The Dominican Republic occupies half of the island of Hispaniola, the largest island in the Caribbean. As such, the “DR” has a relatively large amount of land for a Caribbean nation, and much of that land remains undeveloped. Nevertheless, the DR boasts 27 golf courses (depending on how one counts), and numerous vacation accommodations, ranging from ma-and-pa hotels and B&Bs to sprawling, all-inclusive resorts. The epicenter of the DR’s tourism–and golf–industry is Punta Cana.
There are plenty of great family destinations in Punta Cana, but if you are craving some romance and luxury, the adult-only, all-inclusive Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa cannot be topped. Secrets Cap Cana opened in November, 2016, and is the newest of six AM Resorts in the DR. The resort doesn’t have any golf properties of its own, but they are working with Punta Espada Golf Club (see below) to put together some stay-and-play packages. There are too many amenities at Secrets to list–from full-service italian, Japanese, Mexican, and American bistros to swim-up bars to bathtubs on your room’s balcony. And the staff are beyond amazing. Suffice it to say that this is the ideal place for you and your significant other to fan the sparks of romance into some serious flames.
Rounds of golf played in the DR are up 45% over the past five years. In 2016, 250,000 rounds were played, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. 2018 promises to be even better. This very week, Punta Cana hosts the inaugural Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship on the Corales Golf Club.
But even if you’re not a PGA Tour player, you can tee it up on some of the most spectacular and most highly rated golf courses in the world, all while staying at resorts that would suite the haute tastes of even the most spoiled Tour pro.
TEETH OF THE DOG
The big dog on the island is Pete Dye’s iconic Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo Resort in La Romana. (The par-71 Links Course can also be played at Casa de Campo.) Ranked by GOLF Magazine as 48th best course in the world, the par-72, 7,357-yard Teeth of the Dog offers memorable ocean-side holes, most notably the par-3 5th and 7th holes. But surprisingly, a number of holes play back inland, teasing you with the coastline. Even more surprisingly, the course with such a fierce name is very playable for resort players. There is plenty of room off most of the tees to spray it around a bit and still shoot a respectable score.
Although the layout cycles through stretches of inland and coastal holes, a very nice feature of the design is that the ocean serves as a hazard equally for slicers (back 9) and hookers (front 9). The greens are not terribly tricky, nicely paced and reasonably contoured for a resort course. The routing turns toward the sea at the par-5 3rd hole, and after the grandeur of the stretch from hole 4 through hole 7, it’s hard to stay focused on the ensuing stretch of inland holes, which have a sort of central Florida feel to them.
The closing holes, though, from 15-18, are right along the ocean, leave you with indelible memories, as they play right along the ocean. At Hole 15, take a few minutes to spot the tiny island “green” out in the waves, and hit a practice ball or two at it just for kicks. Also be sure to take plenty of group selfies during the round — you’ll want to remember it!
Throughout the round, be sure to heed your caddie’s advice (caddies are mandatory), especially on lines off the tee. Oddly, my caddie’s advice on every putt was no more than 2-3 inches outside the cup, and I heard the same from several other players in other groups that day. I’m not sure if the caddies have a standard read they just repeat, or whether the cups that day were all placed in accessible spots.
See below for some select photos of Teeth of the Dog. Beyond the photos, you’ll find a review and photos of Jack Nicklaus’s Punta Espada. Beyond that, a brief review and yet more photos of La Cana Golf Club.
PUNTA ESPADA GOLF CLUB
A sterner test of island golf is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada Golf Club at Cap Cana Resort. The vistas on almost every hole here make you wonder if Jack looked at Dye’s peek-a-boo with the coast and said, “Let me show you how to do it, Pete.” Punta Espada comes and goes off lists of best courses in the world, too, and better players might well rank it ahead of Teeth of the Dog. For resort players, though, the fairways are tighter and, if not running along the ocean, lined with coquina shell waste areas that will eat your clubs up if you try to hit out of them.
Punta Espada, which measures 7,396 yards from the championship tees, is a Nicklaus course through and through. It hosted a Champions Tour event for three years, so you know it’s going to present challenges. Most holes are bordered by trouble of some sort — usually it’s ocean, but you’ll also find stone outcroppings, jungle-like underbrush, and the aforementioned waste areas, which were the bane of my day. Punta Espada has more memorable holes than Teeth of the Dog, even the inland holes, but many of those memories might be about trouble you’ve gotten into, because the entire layout is MUCH less forgiving.
Starting at the par-5 2nd hole, you find yourself saying “Gorgeous!” over and over again. And you’ll reflexively “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” from here all the way through the 18th hole, which runs along the ocean from tee to green: ocean right, waste area left. Even the inland holes stand out. Take the par-4 10th hole, whose green is an “island” amidst a sea of waste areas and bunkers. Again, try to miss in bunkers, as the sand is lovely (while the waste areas are brutal).
Caddies are required here as well, and their reads on the greens are much more valuable here than on Teeth of the Dog because the greens are much more dramatically contoured. If you’re a straight hitter and/or low-handicapper, you’ll revel in the challenges of Punta Espada. If you’re less consistent, though, take it from me: agree before your round to drop out of the waste areas, with or without a penalty, because if you pay $370 for a round of golf (not including caddie fee), you don’t want to have to replace your irons when you get home. Below are some photos of the stunning Punta Espada. Following the photos, is a brief review and photos of the player-friendly yet lovely La Cana Golf Club.
LA CANA GOLF CLUB
Puntacana Resort & Club, host of the PGA Tour event, offers enough golf to fill an entire vacation, even if you don’t leave the resort property. Besides the Corales Course, venue of the PGA event, you’ll find the Tortuga, Hacienda, and Arrecife Nines. These 27 holes were designed by P.B. Dye, Pet’s son, and combine forgiveness, drama, and quirkiness to create a playable yet memorable resort golf experience. Even mid-handicappers can, with some good shots and a little luck, score well here. There are wide fairways and even wide swaths of not-so-penal rough. The greens look a bit shaggy, but played firm and fast. There’s lots of contouring and plenty of strategy in club choice.
The best two nines are the combination of the Hacienda and Toruga Nines. Local knowledge isn’t strictly required, but can be helpful here. For example, right of the first green on the Tortuga Course is a watery cave where, I think, the namesake tortugas (turtles) might breed. You can’t really see this cave on your approach, and any shot to the right tends to funnel into it — so stay left!
Unlike Teeth and Espada, caddies are not mandatory here, so La Cana is not only a bit easier on your scorecard, but also on your wallet. But you need to be a guest at Puntacana Resort or a homeowner to play here (unless you have some connections).