Kite's Courses at Trump International Puerto Rico Offer a Bit of Everything

By: Steve Habel

A trip to Puerto Rico is a little like a smorgasbord - with the mountains, the rain forest and the ocean available there is a heck of a lot to choose from and everything is really good.

5th Green on Mountain Nine

Playing golf at the Tom Kite-designed Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico is like the island experience in microcosm thanks to 36 holes of top-notch golf split into two courses differentiated by four distinct nine-hole routings.

Trump International Puerto Rico, set some 30 minutes east of the capitol city of San Juan in Rio Grande, originated in 2004 as the Coco Beach Golf & Country Club. It was the first design project for Kite outside the mainland United States.

Using a punta extending into the Atlantic Ocean as the course's backbone, Kite routed the courses around protected wetlands, through the jungle, over foothills of the ever-present El Yunque rain forest and along the beach. The Lakes, Palms, Mountain and Ocean nines can be combined to form various combinations of 18 holes.

In 2005, a move was made by Sydney Wolf, president of the Puerto Rico Golf Association, to lure the PGA Tour back to the island. As a result, Kite redesigned the courses in 2007 to be defined as two distinct 18-hole tracks, while the Trump branding replaced the original name.

A Dual Green at Trump National Puerto Rico

The Lakes and Ocean nines have been combined to form the Championship Course, chosen by the PGA Tour as the site for the 2008-2010 Puerto Rico Open presented by Banco Popular. The Mountains and Palms nines have been brought together as the International Course, a track many believe to be more scenic and fun to play that the Championship Course.

"Quite honestly, I am pleased with the golf courses and how the two have come together," Kite said. "The four nines each have their own personality, but pairing them as we have doesn't seem forced. They are all fun to play and, most of all, they are fair but challenging."

In the 1950s, island asphalt magnate Arturo Díaz, Jr. bought a barren peninsula consisting of 1,000 acres of mostly marshland and, over time, developed the land into a world-class getaway on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. Now in his 90s, Díaz still oversees this vision along with his son, Jorge, and grandson, Jorge Alturo Díaz Mayoral.

Located on approximately 200 acres of the property, nurtured by the El Yunque and blanketed by warm ocean breezes and bright sunshine, Trump International Puerto Rico's two courses are an integral part of a complete tropical destination.

13th Hole on Championship Course (Middle)

Championship Course Gets Thumbs-up from Tour Pros

The Championship Course was built to be a resort track, but when the Tour committed to play at Trump International Puerto Rico changes were needed to make the course more challenging for the professionals. With the renovation, the routing was lengthened more than 400 yards - and with that move came several challenges.

"The golf course was initially designed where the fairway bunkers were set to be tests from certain tees." Kite said. "We added a number of tees and backed the golf course up. In a couple of cases, we added so much length on those holes that the bunkers are not quite in play anymore. They're too far out there for the tee shot."

Kite recommended planting hundreds of palm trees to tighten up the landing areas. "But there are still a few fairways that I think would be a little bit better if we could add another couple of bunkers or plant a few more palms into some places," he added.

The renovation was fitting for the Trump moniker in that no expense was spared to recreate a course that has the distinction of being the only Tour-certified course on the island. The Championship Course plays to par of 72 at 7,526 yards, where it carries a rating of 78.0 and a slope of 136.

"I hear the Tour players complimenting the golf course, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that there are just no stupid greens out there," Kite said. "There are no greens that are just so undulating and so severe that there are no pin placements."

Closing Hole on Championship Course

The front side of the Championship Course (the Lakes nine) skirts manmade lakes while the back nine is nearer the ocean (thus the Ocean moniker), with the 12th hole playing toward the blue Atlantic, its green mere steps from waves.

Seven of the 10 par-4s on the Championship Course weigh in at 430 yards or longer. The toughest of these two-shotters might be the 455-yard fourth, as its fairway rolls right in the landing area toward a bunker seems to pull in your ball. The green is slightly elevated and protected at front right by a deep bunker.

The 455-yard ninth is another par-4 tester, doglegging to the right off the tee, with a narrow landing area guarded by palms left and right. A drive too far to the right may find the swale and the approach shot may be blocked by a palm tree. The green does not have a lot of depth to it, so a shot hit over the putting surface could leave a tough recovery.

The aforementioned 12th is a 490-yard par-4. From the tee golfers should favor the right side of the fairway since the predominant wind on that hole is right to left. One must try to play a low shot into this green to avoid the strong wind off the ocean; a high-flying approach shot could find the green of the eighth hole at the Palms nine, which shares the putting surface as a double green.

Two of the Championship Course's par-5s play at least 600 yards and both of them are on the incoming nine. The 600-yard 15th plays with the wind in your face and you'll definitely need three shots to get to the green. The fairway is protected by bunkers left and right and your second shot cannot go right as waiting there is a waste area full of boulders and palms. A mangrove behind the green will create a false illusion going into the wind, so add one to three more clubs.

The 630-yard closer borders Ensenada Bay and is played with the wind to your back. Two fairway bunkers on the right are very much in play off the tee, so favor the left side. Be accurate on your approach shot as recovery shots from behind the green can be very difficult.

"If you play the golf course from the proper tees, then it's really quite playable for the average player," Kite added. "We have to be cognizant that 51 weeks out of the year there are a lot of people playing this golf course who are not on the PGA Tour and we've got to get them around and we want them to have a good time."

The Championship Course was ranked as the 26th best course of the Caribbean and Mexico and as the 19th Best Tour Course You Can Play by Golfweek in 2010.

A Little Austin Flair & a Whole Lot of Jungle on International Course

Stretching 6,884 yards from the tips, the par-72 International Course is full of surprises and contains a series of real "wow" moments. Lush vegetation and rocky bluffs create a serene tropical setting that's perfect for a round of golf. Strategically placed bunkers and strong winds add difficulty to a track with a rating of 74.1 and a slope of 134 from the back tees.

Kite has spent his entire adult life in Austin, Texas, and the impact of Hill Country golf on his design philosophy helped him fashion a spectacular set of holes on International Course's Mountain nine. The first and ninth begin and end at the clubhouse on flat turf, but in between you go on a roller-coaster ride of up-and-down golf as picturesque as it is exciting.

The hilltop tee of the 172-yard, par-3 downhill second offers a panorama encompassing the Atlantic Ocean and El Yunque. Don't be short as a huge chasm awaits poorly struck shots. You'll go up and over a ridge on the 342-yard third and back to the crest of the hill for the tee shot on the 210-yard eighth - where you get a cool view of the punta, the clubhouse and Championship Course in the near distance. The shot is over a street that sits far below.

The Palms nine at International is an appealing (although somewhat disjointed) stretch of holes carved through dense jungle palms and swamps. You play through a forest of palms and wetlands and around a huge lake in one of the Caribbean's most spectacular settings for golf. Accuracy is at a premium here, as errant shots will leave you in waist-high wetlands amid the seemingly thousands of iguanas that live in the trees and bush.

The 365-yard par-4 10th moves right off the tee toward a creek and then turns left to the green, whose back edge is protected by a string of bunkers. You might be able to get a stroke or two back on the 500-yard par-5 12th, but the landing area is pinched by bunkers left and a large lake right so it's best to be prudent.

The International Course has been ranked higher by Golfweek (No. 9) in their Best Resort Courses of the Caribbean and Mexico, but the routing of the holes was not conducive to walking or professional play because of its routing and the distance between some holes.

You might get a kick out of the four-minute trip by cart from the 14th green to the 15th tee through marshes separating the two holes. The separation was caused by the need to route the course around protected wetlands, though Kite said he had a plan for a routing that would work that was later discarded.

In addition to the two courses, the Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico offers an expansive and ornate clubhouse and an excellent practice facility with two putting greens, a chipping area and a driving range.

Aerial View of Trump National Puerto Rico

Plenty to do Off the Course

Trump International is one of the most complete and diverse resorts in the Caribbean. When the complex is completed there will be two five-star hotels with casinos, spas, tennis facilities, fairway-side home sites and, of course, the world-class beaches of Puerto Rico.

Along with the two golf courses are the accommodations at the Gran Meliá Golf Resort Puerto Rico, the Sol Meliá Vacation Club and the Trump Founder's Club residences, which runs the length of the 14th fairway on the Championship Course. Each is unique and top-notch, not sparing any sacrifice for those who vacation or live here.

It's the perfect compliment to the Trump International Golf Club, and a fine place to stay while playing golf. There are five restaurants, featuring the Café Soleil, Wet Pool Bar and Grill, Nami (Japanese cuisine), Tempo (Italian cuisine) and the most recent addition, Pasíon, which serves traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

The beaches and golf are not the only things available on site. There is also the full-service Yhi Spa to aid in the relaxation process, and two bars and a small casino for nighttime entertainment. Future developments are in the process, as well as a J.W. Marriott hotel and Beach Club residences.

All of these amenities and future developments, combined with the Puerto Rican Open, showcase what may be the finest location for vacationers this island nation has to offer.

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This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on August 16, 2010.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog ( features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another ( chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.