It has been a year since back-to-back hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and delivered a crushing blow to tourism, one of the island’s largest industries.
On Sept. 7, 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Irma nipped the island, knocking out power. The real devastation came two weeks later, when Category 4 Hurricane Maria delivered a direct blow to the island, leaving in its wake the worst electrical blackout in U.S. history. Damage to the island was estimated at more than $90 billion, and the recovery has progressed slowly.
Puerto Rico’s golf courses have rebounded from the hurricanes, and the resorts along the island’s northern coastline, east and west of the capital city of San Juan, are in various stages of recovery. That includes two AAA Five Diamond properties that are scheduled to reopen this fall.
“We’re going to be right back where we were, and probably better,” said Sidney Wolf, president of the Puerto Rico Golf Association and a relentless promoter.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to make that a reality. Here’s a look at some of the developments on Puerto Rico as it prepares to enter the winter tourism season.
St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
The biggest changes are likely to be seen at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, a Five Diamond property located about 20 miles east of San Juan on the north coast. The resort’s golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and opened in 2007, is open for play, and the St. Regis plans to accept reservations starting Dec. 15.
The St. Regis has strong backing from hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, and that’s evident in its renovations and aggressive expansion plans. Paulson reaped a windfall when he placed a big bet on a housing collapse in 2007. Since 2013, he has poured more than $500 million into Puerto Rico, in part because of laws that are intended to lure wealthy investors.
Over the past year, the St. Regis has undergone a $60 million renovation that impacted all 139 guestrooms and the Plantation House, the central gathering area.
For returning guests, the resort will look a bit different, with what a spokeswoman described as a lighter, more modern aesthetic. Puerto Rican designer Nono Maldonado and Hersch Bedner Associates of San Francisco partnered on the redesign. The resort also plans a $30 million expansion that will add 30 oceanfront rooms.
Ownership also has announced plans to spend $85 million on three beachfront condominium buildings housing 30 three- and four-bedroom residences. There also are plans for coastal estate homes just west of the resort.
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and another Five Diamond property located about 20 miles west of San Juan, is expected to reopen this fall. Laurance Rockefeller originally developed the 1,400-acre property in the 1950s and turned it into a tourism magnet.
Dorado Beach was redeveloped over the past decade, and that included the construction of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve. The resort’s East Course, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., was added to the TPC Network.
The resort’s three golf courses are open, and resort officials promise upgrades to all 114 guestrooms and to landscaping and amenities.
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort
The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort, a few miles east of the St. Regis, rebounded more quickly and reopened this past spring. Its two courses, the River and Ocean, are open for play.
Meliá Coco Beach
Not far from the Wyndham, the Meliá Coco Beach resort is open, as are its two golf courses. After a one-year hiatus, Coco Beach Golf & Country Club will resume hosting the Puerto Rico Open, an opposite-field event on the PGA Tour.
There’s a less hopeful story at the El Conquistador, the large cliffside hotel in Fajardo, on the northeast corner of the island. It was one of the island’s hardest-hit properties and a Hilton spokeswoman said “it is unlikely the El Conquistador resort will open in the near term in light of the damages sustained.” Gwk