I don’t think Christopher Columbus was a golfer but if he was he’d certainly be proud of the golf courses that exist today on the Caribbean island of La Hispaniola, the tropical paradise he discovered south of the Florida Keys on December 5, 1492.
Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, La Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean and shared by the countries of Haiti to the west and The Dominican Republic to the east.
It is in the Dominican Republic that you will discover several of the best ocean golf courses anywhere in the world. Rugged coral coastlines, aqua-marine waters, warm breezes and layouts created by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio provide the perfect ingredients required for a delectable golf getaway.
Over 4 million vacationers visit the Dominican Republic annually. While many may choose to experience the sights and sounds of Santo Domingo, the island’s cultural capital, the most popular destination in the DR can be found on the eastern side of the island. It is here where the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean collides with the tranquil Caribbean Sea and the endless sand beaches of Punta Cana can be found.
Located in the province of Higuey, Punta Cana is a golf aficionado’s playground. From Montreal or Toronto, you can escape from a typically depressing Canadian winter and be afoot on one of the area’s world class golf courses in less than 5 hours. The Punta Cana airport is 20 minutes away from one of 65 hotels and resorts that have transformed the area into one of the most desirable warm weather retreats south of the 49th parallel. But it’s not just sun-starved North Americans that come here. Many Europeans make the trans-Atlantic trip to experience the DR’s pristine white beaches, culture, warm hospitality and friendly people.
While the gentle breezes and sun drenched beaches may be the main draw for many, it is access to some of the best ocean-inspired golf courses the world has to offer that attracts over 750,000 Canadians to the island every year. For the most part, golf in the DR is a relatively new sport. It was in La Romana (2 hours west of Punta Cana) at Casa de Campo where championship golf was first introduced. Pete Dye’s famous Teeth of the Dog course blazed the golf trail in the DR and now, thirty years later, there are over twenty golf courses in the country, most of them located along the east coast in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area.
I recently visited Punta Cana to experience one golf course in particular – Jack Nicklaus’ 7,396-yard Punta Espada at Cap Cana. Rumour among Canadian golf writers was that this is “one of the best” ocean golf courses in the world. Having heard this claim before, I was somewhat skeptical; however, after spending the better part of a day at Punta Espada and recalling how reluctant I was to leave, I would agree with my literary colleagues and concur that this is indeed one of the best ocean golf courses in the world – it’s certainly the best I’ve ever played. Why? Because from every tee, fairway and green you’ll feel all of your senses stirred by the Caribbean Sea that seems no more than sand wedge away. Punta Espada, which means “point of the sword” in Spanish, defines what an ocean golf course is and what one should be. The jagged coral outcroppings that protrude into the sea contribute to the surreal landscape from which Punta Espada takes its name.
So where else can you play in the Bavaro- Punta Cana area? I’ve listed three other golf courses worthy of consideration. Other than the 27-hole Cocotal Golf and Country Club, brace yourself for some green fee “sticker shock” as there’s nothing cheap about playing golf in this region of the DR.
After Punta Espada, the next course worth playing is Corales, Tom Fazio’s 7,650-yard design. It’s both an ocean and inland course as the layout extends into the lush hills and forest before returning back to the sea. The 16th, 17th and 18th holes are collectively referred to as the “Devil’s Elbow”. Despite their natural beauty, this triumvirate of holes can be a punishing finish especially for those who forgot to pay homage to the golfing Gods before their round. The par 5, 501-yard 18th hole is a truly memorable conclusion to a course you’ll wish had no end. From the tee, a generous fairway awaits before turning abruptly alongside the limestone cliffs en route to a postage stamp-sized green. After your round, be sure to enjoy a drink on the terrace of the quaint clubhouse and savour the sights and sounds of the crashing waves beyond your gaze across the 18th fairway.
The next course on my list of “must plays” in the area is 7,178-yard La Cana Golf Course. Like Corales, La Cana is owned by the Punta Cana Group and part of the Punta Cana Resort and Club. Designed by P.B. Dye, this was the first ocean course in the area. Holes 17 and 18 are as beautiful as they are ominous as both extend alongside the sea before arriving at the charming Caribbean clubhouse that sits elegantly behind the 18th green.
For the more cost conscious golfer, Punta Cana offers the 27-hole, Cocotal Golf and Country Club. Cocotal is certainly championship caliber and will provide a challenging test of golf for players of all skill levels. Located two minutes from the luxurious Paradisus Palma Real Resort, guests of the hotel receive complimentary green fees as part of their vacation package. Although you won’t be treated to an ocean golf experience, at $40 /round this is the best deal in the country.
Plenty has been written over the years about what makes a truly great golf destination. Obviously the starting point is the quality of the golf courses. Comfortable accommodations, great food and unspoiled, natural surroundings further enhance the experience. Beyond that, it depends on your own personal tastes and preferences. One thing I am sure of – if Christopher Columbus was alive today I’m certain you would see him wandering along the beach or navigating his way around any one of the Dominican Republic’s outstanding golf courses on the tropical island paradise he discovered more than 500 years ago.
Direct flights on Sunwing Airlines, Air Canada and Westjet are available
Great Places to Stay:
While there are more than 65 hotels and resorts to choose from in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area, there is none finer than Sol Melia’s Paradisus Palma Real Resort.
The 554-room Paradisus Palma Real sprawls alongside kilometers of unspoiled beaches and comes complete with personal butlers and a variety of exceptional restaurants worthy of any culinary critic’s highest praise. No detail or amenity has been forgotten as the Paradisus Palma Real redefines the meaning of a 5-star resort.
For more information visit www.solmelia.com
How to Book Your Golf:
Before booking tee times at any of the courses in Punta Cana, contact a local tee time reservation company called Go Golf. Go Golf does everything to alleviate the hassle of finding a place to play in a country you may be unfamiliar with. At most of the hotels in Punta Cana you can contact Go Golf directly from your room to arrange where you want to play, your tee time and transportation to and from the golf course.
Contact Go Golf at www.golfreservationcenter.com or (809) 687-GOLF (4653) / Toll Free: (855) 374-4653.