Golfing in the Caribbean: A complete guide

If you like your golf with ocean breezes, shorts and maybe a Mojito or two — and who doesn’t — then a trip to the Caribbean Sea might be in order. Because 12 months out of the year you can count on those warm trade winds, refreshing cocktails, incredible accommodations, and some of the most spectacular golf in the world. Whether it’s a big-island destination like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, or a more quaint spot like Barbados, they all offer relaxation, warm temperatures and great golf experiences.

These destinations are pretty easy to get to as well, especially from the south and east coasts of the United States. The golf courses have been designed by some of the best architects in the world. And the beaches are among the world’s most spectacular. Let’s take a look at five of the more popular spots.

Casa de Campo: Teeth of the Dog (top and above)

Puerto Rico: No passport needed

Because it’s a U.S. territory, American citizens do not need a passport to visit Puerto Rico. It’s pretty much like traveling from Miami to Orlando in that regard. Just book your ticket and go and check out all the sites, like the capitol building in San Juan, Old San Juan, El Yunque Rainforest, and entertainment districts and historic neighborhoods, where you’ll find unique eateries, churches and markets.

Puerto Rico, home of World Golf Hall of Fame Chi Chi Rodriguez, certainly has the golf scene covered with nearly 30 courses. You could start with the TPC Dorado Beach, home to two 18-hole courses, both designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. They are located at the luxurious Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, about a half hour from the capital city of San Juan. The East Course was redesigned by son Robert Trent Jones Jr., who lengthened it by 600 yards. The Sugarcane Course was updated in recent years as well, and is actually considered the more challenging of the two with newly created rivers and lakes on the back nine. 

Another terrific golf destination is the St. Regis Bahia Beach & Golf Resort in Rio Grande. Set against the backdrop of El Yunque National Forest, RTJ II put his stamp on this course, too. Here you will be serenaded by the distinct sound of the coqui tree frogs as the course makes its way through the jungle and onto the beach for the last few holes. The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort, also in Rio Grande, boasts the Ocean Course, A George and Tom Fazio design, as well as the Greg Norman-designed River Course. And then there’s also the Hyatt Grand Reserve and 36-hole Grand Reserve Golf Club, home of the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open. 

And if you can get to the north side of the island, you can take in the unforgettable experience of Royal Isabella, a unique links-style course set along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. Developed and owned by former standout tennis players Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, the views are unforgettable, and the golf course, which has a few quirky holes, is a pretty good test for any player.

Some other good Puerto Rico golf destinations include El Conquistador Resort and the 36-hole Palmas Athletic Club, where Gary Player and Rees Jones designed courses that are both scenic and strategic.

St. Regis Bahia Beach

The Dominican Republic makes its case

The Dominican Republic is arguably the Caribbean destination with the best golf. There are more than two dozen courses total in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west. This is where the great architect Pete Dye made his early mark with the famous Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, which is a huge resort community that also includes two more golf courses for resort guests to enjoy. Teeth of the Dog is known for its seven holes that run alongside the ocean cliffs. The par-3 fifth is one of the most photographed holes in the world because of its incredible beauty. The elevated 27 holes of Dye Fore (Chavon, Lagos, Marina) aren’t too shabby either. And there’s also the Links at Casa de Campo

You could easily get all the golf and relaxation you want at Casa de Campo, but the Dominican has some other pretty spectacular courses as well. Most notably, the Punta Cana area offers one of Jack Nicklaus’ very best, Punta Espada, which has some of the most incredible views of any golf course on earth and was the former site of PGA Tour Champions event. The ocean is visible from practically every point on this golf course with eight holes playing along the shores, including the iconic 13th, a par-3 that plays 250 yards from the back tees and is mostly carry to a peninsula green.

Corales Golf Club, which is part of the Puntacana Resort & Club, is another incredible layout. Home to the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, this layout has plenty of coastal holes as well, including a finishing stretch called the “Devil’s Elbow.” 

And then if you can make it to the north shore, you’ll want to check out Playa Grande Golf and Ocean Club. Rees Jones renovated his father Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s work there a few years ago, and the results are stunning, with 10 holes on the ocean, many of them on cliffs overlooking the pounding surf on rocks below.  

And while Playa Granda, Casa de Campo, Punta Espada and Corales lead the way, most of the rest of the lot in the Dominican Republic is exceptional as well. It’s hard to go wrong at any course you choose in the Dominican Republic, as most of them are built along the coastline. Some others work checking out include the Gary Player-designed Guavaberry Golf & Country Club, the P.B. Dye-designed Iberostar Bavaro Golf Club, and 27-hole PGA Ocean’s 4 Golf (18-hole, 9-hole).

Corales Golf Club

The Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados

The Bahamas is another great destination for golf, but what’s unique about it, of course, is that the courses are spread out among the Bahamas’ many islands. On Nassau and Paradise Island, for example, you’ll find Royal Blue Golf Club at Baha Mar, a Jack Nicklaus signature design that’s a tale of two nines — a front side with views of undulating fairways, white sand dunes and an occasional view of the Caribbean, and a back nine that makes its way through the jungle. There’s the links-style Albany Resort on New Providence, where Tiger Woods made his much-anticipated comeback at the Hero World Challenge on the PGA Tour. And then there’s The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, designed by Donald Steele and Tom McKenzie. This links course has everything: ocean views, great holes and terrific practice facilities. The Abaco Islands are also home to Treasure Cay Beach arena and Golf Resort, whose golf course was designed by Dick Wilson. 

Other notable courses in the Bahamas include Sandals at Emerald Bay, a stellar Greg Norman course located on Great Exuma; the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Reef Course on Grand Bahama Island; and The Ocean Club at The Four Seasons, a gorgeous Tom Weiskopf layout with plenty of great holes and views. The Ocean Club, located on the northern shoreline of New Providence, is the host course for the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. 

Another top Caribbean destination worth considering is Jamaica, which has a dozen courses spread throughout the island. The top golf area is Montego Bay, where you can stay at resorts like Iberostar Rose Hall or the Ritz Carlton Golf & Spa and choose from several highly regarded courses like the White Witch, Cinnamon Hill and Half Moon Golf Club

The White Witch (named after legendary murderer Annie Hall)  is a Robert von Hagge design that can be a little scary at times, especially when it’s windy. But the elevated tees and views are amazing. (White Witch has been closed during the pandemic, but there are hopes it will reopen.) 

Cinnamon Hill, redesigned by von Hagge and Rick Baril in 2001, features a windswept front nine and back nine that creeps through the lower elevations of the mountains. 

Half Moon Golf Club, located at Half Moon Resort, is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. gem that opened in 1964. 

And if you want to venture out a bit, the Tryall Club is about 45 minutes away from Rose Hall. Designed by Ralph Plummer, the layout traverses an old sugar plantation with plenty of ocean views.

And finally, Barbados also has several stellar courses. One of the most sought-out is the famous Green Monkey at Sandy Lane. It’s also one of the most exclusive. The course was designed by Tom Fazio, plays nearly 7,400 yards from the tips, and has a grass island that is shaped like a monkey in the middle of a bunker on the 16th hole. Of course, it’s much more than a gimmick with many of the holes carved out of an old limestone quarry, while others exhibit dramatic elevation changes and spectacular views of the sea. Apes Hill is another favorite on Barbados. Built 1,000 feet above sea level, it’s a unique Rob Kirby design where golfers will see large troops of Barbados green monkeys roam among the fig trees. Some of the other top-rated golf courses in Barbados include Barbados Golf Club, Rockley Club, Royal Westmoreland, and Almond Beach Resort.

Cinnamon Hill

Recommendation

It’s hard to go wrong with any of these Caribbean island golf destinations. As we mentioned earlier, Puerto Rico might be the easiest to travel to, but none of them are particularly hard to reach by air. Southwest Airlines even flies to some of these destinations now.

But when considering a golf destination, figure out what else you might like to do besides playing golf. They all have great beaches, but if you’re looking for a lot of sightseeing, Puerto Rico might be a better choice. If you’re looking to relax, you certainly can’t go wrong with the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. They all have their own vibe and culture, and varied cuisines — and they all offer spectacular golf.