There are a few bucket list golf destinations around the world. You know, the kind of places that make keeping your passport up to date completely worth it. The Dominican Republic, with its selection of spectacular seaside golf courses, is one of them.
Since the dawn of the Casa de Campo Resort and the unveiling of the world-famous Teeth of the Dog course by Pete Dye in 1971, the golf scene in the Dominican Republic has grown to include incredible gems from Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones and even Gary Player, just to name a few. The common denominator is the incredible coastline of the D.R., making it the king of Caribbean golf. It’s fairly easy to get there from North America and even Europe by plane, and the resorts make it even easier to stay. Some of them, like Casa de Campo, for example, are all encompassing, meaning there’s no reason to leave, except for perhaps to sample some of the great golf at the other resorts.
Following the development of Casa de Campo, the Punta Cana resort scene emerged, offering beachfront accommodations, restaurants, homes and more spectacular golf. For years, golfers would ultimately have to decide when planning a trip here to do either Casa de Campo or the Punta Cana region as the journey from one area to the other was nearly impossible. That all changed in 2012 with the development of the Autopista del Coral, making the commute less than an hour so now you can play all of the best courses in one visit.
Casa de Campo
The course that gets credit for putting this destination on the map is Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo. It’s one of Pete Dye’s greatest courses, and certainly one that put him on the map as perhaps the world’s greatest modern architect. That speaks volumes to the masterpiece that Dye created on this exceptional piece of land, and as you make your way around this course it becomes very evident that Dye knew exactly what he was doing.
While playing Teeth of the Dog is an experience of a lifetime, Dye had always maintained that building Teeth of the Dog was a “once in a lifetime experience” as well. He had just started making a name for himself when he created this gem on the southeast coast. In reality, Dye was a builder as much as he was an architect.
One of the remarkable aspects of Teeth of the Dog, one of three different courses now at Casa de Campo, is that he directed the crew to use pick axes instead of heavy machinery on the seven holes that border the ocean. One of the reasons was that it was the only way to preserve the precious coral reefs around the holes. That mission, of course, was accomplished, but for golfers, the look of these incredible holes is indomitable.
Besides its beauty, Teeth of the Dog is a great test of golf as well. At more than 7,500 yards from the tips and the ever present sea breezes, it’s as much golf course as anyone can chew. The focus is almost always on the ocean holes, and in particular, the three par-3s on the water. The 176-yard 5th hole is one of the most photographed holes in the world, and you’ll undoubtedly be doing group shots or selfies on this hole. The 7th and 16th are more than 200 yards from the tips, so they get your attention as well. The inland holes here are terrific, too, but it’s the ocean holes that draw the crowds.
In addition, Casa de Campo offers another 45 holes that shouldn’t be overlooked. Certainly, for anyone staying at this large resort that has a variety of luxury accommodations available, the rest of the golf should be experienced as well. The 27 holes of the elevated Dye Fore (nine of which were added in 2011) bring plenty of ocean views as well, plus a great look at the Dominican Mountains, Chavon River and Casa de Campo marina. It has a feel all its own, and golfers can play a variety of shots to these super interesting undulating greens. The third course is The Links at Casa de Campo, which opened in 1974. Renovated in 2012 to bring it up to standards of the other two layouts, The Links is also an outstanding test of golf that provides a nice complementary round to the other courses on property.
The Golden Bear is almost as prolific an architect as he was a player. He and his design company are not only known for courses like the great Muirfield Village, but some of the most spectacular seaside resort courses in the world, too.
Punta Espada in the Dominican Republic is among the very best of the lot. A strong argument can be made that this course has some of the most beautiful views of any course on the planet. Yes, it’s that good.
Opened in 2007 and located in the Cap Cana development just a few miles from the Punta Cana International Airport, this former home of a PGA Tour Champions event is as picturesque and enjoyable as it gets. The ocean is so close to many of these holes that you can feel the sea spray. Also, the ocean is visible from almost all points on the course, and eight holes play right along the rocky shores with some of the shots carrying portions of it, like the iconic par-3 13th.
The 13th plays 250 yards from the back tees, and nearly all carry to the cliffs in front of the green.
The course was intended to be the first of three Nicklaus designs in Cap Cana, which offers restaurants, shops, beaches, zip-lining and of course, homes, in addition to the golf. Punta Espada is still open to the public, but there have been discussions of making it private at some point, so play it while you can.
Puntacana Resort & Club
The one course in the Dominican Republic that does play host to a PGA Tour event is Corales Golf Club at Puntacana Resort & Club.
Impeccably conditioned, as you might expect, there are memorable ocean holes here, too, as architect Tom Fazio created a design tough enough to test the world’s best players. (The PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship is played opposite the WGC Dell Match Play Championship in March.)
The course offers limited tee times to the public, and they are certainly worth getting if you can arrange it. It’s known for a finishing stretch called the “Devil’s Elbow,” holes 16-18, referring to the bend in the shoreline. A variety of tee options and wind can make these holes — a par-4, par-3 and risk-reward par-5 with a tee shot that plays over the sea — play very differently depending on the day. It’s a memorable finish, but hardly the only highlight on the course. The 8th and 9th are coastal gems as well, and the inland holes are all interesting and plenty challenging, though the landing areas off the tee are plenty generous.
The other course at Puntacana Resort & Club is the 27-hole La Cana — Arrecife, Hacienda and Tortuga — which was designed by P.B. Dye (one of Pete Dye’s sons). More affordable than the star of the show at the resort Corales, it’s still spectacular golf with plenty of mounding and a few ocean holes, including the par-3 12th, which is surrounded by water. The par-5 18th is also most memorable with an island green surrounded by sand.
Other Dominican Republic options
While Casa de Campo, Punta Cana and Cap Cana are all relative neighbors, it does take a little more effort to get to the northern coast, but thanks to some new highways, it’s not that difficult.
This is where Rees Jones took on the job of redesigning his father Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s course at Playa Grande Golf and Ocean Club. Incredibly, the course has 10 holes on the ocean, many perched on cliffs high above the surf. Some of the tee shot vistas are jaw-dropping as Jones put his stamp on his father’s work with a complete redesign that include new bunkering, lowering the greens and improving the overall aesthetics and strategy of the course.
While Playa Grande’s front nine routing remained largely the same, the old hotel on the property was removed and new holes were laid out on the back nine, bringing in more views of the ocean and more dramatic routing. All 18 holes have views of the Atlantic and most of the back nine, especially the finishing stretch, runs along the rugged coast. All four par-3s are also along the water.
The course is offered as an amenity to the uber-luxurious Amanera Resort, one of just 30 or so Aman hotels in the world — and the first with a golf course on property.
But while many of the more than two dozen courses in the Dominican are super-premium, there are a few great value options available to play as well.
For example, Guavaberry Golf & Country Club is a 7,156-yard Gary Player design that sits in the jungles of Juan Dolio, less than an hour from the airport at Santo Domingo. Among the highlights is the par-3 13th, where The Black Knight, designed two greens separated by a waterfall. The course is located just minutes from the Costa Caribe Corale Resort, Spa & Casino.
Another P.B. Dye design is the Iberostate Bavaro Golf Club at IBEROSTAR Punta Cana. Located about a half hour from the airport, Dye moved thousands of tons of dirt to create a course with elevation change and mounding. It also has 105 bunkers and plenty of extensive rock work.
And another Nicklaus course you might consider is Cana Bay Palace Golf Club at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, also in Punta Cana. The course plays 7,253 yards from the tips, so it will give longer hitters all that they can handle. The highlight is the 453-yard 9th hole, which, though not on the ocean, does have water that comes into play so it is both beautiful and demanding.
And finally, one of the newest courses in the Dominican Republic is PGA Ocean’s 4 Golf. Formerly known as La Romana Golf Club, it’s located on the southern coast about 18 miles from the town of La Romana and maybe an hour from the airport. There are actually two courses, an 18-hole course and nine-hole layout, both designed by Maverick Golf. The Championship Course, which measures more than 7,300 yards, has several oceanside courses as well as some interesting risk-reward opportunities. None are more interesting than the par-5 8th, which has a split fairway separated by an area of lush vegetation of sea grape and coconut trees. Hit in there, and it’s most certainly a lost ball, but not a lost cause. After all, no matter what, your view will keep you calm and you can always take another shot.
The Dominican Republic is one of the truly special golf destinations in the world, and there is a variety of world-class golf available as so many of the courses feature oceanside holes that will stay in your memory banks for a lifetime. There are a few major keys that you need to take into account when setting up your golf experience in the Dominican Republic:
- Be sure to book your stay at the right properties. It’s easy to be pulled in by the allure of an all-inclusive stay with a great rate at one of the multitudes of resort options available especially in the Punta Cana area, but our team of experts can help you determine which of these are best based on what your groups budget is per person.
- When it comes to golf, there are so many great options and even though we’ve pointed out some additional great courses to enjoy during your stay, you cannot go wrong focusing your trip on the Punta Cana area and/or Casa de Campo. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
- You may be tempted to get a rental car like you do when you go to other destinations. We strongly suggest you don’t do that here. The roads here are crowded and it takes a local to get you around. Once again, please feel free to reach out to us as we have reputable contacts here that can help get you around the D.R.