Must-play golf courses in the eastern Dominican Republic: The Caribbean's bountiful coast
Just days before Fred Couples celebrated his third straight win on the Champions Tour in March, he looked out over the Caribbean Sea at the Cap Cana Championship at Punta Espada Golf Club and marveled at the view.
"It is just spectacular," he said.
As for the playing conditions, they're not bad either.
"I love hot weather," Couples said.
You like summer in the winter? Then the Dominican Republic is for you, complete with views of turquoise water, blinding white sand and rocky bluffs.
Many of us avid golf travelers have been there, anchored in Scotland or Ireland against sideways wind, blustery, bone-chilling rain, and dressed in layers - head to toe with those winter golf gloves. Last time it happened to me, I asked a simple question: Why?
Even Dallas and Atlanta endured numerous recent winter storms because of this El Nino weather pattern. Why not just say no to the snow ice and head for the Dominican Republic?
"I've been coming to the Dominican Republic for more than 40 years, and it is sunny and hot 365 days a year," said P.B. Dye, the youngest son of legendary course designer Pete Dye and designer of the Dominican's La Cana, La Estancia and La Hacienda, a still-unopened Puntacana Resort layout. "There's never a rainstorm you can't walk through. There's no lightning."
Punta Espada, located in the southeast corner of the Dominican Republic just 10 minutes from the world's largest privately owned international airport at Punta Cana, hints at the wonder of many emerging Dominican Republic golf venues.
Golfweek named it No. 1 among golf courses in the Caribbean and Mexico. A second Jack Nicklaus design at Cap Cana, Las Iguanas, offers nine completed holes.
A 45-minute drive north of Punta Cana, The Faldo Legacy Course at Roco Ki Golf Club displays awesome routing around the shell of a Westin Hotel with almost no finished infrastructure.
Tom Fazio's Corales course, an exclusive but accessible, private-membership facility at Puntacana Resort and Club, set an April 2010 grand opening, and P.B. Dye's La Hacienda, an inland golf course, remains under construction.
"Punta Cana's Corales and Cap Cana's Punta Espada are the two best golf courses in the Caribbean that are 10 miles apart," said former PGA Tour player Jay Overton of Corales.
Overton, as a club pro at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina and Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Florida, qualified for a club pro-record 26 major championships.
Here's a closer look at the must plays of the Dominican Republic's eastern coast:
Punta Espada Golf Club, Cap Cana
The 7,382-yard, par-72 Punta Espada Golf Club features eight oceanside holes and others that cling to the sharp, coral-rock daggers, which dangle over cliffs backed by turquoise ocean. Nicklaus has compared No. 13, a par 3 of 250 yards, with Cypress Point's famous, oceanside 16th hole.
From the back tees, the beautiful 13th is way too hard for the average golfer. The pros on the Champions Tour, in fact, played it from 187 yards. The treacherous minefield demands a daunting drive over the ocean to a slightly elevated green.
Additionally, a limestone ridge runs through the routing to create a few elevated tee boxes and panoramic views of the ocean.
Consider staying at the luxurious Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana resort (click here for more information).
La Cana Golf Course at Puntacana Resort and Club, Punta Cana
P.B. Dye arrived at Puntacana Resort and Club with plenty of experience to build a world-class golf course on land similar to Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog. Coral rock dominated the overgrown, jungle-like land with very little top soil. The younger Dye spent two summers on the back of a bulldozer, helping shape Teeth of the Dog for his father.
La Cana Golf Course, opened in 2001, measures 7,152 yards at par 72 and features sweeping vistas and five holes along the sea. It's fun and quirky, just like its designer - the Dye pot bunker is ever-present. The seventh hole boasts a cluster of 21 traps, to which Dye jokingly refers as "Hecklebirnie," a golfer's purgatory, according to Scottish lore.
Seashore Paspalum and other salt-tolerant turf, dominate the golf courses of this area.
Corales course at Puntacana Resort and Club, Punta Cana
Overton believes that when the newly finished 7,555-yard, par-72, Corales course at Puntacana resort gets a rating, it will fit nicely among the best in the world. Amazingly, it showcases more than 230 acres of flawless, irrigated Paspalum Supreme. Just imagine the reaction of a visitor from Arizona, where 18-holes are allowed 90 acres of irrigated turf.
The homes of Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias line the final holes, and two holes include two separate greens to add daily variety. Several jutting inlets demand shots to carry the ocean for the shortest route to green, like on No. 18, a 448-yard par 4. Frank Rainieri, president and CEO of Puntacana Resort, describes the 18th as "the mother of all golf holes."
After your round, there's no better seat than on the clubhouse porch. Enjoy a local Presidente beer with a view of the crashing blue surf, white sand bunkers and a natural Blow Hole.
The Faldo Legacy Course at Roco Ki Golf Club, Macao
The Faldo Legacy Course at Roco Ki Golf Club, a 7,152-yard par 72, begins in the headlands below the unfinished Westin Hotel, presenting a view to the right of the ocean and the mountains beyond. You journey through a tropical jungle, where tee shots demand precision amid 100-year old mangroves that line the fairways.
No. 16 brings you back in sight of the blue sea. And the 17th, a 100-yard tee shot, presents a look much like Pebble Beach's No. 7. Beauty is a 360-degree sight; you must see this one to believe it.
The 18th doesn't disappoint, either. This 508-yard, par 5 requires a precise tee shot over one inlet and short of another.
If you negotiate the rugged coastline and rocks, sand and ocean to sit left on the approach into a heavily guard green against the prevailing wind. This hole is aptly named Los Dos Rezos - or Two Prayers.
The two-hole stretch just might rank as the most dramatic finish in the Caribbean.
Teeth of the Dog and Dye Fore at Casa de Campo, La Romana
Casa de Campo, the forerunner for golf in the Dominican, truly provides the most complete outdoor playground in the Caribbean. Name an outdoor activity and you can find it this 7,000-acre resort.
Pete Dye brought a vision to transform an overgrown but scenic turquoise-tinted coastline - jagged and rugged with coral rock - into one of the world's best golf courses. Named for that same rock that bites unmercifully at bare skin, Teeth of the Dog, at 7,471 yards and a par of 72, is the gem of the Caribbean.
Green fees at Teeth of the Dog aren't cheap, like most golf in the Dominican Republic. But when you reach the par-3 fifth, with the Caribbean on your left, you'll think it's worth the price.
Dye Fore, a 7,700-yard par 72 originally named Pete's Dream, sits on a plateau, 500 feet above the Chavon River. Golfers also enjoy views of the Caribbean Sea and the resort's remarkable Altos de Chavon - a 16th-century replica of a Mediterranean village.
La Estancia Golf Club, La Romana
Designed by P. B. Dye, La Estancia Golf Club sits on the edge of a cliff above the Chavon River. It opened in 2007 and measures 7,382 yards at par 72. Plans call for a resort hotel and semi-private entry. The golf course includes a variety of holes. It also features a carry of more than 200 yards over a huge gorge. It feeds into the deep river gorge that served as the filming site of the helicopter scenes for the 1979 film "Apocalypse Now."
April 13, 2010