Wilfredo Morales chipped to within a couple feet of the 13th hole at the 2009 Puerto Rico Open in March, and judging by the cheers from the gallery you’d have thought he won the PGA tournament. Then I realized Morales was Puerto Rican, as was the bulk of the audience at 13. The local boy wasn’t exactly setting a course record but he was putting on a show, and the goodwill among his band of followers was contagious.
So I joined in with the group heading to 14, never imagining I’d be a golf groupie. But a PGA event is exactly that—an event—full of energy that transcends the activity on the fairways. Planners can recreate that excitement for their groups at Gran Meliá Golf Resort Puerto Rico, situated oceanfront in the lush community of Rio Grande about 30 minutes east of San Juan.
The 486-all suite resort is home to the The Trump International Golf Club, featuring two 18-hole golf courses designed by ex-PGA champ Tom Kite. The lush, palm-lined courses skirt the tropical waters and rise up into the majestic mountains of El Yunque rainforest. The star amenity is the 46,000-sf Clubhouse—the largest in the Caribbean, housing the fine-dining Paradise Bay Grill and 3,000-sf Rainforest Ballroom.
Skipping the press lunch in the ballroom, I ventured to the pro golfer lunch outside on the terrace. Golfers eat well, considering the delicate prime rib and homemade key lime pie. But the most memorable part was the open space, cooling breeze and views of the course landscaping, perfect for casual group dining during a day of championship golf. This is more than a clubhouse, designed as much for group dining as club fitting.
However, the real marquee meeting spot is the grand lobby lounge back at the resort. The hotel was originally flagged by Sol Meliá as a Paradisus, a brand well-known for huge open-air spaces and grand loggias with daybeds, lily ponds, indigenous sculptures and art, tropical flora galore and expansive lounge seating. You can’t imagine a much better place for a 2,000-person cocktail reception, opening out to views of the pool and Coco Beach.
Accommodations are full-scale junior suites with a sofa and desk in the living area. The modern, upscale Spanish Colonial décor doesn’t feel commercial grade, due to the original concept for the resort as a honeymoon haven. And this design savvy is carried on throughout the four restaurants and three bars.
For networking, we like the Teppanyaki tables at Nami Asian Bistro, and an outdoor hacienda-style venue replete with ornate tilework and colonial furniture, designed for fun group dinners by the beach. There were also more than a few non-golfing spouses who developed a taste for the raspberry, melon and peach mojitos at the beachfront Wet Pool Bar & Grill.
The final night was a surprise. Hacienda Siesta Alegro is a private working ranch open for group bookings up to 1,000 in the verdant foothills about 20 minutes from the resort. Everyone gasped upon walking up the steps into the historic colonial estate ensconced in native foliage bursting with bougainvillea. The heavy terracotta tiles, thick oak beams, clay roof tiles and arched doorways provided the backdrop for al fresco wining and dining in an authentic Puerto Rican home, while a local acoustic trio played all dinner long in the fragrant night air.