Island Fever: Golf where the pros play in the Caribbean

The Caribbean has a rich history of hosting professional golf, dating back to the 1960s.

That tradition waned a bit during the past decade, impacted by the recession, but high-level tournament golf appears to be on the upswing in the islands again.

The Hero World Challenge, a limited field event run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, moved to the Albany Golf Course on New Providence Island in the Bahamas in 2015, joining the PGA TOUR's Puerto Rico Open in attracting the world's best players to the Caribbean.

Three Web.com Tour events debuted in 2017 - the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay on its stunning Emerald Reef course, The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club and the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship on Corales in the Dominican Republic.

The old World Golf Championship event at Doral, now called the WGC-Mexico Championship in Mexico City, has always overshadowed the Caribbean's signature event, the Puerto Rico Open, by sharing the same first weekend in March. The 2018 Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach Golf & Country Club could be in jeopardy as the island deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The big news is the new Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, which will allow the Dominican Republic to host its first-ever PGA TOUR event. It will be played opposite the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play the third week in March. Billboards on the island showcase guys like Ian Poulter and Jim Furyk, but who ultimately shows up remains to be seen. The Match Play invites the top 64 in the world rankings.

And last, let's not forget that the launch of the PGA Tour Latinoamérica has also brought a new wave of events into the Caribbean since 2012. Maybe a future star can emerge from this mini-tour.

Everyday hacks don't need a TOUR card to play where pros play in the Caribbean, the lone exception being Albany, a private development where Ernie Els owns a home. Seek out the sun for another version of Deegan's Dozen, the 12 public-access courses in the Caribbean that have hosted the best male and female players in the world. They're spread out among five islands and Mexico's seaside Riviera Maya. Here's a look:

Corales, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Corales, a beautiful Tom Fazio course, just might be the "Augusta National" of the Caribbean. It's kept in immaculate shape. A run of ocean holes highlight the end of each nine. Holes 16-18 are called the Devil's Elbow , a nickname that emerged after a conversation between Frank Rainieri, the original founder of the Puntacana Resort & Club, and Fazio. The layout is undergoing a renovation to prepare for its big debut, so it's closed until after the 2018 tournament.

Coco Beach Golf & Country Club, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico

This 36-hole club, designed by Tom Kite in 2006, had hosted the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com since the tournament's inception in 2008, a streak that will end next year with the tournament's future very much in doubt. The Championship Course , located a 45-minute drive east of San Juan, winds along the beach on the back nine, providing a scenic backdrop for players and spectators alike. For several years, during Donald Trump's management of the facility, Coco Beach was called the Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico.

GolfAdvisor.com user 'jwhobart80' gave the course five stars in an online review, writing he "would play (it) again if in Puerto Rico. ... Plays longer than (the) card (yardage) with trade winds at 25-30 mph constantly. Nice deep bunkers and awesome views."

The Puerto Rico Open attracted quality fields, although casual fans won't recognize many past champions: Chesson Hadley (2014), Scott Brown (2013), Michael Bradley (2011, 2009), George McNeil (2012), Derek Lamely (2010) and Greg Kraft (2008). In 2014, former major champions Lee Janzen, John Daly, David Toms, Y.E. Yang and Trevor Immelman teed it up.

"The second shot is very critical out here," said Danny Lee, one of the young guns to play in 2014. "You want to hit it in the right area to make your putts, or you want to miss it on the right side to make up and downs. Otherwise, there are impossible up-and-down areas out there. You do not want to go there."

East Course at the Dorado Beach Resort & Club, Dorado, Puerto Rico

No Caribbean course here has a more decorated past than the famed East Course at Dorado Beach Resort & Club , designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Located 45 minutes west of San Juan, Dorado opened in style with a celebrity invitational in 1958, attracting the Hollywood elite. The powerful duo of Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret teamed up to win the 1961 Canada Cup, a precursor to the World Cup of Golf. Chi Chi Rodriguez, then Dorado's head professional, later beat Doug Saunders in a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match in 1964.

RTJ Sr. then returned in 1966 to expand the original 18 holes into the East and West Course s. The "Big Three Invitational" featured Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in an exhibition in 1972, but the resort has no record of who won. Fred Couples and Davis Love III teamed up for the Stars and Stripes to capture the prestigious World Cup of Golf in 1994.

The Senior PGA Tour (now the PGA TOUR Champions) had a strong run of events for a while. The 1989 and 1990 Mazda Team Championships showcased Senior Tour and LPGA Tour players in a two-person best ball. The New York Life Tournament of Champions, the precursor to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, ran from 1990-93. Mike Hill won the first two years, followed by Raymond Floyd (1992) and Simon Hobday (1993). The Chrysler Senior Match Play Challenge was held at Dorado in 1999 and 2000.

As the tournaments faded away, so did Dorado's allure. After a long period of neglect, the East was completely restored by RTJ Jr. in 2011 and eventually hosted a trio of PGA Tour Latinoamérica events (the 2012-13 Puerto Rico Classic and the 2015 Tour Championship).

Nicklaus considers the course's famous "Z" hole one of the best par 5s in the world. The fourth fairway bends like a backward Z as it winds around two ponds to a green against an ocean backdrop.

Visitors can often find Rodriguez hanging around the club. Puerto Rico's most famous player won eight times on the PGA Tour and 22 more times as a senior during his World Golf Hall of Fame career.

The Tryall Club, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Simply walking into the remodeled clubhouse reveals the tournament history of The Tryall Club , an all-villa beachfront resort 20 minutes west of the Montego Bay airport. Pictures of the past champions of the Johnnie Walker World Championship -- Couples (1991, '95), Nick Faldo ('92), Larry Mize ('93) and Ernie Els ('94) -- adorn the walls. The land for Tryall's signature hole, the 176-yard par-3 fourth right along the rocky shore, was acquired in 1992 specifically for the tournament.

Tryall's commitment to pro golf started when Dow Finsterwald beat Peter Allis in the Shell's Wonderful World of Golf in 1962 just three years after the Ralph Plummer design opened. A unique competition pairing Senior Tour and LPGA Tour players ran from 1985-87 before the LPGA Tour took over its own event from 1989-91. At 6,836 yards, Tryall might be too short for modern pros, but it's still loaded with great holes roaming hilly terrain in the jungle above the shore. The club recently completed a two-phase renovation, reopening the back nine in 2016 and the front nine earlier this year.

Punta Espada Golf Club, Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

A faltering economy derailed The Cap Cana Championship, a Champions Tour event held from 2008-2010 at Punta Espada Golf Club . Fred Couples provided a grand sendoff -- a final-round 62 to beat Corey Pavin in 2010. Nicklaus designed Punta Espada with eight holes directly on the Caribbean Sea, creating a modern-day version of Pete Dye's iconic Teeth of the Dog at nearby Casa de Campo in La Romana. Which is the best course in the Caribbean? Flip a coin.

The tee shots on the par-5 second, par-3 13th and par-4 17th holes at Punta Espada are simply unforgettable. Take a crack at it from the tips on no. 13. Then you'll better appreciate the birdie Nicklaus made at the grand opening.

Sandy Lane Country Club, St. James, Barbados

Fazio's modern marvel, The Green Monkey , gets most of the attention at this five-star resort. Fazio's original Sandy Lane Country Club , though, was the host of the 2006 World Cup of Golf, which at the time was a high-profile WGC event that attracted two-man teams from 24 nations. Germany's Bernhard Langer and Marcel Siem beat Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren on the first playoff hole. Five lakes and three par 5s and three par 3s on the back nine characterize this lush tropical layout.

El Camaleon Golf Club, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Obviously, the 7,024-yard host of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba isn't on an island, but El Camaleon Golf Club gets included since several holes border the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. The Greg Norman design, tucked inside the lavish Mayakoba resort development 40 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport, traverses through three ecosystems, the jungle, the mangroves and the beach. Norman created two scenic par 3s along the beach (no. 7 and no. 15) and a handful of unique and interesting par 4s.

The PGA Tour event, held at Mayakoba since 2007, has become a more prestigious stop since moving to November in 2013. It's no longer in the shadow of the WGC-Accenture Match Play and its winner earns a boatload of FedEx Cup points and an invitation to the Masters.

Ocean Club Golf Course, Paradise Island, Bahamas

The Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, first held in May of 2013, has blossomed into must-see TV on the LPGA Tour schedule. The Ocean Club , a Tom Weiskopf design, looks fantastic with all swaying palms and turquoise water views when most golfers are stuck at home in the dead of winter at the end of January.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica golf courses

Three courses have hosted the Dominican Republic Open: the Hard Rock Golf Club's Cana Bay (2012-13), Casa de Campo's famous Teeth of the Dog (2014-16) and Playa Dorado (2017), a RTJ Sr. course. The 2017 Jamaica Classic brought professional golf to the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course at Rose Hall , one of my personal Caribbean favorites near Montego Bay.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bermuda, technically not in the Caribbean, wasn't considered for this story.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Island Fever: Golf where the pros play in the Caribbean
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