GOLF LINKS AT ROYAL ISABELA
Course Architect(s): David W. Pfaff (2011), Stanley and Charles Pasarell
Year Opened: Spring 2011
Location: Isabela, Puerto Rico
Slope: 155. Rating: 80.3 (From Naturals Tees)
Yardage: 7,538 (Par 72)/7,667 (Par 73)
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 5 525 Yds 10 - Par 5 578 Yds
2 - Par 4 422 Yds 11 - Par 3 285 Yds
3 - Par 4 375 Yds 12 - Par 4 435 Yds
4 - Par 3 166 Yds 13 - Par 5 588 Yds
5 - Par 4 420 Yds 14 - Par 4 443 Yds
6 - Par 4/5 493/622 Yds 15 - Par 4 460 Yds
7 - Par 4 463 Yds 16 - Par 4 415 Yds
8 - Par 5 605 Yds 17 - Par 3 200 Yds
9 - Par 3 174 Yds 18 - Par 4 491 Yds
Par 36/37 3,643/3,772 Yds Par 36 3,895 Yds
Awards Won: Best of the Best - Robb Report (2012),
Top new courses to watch - Golf Magazine,
World's Top 100 Golf Courses - Golf Magazine (2013).
HISTORY: I'm not sure that Stanley and Charlie Pasarell dreamed about golf
course design and owning a resort when growing up as children in Puerto Rico,
but whatever was on their mind, has certainly come to fruition.
Located on the northwest corner, on the island of Puerto Rico, Royal Isabela
is certain to become a world-class destination in the years to come.
Imagine two kids growing up, playing tennis day in and day out and becoming
outstanding players, competing on the world-wide stage. In fact, Charlie, who
attended UCLA, was a four-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, where he
compiled a 6-1 record. In addition, he captured 18 career singles titles and
at one time was the top-ranked American after turning professional, while
brother Stanley, after attending Stanford University, played around the world
and competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico and qualified for the U.S.
Open on five occasions.
Upon retiring from competitive tennis, the duo maintained their tennis roots,
but with a twist. Charlie founded the National Junior Tennis League, which
incorporates tennis into the lives of youths around the United States.
Stanley, while in Hawaii, became a sales rep in the tennis business and
coached a local high school, while working as the director of tennis on the
island of Oahu at Kailua Racquet Club.
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home to the BNP Paribas Open on the ATP and
WTA tours, was made possible by the hard work and dedication of Charlie.
Behind Arthur Ashe Stadium, which hosts the U.S. Open, the IWTG is the second-
largest tennis stadium in the world.
Stanley moved back to Puerto Rico in the late 1970s to take over the family
business, Puerto Rico Supplies Company, which dates back to 1945 and was
founded by his grandfather and his father, Charlie, Sr.
Although they mainly played tennis growing up, golf was introduced when they
were teenagers. "My dad got the golf bug when he turned 40," Stanley said. "It
was something my father, brother and I could play together, like tennis, but
as my dad got a little bid older, golf was something we could all play ...
Becoming very successful businessmen in their own right and traversing the
world, Charles and Stanley have enjoyed life and, more importantly, played
golf at some of the most influential courses on the globe. Courses like St.
Andrews and Pebble Beach.
The next step in their lives was simple. Charles and Stanley embarked on
developing first-rate and distinct properties, with their first stop in their
homeland of Puerto Rico.
Royal Isabela is the heart and soul of the brothers Pasarell. Having been born
and raised in the country has given them unique insight into the land and way
of life in the region, which certainly shines through in their golf course
"Each element of Royal Isabela evolved out of the land itself," Charles said.
"A legacy has been created here, one of appreciation for the environment and
of respect for its history. We want to honor the traditions of the game and
respect what the land has bestowed. This is what makes Royal Isabela, and the
experience of being here, truly one of a kind."
Founded by the brothers, along with Edwin Perez, the course opened for play in
the spring of 2011. The course design belongs to David. W. Pfaff, with plenty
of assistance from Charles and Stanley.
Pfaff began his design career with the legendary Pete Dye in the mid 1960s and
by '84 had opened up his own design company.
Pfaff's work spans the globe, but his most significant endeavors were with Dye
at Crooked Stick (Ind.), Harbour Town (S.C.), Oak Tree (Okla.) and Casa de
Campo, better known as Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic.
It stands to reason that Pfaff would be chosen to craft the Links at Royal
Isabela because his design ideology is the same as Charles and Stanley's.
"My fundamental philosophy concerning golf course design is that it should
take advantage of the natural features of the land available," said Pfaff.
"The designer's biggest challenge is to get the golf corridors, greens and
tees situated properly on the land to keep earthmoving at a minimum,
incorporate natural features, and make the golf course enjoyable."
As with most projects of this magnitude, it took a few seasons to see this
work become a reality.
The course sits on one-fourth of the planned 1,800-acre community on the
Island of Puerto Rico, near the town of Isabela and overlooking the Atlantic
Ocean with four miles of coastline.
The hands-on approach by Charles and Stanley are quite evident throughout the
land. "The golf course design was not about moving the earth, but how the
earth moved us to tread gently," Charles said. "We are not the creators of
Royal Isabela, we are its caretakers."
Dedicated to taking care of the land and all aspects of the project, including
tree removal, this could not be done without the stamp of approval by Stanley
... or should we say, written approval, as all trees, flowers, animals, etc.
... are protected in writing! "By leaving all these trees that were on the
site, most of which are over 100 years old, it feels like its a mature course
that's been here forever," Stanley said. "That certainly was important to us."
What you see is what was there, according to Stanley. "This is what we found.
The trees and terrain along with the lakes and ponds were part of the natural
characteristics. We pushed up some of the tee boxes with the irrigation, of
course, but it was raw and rocky terrain."
In this day and age, the pride and passion of the Pasarell brothers is quite
touching and rare. "Puerto Rico has been good to us," Stanley added, "and our
commitment to Royal Isabela is born out of our family's heritage on this
The end result is quite a unique experience.
HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: It's great to start out playing when the opening hole is
a par-5. Not only that, it's just 525 yards from the tips. That being said,
with tongue firmly in cheek, as despite the elevated tee box, the first is far
from easy. With the wind blowing from left to right off the ocean, the opener
features a fairly wide fairway, split by bunkers down the center. The right
side will reward the player with an elevated and level lie, with a straight
route to the green, while the lower level to the left runs next to a reachable
lake off the tee. The big decision is your approach. Should you go for it or
lay up? Going for the green is quite risky, as the fairway narrows and any
miss left will certainly end up in bogey or worse. Remember, it's uphill, so
lay back to the 100-yard mark and then attack the pin. The wide, but shallow
green slopes from right to left with a bunker guarding the left corner, so
The second hole is a fairly docile par-4 that can be stretched to 422 yards.
The key is the tee shot, as the landing area is quite narrow and pinched by
sand right and left, and OB to the right. Your approach to the green must
factor in the mound in front of the putting surface, as this will limit your
view of the flag. Two, sod-faced traps lurk left, as they sit well below the
green, so play out to the right, as balls will feed in towards the hole.
Another demanding tee shot awaits the player on the third. The only par-4 on
the course under 400 yards, No. 3 is a sharp dogleg right that plays downhill
from tee to green. Trees guard the entire right side, while more trees and
ruins protect the left. A risky play is to cut the corner of the dogleg, thus
capturing the slope of the fairway toward the green. It can be done, but
perfection is critical. The sensible play is three-metal off the tee, leaving
just a short iron to the long putting surface that sits well below the
fairway. Miss long and left and the jungle awaits, play right and your
approach should feed toward the green. Don't be fooled by a back-pin. Play
toward the center of the green, two-putt and move on.
The shortest hole on the course is the par-3 fourth, just 166 yards in length
and playing a smidge downhill. The long putting surface is two-tiered and runs
hard from back to front. In fact, any shot short of the putting surface will
cascade into a collection area. Although it's rated as the easiest hole on the
course, it features one of the most difficult putting surfaces, so much so
that putts below the hole are just as deceiving as being above the hole. Its
name, "Tear Drop," is quite apropos.
One of the most generous fairways on the course comes by way of the par-4
fifth. From an elevated and blind tee shot, your play is into the wind and to
the right of the guiding palm tree in the center of the fairway. Clearing the
crest of the hill will funnel your tee ball down the landing zone to a fairly
level lie. Now it's uphill to the green as you climb toward the Atlantic
Ocean, so take an extra club. The three-tiered green is punishing, especially
with a back-left pin. A deep pot bunker which sits 10 feet below fronts the
green, while bunkers rear might capture an errant play. Further right and over
the green will necessitate a drop or worse, if you're playing a match.
Aptly named "Fork in the Road," or "Yogi Berra," the sixth can be played as
either a par-4 or a par-5. "Charlie wanted to build the par 5 and Stanley the
par 4," Pfaff said. "We decided that if this is what the land gave us, then
let's take advantage of it. Charlie, Stanley and I looked at each other and
said ... let's build both." As a par-4, it plays straight uphill from tee to
green, reaching 493 yards length. Play it as a par-5, and it doglegs left,
then right to the green, 622 yards long. The landing area off the tee,
requires a tee shot over water to a fairly wide zone. Playing Charlie's par-5,
you have a decision to make, whether to cut the dogleg and risk clearing the
waste area or laying up down the left, leaving an uphill third to a three-
tiered green. Stanley's way requires an uphill second shot of 200-plus yards
to an enormous green with a large swale in the center and deep, sod-face
bunkers, front and left. Either way you play, you'll find out that this may be
the most difficult hole on the course. So in the great words of Mr. Berra,
"When you come to a fork in the road ... take it."
At 463 yards in length, the seventh is one of the longest par-4s on the
course. Bending slightly to the left, the fairway runs out at the 285-yard
mark, thanks to a burn that moves from right to left as it pinches the landing
area. Even with a successful tee shot, you're left with a long iron or fairway
metal to a green that's secluded in the front by a mound and sand. The large
putting surface features the narrowest of openings on the left, making that
entrance the safest play. A par here will go a long way on the scorecard.
The longest hole at Royal Isabela comes by way of the par-5 eighth, a robust
605-yarder from the back coconuts. Fairly straight off the tee, water comes
into play on the right side of the landing area, while the entire left side of
the hole is OB. Usually played into a stiff breeze, you'll need to blast a 3-
metal for your approach to have a reasonable chance of getting on in three.
Another large green awaits, with sand guarding the right-front portion and
another in the rear. With a back-right flag, Devil's Pond can rear its ugly
head if you're not careful. No. 8 completes a 4-hole stretch of some of the
most difficult holes on the course.
No. 9 is a wonderful hole that closes out the first half of the golf course. A
medium-length par-3, it features an island green that can be quite
intimidating. Although the green is very wide and fairly deep, pin placement
here is the key. A front left or right flag is very daunting, especially with
the wind howling from left to right. My advice, play toward the center and
rely on the flat stick to secure your par.
If you thought the front nine was good golf, wait till you reach the 10th.
With the Atlantic Ocean within reach, you're greeted with a twisting par-5
from an elevated tee box. Two native trees guard the landing area, standing
like goal posts and making for a great target. Beware in your attempt to cut
off too much on the left, as sand and a water hazard guard lay in wait. The
hole turns sharply toward the left for your layup or dare I say attempt to
reach the green in two. Playing safe will come with rewards, as this will set
up a short approach to the putting surface. An effort to reach the green in
two must be so precise that you'll most likely end up in a group of trees to
the left or one of the several deep bunkers dotted around the green. Since we
are now close to the ocean, the breezes really take hold and are quite
difficult to judge. The final piece of the puzzle is the two-tiered putting
surface, which slopes severely from front to back and drops off behind the
green. It stands to reason that this is rated the most difficult hole at Royal
It's hard to believe the 11th hole is rated as one of the easiest on the
course. You see, it's a par-3 of 285 yards from the Naturals. Really? That's
right, 285 yards long with a putting surface that's 65 paces in length, it's
as narrow as your shoe and features three tiers. Piece of cake, right? Not.
You start out by hitting over a lake toward the green, which is slightly
elevated, so any shot coming up a bit short, will slide back down the shaved
chipping area. In addition a pair of bunkers, left and rear will make for
difficult up and downs. Fifteenth-hardest on the course ... I don't think so.
By the way, your other choice is to play the small private par-3, that's just
120 yards long, but next to impossible to make par, as it sits unabated
alongside the coast.
One of the most dramatic holes on the course is the 12th, which runs along the
cliffs overlooking the mighty Atlantic. A medium-length par-4, No. 12 features
a carry over the cliffs to the fairway, which is guarded on the left by thick
underbrush and two perfectly placed bunkers. A successful tee ball will leave
a short iron to an elevated green, that shares its surface with the 14th. The
green is quite undulating with bunkers on either side, not to mention the
daunting cliffs on the right. Any shot short of the green will feed back down
Moving inland for one hole, the 13th is a par-5 that stretches 588 yards. It
features a majestic stand of Coconut Palms in the landing zone off the tee.
The fairway is quite generous and although the grove of palms are a plenty,
there is plenty of room to accept your first shot. The fairway is then split
in two by a sandy, duned waste area that wraps around to the right. As the
hole bends to the right, there once again is plenty of room for your layup,
thus leaving a short iron to a fairly small putting surface, fronted by a sod-
faced pot bunker. Upon reaching the undulating green, you'll once again be
greeted by the sensational views of the Atlantic to your right. One word of
caution, missing long and right is not an option, as this will result in a
lost ball. This hole brings back great memories of a wonderful movie from
1963, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," starring the greats from yesteryear,
Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and
Ethel Merman to name a few. If you remember, they're all after $350,000 hid
under a group of palm trees in the shape of a "W". A photo is worth a thousand
Back along the coast, the 14th is an uphill, dogleg right par-4. Played into a
left-to-right wind, this hole plays generally longer than the 443 yardage
indicates. The roller coaster-like fairway will give the player plenty of
angst, as the chance for a level lie is virtually non-existent. You'll need
plenty of club to reach the shared putting surface, as the wind meets you head
on. Quite reminiscent of the links courses in Scotland, play under the wind
for your best play to the green. The bent-elbow putting surface features many
undulations, so stay below the hole ... if you can.
Playing back inland and into the dunes, the 15th is a solid, dogleg left
par-4, wrapping around trees and water on the left. A generous fairway should
be accessible, but it's the approach play that will give you fits.
Precariously close to the water line, the green features an inordinate amount
of undulation and with a back-left pin, tucked behind a deep bunker, this hole
can go from one of the easiest to one of the most difficult.
Still running along the coast, the par-4 16th features a very generous landing
area off the tee. Avoid the pines to the right, and the thick rough and cliffs
to the left, and you're almost home free. It's slightly downhill toward the
well-canted putting surface that runs from back to front and left to right.
Four distinctive bunkers guard the green and must be avoided for any shot at
par. Miss left or long and you'll bring double-bogey into the equation.
If there ever was just one signature hole at Royal Isabela, the 17th would be
it, a brilliantly conceived par-3 over the Atlantic Ocean that stretches over
200 yards in length. It plays even longer when the wind is blowing, which is a
daily occurrence. The view of the cliffs and water is spectacular and when you
have a long iron or fairway metal in hand, it's scary at the same time. The
only bailout area is to the right and rear, where hundred-year-old chicken
trees, surrounded by a rock wall, await. The two-tiered green, running from
back to the edge of the cliff, is almost impossible to hold and with its slick
speed, even harder to two-putt. I failed miserably here in several attempts,
but this is one of my favorite holes.
The closing hole will play as the longest par-4 on the course and not because
of the yardage. This 491-yard behemoth plays directly uphill from tee to
green, as it swings from right to left toward the clubhouse. Your tee shot
must climb 30-40 feet in elevation to the fairway, not to mention avoiding the
signature tree in the middle of the landing area and the encroaching rough on
either side. The climb to the green is also quite severe, as you maneuver
toward the hidden, two-tiered putting surface. Pot bunkers and a steep hill to
the left protect the long green that feeds toward the front. A closing par is
a welcomed result.
FINAL WORD: Over the past decade, the economy, not to mention lack of quality
sites, have dwarfed the golf course design business, almost to a screeching
But when a piece of property, like Royal Isabela becomes available, you have
to go for it. And go for it, is exactly what Charles and Stanley Pasarell did.
"This is the best golf course for the land we found," Stanley said. "It
evolved from the ideas and experiences my brother and I have playing Scottish
and Irish courses."
In addition, the design experience that David Pfaff brought to the table was
invaluable and his insight was keen to the project.
"Although I've worked on many golf courses, creating this one was an
exceptionally satisfying experience." Pfaff said. "We decided to take
advantage of the spectacular natural setting for golf and not disturb the land
any more than necessary."
What makes the Golf Links at Royal Isabela so appealing is its ease of flow
and the fact that it has six different tee boxes on each hole. So you don't
have to be a scratch player to enjoy this venue, as the course ranges from
5,200 yards to a massive 7,667 yards from the back markers.
"Each hole goes its own way," Stanley said. "No holes are parallel to another
and, most importantly, you've got to keep the ball in front of you."
The course can be quite difficult, especially when the wind is blowing, which
is a daily occurrence, but with the numerous tee boxes and generous fairways,
Royal Isabela is quite enjoyable for all skill levels.
Royal Isabela was incorporated into the land, not the other way around. It
fits perfectly without disturbing the natural integrity of the property.
That's one of the unique aspects of the golf course, as it was built around
and through different characteristics.
"The history of the land use at Royal Isabela is very different," Stanley
explained. "Some grew sugar cane, some mined the sand, some grew palm trees on
their property and some left their land wide open for pastures. And, one spot,
although you'd never know it now because it's so beautiful, was where the
locals would come and dump their garbage hundreds of feet down to the water."
Royal Isabela is as natural as it gets. From its coconut tee markers, which
personifies the tropical flair of the island, to the incorporation of the
native sand dunes, indigenous trees and flora that's a distinct component of
"Royal Isabela is, in my estimation," according to Pfaff, "one of the most
dramatic golf courses to be built in recent years. We sculpted it delicately
along the top of rugged cliffs that soar more than 200 feet above the
Atlantic. Given the incredible natural beauty and abundance of the land, we
were able to create one golf hole after another, many breathtaking,
overlooking the shoreline's magnificent meeting with the sea."
That coupled with the incredible passion the brothers have for this project,
will make Royal Isabela a must-destination, not to mention a memorable one for
years to come.
"There is no end to Royal Isabela for us. We live this project. Royal Isabela
will be our legacy."