorado Del in Dorado are among Chi Chi’s local creations.
There are approximately two dozen golf courses spread across this tropical destination of 3.6 million residents. El Conquistador Golf Club in Fajardo once hosted a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match featuring Arnold Palmer versus Chi Chi and Gay Brewer.
A significant boost to the island’s legitimacy in professional golf circles came with hosting a PGA Tour event beginning in 2008. The Puerto Rico Open is staged at Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande. The Trump property includes nearby luxury accomomdations for golf travelers at the Gran Meliá. Inviting hammocks at Gran Meliá are strung between palm trees along the beach for post-round siestas. A swim-up cocktail bar in an oversized pool adds to the relaxation possibilities. Fine dining from several international cuisines is available on the property.
One of the island’s more recent golf offerings is Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club. The impeccably groomed Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course in Rio Grande is the centerpiece for the first development in Puerto Rico to be designated a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. The final three holes on the course run parallel to the beach and provide a picturesque finish to a memorable round.
Another popular option in the northeastern reaches of Puerto Rico is the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa. Tom and George Fazio collaborated on the resort’s Ocean Course. Rio Mar also features the River Course (pictured above), a lush green setting for 18 holes by Greg Norman. Views of Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rainforest rise above many of the holes. A distinctive 35,000-square-foot clubhouse is the centerpiece of both layouts.
Palmas del Mar in Humacao is another Puerto Rico resort featuring 36 holes of golf. The Palms course was designed by Gary Player. Rees Jones was the architect for the Flamboyan Course.
The Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach and Golf Club designed by Chi Chi is yet another of Puerto Rico’s top choices for a Caribbean golf destination. The palm-tree lined course features unforgettable Atlantic Ocean views.
For fans of layouts by architect Robert Jones Sr., the Dorado Beach Resort & Club in Cerromar offers several of his original creations and 72 holes of golf. Dorado Beach has served as a past host of the World Cup of Golf and the Senior Tournament of Champions.
Puerto Rico once heavily relied on the clever marketing slogan “Explore Beyond The Shore.” That is sound advice for all that the island has to offer. Just make sure that plenty of golf along its stunning Atlantic and Caribbean coastal courses is an integral part of the itinerary.