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Jones Jr. Let Mother Nature do the Work at Bahia Beach

By: Steve Habel


The first thing that strikes you if you're lucky enough to play the fabulous course at Bahia Beach Resort and Club in Puerto Rico is just how little designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. needed to uncover to reveal a great track.

The Coastline at Bahia Beach

It helps that Bahia Beach was carved out of mature tropical forest and routed through wetlands with sweeping views of El Yunque rainforest preserve. Jones steered the course around and over saltwater lagoons on 15 holes and added scads of bunkers to frame holes and swell the level of difficulty and playability.

Jones also had the great sense to leave the best for last - the final trio of holes at Bahia Beach play right along the crystal-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with just a line of palm trees and a narrow strip of sand separating the final three fairways from the waves. "We designed the course at Bahia Beach to be a haven of golf that will challenge but also delight your soul and spirit," Jones said, poetically. "The site is spectacular, with views of El Yunque from nearly every hole."

Aerial View of 15th Green & 16th Tee

Bahia Beach is the centerpiece of the Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club and an encompassing residential development. Located on 483 acres in Rio Grande, about 30 minutes east of San Juan on the site of a former coconut plantation, the community boasts a magnificent two-mile crescent of sandy beach along the Atlantic, world-class golf and beach clubhouses, and a charming seaside village.

St. Regis Hotels and Resorts will operate the intimate 150-suite St. Regis Resort at Bahia Beach, which will include a luxury hotel and condominium residences that are set to open in November.

Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club opened in 2008 and is the first design in Puerto Rico by Jones Jr. The fairways and rough are planted with hardy Bermuda Tifway 419, the most common turfgrass used in hot and humid climates, and the putting surfaces are carpeted with fine-bladed Tifdwarf. Perhaps most importantly, the entire layout has a sand base, meaning that when the rains come - as they frequently do in this part of the world - Bahia Beach drains quickly.

Bahia Beach Golf Club was designed with the resort golfer in mind, but it is not to be taken lightly. The par-72 track plays a demanding 7,014 yards from the tips, where it's rated at 75.8 and sloped at 145.

No. 5 at Bahia Beach

Length & Precision Required on Front Nine

Bahia Beach begins with a 468-yard par-4 named "Crooked Palm" after a notable bent coconut tree in front of the green and a heavily bunkered landing area. The hole is a great warm-up because it's one of the few holes on the course not flanked by one of the saltwater lagoons. Very straight and wide, it still demands two good shots - and captures the golfer's attention at the outset.

The meat of Bahia Beach's front nine is its middle holes, Nos. 5-8. The 568-yard par-5 fifth turns hard right to left off the tee and two of the three shots needed to reach the green must cross a lagoon. Along the way you must cope with bunkers left and right of the landing area and another spot pinched by water left and sand right on the third shot.

The massive 468-yard par-4 sixth is a slight dogleg-left that winds past a huge bunker left in the landing area. The approach here is to an elevated green with water left and a large bailout right.

Called "Bitter Brew," the 554-yard seventh stretches over water to a valley-like landing area. The fairway rolls and turns left, then right, before heading up to the three-tiered green surrounded by bunkers on three sides.

No. 8 is the 405-yard par-4 8th hole that sports a lake along the left side and a bunker right in the landing area. Once on the green a look back toward the tee provides a spectacular view of El Yunque, hovering in the mist above the jungles and wetlands below.

The Green at No. 10

Beach Holes can't be Beat

While the front side at Bahia Beach GC is fun and a real test, the course's most memorable holes are on the inward nine, especially the trio the runs along the beach at the end of the round.

Before you get to that juncture, however, there's the 316-yard par-4 10th, which may be attacked by big hitters, but the green is one of the smallest on the course and a more prudent play may be in order. No. 11 is a tough 463-yard par-4 with perhaps Bahia Beach's most demanding tee shot. But you'll get a little help from a landing area that's slightly concave and collects balls.

The 16th, called "Espiritu Santo," is the first of the three oceanfront holes. The 16th's back tees rest nearly in the mouth of the Espiritu Santo River, while the 527-yard par-5 features the ocean to the right and, more times than not, the wind at your back. The putting surface is reachable in two, but be aware of the huge bunker lurking on the green's port side.

The Bunker Complex at No. 17

No. 17 is a classic target hole, and at 222 yards, you'll swear there's more sand on the par-3 than grass. The elevated tee allows you to see the expanse of bunkers that guard the right side of the green, while water is on the left.

The closer is a challenging 458-yard par 4, with a lake flanking its entire left side. The landing area is broad, allowing a clear shot into the oversized, undulating green. Don't go right as the entire starboard side is a fairway bunker with four large palms.

The Practice Area at Bahia Beach

While Mother Nature has to be complemented for her handiwork at Bahia Beach Resort and Golf Club, you must tip your hat to the design efforts of Jones Jr. The course should be on any short must-play list on La Isla Bonita.

Managed by Troon Golf, Bahia Beach's golf facilities also feature an expansive driving range and practice area, complete with a half-dozen par-3 practice holes of up to 130 yards.

The clubhouse features Bahia Beach's tropical plantation architecture, accented by exposed stone and woodwork. Inside is an upscale restaurant called Molasses, as well as a private activity room, a bar, golf shop and comfortable men's and ladies' lounges and locker rooms offering various amenities and services.

For more information or a tee time, visit www.troongolf.com/courses/bahia_beach_golf_club.php.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.