Golf Writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive "Play-Write" series with one of the truly soon-to-be fully discovered golfing experiences—Puerto Rico's Royal Isabela. Having the opportunity to play this spectacular seaside gem is an experience of a lifetime. Here is the eighth article in the PLAY-WRITE series.
Puerto Rico is known as "The Enchanted Island."
The Golf Links at Royal Isabela will become known as one of the most fascinating and inspirational charms of the golfing world.
Suffice it to say that if you want the experience of playing Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Old Course at St. Andrews in the same day, go to Puerto Rico now and play Royal Isabela.
You won't be disappointed and you will remember it for the rest of your life.
If not for playing golf on the cliffs with dramatic ocean vistas, then for the variety of golfing habitats experienced and their magical blending into one awesome round .
It is written that wisdom is looking beyond what seems to be.
If you look beyond what seems to be at Royal Isabela, the experience may be more than memorable, it may change your life.
Absolutely, positively and without a doubt, brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell have discovered, nurtured and are now presenting an inspirational place for the golfing world to enjoy and treasure as well.
Or perhaps a place of passage for you to venture into the next step in your life's journey?
Beyond the beauty of Isabela is the inspirational story of Isabela.
This is the island Borinquen—"the Land of the Valiant Lord," and the heritage of the indigenous Taino people.
One sees the profile of the Taino Indian face in the cliffs off the tee on the 12th hole.
One feels the spirit that looks proudly out into the ocean proclaiming "this is our land, a special place that we protect so it will be here for all of eternity."
The story of Isabela is the story of Stanley and Charlie's great grandfather—Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía. That man born in 1855 published the first novel by a Puerto Rican author in 1894.
Gandia's naturalist novel dealt with the difficult realities of life in the remote and mountainous regions of his beloved homeland. A land and heritage he so loved that he was an advocate for Puerto Rican independence after the Spanish-American War.
A love of the Puerto Rican land has passed down to the current generation.
The story of Isabela is the story of a son that answered a call from his father in 1978 to return home to Puerto Rico to help rescue the family business from bankruptcy. The company prospered and is now one of Puerto Rico's most successful privately-held companies.
The family sold their majority interest a few years back to Edwin Perez who is Stanley and Charlie's other partner in Royal Isabela.
A respect for family and doing what one needs to do to be successful.
The story of Isabela is the story of the preservation of nature, heritage and the land. Everything on the property, with the exception of the exceptional Mini Verde putting surfaces on the greens is native to the 426 acres of Royal Isabela.
"Once an era, the land has its way. It speaks and we listen. It beckons and we follow. It commands and we obey. So it is—and so it always will be—we are not the creators of Royal Isabela, we are its caretakers." -Stanley and Charlie Pasarell
The game of tennis may have never before impacted the game of golf in such a creative and awe-inspiring manner.
Charlie, a friend and teammate of tennis great Arthur Ashe at UCLA, was the No. 1 ranked men's singles tennis player in the United States in 1967.
Stanley played his collegiate tennis at Stanford University and represented Puerto Rico in the Summer Olympics in Mexico City in 1968.
While at Stanford, Stanley shared the cover of the "Stanford Golf & Tennis" magazine with Tom Watson.
The Pasarell link to golf was much stronger than a magazine cover.
Golf became a part of the family when their father Charlie Sr., an accomplished tennis player that played in the 1953 U.S. Open (tennis), accepted a challenge to quiet the talk that "golf was so much tougher to play than tennis."
The bet was simple—could he break 100 the first time he played a round of golf?
At age 40 he took lessons on his lunch hour and went to the driving range to practice at night.
Charlie Sr. made an 18-foot putt on the last hole to shoot 99.
Together, brothers Stanley and Charlie Jr. played, studied and analyzed Scottish and Irish golf courses similar to what insurance salesman Pete Dye did in the early 1960s as he transformed himself into a golf course architect.
The Pasarell brothers teamed up with architect David Pfaff who started his career as the original and only associate of Peter Dye and Associates in 1965. With experience nearby at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic and the philosophy of hands-on, personalized course design, Pfaff was a natural to complete the Isabela design team.
The result was a "tropical Scotland" type golf course that was ready for play in 2009.
I was invited to play the day after the Puerto Rico Open. Mariel Prieto, the Director of Marketing and Real Estate received me warmly and Brother Stanley acted as host.
Brother Charlie was in Indian Wells, California fulfilling tournament director responsibilities at the BNP Paribas Open, an ATP sanctioned tennis tournament that is part of the 2011 ATP World Tour.
Charlie is one of the founding members of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and was elected and served in the ATP board for more than 25 years, the longest tenure of any board member to date.
The ATP headquarters is less than one mile from the PGA TOUR headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Perhaps there are more ties between tennis and golf than previously thought.
My playing partner was Miguel Suarez, the Director of Golf, at Isabela.
Suarez is an acclaimed international golfer that started playing golf at the nearby Punta Borinquen Golf Club—the first public golf course in Puerto Rico. Miguel was educated on the mainland and played on mini-tours once winning the Golden Bear Tour Championship.
Suarez is the story of a kid who played all sports including golf stating at age nine at summer golf clinics, then chose golf and played golf every day starting at age 16.
One of the most respected golf professionals in Puerto Rico, Suarez oversees the national Junior Golf League, a program he created to give back to the game which has given him so much.
Having competed in all four of the PGA TOUR's Puerto Rico Opens, his game was as hot as the blazing Puerto Rican sun.
Ever play with someone who hit every fairway, their approach shots seemingly covered every flagstick, hit nearly every green and putted like a demon?
Suarez recorded five birdies alone on the front side and shot a five under 68 from the blue tees playing a little social golf with mere amateurs.
The "blues" are 6,804 yards with a rating of 75.7 and a slope of 145.
Suarez holds the course record of two under 70 from the tips or so, rightly labeled as the "naturals" at Isabela.
The "naturals" are 7,667 yards with a rating of 80.3 and a slope of 155.
That is not a typo—a rating of 80.3 and a slope of 155.
Our forecaddie was Jose Perez who caddied for Paraguay's Carlos Franco the week prior in the Puerto Rico Open.
Does one's golfing life get any better than this?
The front nine goes inland with an equatorial parkland sort of design.
The par-five first hole is memorable with a peephole view of ocean in the V-shaped gap between two hillocks to the left of the green.
One encounters the first flavor of Scotland with a sod faced bunker to the left of the second green.
The uphill 155-yard par-three fourth hole gave me a sense of Texas hill country golf with live oak trees and stone ruins behind the green.
The fifth green is dramatically placed in front of the earlier sneak preview of the ocean. The hole was on the upper level of a triple tiered green. My ball not only spun back to the lower levels but rolled another 30 yards down the hill in front of the green.
The sixth hole makes its way back to the high point of the property where the clubhouse area is found.
Here is where you sense the buoyant brothers may have encountered a disagreement, a fork in the road with respect to hole design with designer Pfaff coming to the rescue.
Whereas it is said that Palmer and Nicklaus butted heads a bit designing the "King and the Bear" in northeast Florida and the resolution was that each took a nine to design. At Royal Isabela each brother won out by designing a sixth hole of their own with a common tee.
We played the Charlie version, an uphill 622-yard par-five hole with the green sitting below the clubhouse.
The other Stanley version, following the right fork in the road is a really uphill 493-yard par-four hole that finishes on a high point with ocean vistas.
Please note again that we played Charlie's par five and hence a par 73 golf course. Okay so it was a 544-yard par-five birdie opportunity versus a difficult par four.
The next three holes were the earliest holes to open and form the dreaded triangle —a designer tool to completely befuddle the golfer's sense of trade wind direction.
After missing the meandering Scottish burn off the tee, the second shot on the par-four seventh hole is the first true links feel of Royal Isabela —a prelude of what is to come on the ocean front back nine.
My round began to deteriorate with an unforced error into the water hazard short of the par-five eighth green. In reality my thoughts of the Charca del Diablo or Devil's Pond began when we made our way past the island ninth green on our way to the seventh tee.
Much like Dye's Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, this threatening triangle of an otherwise beautiful non-intimidating Royal Isabela (at least up to this point) gives you many bad thoughts to think about much too soon.
I did tighten up my Bermuda britches and managed to land one safely on the devilish island green of the 174-yard par-three ninth hole. In fact I would only lose that one ball for the entire round at Isabela.
Feeling safer now that the tormenting triangle was behind us, we were warmly greeted by Stanley's dog Dunas who knowing there was food to be had, followed us up to the clubhouse for a lunch of flat iron streak at the turn in the open-air grill.
The transition from the lush parkland of the front nine to the more barren ocean facing links of the back nine is as evident as the vastness of the ocean from the 10th tee.
One sees the links of the distant holes and can sense being on a high elevation that goes to the edge of the ascertainable golfing grounds. It is there that the cliffs drop straight down 350 feet to the level of the sea.
It is there in the distance near the double green of Isabela, on the steep face of the rock, that the Taino warrior protects these sacred grounds. The elevation protects golfers from the sea but not from the wind or other hazards of the Pasarell-Pfaff designed Royal Isabela.
Two sod face bunkers guard a second shot that cuts the corner on the 578-yard par-five 10th hole. Another one short right of the green minimizes the bailout area. A golfer must be accurate even in the wind by the sea. This is true links golf.
Instead of the scorecard par-three 11th hole, we play Brother Stanley's future private home site par-three, whose green is perched on the cliffs. Miguel notes that this is admittedly a 100-yard par-five hole.
Given the green complex, namely the bunkers and the slope of the putting surface, not to mention the distraction of the thunderous Atlantic Ocean below, I agreed without question.
Walking away with my "par-five" I was completely overtaken with the beauty of Isabela.
Seeing the majestic view off the 12th tee with the prominent profile of the Taino Indian face, I went with the driver and put one in play on the 435-yard hole along the cliffs.
After nearly making a six-footer for the birdie, Miguel cried out that there were whales to be seen off the coast. The rare and impressive Humpback whales visit this area every year on their migratory route to the North Atlantic where they mate during the summer months.
Now my golf game was completely lost. I was in the "feeling one with nature" zone, no longer "in only the golf zone."
The 13th hole, Palm Grove traverses an old grove of coconut palms. Like the "W" at the finish line in the 1963 film "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" I had my eye on those tall, thin palm trees for a couple of holes now.
It's a Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful World.
One of the most spectacular views is from the perch of the 13th green looking south. The cliffs end at the shoreline there and what you see down below is another mile of native dunes with the approaching white lined surf.
As if Royal Isabela's 3.5 miles of shoreline is not enough, she is part of the larger Costa Isabela development which owns the land of dunes far below cliffs. The same is true on the north side of the property.
All told there are plans for four more golf courses and my guess is one each will be built at sea level on the dunes to the north and south and two more inland perhaps along the meandering Guajataca River.
After taking in the view and appreciating the vastness and diversity of the landforms on the property, we played the 443-yard par-four 14th hole that takes us back north along the cliffs to the elbow-shaped double green with the 12th.
The name of the hole is Hidden Pearl, a tribute to great-grandfather Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía's artistic creation. Though now that Royal Isabela is coming onto the world golfing scene in full bloom, it is debatable whether or not it is still a hidden pearl.
The final cliff-hanging shot is where the Atlantic Ocean once again comes into play at the dramatic 200-yard par-three 17th hole. For the first time on this strategic thinking course one must carry the ocean and a gorge for there is no bailout route.
This is perfectly fitting in golf and in life for there are times we must work through and not go around a difficulty.
I remember the inscription in the Ben Hogan instructional book my older brother gave me as a young boy: "Golf is a lot like life, the more you read, understand, and become educated about it the easier it is to meet its challenge."
I took a hybrid three and pushed all thoughts out of my mind with the exception of feeling and making a solid, confident and balanced swing. The well-struck ball flew out over the ocean and gorge, landed with friction and ended up on the back fringe of the green from where I two-putted for a heavenly par.
The 18th is a difficult 491-yard uphill par-four hole aptly named "Ruins" with the remnants of a house and rock wall on the inside of the sweeping dog-leg-left fairway that takes you back up to the gracefully but royally placed clubhouse.
On the right side of the fairway you will find the windswept native oak tree—the logo tree of Royal Isabela.
Royal Isabela's logo reminds us that golf is all about the wind and its impact on the golfer.
Having played Royal Isabela it seems my life and my thoughts linger a bit more these days.
Making the acquaintance of Isabela has somehow impacted my soul.
For more information on Royal Isabela please visit the web site www.royalisabela.com.
Royal Isabela is shown by invitation and appointment only. Please contact Mariel Prieto, Marketing Director, at 787.565.7710 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To read more articles in Golf Writer Andy Reistetter's exclusive "Play-Write" series go to the following links:
1. Daniel Island Club (Charleston, SC): Home of the Nationwide Tour Championship and the Charm of Charleston, South Carolina.
2. St. Johns Golf & Country Club (St. Augustine, FL): On the Road to the PGA TOUR.
3. TPC Four Seasons (Las Colinas, TX): Home of the HP Byron Nelson Classic.
4. Cog Hill Dubsdread (Lemont, IL): Deserving of a Future U.S. Open.
5. Greenbrier's Old White Course (White Sulphur Springs, W VA): A Charles Blair Macdonald Masterpiece enveloped with the essence of Slammin' Sammy Snead at America's Resort.
6. Scioto Country Club (near Columbus, Ohio): Scioto CC: The Bridge from Jones to Nicklaus and Beyond.
7. Orlando's Grand Cypress to Host 2010 LPGA Championship.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours—the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides in near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com