When the opportunity arose to visit Puerto Rico in the middle of February, I raised my hand quickly. It was 40 degrees in California and I was happy to pay a visit to the 80 degrees and sunny scene. Having never visited Puerto Rico before, I was excited to enter unexplored territory.
The next day, our group quickly jumped into the golf agenda at TPC Dorado Beach’s East Course. We had a full foursome of golf “influencers” in addition to myself, here was the lineup.
Lee Abbamonte - Visited every country in the world. There are travel experts and then there is Lee.
Hailey Ostrom - Golf Shotmaker / Shot Caller
Chelsea Pezzola - Winner - Best RGV Tour Rooftop Pose - 2018.
With firepower like this, it was necessary to put it all on the line in a winner take all death match. It would be the Chicos vs Chicas. The battle would be life threatening and intense.
“Prepare to lose and cry,” barked an enthused Chelsea Pezzola. Hailey Ostrom followed up the taunt with a casual “This won’t even be close.”
That was all the motivation that Lee and I needed. The boys came out hot and never looked back. With the women down 3 on the 16th hole, Pezzola holed her bunker shot for birdie but I would also make birdie to seal the match. The ladies came up with plenty of excuses but nothing could take away the sweet taste of victory. Final Score: Chicos win, 3 and 2.
In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. It is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island and the category 5 storm caused $91.6 billion in losses.
The good news is that Puerto Ricans are persistent and the country has bounced back aggressively. There are still signs of the devastation as you travel the countryside but at the resorts we visited, the damage is unnoticeable. Puerto Rico is definitely open for business.
After arriving in San Juan, we headed out on the town for some dinner. Azabache Restaurant was the decision. The gnocchi shrimp was good but my taste buds are still recovering from the dessert. I can taste it right now just looking at the picture again. Look at those gold flakes!
Today, there are currently two courses open for play at TPC Dorado Beach, the East course and the Sugarcane course. Running through lush jungle and coconut groves, The East course was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr and restored by Jr in 2011. In 2016, Golf Digest named the East course the #1 course in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, our group didn’t have time to explore the Sugarcane course but it sounds delicious.
After the round our party made a quick transfer to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. Over the next several days, our group would take full advantage of the 10 different restaurants and bars on the resort. My personal favorite was the conveniently located Ice cream bar. Who needs whiskey when you have ice cream? It must be noted that they have a corn bread ice cream that was surprisingly delicious.
The resort also has a casino that Lee and I made a run on. I was up $50 and Lee cashed in around $250. It’s always fun to walk out of a casino with some money in your pocket. But the best walk for me will always be on a golf course.
After we settled into the accommodations, it was time for the ‘death match’ rematch at Bahia Beach, which is just 20 minutes down the road. The course was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones and later tweaked by Robert Trent Jones Jr in 2008. The golf course requires the golfer to keep the ball in play off of the tee as the lush Puerto Rican jungle awaits your wayward tee shots. If you brought your slice with you to the island, you will need to make sure you brought a couple extra sleeves of Chrome Softs.
We would struggle out of the gate and hover around 3 down for most of the day. A late surge was also thwarted by some untimely 3 putts. I blamed the views on the 15th hole (shown below) for most of our team’s putting woes. In the end, the chicas would prove too much for the chicos and we would be forced to enter the loser locker room. Final Score: Chicas win, 1 up.
Also onboard at Bahia Beach was professional photographer Omark Reyes, who was following our group for the day. Omark did an excellent job of documenting the match and it was a pleasure to be on the other side of the camera for a change. Although it was labeled a death match, nobody would lose their life and we would all emerge bonded as survivors and friends. Although, with the death match victories tied at 1, a death match rubber match will need to take place.
Death Match Win Totals
One of my favorite parts about the golf courses in Puerto Rico are the ever-present iguanas. They can be found near just about every body of water and appear to be huge fans of the game. I informed the iguanas that I was putting together the world’s greatest iguana photo gallery and they reluctantly posed for some photographs.
After the round at Bahia Beach it was time to watch some professional golf at The Puerto Rico Open. In 2006, Tom Kite designed four nines at Coco Beach Golf & Country Club and the course has hosted the Puerto Rico Open since it became an event on the PGA Tour in 2008. The tournament is the only official PGA event in the entire Caribbean. I would only catch the tail end of Saturday’s round but I would find some cool sunset action.
The highlight of my visit to the Puerto Rico Open was when I got a chance to meet Oro the Cat. Oro is in charge of Player Support in the media center and is one of the friendliest golf cats in the industry. Oro is a very big deal.
We also filmed a mock player interview in the media center that I am unable to post due to a copyright claim by The PGA Tour. Rest assured it is hilarious.
There was time for one more round in Puerto Rico and Wyndham’s Rio Mar River Course was up on deck. Guests of the resort have 2 options for golf on the property, the River Course, designed by Greg Norman, and Fazio’s Ocean Course. The River is the more difficult of the 2 courses and I was up for the challenge.
The River course derives its name from the Mameyes River that winds its way through the property. Wisely, Greg Norman took advantage of the river’s natural charm and routed a number of holes along it’s banks. With views of the nearby Yunque Mountains the course is a beautiful and challenging experience.
Since I was the only golfer to rise early enough for the final round, I was golfing alone. I have always enjoyed golfing by myself and being surrounded by the Puerto Rican country side made the walk even more enjoyable. The death match rubber match would have to wait until we return to discover more of what Puerto Rico has to offer.