Isabela, Puerto Rico
I played this incredible course in 2013 after missing the cut in the Puerto Rico Classic at Dorado Beach Resort. Looking back, I am glad I did, given the opportunity which presented itself over the weekend. A good friend from California, Rhett Colbrese, who I roomed with that week, had also missed the cut. Rhett had a connection to someone at Royal Isabela. A few text messages back and forth, we had a tee time on the weekend.
The views on Royal Isabela’s back nine are unmatched and often compared with Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. The front and back nines share similarities in design; links in style but playing significantly different. The front nine plays away from the North Atlantic Ocean back up and into the hillside. Outside of the opening four holes, the fairways are relatively forgiving in size. Numerous pot bunkers are perfectly placed to snag a slightly wayward drive. Don’t let the forgiveness of the fairways fool you. Stray from them and you’ll find yourself knee high in thick grass facing a penalty shot.
The second nine is where the fun begins as holes 10 and 11 make their way down the hill toward the ocean and cliff faces. Five holes run directly along the coast in both directions. The double green on holes 12 and 14 is an iconic feature. The best hole however has to be the par 3, 17th. A 200-yard forced carry with the tee and green sitting high on opposing points along the clifftop. A mid to long iron is challenging enough when there is room to miss either side, add to that a green two-thirds surrounded by sheer cliff and no bailout area. It’s no wonder 17 is considered the most intimidating hole at Royal Isabela.
There would be few places anywhere in the world offering a better golfing experience. Although the course is demanding from start to finish, the utter beauty and tranquility of the property makes the roughest of days on the scorecard an enjoyable experience!