The prolific modern golf course architect Arthur Hills rarely ventures outside his native North America in pursuit of new design work but in 1993, he did just that, establishing the wonderful 18-hole resort layout of El Conquistador on the north eastern corner of Puerto Rico.
Constructed slightly inland from the coast, the course was laid out on a difficult parcel of land that offered few level lies and many spectacular changes in elevation, allowing Hills to fashion a collection of 18-holes unlike any others in the Caribbean.
With sweeping ocean vistas from many of the holes – especially those with raised tees playing to generously wide fairways – the course routing at El Conquistador allows golfers to fully embrace the coastal views during their round here.
Ken Williams of Arthur Hills / Steve Forrest & Associates kindly provided us with the following comments: “ El Conquistador arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the island in 1989. The storm destroyed an existing course, and the site, near Fajardo, was lying neglected, with cows grazing on deserted fairways. The Arthur Hills design company was invited by a new ownership group to create an entirely new design on the footprint of the abandoned course in 1990.
Opened in 1993, the par 72 golf course at El Conquistador Resort took advantage of the topography to create a breathtakingly beautiful, challenging and yet player-friendly layout.
Doglegs descending through broad corridors and dramatic elevation changes of more than 200 feet are the hallmarks of the course, with dramatic views of the mountain peak of El Yunque nestled in the adjoining rain forest.
Lakes excavated as part of the irrigation system also
provide an element of strategy for the course, and an imposing double green for
9 and 18, the finishing holes of the course’s two returning 9-hole loops, sits
below the clubhouse, which in turn looks out over ponds and a waterfall flowing
from the hillside against a backdrop of magenta-coloured bougainvillea.”
El Conquistador starts with the sizzle and, well, sizzle is not sustainable. The first hole dogleg rights from the zenith of the course providing a wonderful view. You cannot see the green, but a good drive that cuts the corner and catches the downslope will end up near the green. The 2nd hole fairway runs out inside of 100 yards. So, consider laying up. The first par five is a big boy at over 600 yards. Favor the right side as the green is perched behind a left water hazard. The first par three is mid-length with bunker front and right. The 5th is deservedly the number one handicap hole. Long downhill and left leaning. Fairway bunkers right with a water hazard left. Favor the right side off the tee to minimize the water carry. There are also front right and left bunkers. The 6th isn’t much easier, it parallels five and is almost identical in length. The 7th is birdie time. A short downhill driveable par four with minimal risk. Go for it. The 8th is the shortest par five. To get home in two, favor the left side as the hole bends a wee bit right. The 9th is a slightly uphill mid-length par three with water left and a couple of bunkers short right.
The back starts with the easiest rated hole on the course. A straightaway downhill par four with a couple of fairway and greenside bunkers. The 11th is a long right leaning par five. Favor the left off the tee and play it as a three shotter. The 12th was a tough par four for me. The hole bends left and I duck hooked it into the trees. The fairway narrows significantly as you approach the green with bunkers right. I loved the 13th. Short uphill dogleg right with a split fairway. The left fairway is elevated and a well struck drive can find its way onto the green. The left is lower and the approach trickier. Good birdie hole. The 14th is the shortest par three with a long ditch bunker right. The 15th was my favorite par five. A moderate S shaped hole from an extremely elevated tee. The only way you will not think about going for it is if you hit a bad drive. Be forewarned there are three front bunkers. Excellent birdie hole. The 16th bends left and has two bunkers on the inside elbow. If you can fly them or bend it around them you will have about 130 yards in. I was found wanting. The 18th is a good finishing hole, not long but lots of trouble. A dogleg right with the green behind two water hazards. Odd the tee you must navigate the 6 fairway bunkers. A decent drive will leave you with a wedge approach over the water hazard.
A fun course that I would play again.