We fell in love with Royal Isabela the moment we began that first round during a sneak preview with co-owner Stanley and his dog Dumas in 2010. Only the rough course was open with a shell of a clubhouse; no casitas, restaurant, or villas yet built. The property and vision foretold of the spectacular compound that was to unfold and we yearned to return. Fast-forward to 2/11/13 when the wind howled through the swaying trees and the ocean roared as if to call out in Toby
Keith fashion, “How do you like me now?” Emerged from raw nature is a golf sanctuary. Dramatic cliffs over the ocean at Isabela called for brothers Stanley and Charles Passarel, with architect David Pfaff to place a tee box or a flagstick here and there, weaving a magical green carpet of linked fairways with sloping surprises at every turn through the pristine tropical landscape. After surveying and playing the great links courses of Scotland, Ireland and Pebble Beach, they have created a global golf stage in their words, “Where golf is meant to be played.”
The tips, labeled “Naturals”, play out to 7600 yards with 80.3/155 slope rating. Who in their right mind would call that natural? Bubba Watson or Dustin Johnson? Invoke the “play it forward” policy to enhance chances of a great score and fun round. Number one sets the stage with a water hazard left, out of bounds far right, a glimpse of ocean, and a narrow neck to the blind small green, cleverly called the “Peephole.” Every hole is aptly named, like “Yogi Berra” with “The Fork” to 2 greens.
The back nine begins with the number one handicap, “Hurricane.” Concentration is difficult as the Atlantic Ocean mesmerizes and forceful trade winds blow. Some bemoan 17-“Chicken Tree.” Tee off from one cliff to the tiny two tiered green on another cliff separated by a deep chasm, ocean waves crashing below. We find it befitting the untamed shoreline it guards. No question, the course is tough and it will probably knock you down along the way, but don’t take it personally. Enjoy the ocean views and a tremendous round of golf!!!
After the round, toast at the al fresco circular bar next to the croquet field, or at La Casa. Award winning chef David Pasternack and consultant John Sergi have concocted the best cuisine with locally grown produce, seafood and meat. The custom dining room rug defines the artistic detailing throughout Royal Isabela. Stanley and his and delightful wife, Georgene selected umpteen colors and patterns to reflect the vivacious yet harmonious spirit of Royal Isabela. Retreat to your private casita, with mahogany floors, private plunge pool, gazebo or deck in the forest and open views of the ocean. The walk-in shower is extraordinary with his and her side nozzles, a ceiling rain shower in the middle, and an exterior windowed door displaying, yes, the ocean view. Wow! A canopy bed looks out over, you guessed it, the ocean, lulling all night long – truly dreamy.
For a treasured experience, white limestone steps submerge into the mango forest and vines. Each level reveals a new wonder of nature journeying to the secluded beach. The vista takes your breath away with vegetation climbing the mountain, jagged rocks below spewing fountains of ocean. The sea rages as far above the tiny flag waves on the 17th “Chicken Tree” green, a reminder of the magnificent golf setting. Beware the strong current in this powerful surf. Swimming is reserved down at the point.
Charles and Stanley have a passion for and commitment to sound ecological principles and applied them to Royal Isabela, where butterflies and birds are reappearing that were feared extinct. A nursery of indigenous plants are carefully tended and talked to by cousin Maria Elena whose husband Tito serves as the general manager of Royal Isabela. It is all in the family in Puerto Rico according to sales director Joy Madera whose husband bakes his artisan bread for most of the island.
Far from the hustle of San Juan, reddish-orange Maga trees, lead to the discreet gated entrance of Royal Isabela, along the shoreline cliffs of western Puerto Rico. Come with an attitude of gratitude. Surrender to the nature and serenity is yours. Just three nights will change you. Imagine more. Vacations may be reserved at www.royalisabela.com, but membership is by invitation only. If you receive the call, just say, “si”. We say, “Royal Isabela, you had us at HOLA!”WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?