Puerto Rico golf: Top resorts and no passport required

By Jason Deegan,
Special Contributor

Did you know Puerto Rico has more golf courses--28 and counting--than any other Caribbean island? Celebrity golf course architects like Greg Norman and Robert Trent Jones Sr. have done much to shape Puerto Rico's golf landscape. It's a golf destination that's closer than you think. Here gives you a peak at what Puerto Rico has to offer.

Don't have a passport? That's no problem if you're planning a golf vacation in Puerto Rico.

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Despite new regulations that require Americans traveling to and from places like Canada and Mexico to carry passports, Puerto Rico is reminding travelers they can still savor the full Caribbean golf flavor without--technically, at least--leaving the United States.

No customs hassles or money exchange in this U.S. territory. Just sugar-white beaches, swaying palms, pulsing Latin beats and heaping bowls of mofongo and asopao de pollo washed down with boozy fruit punches.

And, of course, great golf. Though it measures just 90 miles long and 30 miles wide, Puerto Rico boasts more golf courses - 28 and counting - than any Caribbean island.

Native icon Chi Chi Rodriguez has designed two golf courses here. Architectural stars like Greg Norman, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones and Gary Player have also helped shaped the island's golf landscape.

"Puerto Rico is a good place to get away from the hustle and bustle," says Robert Moreno, director of golf at the Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa. "You can golf in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon. It is conducive to relaxing. It's a great lifestyle."

If You Go


Some worldly travelers consider Puerto Rico too much like the mainland - McDonald's, Subway, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell lurk at every turn. And many coastline courses have just a single hole on the ocean, the better to squeeze in more real estate.

For all that, this is dynamic, underrated golf destination, home to several top Caribbean golf resorts.

Puerto Rico golf courses and resorts

El YunqueAn hour west of capital San Juan, the Westin Rio Mar is the island's undisputed resort king, with an unbeatable location - the Atlantic on one side, the El Yunque rainforest on the other - and a great offer of golf and amenities.

Its River and Ocean courses play more like distant cousins than sister tracks. George and Tom Fazio's Ocean annually challenges the best U.S. college players in the Puerto Rico Classic. The Norman-designed River course winds its way through mangrove swamps and along the Mameyes River.

Coco Beach Golf & Country Club in Rio Grande, reportedly on the short list for a PGA Tour event, has four Tom Kite-designed nines. The club is aligned with Paradisus, an all-suite, all-inclusive resort near the Westin Rio Mar.

Dorado, an hour east of San Juan, is Puerto Rico's golf capital with five championship courses.

Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & SpaEmbassy Suites' Dorado del Mar Beach & Golf Resort has 172 suites, an oceanfront setting and a 6,940-yard Rodriguez course that reaches its peak, literally, on No. 10, a sweeping, 525-yard dogleg that rises to a cliff-top green.

Dorado Beach Golf Club's East Course is probably the island's best-known track, a 7,000-yard Jones Sr. design that has hosted Senior PGA Tour tournaments and is hoping to soon land a PGA Tour event. Still, some golfers favor the 6,975-yard West course, another Jones Sr. original.

Dorado Beach has just opened on-site cottages to help close the lodging gap left by the surprising May 2006 shuttering of the Hyatt Dorado, with which the club was linked.

The Plantation Golf Club next-door recently got a $6-million overhaul that included a new two-story clubhouse and a Raymond Floyd-led revamp of the Sugarcane and Pineapple courses.

Palmas del Mar Country Club in Humacao southwest of San Juan features the Palm course, a 6,675-yard Player design, and Rees Jones' newer (and more highly touted) 7,117-yard Flamboyan. The on-site Sheraton was renovated in 2005.

More Puerto Rico golf planned

The Ocean course at Westin Rio Mar BeachLike its Caribbean neighbors, Puerto Rico also has several promising projects in development.

Following a Robert Trent Jones Jr. revamp, Bahia Golf Course will open in April, with the accompanying St. Regis Resort to follow a year later. A David Leadbetter Golf Academy due soon in the city of Carolina will eventually be joined by two full courses.

"By 2010, we should have 30 courses," says Aaron West, the golf professional at Dorado del Mar. "That's a lot of building for a small island."

March 23, 2007

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