With more flights and high-end resort properties coming, such as Ritz-Carlton Reserve and Royal Isabela, golf has never been hotter on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.
RIO MAR, Puerto Rico -- Tourism in the Caribbean is a competitive business, and few destinations have been as aggressive with upgrades and new initiatives compared to Puerto Rico.
The mission to increase the standard of its resorts began in 1994, when the island's government embarked on a mission to increase the amount and standard of hotels.
Today, it's easy to see the initiative is paying off. Each year, 1.2 million cruise ship passengers visit Puerto Rico.
But with new resorts and golf developments, the island makes an even stronger case for visitors to come and stay awhile, with 15,000 hotel rooms on the island.
One of the Caribbean's busiest islands, access -- or 'lift' -- is also getting better. Puerto Rico receives 450 flights each week from as far away as central Europe, which helps keep air travel costs usually much less expensive compared to other golf-heavy islands in the Caribbean such as the Dominican Republic. British Airways, in fact, recently announced a new non-stop to London Gatwick Airport for the first time in 10 years.
Puerto Rico's new and renovated luxury resorts and golf courses
Just west of San Juan is Dorado Beach, one of the pioneers in Puerto Rico's resort and golf scene. Founded by Laurence Rockafeller in the 1950s, the resort and residential development is home to four golf courses, plus new resort and vacation units.
Dorado's Rock Resort closed in 2004, but a new Ritz-Carlton Reserve is set to open at the end of 2012. Dubbed the Caribbean's first 'six-star' hotel, it will be one of the Caribbean's most exclusive golf and beach retreats.
Meanwhile, Dorado Beach Resort & Club East Course, one of the flagship courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., reopened after extensive renovating. Now Kemper Sports managed, improvements included nearly tripling the amount of sprinkler heads and the clearing out of bush that was impeding on playing areas, plus long, 'runway' tee boxes. The result is a much cleaner, open look that also helps to improve playability and conditioning.
On the eastern side of San Juan located next to Trump International Golf Club, Bahia Beach Golf Club opened in 2008. Part of a 483-acre, eco-friendly development with a St. Regis-brand hotel, the Troon Golf-managed resort course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that plays through a dense forest and lagoon system before finishing with three holes beside the sea. Nature steals the show at Bahia, home to miles of hike and bike trails, canoeing and other water sports, plus three miles of beachfront.
Puerto Rico is also debuting a brand new, exclusive club on the northwest side: Royal Isabela, led by Puerto Rican brothers Charlie and Stanley Passarell (with design assistance from former Pete Dye associate David Pfaff).
Click here to learn more about the golf, rental units and real estate at Royal Isabela.
Iguanas' days are numbered on Puerto Rico
You can see the food chain in action on many of Puerto Rico's golf courses. Iguanas, not native to the island but now overrunning them (to the tune of an estimated 4 million strong) are hunted by packs of wild dogs, who do their best to corner them in a dry area.
While iguanas are shy creatures, you will soon enough find yourself close to one on the island. And if that happens, ??'They whip you,' said Rafael Prestamo, golf professional at Rio Mar Beach Resort.
It's a passive alternative compared to the alligators back in the United States that seem to take a limb or two from golfers each season.
While the roaming iguanas are always sure to get a visitor's camera out, it's easy to tell that their novelty has worn off with locals. In fact, the Puerto Rican government is finalizing a policy that will allow volunteers to capture, kill them and have their meat processed for export. Iguana meat can fetch up to $6 a pound and is often fed to horses.
Changes in store for the Puerto Rico Open?
A mainstay on the PGA Tour since 2008, the Puerto Rico Open, presented by SeePuertoRico.com, recently announced it has received financial backing thru 2013-2014, and Trump International Golf Club will continue to serve as the host site.
However, having been staged opposite a World Golf Championship event since its inception, there is speculation that it is in line to receive its own date should an event be dropped from the schedule in 2013.