If there are two destinations Traveling Golfers need to add to their bucket list, it’s Los Cabos, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
It will set you back a pretty penny to tee it up along the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and on golf’s Caribbean Queen, the D.R, the latter of which now offers up 90 oceanside holes. But it’s worth it if you want to experience the best golf the Caribbean and Mexico have to offer.
In the Traveling Golfer’s inaugural ranking of the best courses in the Caribbean and Mexico, Los Cabos features no fewer than six of the Top 30, and a whopping three in the top six. The roughly 24-mile oceanfront stretch from San Jose del Cabo in the east to just beyond Cabo San Lucas in the west contains some of the most staggeringly beautiful scenery in golfdom, with vast, windswept dunes and rugged desert mountains competing equally for photo ops with dramatic seaside cliffs and that churning turquoise meeting place of the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.
The Dominican Republic, with 4 in the top 10 and 5 in the top 20, claim the #1 over all spot:the Pete Dye design – Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo. The Dominican boasts 26 courses, upscale pristine resorts, some of the best beaches in the world, sophisticated cities and quaint villages filled with warm Dominican people. The Dominican Republic is the country most recognized in the Latin American & Caribbean Golf Destination of the Year IAGTO Awards category, as it has won three times, including 2016.
Our panel (listed below) includes seven of the best-travelled North American golf and travel journalists you’re likely to come across, having cumulatively covered every teeing ground from Bermuda to the Grenadines. Asked for their top 15 courses from that winter sun destination region, panel members highlighted some of the newest eye-popping facilities, as well as stalwart classics from architectural giants—some of which never go out of style, including the top-ranked layout, which has stood the test of time since opening more than 46 years ago.
1. Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic (Pete Dye, 1970) http://www.casadecampo.com.do/
The iconic Pete Dye design, carved from the rugged rock and coral of the Dominican coastline, features seven holes along the ocean. It’s as thorough but fair a test of one’s game as is offered in the Caribbean—all painted upon an exquisite canvas. Three panel’s members ranked this No. 1, with no one placing it below fifth overall.
“Pete Dye’s design continues to dazzle, and the course conditioning was impeccable when I played there last year. As photogenic as the ocean holes are—the Caribbean on your left on the front side and to the right as you head home—the landlocked holes are simply sublime.” —Ted McIntyre
“You can see how the designers have created a sense of anticipation by routing the front nine through the lower, more secluded dunes on the front nine before transitioning to the more expansive back nine. I was lucky enough to play the back nine on a sunny afternoon, with the wind coming off the Pacific and the whales playing just offshore, and it was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had not just on a golf course, but anywhere in nature.” —Marty Kaufmann
2. Dunes Course at Diamante, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (private) (Davis Love III, 2009) https://www.diamantecabosanlucas.com/
A very narrow miss for top spot, every panel member who has teed it up at the aptly named Dunes—the vast swaths of sand easily the most dominant features—ranked it among their top three. As its literature notes, “it’s one of the most dramatic meetings of desert, white dunes, blue ocean and green fairways in all the world.” Think of it as Ireland’s Ballybunion, except a lot warmer, and with cacti substituted for gorse.
3. Punta Espada Golf Club at Cap Cana, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Jack Nicklaus, 2006) http://www.puntaespadagolf.com/
A former host to the Senior PGA Tour’s Cap Cana Championship, there are eight holes on the ocean—some greens just a few feet from the water—and not a blade of grass out of place on a layout that pleases more than it punishes players.
“This is Jack at the pinnacle of his design career, especially on the signature par-three 13th, requiring a hefty carry over the Caribbean.” —Anita Draycott
4. Playa Grande Golf Course at Playa Grande Club & Reserve, Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic (Robert Trent Jones Sr. / Rees Jones, 1996) http://www.playagrande.com/
This stunner—one of the last courses designed by master architect RTJ Sr.—has received a serious makeover by Rees Jones, leaving this remote and very private Dominican gem even more jaw-dropping, with no fewer than 10 cliffside holes, including five straight to conclude your round. It’s the sort of place that leaves your mouth hanging open a day after you’ve left. Potentially No. 1 in the near future.
“The experience is one of unparalleled luxury, more private than the most venerable private clubs—the only comparably decadent golf-course-to-yourself experience I can think of is Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.” —Larry Olmsted in Forbes Magazine
5. The Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, Los Cabos, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 1994)http://www.cabodelsol.com/content/index.html#
Stretching for more than a mile along a coastline of craggy rock outcroppings and sun-washed shores, this layout is praised by Nicklaus himself for having “the three finest finishing holes in all of golf.”
“A stellar Nicklaus routing that works the site extremely well and never lacks for beauty and strategic holes. A tour de force beyond all others.” —Matt Ward
6. Quivira Golf Club, Los Cabos, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 2015) http://quiviragolfclub.com/
Almost worth it just for the cart ride from the fourth tee that traces up a mountain to the 5th green—about a four “Oh my God!” drive. Sheer cliffside drops, vast dunes and not a bad lie to be had. A couple of planned tweaks to improve playability will cement Quivira among the region’s elite.
7. Green Monkey Golf Course at Sandy Lane, James, Barbados (Tom Fazio, 2004) http://www.sandylane.com/
Carved from an old limestone quarry, the exposed rock faces form dramatic contrasts to the lush, rolling green of the fairways and offer tremendous elevation change.
“Like Pebble Beach, Tom Fazio’s Green Monkey is one of those over-the-top, outrageously expensive golf experiences that most of us can only afford once. So bring your A game.” —Brian Kendall
8. Corales Golf Club at Puntacana Resort & Club, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Tom Fazio, 2010) http://www.puntacana.com/
Designed along natural cliffs, bays, ocean coves, inland lakes and coralina quarries, with six oceanside holes, Corales culminates with a trio of scenic holes nicknamed the Devil’s Elbow.
9. The Mid Ocean Club, Tuckerstown, Bermuda (Charles Blair Macdonald & Seth Raynor, 1923)
A marvelous, classic design augmented by its striking oceanside venue, with sprawling, rolling waves of fairway adding to the constant movement and flow of this elegant routing.
10. Querencia, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico (Tom Fazio, 2000) http://www.loscabosquerencia.com/
A sophisticated design carved along more than 300 acres, through deep arroyos and atop cool, arid plateaus, encircled by stands of ancient cacti and palm trees, Querencia is a celebration of nature within in a private club atmosphere, with spectacular views from every hole.
“There’s much to recommend about Tom Fazio’s thrill ride of a layout, with its roller-coaster holes, icy-slick greens and sweeping views of the Sea of Cortez.” —Marty Kaufmann
11. Four Seasons Punta Mita (Pacifico), Punta Mita, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 2008) http://www.fourseasons.com/puntamita/
Set amid vistas of white-sand beaches and the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains surrounding Riviera Nayarit, the course takes full advantage of its seaside location. Eight holes border either the Pacific Ocean or Banderas Bay, and offer views of whales during their seasonal migration. The highlight is hole 3B, dubbed “the Tail of the Whale,” the world’s only natural island green.
12. White Witch Golf Course at Rose Hall Estate, St. James Parish, Jamaica (Robert von Hagge, 2000) http://www.whitewitchgolf.com/
Situated on the historic Rose Hall Estate on a former sugar plantation, White Witch tumbles along some of Jamaica’s most dramatic topography, affording players a boatload of arresting Caribbean views—all under the guidance of veteran caddies.
13. Apes Hill Club, St. James, Barbados (Chris Cole & Jeff Potts, 2009)
Marked by undulating putting surfaces and sharply edged bunkers, this Audubon Society-certified course features a multitude of unique holes, from No. 12, with its views of the east coast, to the par-3 16th, situated within a coral-stone quarry.
14. Cinnamon Hill Golf Course at Rose Hall Estate, St. James Parish, Jamaica (Robert von Hagge & Rick Baril, 2001) https://www.rosehall.com/
Some of the finest caddies in the world lead players on a memorable journey across varied terrain—from the spray of beachside greens to wind whistling through the pines at the 17th tee, 350 feet above sea level—part of one of the finest closing stretches in golf.
15. Pink Sands Club, Canouan Island, St. Vincent & The Grenadines (Jim Fazio, 2002)
Formerly Trump International, then Grenadines Estates GC and now the Pink Sands Club, this remote, mountainous three-square-mile island in the lower Grenadines might be the singularly most stunning piece of golf course real estate in this ranking.
- Royal Isabela, Isabela, Puerto Rico (David Pfaff, 2011)
- Four Seasons Nevis, Charlestown, Nevis (Robert Trent Jones II, 1991)
- Casa de Campo (Dye Fore) La Romana, Dominican Republic (Pete Dye, 2003)
- El Dorado, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 1999)
- El Camaleón at Mayakoba, Maya Riviera, Mexico (Greg Norman, 2006)
- Port Royal, Southampton, Bermuda (Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1970)
- Royal Westmoreland, St. James, Barbados (Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1994)
- Vista Vallarta (Nicklaus), Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 2001)
- Tucker’s Point, Tucker’s Town, Bermuda (Charles H. Banks, 1932, redesigned in 2002 by Roger Rulewich)
- Tryall, Montego Bay, Jamaica (Ralph Plummer, 1858)
- Four Seasons Punta Mita (Bahia), Punta Mita, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 2009)
- Baker’s Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Fazio, 2011)
- Palmilla, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico (Jack Nicklaus, 1993)
- Abaco Club, Abaco Island, Bahamas (Donald Steel & Tom Mackenzie, 2006)
- CuisinArt, Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla (Greg Norman, 2006)
Anita Draycott (Freelance golf & travel writer, Toronto, ON)
Rick Drennan (Freelance golf & travel writer, Brampton, ON)
Marty Kaufmann (Managing Editor, The Golf Life, Golfweek staff, Orlando, FL)
Brian Kendall (Publisher, Canadian Golf Traveller, Toronto, ON)
Ted McIntyre (Editor, Ontario’s Top 100 Courses, Oakville, ON)
Larry Olmsted (The Great Life / Forbes Magazine, NY Times bestseller, Burlington, VT)
Andrew Penner (Freelance writer & photographer, Calgary, AB)
James Ward (Senior Contributor, The Epoch Times, Clifton, N.J., USA)