Trip Dispatch: Golf on Puerto Rico sets a luxurious standard

By Jason DeeganMarch 19, 2014, 3:30 am

DORADO, Puerto Rico – On the island less than 24 hours, I found myself back to where destination golf began in the Caribbean.

In many ways, the Dorado Beach Resort & Club symbolizes golf on the island. Its heyday of the 1960s and 1970s under Laurance S. Rockefeller burned bright into the 1980s before a downward spiral that lasted decades. A recent rebirth – spearheaded by the renovation of its famed East course in 2011 and the celebrated opening of Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in late 2012 – has ushered in a new era of golf resort development on the island.

Although pockets of eyesores still plague main roads, the island’s new golf resorts sparkle. The five-star accommodations at the Ritz, the St. Regis Bahia Beach and Royal Isabela are all less than three years old.

Convenience used to be the island’s biggest attraction – there’s no passport needed, no money to exchange, no language barriers, direct flights galore from airport hubs along the East Coast and even driving a rental car is easier than every other Caribbean island. Now the destination sells itself.  

"We want to be that shining star of the Caribbean again," said Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. "Exciting things are happening."

Puerto Rico: Change is good

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St. Regis Bahia Beach is one of many new luxury golf resorts in Puerto Rico. 

The tropical winds of change continue to blow on Puerto Rico. These swanky new resorts have forced the old stalwarts to upgrade or fall behind, the cycle of life that almost derailed Dorado.  

The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, home to the Rio Mar Country Club Puerto Rico’s River and Ocean courses, is in the midst of a $500 million spending spree to upgrade resort infrastructure. The project will include $157 million for the renovation of 400 hotel rooms, the conversion of 200 rooms and 132 apartment units into timeshare units and the construction of 155 additional units. The property is ideally located on 500 acres between the El Yunque national forest and the beach.

The Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club is tweaking two holes on its excellent Robert Trent Jones II redesign to make room for more beachfront development from the St. Regis. Royal Isabela is launching plans for a second golf course and a major beachfront hotel to complement its 20 intimate casitas. Brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell are building an environmentally conscious community that enhances the island’s natural beauty roughly an hour west of San Juan. Every casita features its own private plunge pool overlooking the ocean. The open air bar and restaurant share the same voluptuous view.

"These guys have a heck of a vision for this place,” said Hotel General Manager Robin Donenberg. “They have donated all the land along the cliff back to the people of Puerto Rico so no one can ever build on it."

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El Conquistador Resort, home to a Waldorf Astoria and 18 holes of golf, also has this dazzling seaside setting. 

Smaller improvement projects are ongoing to keep the El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, looking fresh after its $120-million enhancement project finished in 2008. Of the four Puerto Rican golf resorts I’ve stayed at over the past decade, El Conquistador remains my favorite. The cliff-top vistas along the island’s northeast coast never cease to amaze.

Between the water park, private beach at Palomino Island, golf course, 23 bars and restaurants and the chance to kayak at night in the nearby bio bay, there’s never a dull moment.  

Where to play in Puerto Rico

Back at Dorado, it came as no surprise to see Chi Chi Rodriguez driving up in a tricked-out yellow golf cart. He stopped to chat and take pictures, like he does for so many other tourists.

Rodriguez honed his game at Dorado in the 1960s and even won a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match against Doug Saunders in 1964, jump-starting his World Golf Hall of Fame career.


Video: Chi-Chi shot goes painfully wrong on NFL Big Break Puerto Rico


Dorado, a former Champions Tour host originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., and the 36-hole Trump International Golf Club, home of the Puerto Rico Open since 2008, remain the most recognizable courses on the island. They aren’t the only good ones.  

Alberto Rios, the director of golf at Bahia Beach, said golfers can easily stay at one place and explore many of the island’s 21 courses that are currently open. The West course at Dorado remains closed for renovation, and the Rodriguez-designed course at the Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar - Beach & Golf Resort was shuttered earlier this year, possibly for good.

"All (our courses) are different layouts, all with different designers,” Rios said. “You could have a week here and have a great time."


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Just west of San Juan, Dorado is Puerto Rico's original golf mecca. 


The most memorable experience of my trip came with golf and lunch at Bahia Beach, a country club experience managed by Troon Golf next door to Trump International. The news that the par-3 17th hole is moving inland isn’t great for golfers, but a secluded setting through the jungle and around lagoons for most of the round should keep its aura intact.

El Conquistador Resort Golf Course and Royal Isabela both share similar characteristics: wild holes, soaring views and firm conditions. These thrill rides are better appreciated once you’ve played them a couple times. They’re both still fun no matter how bad you score.    

Royal Isabela, in particular, bends just about every design rule. Designed by David Pfaff (a former Pete Dye associate who passed away in 2013), blind shots galore and a pair of extra holes are incorporated into the routing. Hire a caddie to navigate this minefield of trouble. They will add to an exclusive experience, where no more than 24 players tee off per day.

Royal Isabela has given Puerto Rico what it sorely lacked: an extended run of oceanfront golf. Its heroic shots along the cliffs of the back nine culminates in a tee shot over a coastal chasm on the par-3 17th hole. This is the new Puerto Rico – bold and beautiful. 

"People come for the view," Royal Isabela Superintendent Dean Vande Hei said. "There are very few places in the world that has this."


More: Ginella's Journeys visits Puerto Rico


 

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Kisner (66) leads Open by 1, Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik Van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contend in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (+4) and Dustin Johnson (+5) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, while Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.



The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.



In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.