PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic – With three Pete Dye-design courses, Casa de Campo has gotten its share of ink, air time and foot traffic over the last three decades, and deservedly so, but there is much more to the Dominican Republic and the nearby cities of Punta Cana and Cap Cana to attract the golfing tourist.
Most everyone knows about the Dominican Republic’s cigars, brilliant white beaches and the country’s passion for baseball, but with 26 golf courses dotting the countryside, the Dominican Republic (DR) is now the premier golf destination of the Caribbean.
Tourism is the country’s No. 1 industry, and with over 80,000 hotel rooms, the country lays-out the red carpet to visitors from all over the world, to the tune of over 2.6 million last year. First-time visitors on a golf vacation are treated like royalty with the hope they’ll become frequent guests and spread the word.
On a recent visit here, my third in the last six years, the experience was magnificent, particularly the accommodations at the all-inclusive Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa, located about 25 minutes from Punta Cana Airport. The variety of golf courses was impressive, replete with picture-postcard scenes and lush, manicured fairways and greens.
“Make no mistake that booking a golf vacation to the Dominican Republic will be a first-rate experience,” said Teddy De Lara, President of Target Consultores, a public relations firm based in the capital city of Santo Domingo. “To each golf guest we deliver an amazing body and soul experience. From the moment a golfer arrives on the island, they can feel the vibe, enjoy the moment and appreciate the journey to whatever golf course they select.”
The DR is the second largest and most diverse Caribbean country, situated two hours south of Miami, and less than four hours from New York. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south, the tropical island boasts 1,000 miles of coastline, 250 miles of the world’s top beaches, over 200 magnificent resorts and hotels, and a variety of sports, recreation and entertainment opportunities.
“A golf trip to the Dominican Republic is affordable and fun,” said Ty De Lavalle, President of DR Golf Vacations. “We have many types of stay-and-play packages that include playing on world-class designer golf courses by some of the best course architects like Pete Dye, jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Tom Fazio, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Greg Norman.”
The DR claims to be the undisputed leader of golf in the tropics. Seven of the DR’s courses have been ranked in Golfweek Magazine’s Top 50 courses in the Caribbean and Mexico. Punta Espada is on every top 10 list, Los Corales – where the PGA Tour holds an annual tournament, and “Teeth of the Dog” at Casa de Campo has held the No. 1 spot since 2009.
In the Punta Cana region, here is my pick-six list by rank and reason.
The first word out of my mouth after walking out of the Punta Espada golf shop was “WOW.” After about two dozen “WOWS” throughout the day I lost track because there are so many gorgeous, invigorating and breathtaking opportunities.
Punta Espada Golf Club, designed by Nicklaus Golf in 2006, features eight holes playing alongside or over the Caribbean Sea, including the stunning par-4 17th, which requires a tee shot carry over an ocean inlet.
May I humbly suggest that you put this course on your bucket list. It’s astonishing and you’ll hear yourself mumbling “Wow” all day for all the right reasons.
CORALES GOLF CLUB
This Tom Fazio creation opened in 2010 and features six oceanfront holes set on rocky cliffs next to the Caribbean Sea. This par 72 from the tips is 7,650 yards with a slope of 140 and rating of 76.9.
Located at Punta Cana Resort & Club, Corales Golf Club boasts one of golf’s most unique finishes. The last three holes – called Devil’s Elbow – end in a remarkable way with the U-shaped 18th hole playing around a narrow, rocky cliff adjacent to the bay.
The PGA Tour held its first-ever official DR tournament here – the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship – in March 2019 with Graeme McDowell winning. Next year’s tournament is scheduled March 26 – 29, 2020.
LA CANA GOLF COURSE
There’s much to like about this 27-hole property designed by P.B. Dye in 2000, especially with 14 holes offering ocean views of the crystal blue Caribbean Sea. The signature hole is No. 7 which is a 288-yard par 4, protected by no less than 21 pot bunkers.
The par 5, 553-yard 18th hole has been described as a Caribbean version of Pebble Beach’s 18th. With water on your left the full length of the hole, the 18th is a mix of environmental beauty and Dye’s landscape artistry. This hole is a digital snapshot that evokes one of those “thank goodness I brought my camera” kind of moments.
Caddies are mandatory at La Cana, which is also noteworthy because of the multi-million-dollar investment in its double-sided driving range and expansive practice facility. Its state-of-art teaching area is equipped with video and computer analysis technology for those seeking game improvement.
HARD ROCK GOLF CLUB at CANA BAY
This Jack Nicklaus-designed course opened in 2010 as the first golf course to carry the iconic Hard Rock brand. The course lives up to its rock ‘n’ roll name since each hole is named after a famous rock song, while putts roll a bit slow on small, sloping greens.
When you walk into the pro shop there is a sign that reads “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar. The course has wide landing areas – a Nicklaus trademark – several blind shots and the par 72 can stretch out to 7,253 yards with a 135 slope and rating of 76.1
THE LAKES BARCELO COURSE
One of the more difficult tasks for a golf resort is to provide a single course that challenges both the modest and the accomplished player and The Lakes at Barcelo does a fine job. Opened in 1991 this was the first course in the area, but Pete B. Dye redesigned it in 2010.
The property crosses through a lush mangrove forest with 25 inland lakes, while 122 bunkers punctuate the sculpted fairways, many incorporating Dye’s trademark railroad ties.
The Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort, only 11 miles from the airport, is expansive with over 1,991 rooms, offering one of the best beaches on the Island, and it is a favorite business destination for many US and International corporations.
IBEROSTAR BAVARO GOLF CLUB
Another beauty by Pete Dye opened in 2009 measuring 6,879 yards, rating of 73 and slope of 126. This course offers stay-and-play packages for about $175 that includes hotel pickup and drop-off, golf, range balls and drinks on the course.
There are 105 white silica sand bunkers dotted throughout the course that create an eye-catching contrast with the intensely green Supreme Paspalum grass. On the course you’ll find lakes, streams, and even some desert-like features.
World Travel Tour operator members of the Global Golf Tourism Organization, IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), have voted Dominican Republic the “2019 Golf Destination of the Year for Latin America and the Caribbean”. This is the fourth time the country has been recognized as the go-to destination for golf travel by IAGTO.
There’s only one way to find out how good a DR golf vacation can be and that’s by visiting the “Golf Capital of the Caribbean.”