There was a time when the Dominican Republic was best known for its intoxicating cocktail of salsa and merengue, and for producing Major League Baseball legends such as Sammy Sosa and Big Papi. In recent years, however, this Spanish-speaking nation of powdery coastlines and lush sugar cane fields has emerged as a golfing Mecca. With 26 golf courses and the top ranked course in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is where American golfers head for a round in paradise, just two hours from Miami.
The country’s first luxury course was at Casa de Campo, hewn out the rock by 300 workmen with sledgehammers and picks in 1971. The Teeth of the Dog course, designed by Pete Dye of Sawgrass and Kiawah island legend, has 7 holes along the coast, with the par-three 5th hole on its own peninsula, resembling the snapping jaws of a dog against the encroaching ocean waves. Dye famously said that 7 of the course’s holes were created by God and he only had to come up with the other 11. Today, it has been ranked as the 43rd best course in the world.
The exclusive Casa de Campo resort was built by sugar barons, and hosts a Who’s Who of the Dominican Republic’s most famous visitors, including White House, Wall Street and Hollywood. The resort has two other Dye courses: The Links and Dye Fore. Tee times can be booked by resort guests for around $185, while non hotel guests pay just $250 for a round. Famous names to take on the greens include George H.W. Bush, Nick Faldo and Michael Jordan.
The resort of Cap Cana on the country’s eastern tip is served by nearby Punta Cana airport, with 38 airlines from 100 cities, and has been billed as “the world’s next luxury destination.” Punta Cana resort has three championship golf courses.
Tom Fazio-designed Corales Golf Club opened in 2009 and has six holes at the water’s edge, with inland lakes and coralina quarries. The last three holes form the ominously entitled Devil’s Elbow along the natural cliffs.
La Cana course has 27 holes incorporating three nines, designed by P.B. Dye. The environmentally-friendly course is the first in the Caribbean to use paspalum grass which can be watered with sea water. Golf Magazine called this the number one course in the Caribbean and compared it to Pebble Beach.
Also at Cap Cana, Punta Espada opened in 2006 and is the first of three Jack Nicklaus courses to be slated for Cap Cana. Golf Week quickly voted it the top course in the Caribbean and Mexico and it has hosted a televised PGA tour event, won by Fred Couples in 2010. The course has 8 holes along the water’s edge.
Playa Grande at Rio San Juan was one of the last courses Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed before he passed away. Set on 370 acres of coastline, the course has 10 holes on the waterfront, but is currently under renovation until 2014, with just nine holes currently playable.