This was one of those special years where I had some tremendous courses in the running for the Hooked on Golf Blog 2017 Best Golf Course award. In fact, I had to create a special category in order to award the two most deserving courses. The 2017 HOG Best Golf Course award goes to a new course in the Dominican Republic, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Drumroll please…
Punta Espada Golf Club
I was stunned by the beauty, flow, and atmosphere of Punta Espada. The golf course is located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. If that location isn’t paradise I have no clue what is. The water is the most amazing color of blue, the waves crash near most of the holes, the white sand bunkers and the deep green grass of the course provides a brilliant aesthetic balance.
This piece of land is as amazing as any waterside course I’ve stepped foot on, and I’ve been on many of the world’s best. I can’t stress enough how well Punta Espada utilizes the land. Where most waterside courses have a few holes on the water and many more inland, Punta Espada is the opposite.
Playing the course was extremely fun. It wasn’t a monster. It didn’t beat me to death but it did provide plenty of opportunities to challenge it, test my skills and test my nerve.
Far More Than I Expected
Having played many Jack Nicklaus designed courses I had a preconceived idea of what the architecture and the course would offer. I expected another “Jack course.” I didn’t get one. It wasn’t like the other Jack courses I’ve played. This was the most mature, natural, unforced, beautiful, mature Nicklaus design I’ve ever played. I knew the location would be great, but the architecture made it even better, in a natural way.
Congratulations Punta Espada and Jack Nicklaus
Major golf publications like Golf Digest and such have rated Punta Espada as the #1 course in the Dominican Republic and Latin America, and for good reason. It is truly a special place. I’m sure Punta Espada and Jack are happy about such recognition. But today I award them a far more distinguished and rare award, the 2017 Hooked on Golf Blog Best Golf Course.
Well done. Tip of the hat.
If you’re looking for a golf getaway or golf buddy trip, get to the Dominican and be sure put Punta Espada on the playlist.
Punta Espada Golf Club Review
I had a dilemma for this year’s Product of the Year for “Best Golf Course” award. This award goes to the best course I’ve played/reviewed in the previous calendar year. Typically the award is an easy one to choose, like last year’s winner Cruden Bay, in Scotland. This year’s award came down to the two best courses I played, The Loop at Forest Dunes and Punta Espada Golf Club in the Dominican republic. They’re both so different and have such different unique qualities that I couldn’t find a way to leave either one out of receiving an award. So what was my solution for this problem? Create a special award for this year which falls in the Golf Course Architecture category. This year’s winner for Product of the Year in Golf Course Architecture is… the envelope please…
The Loop at Forest Dunes, Michigan
One of my most favorite golf architects is Tom Doak. Doak is one of the most respected and famous course designers of the modern era, and he’s a bit of a mad scientist. The first Doak course I played was Stone Wall in Pennsylvania a long time ago. I loved the rugged, minimalist design and the fact that I had to play creative shots to get the ball close to the hole. Sometimes hitting a green meant aiming 20 yards left of it, or short. A few years later I had the pleasure of playing the Doak designed Ballyneal in a remote rural area in eastern Colorado on the Nebraska border. What an experience.
Years later and many Doak courses later in 2017 I played the newly opened “reversible” course in Forest Dunes, Michigan called “The Loop.” The Loop is two 18-hole courses, the Red and the Black course, but one set of 18 physical golf holes. What a fantastic and special experience.
The reversible holes were extremely interesting and ingenious. While playing one direction the player sees a certain look from the tee, and certain hazards, bunkers and sight lines. When playing the other direction the hole looks nothing like it’s opposite. Those bunkers and features which appeared going the opposite direction are completely different, and often not even visible. Instead, a new set of bunkers, features, and sight lines is presented to the player.
Hats Offf to Tom Doak and Forest Dunes
I salute Tom Doak for executing an amazing concept which had yet to be done in the U.S.A. I suspect we’ll see more reversible courses, or courses with interchangeable holes. It’s a great way to use one piece of land to offer many different playing options. And hats off to Forest Dunes for pulling the trigger as well. What an effort. I can’t wait to get back for a 2nd round on both courses!
Playing the Red and the Black was literally playing two different courses, each with its own personality and style. And they’re two very good golf courses to boot! Truly amazing and worthy of a special Hooked on Golf Blog Golf Architecture Product of the Year award.
I’ve sat here for about 10 minutes staring at my blank screen. Nope this review isn’t going to write itself. I’ve been a bit stumped because I know it’s going to be hard to express how fantastic a time I had at Punta Espada Golf Club, and just how amazing the course is. I’ll give it a shot.
Punta Espada Golf Club Overview
Punta Espada is a Jack Nicklaus signature design golf course located on the east coast of Dominican Republic. The course is oceanside and features hole after hole of fantastic views of the Caribbean. We’re not just talking a hole or two. Most of the course is on the water.
The course plays to a par value of 72 (36 front, 36 back) with a slope of 137 and rating of 77.0. In other words, the course is difficult, but not extreme. There are five sets of tees. The longest tee (Black) plays to a total of 7,396 yards.
The best club to pull off of most of the tees at Punta Espada may be your camera. Every tee my camera was my first instinct before picking a club! I walked to every tee with a camera and a club or two. Every one.
Playability wise the tee shots at Punta Espada are fun and challenging. The fairways are wide enough to accept moderately accurate drives. Players who want to play away from trouble, like the Caribbean, can be smart and save themselves from potential danger, a.k.a. big numbers. There are some definite proper places in the fairway to place the tee shot for the best approach angle to the green. There are several situations where proper placement means a shot over land, not an all-carry shot over water.
Case in point is the 2nd hole above, a par-5. The 2nd shot (if not going for it) can be placed to the far left of the fairway for the best approach. The green juts out to a sliver of land, with water on both sides, but mostly short right. That left placement puts land between the 2nd shot and the green, and saves strokes if the shot comes up short because it ends up on grass instead of wet.
Once on the fairway, the lies and stances aren’t too bad. Not a ton of sloping, humps bumps, or craziness. The condition and health of the grass is so nice that there’s never a bad lie. The ball feels like it’s teed up just right.
Fairways missed can mean a wide variance of rough, bunkers, desert style waste areas, or the Caribbean. Shots from the rough are very manageable, provided there’s a clear shot at the target. Shots from the Caribbean? Not so much, unless your 15th club is a snorkel.
The areas around the greens at Punta Espada allow the golfer to be creative. This is one point I’m very sticky on. I’m not keen on architects who force the golfer into one shot or way of getting the ball on the green. Personally I prefer a Scottish style low-game with the putter or low bump-and-run shots, but I’m not afraid to lay open a 60 and take a full swing either. At Punta Espada the golfer can choose either most of the time, unless there’s a carry of some sort over a bunker or hazard.
I found the putting surfaces at Punta Espada to be fantastic. See the photo below and look closely at the cut and quality of the green. There were some tricky reads where the grain went one way, and the slope went the other. How putts can break uphill is still hard to fathom for me, a bent grass no-grain-playing mountain golfer from northern Utah. It can happen, so that’s when relying on the caddie or some course knowledge comes in.
Photo by Greg Corbo
The sloping of the greens for the most part was not to crazy. Very manageable. That’s not to say there weren’t some places that had some insanity to them. The sloping of those areas of the greens was extreme enough to allow the golfer some creative ways of approaching lines. One could putt off the edge and bring it back down the slope, or take a straighter line and end up close to the same place. That was more the exception though.
Overall putting was enjoyable and controllable. I won’t say “fair” because I’ve decided to try to use some less, shall we say, “overused” descriptions in my course reviews.
Punta Espada offers a full driving range, practice green, pro shop, locker room, library, snack bar, 19th Hole Bar, Restaurant, and Members Room.
I’ve played more Jack Nicklaus designs than I can remember. Many of them are easy to spot as they share architectural similarities, typical “Nicklaus” features or styles. Punta Espada has those, but the course does not scream “Jack” to me. The course is the least “Jack” of any of Jack’s designs I’ve played. This is neither good or bad, just an observation. What does scream out to me is that this golf course is as scenically pleasing as any I’ve played, yet provides a perfect balance in it’s challenge, playability, and its use of the terrain. Some courses look fantastic but sacrifice playability or playing qualities, while others may play great but don’t cut it aesthetically. Punta Cana is tops across the board.
There’s a reason Punta Cana is the new #1 course in the Caribbean and Latin America, it’s that good. I strongly suggest putting Punta Cana on your must play list, your bucket list, your golf buddy trip list, or your golf getaway list. I don’t even need a list. I just need to get back there and play it again, as soon as possible!
Hooked on Golf Blog Punta Espada Photo Gallery
Nearby is a fantastic all-inclusive Caribbean resort, Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa. Check out my review.
La Cana Golf Club Review
Teeth of the Dog (Pete Dye) Course Review
I’m truly thankful for the opportunities my hard work on this blog has produced. Case in point today is a course review I’ve been hoping to be able to do for a long, long time. Teeth of the Dog is a Pete Dye design, considered by most to be his masterpiece. That means it beats out other amazing courses Pete Dye designed like TPC Sawgrass (home of THE PLAYERS Championship), Harbour Town Golf Links, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Straits Course at Whistling Straits, and Southern Hills Plantation Course. Let’s take a look.
Teeth of the Dog Par-3 5th Hole
Location Location Location
A masterpiece has to start with a great canvas, and boy does this one. The canvas is the southeast shores of the Dominican Republic at the Casa de Campo Resort and Villas. What a place. Casa de Campo is a tropical paradise with tremendous weather, unmatched ocean views, and stunning topography.
Getting there is fairly easy. The Punta Cana International airport is a mere 45 minute drive away. Punta Cana International is a destination most major airlines service, only a few hour flight from the east coast of the USA.
Teeth of the Dog Overview
Ranked #43 in the world and #1 in the Caribbean many times, Teeth of the Dog is 18 salivating inducing holes of great golf, with seven holes right on the water like the par-3 fifth hole pictured above. The course rating from the tips is 76.4 with a slope of 137. That rating means the course is very tough. Thus the “teeth” part. The course features six sets of men’s tees and two sets of women’s tees. Total yardage from the tips is 7,471. I didn’t play the tips. With the high humidity and sea level, that 7,471 would probably play more like 8,500 for Mr. high altitude desert golfer.
Tee shot after tee shot I found myself humbled and amazed and the scenery and course architecture. Pete doesn’t use as much deception off the tee as I thought he would. It isn’t necessary. The golfer can choose to be aggressive or take the conservative route. Executing either strategy properly produces great rewards while poor execution of either strategy comes with the proper level of punishment.
The tee shots on the first few holes aren’t tremendously difficult unless one plays particularly poor shots. Upon reaching the 5th hole that changes. On the par-3 5th there’s no bail-out. Nowhere to miss. It’s either on the green or in the bunker surrounding it and anything worse is watery Caribbean grave.
Tee shots for the next three holes run by the water. Conservative players aim well away while those who want to take a bite off can give it a shot and hope they have enough power to carry their intended line. Holes 9-14 are inland holes the golfer can play more aggressively off the tee. 15-17 require very good tee shots to avoid ocean hazards, a good example is the par-3 16th below.
Teeth of the Dog Hole 16
I found the fairways at TOD to be less sloped and narrow than I thought they would be. If one is able to find the fairway, a good lie is highly likely with very few shots blocked by trees.
Caddies wait in the fairway
The fairways are fairly wide. Missing a fairway will often mean finding the Dye-esque super-long waste bunkers, or the Caribbean.
Here I am below, happy to be on the green!
Putter? I don’t need a putter!
Having played a few of the more “extreme” Pete Dye courses like the Dye Course at French Lick, I found the greens at Teeth of the Dog to be quite manageable. Putting them was enjoyable. Breaks were as they looked like they should be. Not too extreme.
I found the green complexes to be challenging and creative. Strategic bunkering was in play on most approaches to the greens.
Par-5 3rd Green Complex
Perhaps the best part of the the greens for me as that Pete Dye gives the golfer numerous options. The golfer could choose to hit a high shot with a lofted club, or like me, play a more Scottish approach with a putter or bump-and-run type shot.
Golf is best experienced with a great caddie who can support your golf game, gives valuable course management advice, helps with green reading, and provides friendship. I had a great caddie named Soni Pache, who came highly recommended by a friend.
Soni and I are ready to take on Teeth of the Dog!
Soni was fantastic. He helped me keep in in play, gave me great reads on the greens, and clubbed me very well. WHEN you play Teeth of the Dog, get Soni on your bag and give him a real big tip.
The amenities available at Teeth of the Dog and Casa de Campo are endless. The course boasts a great clubhouse, restaurant, locker room, practice facilities and more for the golfer. At about 90 degrees and 90% humidity, I was so thrilled to find showers in the locker room to clean up before going on with my day.
Once the golf is over, there are so many other fantastic ways to enjoy the Caribbean like spending time at the private Casa de Campo beach area (below), exploring the resort, boating, fishing, hiking, working out, shopping and more.
Casa de Campo Private Beach
Teeth of the Dog is a golf bucket list item without a doubt. Make it a point to get to the Dominican Republic and play this stellar golf course. I suggest turning it into a golf buddy trip or a golf getaway with the significant other. The Dominican boasts a ton of great golf courses other than Teeth of the Dog, many are Dye designs.
Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa Review
Hooked on Golf Blog Teeth of the Dog Photo Gallery
La Cana Golf Club Review
The Dominican Republic is the golf capitol of the Caribbean with roughly 30 courses, fantastic weather all year (barring a few hurricanes), and great resorts. The Dominican Republic is a perfect recipe for a golf buddy trip or golf stay and play vacation.
La Cana Golf Club
La Cana Golf Club is located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, a short drive from the Punta Cana International Airport. La Cana is a P.B Dye design, the son of famed architect Pete Dye. There is a heavy Pete Dye influence of course, with some unique architectural twists. With several other Pete Dye courses on the Dominican, the island could be called “Dye Island.”
La Cana Golf Club is a 27-hole facility. The three 9-hole courses are named “Tortuga,” “Hacienda,” and “Arrecife.” I was able to play 18 when I was there, the Hacienda being my front nine and Tortuga the back nine. There are five sets of tees at La Cana, with the longest tee (black) tipping out at 3483 yards for Tortuga, 3768 yards for Hacienda, and 3676 yards for Arricife. This is not a short course from the tips, especially at sea level. Course ratings and slopes will vary depending on which nines are combined for the 18.
There’s quite a variance in tee shots at La Cana. Some are quite basic, what you see is what you get. Some have some deceiving hills and mounds which can hide the fairway or landing areas, making things seem different or tighter than they really are when you arrive to the landing area. Below is one of the more basic tee looks.
And below one of the more deceiving views, a short par-4 with huge dunes/mounds which hide a sharp dogleg left and wide open approach look at the green, from the right. That approach is much easier than if the golfer were to take a line at the green off the tee, as it takes the water out of play. Also notice the small bunker at the bottom of one of the mounds. It has the look of a Pete Dye “volcano bunker,” as I’ve found on the Pete Dye course at French Lick Resort.
Overall, driving on the Tortuga/Hacienda 18 is not overly difficult unless the shot is so errant that it finds waste or native areas.
The fairways at La Cana are fairly forgiving. There are many of the typical Dye waste bunkers that run the length of a few holes as seen below.
In some cases the sand is so hard in the waste areas one could use that to a strategic advantage. One time I intentionally drove my ball down the waste bunker on a short par-4 and nearly ended up pin high after a long amount of roll.
As mentioned in the tee commentary, most fairways are straight forward with a little movement, but there are a couple of very “quirky” or experimental ones as well. This is very “Dye-like,” on the Dye courses I’ve played, whether they be P.B Dye or Pete Dye.
Below is another “experimental” section, a large area of mini-dunes. Somehow I ended up in here. The lies and stances are quite funky.
If the area above was shaved more like a putting green and not the rough, it would be a carbon copy of the Himalayas putting course in St Andrews.
The green complexes at La Cana present a wide variance of design styles, from the Donald Ross upside down soup bowl type to islands in the sand/water. The bunkering around the greens flows nicely and provides for some challenging mid-range bunker shots if the green is missed. Below is a combination of both the wrap-around and soup bowl.
I do like how there are areas around the greens which provide the golfer different and creative ways of getting up and down. While the shot above may call for a lob wedge, there are run-up areas and collection areas which give the golfer other options, like the Texas wedge (putting off the green) or hitting lower, bump and run type shots.
Above, the obligatory “beautiful green with palm trees and the Caribbean in the background” shot. There are plenty of great views like this.
The most notable and photo-worthy hole of my round was definitely the par-3 5th hole on the Tortuga nine. The entire hole runs along the blue Caribbean waters and the green juts out a bit. I found this hole design very similar to the 17th at Edgewood Tahoe and the 15th at Scotland’s Kingsbarns Golf Links. Those are two of the best par-3’s one might ever play.
There are some very strong holes at the P.B. Dye designed La Cana Golf Club in the Dominican Republic. The course flows well and has a very nice feel to it. The ocean views are great and the inland holes are all interesting, with a wee bit of that quirky “Dye” experimental flavor.
Next time you are planning a golf stay and play or a golf buddy trip, consider the Dominican Republic and be sure to put La Cana on the docket. When you are looking for a place to stay nearby, consider the all-inclusive Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa.