PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic -- Without a doubt, the best golf in the Caribbean is in the country of the Dominican Republic.
Located on eastern side the island of Hispaniola opposite of Haiti, not only does the Dominican Republic boast the most spectacular golf courses in the Caribbean, but it has resorts and other amenities to match.
But if you've never been there, what should you know? Is it expensive, difficult to travel to, can you get by with English? We'll answer that and several other questions below:
1. What makes the golf in the DR the best in the Caribbean?
Simply put, you won't find a better collection of ocean holes anywhere. From the Casa de Campo to Punta Cana on the East Coast and Playa Grande to the north, it's just one breathtaking ocean hole after another. There are nearly 30 courses in the D.R., and many of them are also designed by the best in the business: Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones, for example.
Video: Golf Advisor visits Casa De Campo, La Romana
2. Where are the golf hotspots?
Certainly Casa de Campo and Punta Cana rule the roost as far as golf is concerned. Casa de Campo, located on the south coast, has two outstanding resort courses, both designed by Dye. The first is Pete Dye's masterpiece, Teeth of the Dog (more on that later) The second one – Dye Fore -- is 27 holes and might even be a bit underrated. While it doesn't have holes right on the water, it has incredible views of the ocean, mountains and river. On the east coast, just an hour away, is the region that includes Cap Cana and Punta Cana resorts, with such courses at the highly acclaimed Punta Espada (Nicklaus), La Cana Golf Course (P.B. Dye) and Corales (Fazio).
No. 18 at Corales
Corales will play host to the inaugural Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on the PGA Tour in March opposite the WGC Dell Match Play. The course is known for a finishing stretch called the "Devil's Elbow," which is both gorgeous (incredible ocean views) and treacherous, especially if the wind is up.
3. What's the best golf course in the Dominican Republic?
This is certainly up for debate, but most consider either Cap Cana's Punta Espada or Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog to be the top course not only in the Dominican Republic, but in the Caribbean as well. Punta Espada, opened in 2006, boasts eight holes that play along the ocean and there are Caribbean Sea views from almost every point on the golf course. Better yet, the holes are among Nicklaus' best ever designs and conditioning is superb. Many would argue, though, that Teeth of the Dog has withstood the test of time since it first opened in 1971.
Teeth (named for the jagged rocks on the ocean's edge), of course, is one of Dye's very first solo designs, and he knocked it out of the park. And it's not just that it has these holes on the ocean; it's how special they are – the par 3s in particular. The fifth is one of the most exacting, dramatic short holes you'll ever play with virtually no room to miss short, left or even right for that matter. The eighth can play as long as 235 yards, most of it over water. And the 16th is nearly 200 yards from the back tees, again, right over a piece of the ocean.
According to Golf Digest's The World's 100 Best Golf Courses, Teeth of the Dog comes in at no. 56, while Punta Espada is 76, but we can see how arguments could be made for either one. We should also mention here that Playa Grande on the north coast is stunning as well (though it has gone through some difficulty as of late and was re-grassed with paspalum recently). It was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones and most recently renovated by son Rees Jones and actually has the most ocean views of any course in the Dominican Republic.
Punta Espada Golf Club
4. Should I use a caddie?
Taking a caddie on DR courses like Punta Espada recommended
All the top courses in the Dominican Republic offer forecaddies, and they are certainly useful. In fact, one course, Corales, assigned two forecaddies to our group, so the policy varies from course to course and in some cases, it's mandatory. You can also get a walking caddie at courses such as Teeth of the Dog. So yes, be prepared to take a caddie during some of your rounds, which generally run around $50-$75 fee for each forecaddie, plus a gratuity of around $25 or so from each player in the group. Individual caddies are, of course, more expensive. You can figure around $150 or more for walking caddie, including tip.
5. What are hotels and resorts like?
If you're staying at the resorts and hotels affiliated with the D.R.'s best golf courses, you're pretty much going first class all the way. For example, Casa de Campo Resort & Villas is one of the best resorts anywhere (and largest at 7,000 acres) in the Caribbean with top accommodations that not include a hotel but rental houses that can go for up to $3,000 a night and include private pool and multiple bedrooms, each with their own luxurious bathroom and separate air conditioning. The resort also offers an array of other activities, including horseback riding and skeet shooting, a tremendous beach club and terrific dining. Punta Cana has several resort options, including the Westin Puntacana Resort, which is where we stayed at during our last trip there in December, but there are plenty of other high-end resort options as well, many of them offering private beaches, premium golf course access and their own fine-dining options. And at Playa Grande, there's the uber-luxurious Amanera Resort, which is one of just one of 30 Aman hotels around the world.
6. What's the food like in the DR?
The short answer here is that you can pretty much get anything you want, and it's all really good, albeit a bit on the pricey side. Some of it, of course, has a local flair to it, and the tropical fruit alone, is worth sampling with nearly every meal. At Casa de Campo, for example, there's a breakfast and lunch buffet at the resort's Lago Restaurant, and it includes most everything imaginable, from omelets in the morning to steak, chicken, local seafood, salads and of course, dessert. We also had the pleasure on our last trip to eat at one of the finest Italian restaurants anywhere – La Piazetta – and the newly remodeled Minitas Beach Club & Restaurant offers an array of Latin American and Mediterranean dishes that include the finest seafood and steaks available.
Lago Restaurant at Casa de Campo
The great food, however, certainly doesn't end at Casa de Campo. The Westin served up a terrific breakfast and seafood buffet by the beach, and our group also enjoyed a lunch of local appetizers at La Cana Beach & Golf Club, which is a very enjoyable P.B. Dye design with several spectatular ocean holes in its own right.
7. Besides golf, what else can you do in the DR?
If you're into fishing, surfing, hiking, off-roading, horseback riding and skeet shooting in addition to golf, the Dominican Republic can certainly accommodate you. In fact, the D.R. is also one of the top spots in the world for polo, so there's no shortage of good horses. Arranging a fishing expedition is no problem through most of the resorts' concierges. And don't forget the spas. Our group had an exceptional massage experience at the Six Senses Spa at Puntacana Resort on our list trip to the D.R.
Six Senses Spa
8. How affordable is a trip to the Dominican Republic?
If you're going to the Dominican to play golf, there's no real cheap way to do it. These top courses are anything but cheap to play with stand-alone green fees upwards of $300 at some of the more high-end courses and well into triple digits at most others. Not all are expensive though. We had the pleasure of checking out a new course, La Romana Golf Club (which is not to be confused with La Ramona CC at Casa de Campo). Located about 45 minutes from Casa de Campo at the new Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort, it's a new P.B. Dye design with plenty of ocean views, though it still needs to mature. Best of all, it can be played for less than half of the premium courses in the D.R. At least for now.
As for those top courses, you're best bet is to book a golf package that includes accommodations, meals and green fees.
Video: A visit to Punta Espada, Corales and La Cana
9. Do you need to bring your Espanol?
By all means, a little Spanish can go a long way, but like many parts of the world that cater to North Americans and English-speaking countries, you'll find plenty of folks who are bilingual, menus and street signs in English and most importantly, yardage guides and scorecards written in English as well as Spanish. And yes, the yardages are in yards. And if you rent a car, you get to drive on the right side.
10. What airport(s) should you fly into?
Fortunately, there are more options than just flying into Santo Domingo's Las Americas International Airport (SDQ), which offers a fairly central location, but isn't real close to any of the golf resorts. Your best bet if you're planning a trip to Casa de Campo and/or Punta Cana is to fly into the newer Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), which is actually the Domincan Republic's busiest airport and offers plenty of options on several major airlines to major cities in the United States and throughout the world. It's also just minutes from the resorts in Punta Cana and only an hour or so from Casa de Campo, thanks to a new toll road that makes the trip a breeze.
The third option would be a couple of airports on the northern side of the country, if you're going to Playa Grande or Playa Dorada (Robert Trent Jones). Gregorio Luperon International Airport at Puerto Plata is serviced by American Airlines, which flies directly from Miami, Newark, JFK and Toronto. And Jet Blue also offers direct flights from JFK to Samana Airport, which is a little closer to Playa Grande than Puerto Plata.
And one more thing: There's a $10 landing fee per person, when you travel to the Dominican Republic and it's payable as you clear customs. And they don't give change or take a credit card, so bring that sawbuck with you.