By: Andrew Penner
Golf and the sea have always had a special relationship. The wind and the waves, the sand and the surf, just add to the allure of the game. It’s always been that way. So, no wonder then, that the world’s great seaside golf destinations are revered. In the “old world,” it’s places like Scotland and Ireland that immediately come to mind. And, in the “new world,” – especially if you like your wind and waves on the warm side – one could easily say the crème de la crème is the Dominican Republic.
Of course, there are a lot of great seaside golf courses in the tropics. The Bahamas, Bermuda, Hawaii, even Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, are home to some stunning layouts that linger above the azure blue. In fact, some of the best new courses that have been built in the past ten years are in the tropics. And, more specifically, in the Caribbean.
However, perhaps no other country boasts as many awesome courses that hug the ocean than the Dominican Republic. Of the 30 championship golf courses in the country, more than half of those serve up beautiful ocean views. And many of those feature holes directly on the ocean. Indeed, if the seaside golf genre melts your butter, then a golf junket to the DR should be on your radar.
The place to start? Unquestionably, Casa de Campo in La Romana is a must. Casa de Campo is home to three Pete Dye-designed courses as well as the private La Romana Country Club. Perhaps a more fitting name for the place would be “Dyeville.” One thing is certain, the resort is consistently recognized as one of the greatest golf resorts in the world.
Its star attraction is the revered Teeth of the Dog course. Opened in 1971, “Teeth” is Pete Dye’s seaside masterpiece. It’s been ranked the number one course in the Caribbean for over 40 years. There are a total of seven holes that play directly along the wave-smashed shore. The drama is unforgettable.
The stretch of holes from the fifth to the eighth, which includes two gorgeous par-3s, is one of the world’s great seaside runs. The 5th, a short par-3 with a postage stamp green kissing the water, is diabolic Dye at his best. There is little margin for error. It’s a sublime golf hole that is in the same league as the 7th at Pebble Beach. Thankfully, after playing the 8th, the golfer can look forward to three more spectacular seaside holes from the 15th to the 17th. Another trifecta, of sorts, that seals the deal for “Teeth’s” rightful recognition as one of the world’s great courses.
Although Teeth is the clear standout at Casa de Campo, the Links Course and Dye Fore both afford rock-solid golf with that special Pete Dye flare. Dye Fore, which soars along the Chavon River is particularly spectacular and would easily be a top-draw if it wasn’t overshadowed by Teeth of the Dog.
Speaking of top-draws, after golf one can always take comfort on the dazzling beaches in this region. The Punta Cana area, especially, is home to wide, idyllic, white-sand beaches that, to be honest, are way better than any bunker I’ve ever flailed around in.
For beginners to the all-inclusive genre – or seasoned veterans, for that matter – it doesn’t get much better than the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana. The massive 1,700-room resort is the largest hotel in the Caribbean. With fifteen pools, nine restaurants, a casino, spa, and a shuttle to whisk you around, you’ll definitely have your hands full soaking it all in. If you get confused with the sheer size of the place, I’d highly recommend you just take the two-minute shuttle to the Nicklaus-designed golf course that sits on the property. Meandering through the Dominican jungle and incorporating a number of rugged rock quarries and lakes, the smooth-flowing route will test every part of your game…and then some. Although there are no ocean views or significant elevation changes, the beautiful conditioning and the isolated nature of the holes still makes for a quality golf experience.
If you base your holiday out of the Hard Rock, there are many nearby golf courses to choose from. And, of course, a number of them are seaside stunners. Punta Espada, for example, is killer good. It’s another Jack Nicklaus design that features eight seaside holes. And many of them hug the water so close you may be wishing for a neoprene golf shirt.
A couple other courses that come highly recommended in the Punta Cana area are La Cana (yet another Pete Dye design with four seaside holes) and Los Corales (a Tom Fazio layout with six oceanside holes).
Whether it’s surfing or swinging, sipping or sun-tanning, Punta Cana is, undoubtedly, one of the top vacation destinations in the Caribbean. I recently heard of one fellow who went down there without his clubs. However, when he saw a string of holes clinging to the edge of the sea he knew he had made a mistake. My advice? Don’t make the same one.
Andrew Penner is a golf photographer and freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can visit him at www.andrewpenner.com.