If you peruse a list of the most exceptional golf courses in the world, you will find Pebble Beach on our coast, Kauri Coast in New Zealand, the renowned Scottish links, Bandon Dunes in Oregon and now, my golf sources confirm the excellent addition of Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico. The finest courses are usually designed by zealous golfers, and in the case of this course, the founders Charlie and Stanley Pasarell fit this dynamic.
In researching beach resorts in Puerto Rico, I stumbled upon Royal Isabela and was astonished to read that the Pasarell brothers own and manage the resort. Full disclosure:on the odd chance of paths crossing, when I attended high school, I watched Charlie play in the annual Ojai Tennis Tournament. He played Davis Cup singles at UCLA, and doubles with Arthur Ashe; I’m admitting to a schoolgirl crush and several of us, girls in Catholic School uniforms, followed him every year. Of course, he never knew we existed, unaware of his plaid uniform clad fan club! I added Royal Isabela to my list of site inspections.
Several golf clients volunteered to travel with me and play the course. The views from the course are all of the natural pristine beauty of the area; no homes or structures interrupt the contours of the flowing open coastline. This course is about golf skill, pleasure and boundless horizons.
Driving the course with your caddy, you will be astonished by the rugged beauty and the demanding greens. Atop a stunning cliff top, many of the holes require a skillful technique to sail the ball across the crevasse of jagged cliffs above the crashing waves. A few holes filled with tropical water hazards will challenge even the best golfer. The countryside’s native grasses, natural sand dunes and deep canyons are integral to the layout, while sod-faced bunkers add a Scottish flair to this island jewel.
Through collaboration with architect David W. Pfaff, the Pasarell brothers developed their vision to an awe-inspiring reality. Created on site, not on paper, the design evolved from the land itself.
The resort is small and luxurious; twenty spacious casitas are discretely tucked amid tropical fragrant gardens. A wall of folding glass panel doors in the living room open to reveal dramatic views of the ocean and distant horizon. The bathrooms are enormous, deep soaking tub, double indoor shower with its own glass doors opening to your deck side plunge pool. The constant warm breeze is a delightful method of drying off following a shower – step out of your shower and employ the gentle wind as your towel, au natural. Breezes also banish bugs, an organic antidote.
The property encompasses over five miles of the Guajataca River Canyon. The municipality of Isabela is known as “El Jardin del Noroeste” (The Garden of the Northwest), due to the many wild flowers in its landscape. The head of landscaping, Edgardo Vazguez, drove me through the jungle outback for a tour of the hundreds of palms and plants destined for the grounds. Paddle down the lazy Guajataca River to reach the beachhead, toss out a line and troll for supper. A private visit to Pastillo Beach, stroll through the gentle warm waves, and search the small tide pools for shells and beach critters. Picnic basket, a book, and a beach – who needs more than this?
When the Spaniards arrived in 1493, the land was home to the Taino Indians, “Arawak”. The area was named “Isabela” in honor of the Queen Isabella I in 1819. Not much has changed in this sleepy community, churches line the main plaza, old men play domino’s in the square on Sunday afternoons.
The Isabela area also boasts world-class surfing beaches, deep sea fishing, pristine rainforests, the Aymamón Mountains, the Guajataca River, the Caves at Camuy and Puerto Rican archaeological sites. The diversity of the Isabela landscape intrigues visitors and natives alike. Imagine a day at Royal Isabela, you can hike a mountain, sun on the beach, kayak or canoe along a mystical river, or stroll through a coffee plantation all in the same day, oh yes there is also the spectacular golf and tennis. Oh, and did I mention cooking classes with the chef? See my posting on Cuban Black Bean Soup- you too can prepare a meal which will later be served to hotel guests!
Additional amenities: Professional caddies, well stocked golf pro shop for the golfing crowd. La Casa restaurant and an outdoor circular bar keep guests sated with indigenous classic cuisine – herbs and vegetables picked from the chef’s garden. Watch the last glimpse of the setting sun from your private deck or join guests at the outdoor bar. Palapa cocktails and canapés are served every afternoon with the backdrop of the overgrown mountains and the wide grassy links dropping off to the Caribbean. Basil Mojito, si!
Small airport nearby with some regional flights, private planes can land here. San Juan Puerto Rico is a delightful 90 minute drive.
No disappointments at Royal Isabela. And no, Charlie was not on property, so the long ago schoolgirl crush remains a secret!