In an interview, we spoke with Stanley Pasarell, founder of the Royal Isabela Golf Resort in Puerto Rico, about the origins of the property, its luxury features, amenities and dining, and what makes this 21-hole course truly special.
What was the moment of inspiration for you that ultimately led to the creation of Royal Isabela, and why did you decide to build in Puerto Rico?
Our roots in Puerto Rico date back to early Spanish colonization. Our maternal grandmother, Elena Zeno de Matos, was the daughter of Puerto Rican novelist Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandia. And we’re all direct descendant of El Capitan Correa, who In the 1650s defended Arecibo from an attack from the British.
There’s no precise moment of inspiration for the creation of Royal Isabela. I was not a developer, but in 1993 my father, Charlie, Sr., wished for his two sons to join and do something together in business. As our family’s consumer goods distribution business, Puerto Rico Supplies Co., gradually became more profitable, we began investing in Costa Isabela. Costa Isabela has always been my brother’s, Charlie, Jr., vision. Just like he had done in the Big Island of Hawaii, what is now Hualalai, he master-planned a community on approximately 2,000 acres on the northwest corner of Puerto Rico. The approximately 420-acres of Royal Isabela is the first phase of Costa Isabela.
I must confess that as I began to spend more and more time visiting what is now Royal Isabela, I gradually became more awed and enamored with this tropical paradise. Our challenge has always been to find the best way to sustain it. To do this we must continue to receive unwavering support from family, friends and guests. There are many special places around the world. Our goal at Royal Isabela is to appreciate nature, specifically to assist in preserving endemic flora and fauna living in our cliffs, sand dunes, craggy rock coves, high surf sandy beaches, deep-blue ocean waters, and beyond.
How does this luxury golf resort differ from other golf locations in the area?
There are many differences. To start, geology: Isabela’s famed ocean cliffs that average 200 feet above the ocean and offer scenic panoramic views. Additionally, this elevation, naturally occurring contours, a rock base of karst (limestone), and sand deposits, all combine to allow our fairways to drain extremely well. It allows us to not have cart paths on our fairways. Not once have we closed because of rain.
Also, weather: as a general rule you will find throughout the tropics is that on the northwest part of an island the weather tends to be somewhat dryer. Additionally, refreshing trade winds help to keep a mild, temperate weather all year round. The summer is the rainy season and the temperature range is between 90Hi – 78Lo. And during the dry season or winter months, it’s between 82Hi – 68Lo . Consequently, we have few mosquitos.
Hospitality is another: with only 20 Casitas to attend to, our staff is able to offer a warm personalized service experience to our guests. Think of it as being treated as if you’re part of our family. In other words, your staying at our home. Hence the name “La Casa” and “Casitas” at Royal Isabela.
In terms of golf, let’s start with the construction. We need to credit our golf architect, David W. Pfaff, who helped with the design of our links. Together, David, my brother and I spent many months walking uncovering golf holes. Typically, golf courses today move anywhere between 2 to 3 million cubic yards of material. During our construction process, David was also sensitive to protecting our flora and fauna. We disturbed as little as possible. At Royal Isabela, we moved 250,000 cubic yards mainly to add to our water storage capacity for our irrigation lake. And in terms of the experience itself, to the avid golfer, Royal Isabela presents a stern test. Usually in the afternoon the backside plays in the wind, which requires for the ball to be played close to the ground, as in Scotland.
In terms of playing 21 holes, how would you describe the course itself, and which is your favorite?
Variety is what makes our golf course unique. With numerous different parcels assembled, 80 in total with 50 different owners. We have multiple tee boxes, most holes have 6 of them and Hole 17 alone has a total of 11 tee boxes. We provide the golfer many options at Royal Isabela. In addition, no two holes look or play alike. The term shot value best describes what you will experience.
If I have to choose one favorite hole, it’s #10. While it’s a reachable, dogleg-left, par 5, the hole defines risk-reward. Waste areas at the second landing we “built” by cattle, mostly bulls, to shield themselves from the wind.
Turning to the restaurant, what kind of dining options are available on the property, and how would you describe the cuisine?
The Grill at the Pro Shop, which is occasionally used for special events such as tournaments, the Super Bowl, parties, and other activities. Our daily dining options include The Restaurant at la Casa and room service. La Casa offers indoor and outdoor seating.
Chef Jose Carles Fabregas cooks with what is fresh. His cuisines are made from freshly harvested organic produce, vegetables and fruits from our own farm located by the Gate House. In addition, our chef receives daily calls from various local fisherman who call him first to offer that days’ catch. Our menu changes daily according to what the chef has available, and in terms of cooking style, it’s a fusion of local “criollo” mixed with European influence. He also makes fresh pastas and pizzas cooked in our stone, wood-burning oven. My favorite is the lobster pizza, when available. As part of our culinary experience, the chef offers cooking classes to interested guests.
In such a short time, you’ve managed to receive several awards for design and experience, but what are your top 5 activities and adventures to do off-site?
There’s a lot of history in this area, and my favorite places and activities offsite include visiting the church ruins in Old Town Isabela, La Hermita de San Antonio de la Tuna. Sandra Girard, who serves as a Director of El Pastillo Conservation Trust, is personally responsible for preserving these ruins and built a small museum adjacent. By appointment only, she would be happy to give you a tour.
Surfing, too, is big in this area. Two years ago, Kelly Slater won his 10th world title at Middles Beach, which is visible from hole 13 green. We have four distinct surf breaks along our 3 ½ miles of coastline. Kite-surfing and stand-up paddleboard are also very popular. Some of the best scuba and snorkeling in the world can be found in this area. Horseback riding on the beach, too, is a favorite for many people.
If you want a simple nature walk, El Pastillo Beach is my favorite. Here you’ll see rare oystercatchers that reside in the rock point just past the tide pools. You’ll also enjoy seeing herons, egrets, pelicans, and other shore birds.
You mentioned that your family history in the region dates back 400 years. Has there always been an appreciation and interest in nature and preserving the environment?
Yes, Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandia, my great-grandfather, wrote La Charca, which is read in high school. It provides a snapshot of rural life in Puerto Rico 150 years ago. Whenever he describes nature, it reflects his sensitivity and deep appreciation for the environment. By profession, a medical doctor, his primary concern was his patient’s health. Isn’t caring for your fellow man, especially the health of future generations, what drives us to take care of our environment?
Growing up I had a dog. My affection for animals and the environment must stem from my desire to learn from them. Now, I take pride in directing energies towards protecting the unique ecosystem found at El Pastillo Beach. The ultimate goal is for all of us to appreciate this treasure of nature now and to help protect it in perpetuity.