The most interesting course in the Caribbean

By Mike BaileyMarch 17, 2011, 6:25 pm
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            This double green is shared by the 12th and 14th holes at Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico

ISABELA, Puerto Rico – There's a new kid on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico that's already becoming legend. It's called the Golf Links of Royal Isabela, and it's perched on the cliffs above the Atlantic. The golf course actually has 21 holes, although you play 18 at a time to make up the round.

That's right; there are optional holes, and it totally works. Royal Isabela is definitely the best golf course in Puerto Rico, very likely the top course in the Caribbean, and possibly the most interesting golf course in the world.
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The 426-acre golf course and development is primarily owned by two of Puerto Rico's favorite brothers, Charlie and Stanley Pasarell. After years of trials and tribulations, the Pasarells are finally seeing their dream come to fruition, and what a dream it is. Royal Isabela, which was designed by the brothers and architect David Pfaff, is located on one of the most striking locations on the planet.

Pfaff, who was the associate architect on Pete Dye's famous Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, guided the two former professional tennis players through a design process that followed the natural contours of the land -- even on the greens. Royal Isabela is Scottish links and Caribbean weather and scenery all wrapped into one. Set on meadows, dunes and cliffs that rise some 350 feet above the surf, the course really routed itself.

'There are all types of bunkering, all types of greens,' said Stanley Parasell, who also serves as president. 'It's just what the setting allowed it to be. Most of the features we found there and just utilized them in the course.'

Depending on which holes you pick to play, it's either a par 72 at 7,538 yards or a par 73 of 7,667 yards. From the tips, or the Natural tees as they are called, we're talking a rating/slope of 80.3/155 -- especially evident if the tradewinds are strong. But don't let the difficulty scare you. It gets a little easier, and just as beautiful, from the other five sets of tees.

And it's more than length that presents the challenge. Players must be precise off the tees, hit the right spots on the greens, have a deft short game and putting touch and not be afraid to lose a ball. With native vegetation bordering the holes and cliffs awaiting poorly struck tee shots and approaches, the chances for lost balls are numerous. It's not uncommon for a player to duck into the club's modest golf shop after nine and buy another dozen -- and do it with a smile on his face.

The obvious signature hole is the 17th, a 200-yard par 3 from one cliff to another, with the green perched a couple hundred feet above the rocks. But there are so many other great visuals on the course, too, including a double green that shares the 12th and 14th holes, also backed up against a cliff over the ocean.

The truth is, though, that there's not a boring hole on the course, whether we're talking about the treacherous false front on the par-3 fourth (nicknamed Tear Drop), the hellish sod-faced bunkers on the 10th that were inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews or the green complexes similar to Carnoustie.

One of the unique aspects of the course is the options. The sixth has two greens and fairways -- one of which is a par 4 designed by Stanley; the other is a dogleg-left par 5 designed by Charlie. There's also an optional par-3 11th that runs along a cliff and a short par-4 extra hole, perfect for settling playoffs.

Forecaddies are required and necessary for first-timers. Not only are there several blind shots, but knowing how to approach the greens in terms of landing it short, long or to one side is also critical. Future plans also call for a walking caddie program.

If you're wondering how to get an opportunity to play Royal Isabela, well, it isn't easy. The club will be a high-end retreat for the captains of industry and those who buy lots and build homes on the property.

Carefully screened candidates are getting sneak previews of the course right now, but there will be a limited resort aspect to Royal Isabela as well. Construction is feverishly underway on 20 casitas, a restaurant and other amenities that will have the Royal Isabela up and running as a resort by this summer. Similar to Pebble Beach, golf opportunities will be reserved for members and those who stay at the resort with rates running somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 to $1,000 per night.

Long-term plans call for more incredible golf -- as many as four more courses -- and other amenities such as a spa, tennis courts and more. For more information, check out RoyalIsabela.com.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).