“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice. ”
The hard part about designing a cliff-top golf course like Royal Isabela is making the inland holes interesting.
Out here on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, 70 miles from San Juan, former tennis professionals Charles and Stanley Pasarell have unveiled a stunning layout that's likely to shift the golf balance of power in their native country from east to west. The course, designed by Pete Dye protégé David Pfaff, is the first installment for a rollicking 426-acre site that combines tropical woodland, limestone outcropping, cleared grazing land, deep river valleys and bluffs perched 200 feet above the foaming Atlantic Ocean.
Pfaff deploys fall-away greens that require a bump-and-run approach; infinity-edge putting surfaces that look as if they are suspended in midair with only the ocean as background; massive cliff-top fairways that tempt you to flirt with the rocky shoreline edge; and one of those scimitar-shaped par-3s where you have to carry a deep ravine. "Any idiot would have found that hole," he said of the 200-yard 17th. "The job was making the others work."
Limestone walls, and small ruins, evoke the sensibility of Old San Juan. The clubhouse and windswept patio offer a lovely outlook and give the place a placid character, particularly late in the day as long shadows dabble the ground and make you feel as if you're on a classic linksland course. And it's all within easy reach of mainland U.S., thanks to direct commercial and charter service into Aguadilla Airport, a former U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command base that is now the longest runway on a non-military airport in the eastern Caribbean.
Royal Isabela is a resort course, with private club membership, in Isabela, Puerto Rico. Natural tees: 7,667 yards, par-73 (80.3 rating/155 slope). For information, call (939) 940-4150 or visit www.royalisabela.com.
Rafael Hernandez Airport is 12 miles west in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Main runway is 11,700 feet. FBOs include COPECA, (781) 890-1250; and WASCO Western Aviation, (787) 890-2323.