Golfing in the Dominican Republic
With more than 25 golf courses already open and several more under construction, the Dominican Republic can rightly claim to be the golf capital of the Caribbean. The second-largest Caribbean nation after Cuba, this Latin-flavoured tropical beach paradise was where the New World’s first European colony was founded by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti.
It is the world’s largest cigar producer, but these days Dom Rep, as it is often called, is earning plaudits for its pars, thanks to designs by notables including father and son architects Pete and PB Dye, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Sr, Gary Player and Sir Nick Faldo. Indeed, it was recognised as the Latin America and Caribbean Golf Destination of the Year for 2009 in the golf industry’s premier honours, the IAGTO Awards, while Puntacana Resort and Club was named Golf Resort of the Year for the same regions in the 2011 IAGTO Awards.
There are golf courses all around the coast, more than one-third of them opened in the past 10 years. Most of the golf is centred on its east coast, which is also where most visitors head to because of the numerous all-inclusives centred in and around Punta Cana and nearby Bavaro, as well as La Romana in the south-east.
This area boasts mile upon mile of sugar-soft, white beaches and its tourism infrastructure is currently undergoing a multi-billion dollar investment programme with mega resorts featuring new designer-label golf layouts, luxury accommodation and facilities including marinas.
Some of the best courses are part of lavish resorts and in stunning coastal settings. Casa de Campo Resort, in La Romana, is the setting for a trio of Pete Dye creations – the first of them, Teeth of the Dog, responsible for putting the Dominican Republic on the golfing
map after it opened in 1971 with seven holes right on the Caribbean, its name deriving from the jagged rock outcrops resembling a dog’s teeth. It has since been joined by The Links and Dye’s critically-acclaimed third tour de force at the resort, Dye Fore, The 18th hole at La Cana which is set on a plateau high above the Chavon River.
Teeth of the Dog may have been around for 40 years but it still hasn’t lost its wow factor and regularly ranks among the Caribbean’s best. A 2005 revamp helped sharpen its bite again, with several holes lengthened. The Caribbean comes into play on several holes, starting with the par-3 5th hole, with tee and green jutting into the sea, and also including even more daunting par 3 7th, the testing par-4 8th and holes 15 to 17, which skirt the sea again before the 18th returns shell-shocked golfers to the clubhouse.
The Links opened in 1975 and echoes traditional links, featuring deep pot bunkers, doglegs and water.
Completing the Casa de Campo set, Dye Fore’s forte is its perilous clifftop setting 300ft above the Chavon River, featuring seven holes right on the cliff edge. This is a course for long hitters but the fairways are generous. Its finest holes, the majestic par-3 12th and 15th, both require nerves of steel to cross yawning chasms.
Taking cues from his dad, PB Dye has carved another monster from cliffs which tower above the snaking Chavon at nearby La Estancia, requiring several shots where you take on a plunging ravine – and pray your strike is crisp. It stretches almost 7,400 yards but has wide, forgiving fairways and forms part of an upmarket, hilltop residential community.
Dye junior also worked his magic on La Cana at Puntacana Resort, with 14 of its holes offering views of the adjacent Caribbean and huge waste bunkers a key feature of the course. Signature hole is the wonderful par-4 7th, which tempts the brave to go for the green over a waste bunker, palm trees and a pot-bunkered, mounded no-man’s-land named Hecklebirnie after the Scottish folklore purgatory. The par-3 12th has shades of TPC Sawgrass with its island green.
Puntacana Resort is also the setting for the breathtaking, new Corales course, by Tom Fazio. It was built as the private plaything for the multi-millionaires whose mansions lie hidden just off its fairways, among them Julio Iglesias and Shakira, but it is open to Puntacana guests also playing La Cana. It sits on a stunning piece of land with seven holes perched atop wave-pounded cliffs, the par-4 8th requiring two carries over the crashing surf. The final trio of holes, called the Devil’s Elbow, is one of golf’s most scenic and challenging finishes and ends with what Dye calls “the mother of all holes” – a U-turn around sheer cliffs and pounding waves.
Yet more stunning coastal views are on offer at Cap Cana’s Punta Espada course. This Jack Nicklaus masterwork opened to rave reviews in 2006 and was the first of three layouts by the Golden Bear that will grace the resort. Punta Espada has eight holes by the Caribbean. The 611-yard, par-5 2nd sets the tone for the course as it doglegs around an inlet to a green cupped on three sides by bunkers and the sea after a drive from a tee atop a limestone ridge. Other standout holes include the par-5 12th and par-3 13th, both of which play to greens edged by rocks and sea, while the 17th demands a drive over a bay to a fairway set almost at right angles and edged by the rocky shore.
The resort’s second Nicklaus course, Las Iguanas, opens soon and will offer more of a links-style experience. The new Nicklaus-designed Golden Bear Lodge sits alongside it and offers condominium units with superb views to the ocean.
The Faldo Legacy Course at Roco Ki is partly laid out on the towering cliffs of a headland. Sir Nick Faldo’s first offering on Dom Rep, it is meant to be followed by three more of his designs at Roco Ki. It has a three-way split personality. Six holes are situated high up on headland cliffs with the Atlantic waves spuming far below, while another six meander through mangrove-edged wetlands and the remaining six are set around lakes.
Sir Nick takes no prisoners with his fairways. As you drive longer they become fearsomely narrow and slope away from the centre so that you can get a nasty kick into trouble.
The short par-3 17th plays down to a green clinging to the top of the headland. A wedge too far here and you can kiss your ball goodbye, while the 18th is arguably even more dramatic, starting from a high tee and traversing two ocean inlets.
Elsewhere, the first nine holes of Greg Norman’s signature Costa Blanca course, his first in Dom Rep, opened in Juan Dolia, 30 minutes from capital Santo Domingo, in February. Also near the capital is Gary Player’s Guavaberry layout, opened in 2002. While the north coast features two Trent Jones Sr creations – Playa Dorada and his last-ever design, Playa Grande, which opened in 1997 and features 10 holes along the Atlantic cliffs.
For golfers discovering the Dominican Republic today, good access between the main resort areas allows a choice of courses to play wherever you stay.
Columbus wouldn’t recognise the place.
dominican republic golf facts
The Dominican Republic enjoys a tropical climate, with temperatures averaging 25ºC year round and 30ºC during the day from May to October. May is the wettest month, while November-April is drier with cooler evenings. The hurricane season lasts from the beginning of June until the end of November.
British Airways (www.ba.com) operates twice-weekly flights to Punta Cana from London Gatwick, while Air France-KLM offers greater choice and frequency from London Heathrow and a dozen regional UK airports to Punta Cana and the capital, Santo Domingo, via Paris Charles de Gaulle.
Tour operators offering Dominican Republic golf packages include Your Golf Travel (0800 043 6644, www.yourgolftravel.com), Golf Breaks (0800 279 7988, www.golfbreaks.com), Supertravel (020 7459 2984, www.supertravel.co.uk) and Golf Planet Holidays (0845 601 2175, www.golfplanetholidays.com). You can also cruise and play golf in Dom Rep with the Flagship Golf programme of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (01473 742424, www.fredolsencruises-flagshipgolf.co.uk).
Resorts include Secrets Sanctuary and Golden Bear Lodge, Cap Cana (www.capcana.com), Puntacana Resort and Club (www.puntacana.com), Casa de Campo
(www.casadecampo.com.do), and the Westin and Fairmont hotels at Roco Ki (www.rocoki.com).
Visit the Dominican Republic Tourist Board website at www.godominicanrepublic.com or call 020 7242 7778.
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore, The Links) www.casadecampo.com.do
Puntacana (La Cana, Corales) www.puntacana.com
Cap Cana (Punta Espada, Las Iguanas) www.capcana.com
La Estancia www.legr.com