Destination: Puerto Rico

Updated: May 2, 2012

It’s easy to gush about a place like Puerto Rico, especially if you are the guy who runs the island’s tourism division. But once Mario Gonzales -LaFuente starts talking about Puerto Rico, there’s no stopping him.

Any why not? The place is literally an island paradise. With hundreds of miles of beaches, warm tropical temperatures, world-class golf resorts, a tropical rain forest with a mile-long 857-foot high zip line and food and historical culture that can’t be beat, Puerto Rico is an easy place to speak of in high platitudes.

“Puerto Rico is a place that has something for everyone said Gonzales-LaFuente. “And once you’ve come to Puerto Rico, you’re already thinking about coming back.”

For those looking for a golf vacation Puerto Rico has it all. For those who need something away from the golf course, Puerto Rico has that too. For those who just want to lounge on a beach with a cocktail in their hand for days, that is not a problem.

Golfers will enjoy the variety of the courses. From the beach resort of Dorado to the majestic cliffs of Royal Isabela, there is a course to fit everyone’s golf demands.

Puerto Rico has 23 golf courses throughout the island, in fact Trump International, just outside of San Juan, is home to a PGA Tour event. And it’s an easy trip to get to San Juan International, taking just 3 1/2 hours from New York and 4 1/2 hours from Dallas Fort Worth. OK, a little longer from the Pacific Northwest. Nonstop flights to and from Europe are also available.

Gonzales-LaFuente and his Puerto Rican tourism company are not shy when it comes to getting the word out about Puerto Rico and what it has to offer. One of their big things is to sponsor the Puerto Rico Open, which brings in thousands of room nights and big tourist dollars.. In fact, Puerto Rico has 14,300 hotel rooms with that number growing to over 15,000 with the addition of A Ritz Carlton at Bahia Beach Resort.

The charm of San Juan and old San Juan brings in visitors by the hundreds every year, but the golf is starting to be a major attraction.

Dorado Beach Resort is a place with four golf courses and the East course is the attraction, having just undergone a major remodel. The resort is also the home of Chi Chi Rodriguez, who lives on the course and might even greet you when you arrive. The resort sits on three miles of Caribbean Coastline and is the home for a 130-room Ritz-Carlton Reserve. And the resort is expanding with more rooms and villas along the Caribbean beachfront.

El Conquistador is a place that sits near a mountain and runs into a valley with some spectacular oceanside settings. There’s a water park for kids and an island called Palomino that serves as a private setting for resort guests. The course has elevation changes of over 200 feet and has plenty of memorable views.

St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort has a terrific golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.with saltwater lagoons on 15 of its 18 holes.

Rio Mar is a place with two courses, the Ocean Course and River Course. Both are well worth it. The resort itself is a treat with over 600 rooms and 72 suites, restaurants shops and more. The golf courses, designed by Greg Norman and Tom and George Fazio, are as different as courses can be. The Fazio’s Ocean Course has a par-3 that is just a couple of feet away from the beach and the Caribbean Ocean. Norman’s River Course has more water in play.

One of the newest gems in Puerto Rico is Royal Isabela, a course designed and owned by brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell. Both were world-class tennis players. This is one of those places that must be seen to be believed. The course is located on the Northwest side of the island, meaning it is a little bit longer drive from San Juan than the rest, but it is well worth the extra miles.

On the back nine, as you stand on the 17th tee, you see a huge ravine, the Caribbean in the background and a green surrounded by nothing but trouble. The view is so good you don’t even want to hit. The course opened in 2008 and is destined for some of the best courses in the world lists. Royal Isabela will soon open villas which will have views of the ocean and the golf course.

Of course, there are other places to choose from to stay. Places like the Gran Melia, near Trump International, offer beachfront accommodations, including 131 rooms with restaurants, bars, shops and more to choose from

Golf is not the only thing Puerto Rico is known for.

The El Yunque Rain Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. The Bacardi Factory tour is always worth the time and the samples at the end of the trip make it worthwhile. Oldtown San Juan has 500-year-old buildings and offers some interesting history about Puerto Rico. The food in Puerto Rico is the most diverse of any Caribbean island.

One of the nice things about traveling to Puerto Rico is that it belongs to the United States, meaning you don’t need a passport and don’t have to worry about going through customs coming and going on your trip.

Even the PGA Tour players who come for the Puerto Rico Open love the place.

“I came here once a long time ago and fell in love with Puerto Rico,” said two-time Puerto Rico Open champ Michael Bradley. “And when we added this place to the schedule, I knew I was going to play. It’s a great place to be and a great place to play golf.”

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