Puerto Rico recovery takes hold slowly across island's resorts

TPC Dorado Beach

Puerto Rico recovery takes hold slowly across island's resorts

Courses

Puerto Rico recovery takes hold slowly across island's resorts

A thief recently broke into the office of Sidney Wolf, tournament chairman for the Puerto Rico Open, and stole the generator Wolf recently had installed. Rather than report the crime, Wolf wished the culprit well.

“They probably needed it more than I did,” Wolf said.

These aren’t normal times in Puerto Rico, as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hammered the island within a two-week period in September. In any other year this would be the start of the high season for the island’s tourist industry, but as Seth Henrich, director of golf at El Conquistador Resort in northeast Puerto Rico, said, “There won’t be a high season this year.”

Puerto Rico annually ranks among the top Caribbean destinations; in 2016, it had almost 3.6 million visitor arrivals, trailing only the Dominican Republic and Cuba in the region, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Now, however, many of its hotels, including the golf resorts that line the northern coastline, are filled with relief workers. According to news reports, more than half of the island remains without power. It has been described as the worst electricity blackout in American history.

Surprisingly, 15 golf courses are open on the island, according to Wolf. The most notable exceptions are Palmas del Mar, a 36-hole resort and residential community on the island’s eastern coastline, and Royal Isabela on the northwest corner of the island. At TPC Dorado Beach, the East and Sugarcane courses are open, but not the Pineapple Course.

“It’s important to open them up because there’s people who work there, and we have to keep their families fed,” Wolf said.

At El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria resort, Henrich has opened the course to the general public at a reduced rate, and it seems to provide a welcome distraction from the daily turmoil.

“Strangely, we’ve been unexpectedly busy,” Henrich said. “Obviously, the price point is different than we’re used to getting. But I had my busiest day that I’ve had all year, and that was Oct. 22.”

Wolf hopes resorts will start reopening to tourists by January, but that probably is optimistic. Henrich said the El Conquistador’s target is to reopen by April, though he thinks even that is an aggressive timeline. The hotel was hard hit and has to order new furnishings and fixtures.

Even in the best of times, shipping products to an island nation requires extra time. The logistics are made more difficult by Puerto Rico’s power outages and damaged roads. Henrich anticipates the pace of recovery efforts will increase once power is restored across the island.

“The silver lining is that we’re going to get a new resort, basically, refurbished,” Henrich said. “We’re going to go under a greens and bunker renovation probably in the next 60 days. So when we do re-open (for tourists), we’re going to have a really good product.”

Long before the hurricanes, the Puerto Rico government was hamstrung by serious fiscal problems. The country was saddled with $123 billion in debt and pension liabilities, prompting the U.S. Congress to intercede last year and pass legislation providing the territory relief from creditors and more time to address that crisis. Wolf reasons that the money pouring into the recovery efforts “can only help” the government address the fiscal crisis.

Meanwhile, he noted that the Puerto Rico Classic, an annual college event hosted by Purdue, still is scheduled for Feb. 18-20 at Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, about 30 miles east of the capital city of San Juan. The Caribbean Golf Classic, an amateur event with 200 players, is still set for May 2-6 at Rio Mar and Coco Beach Golf & Country Club.

Less certain is the status of the Puerto Rico Open, an annual PGA Tour opposite-field event scheduled March 1-4 at Coco Beach. Wolf referred questions on that tournament to the PGA Tour, which had no update as this issue went to press.

Despite questions about that tournament, Wolf remains a vigorous advocate for Puerto Rico.

“There’s no doubt once this is said and done, we’re going to have an incredible, vibrant island,” he said.

(Note: This story appears in the Nov. 20, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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