For those who love seaside golf ala Pebble Beach and Teeth of the Dog, Royal Isabela, on Puerto Rico's pristine northwestern coast should definitely be on your must play list.
Similar in jaw-dropping, oceanside beauty, Royal Isabela is different from Pebble and the Teeth because its sits high above the ocean, not at sea level.
Perched 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean on rugged cliffs, Royal Isabela has some of the best oceanside holes and vistas I've ever seen.
SETTING & BACKGROUND
Spread out over 420 lush acres, Royal Isabela is the first phase of Costa Isabela, a master-planned 1,800-acre development that encompasses 3.5 miles of Atlantic Oceanfront and nearly five miles of the Guajataca River Basin. Royal Isabela is the vision of two brothers, Puerto Rican natives Charlie and Stanley Pasarell.
Charlie was instrumental in the development of Hualalai on the Big Island in Hawaii. You might also remember him from his storied tennis career. He was an elite, world-class professional in the 1960's and later founded the pro tour tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California.
Stanley was a tennis player and both of the brothers have a passion for golf. The third partner in the development team is Edwin Perez, president of Puerto Rico Supplies Co., a leading distributor of brand-name goods throughout Puerto Rico.
If you can't get enough of playing Royal Isabela, the developers created three additional holes, 21 in total.
The course was designed by the Pasarells and David W. Pfaff. Based in Carmel, California, Pfaff, who passed away recently, was a pioneer in modern golf course architecture. He was an integral part of Pete Dye's design team for many years and was involved in more than 120 golf courses in 31 states and 16 countries.
"He was a wonderfully creative architect and helped us stay true to the natural contour of the land and in keeping the the integrity of the site," Charlie Pasarell told me one sunny afternoon as we gazed out to the ocean on the no. 17 hole tee box. "We moved very little dirt during the construction process to keep the original landscape as natural as possible."
Verdant, lush flora and fauna, spectacular cliff top holes overlooking craggy rock coves and deep blue ocean waters and creatively contoured greens are at the heart of Royal Isbela's appeal.
Its a tropical links style course with a wide variety of shot options, including bump and run shots, lob shots over protruding mounds and shots over foliage filled canyons framed by ocean waters.
It's a great course for every skill level, too. There are multiple tee boxes on each hole, some have as many as six and Hole 17 has a total of 11 tee settings.
I loved the smooth, true greens. Pasarell, a friend and tennis and golf playing partner of Jack Nicklaus, told me the greens are Mini-Verde, a new Bermuda hybrid grass that the Golden Bear has at his Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida.
My favorite holes are No. 10, a high-risk, high-reward, dogleg lelft par 5 and the signature hole No. 17, one of the most beautiful and challenging par threes in the world.
Staying at Royal Isabela is the personification of exclusivity. There are 20 separate luxurious casitas set in private settings surrounded by tropical foliage. Each of the units has 1,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Elegantly appointed, the casitas have rich, dark wood polished floors, ceiling fans, spacious, luxurious bathrooms and a terrace with a dip pool.
Casita amenities, include:
--Two LCD televisions
--Complimentary high-speed Internet
-- Plush linens and robes
--Beautiful views from terrace
--Gilchrist & Soames bath products
Resort amenities, include:
--Large resort swimming pool
--Nightly turndown service
--Golf pro shop
10 Little Things I Liked
1. Sipping Don Q rum at the open-air bar overlooking the 18th green with the beautiful turquoise/blue ocean in the distance.
2. My phenomenal caddie, Galo, who knew every inch of the course and made sure me and my playing partner enjoyed every hole.
3. The steep walk and stairway down to the ocean where a pristine beach with nobody else in sight is a great reward.
4. The Amaretto French Toast and Veggie Frittata I enjoyed for breakfast at the clubhouse restaurant.
5. The hole-by-hole tour I received from developer Charlie Pasarell and conversation I also had with his brother and co-developer, Stanley Pasarell.
6. The seared scallops on a bed of risotto I had one evening at the clubhouse restaurant as I dined al fresco.
7. The dip pool on my terrace at my casita, a great place to take a dip and forget about my double bogeys.
8. Seeing the stars at night. Because of Royal Isabela's discreet, well-planned lighting, you get an amazing dark sky dotted with stars every night.
9. The luxurious, rich wood appointments and amenities in my casita.
10. The easy accessibility to Royal Isabela. It's about 90 minutes from San Juan via major highways.
The social epicenter of the resort is La Casa, an elegant, Spanish-Colonial style building with a farm-to-table restaurant, open-air bar and library lounge. With exquisite stone work and beautiful landscaping, it looks as if its been air-dropped in from a luxury ranch estate in Spain.
Restaurant La Casa--The quality here rivals the fantastic golf. Headed by chef Jose Carles Fabregas, the restaurant features dishes created from freshly harvested organic vegetables and fruits from the resort's own farm. With a menu that changes daily, the food is a fusion of local cuisine with European influences. If you love seafood, some of the items offered include lobster pizza, seared scallops on a bed of risotto and fresh grouper baked "Papillote" style in a banana leaf served with coconut risotto. Fabregas talks with local fisherman daily to get the best catches of the day.
Bar at La Casa--This circular outdoor bar is an amazing place to savor a drink before or after dinner drink as well as celebrate a great round of golf. At night, there's nothing better than enjoying a rum drink, inhaling the fragrance of the higuerrillo trees and admiring the starry sky above.
Grill at The Pro Shop--Features paninis, wraps and pizzas in a covered outdoor veranda setting.
THINGS TO DO
Old San Juan--Before or after your visit to Royal Isabela, don't miss Old San Juan with its narrow streets, boutique shops, centuries old forts and wide range of restaurants featuring everything from native Puerto Rican cuisine to Italian.
Old Town Isabela--Less than a 10 minute drive, this village has an historic church, museum and great beaches.
Watersports--The area is world-class surfing area. Check out Middles Beach. Popular pursuits include kite-surfing, stand-up paddleboard, scuba and snorkeling.
Royal Isabela is located 73 miles northwest of the San Juan International Airport near the town of Isabela. It's situated just off Highway 113. Take the toll road 22 from San Juan, merge onto Highway 2, then turn off to Highway 113.
Royal Isabela is a private club and residential community that has 26 home sites offered for purchase ranging in size from one to one-and-a-half acres featuring views of the cliffs, Atlantic Ocean or golf course. In addition, Fairway Villas with wood-beamed ceilings, open kitchens and two master suites overlooking the golf course are offered.
GET THE SCOOP
For more information, click to www.royalisabela.com . Phone 1-787-609-5888, Toll Free 1-855-609-5888. Address: 396 Ave Noel Estrada, Isabela, Puerto Rico 00662