Golf Course Architecture
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.
I had to take a moment to soak in what was happening yesterday. I was in one of those “special golf places” which leaves memories for a lifetime. The contrasting green of Punta Espada Golf Club and the blue waters of the Caribbean were really making me thankful for the opportunities I’ve been able to capitalize on through my 11+ years of hard work on one of the internet’s top golf blogs.
Punta Espada Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus signature design golf course in the Dominican Republic. Hole after hole lines the Caribbean with dramatic views and thrilling and challenging tee shots over the water. I couldn’t help saying to myself numerous times, “Pebble who?”
I’ve played more Jack Nicklaus courses than I can remember, but this one is different. Many of Jack’s courses can look a little too similar to me, but this one is a one and only, unique experience. Perhaps it’s the terrain. Perhaps Jack was completely in the zone when he designed it. Probably a bit of both.
I’ll be posting my full review in the next few weeks. If you’re planning a Caribbean golf stay and play, I strongly recommend Punta Espada Golf Club.
The day I could write this post has been on my golf blog bucket list for a long, long time. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to play Pete Dye’s “masterpiece,” Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic. Pete Dye is one of the most famous and respected golf architects in history. You may have heard of some of his other courses like TPC Sawgrass or Harbour Town Golf Links. I could go on.
Teeth of the Dog is located at the resort and beach club Casa de Campo.
Above is the par-3 5th hole, one of three par-3 holes which are by the water. Not sure I can think of a course which has three such stunning par-3’s.
I’m still on location in the Dominican Republic. I leave for the now cold HOG World Headquarters tomorrow with tanned skin, lots of photos, and memories for a lifetime.
Stay tuned for my full Teeth of the Dog review soon.
On the recent HOG World Tour stop in northern Michigan I had the pleasure of staying at Forest Dunes resort, and playing the unique Tom Doak designed reversible course there called The Loop. Check out my review of The Loop.
While The Loop may be the attention grabber, Forest Dunes is home to a Tom Weiskopf design simply called Forest Dunes Golf Club. Forest Dunes Golf Club sits inside 500 acres of land within the Huron National Forest. The course is a 7,116 yard par-72 design which is quite different than The Loop. For one it isn’t reversible.
A Tale of Two Nines – Forest and Dunes
The front nine (Forest) is carved through some fairly dense northern Michigan trees in more of a traditional American parkland style of golf, less links influence. So there’s more carrying the ball and little running up shots. Due to the dense trees lining most holes, each hole is isolated. No parallel holes. It’s quite serene.
The back nine (Dunes) exits the forest and turns to a more rugged and exposed experience. The dunes on the back feature large sandy waste areas and native vegetation which line and sometimes cross the fairways and surround the greens.
Speaking of serenity… Forest Dunes occupies about 500 acres and there are no homes on the course.
The look and feel from the tee of the Weiskopf course is very pleasing to the eye. Most often it’s WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Tee shots need to be fairly accurate or they’ll end up in the dense forest, waste areas, water hazards, or some of the terrific fairway bunkering. There are a few situations where from the tee one doesn’t realize there are two different paths to take, split fairways. A better familiarization with the course would really help in those situations.
There’s also a nice bit of elevation change from tee to fairway or tee to green on the front nine. The elevation changes make the tee shots even more interesting. More rolling hills and dunes are on the back, which hide some of the native areas.
The fairways on the Weiskopf course were in terrific condition when I played there, and I found most of them thankfully. Only on the 9th did I run into tree issues. Lies on the shortgrass were like lies on high quality carpet. The only difference is you don’t want to take a divot out of high quality carpet. It won’t grow back.
Most of the fairways are not terribly penal or unforgiving. There can be positions in the fairway which are not optimal; ones that perhaps bring overhanging trees into play or bad angles to the green. A little course knowledge helps for those situations. Same goes with some of the small native areas and waste areas which can jut out from the sides of some of the fairways, especially on the back nine.
I really enjoyed the green complexes at Forest Dunes. Many of the greenside bunkers are Robert Trent Jones Sr.-like large. There can also be more rugged bunkering with native grasses around the edges and less pristine and precision in the shaping on the back.
Some greens are guarded by forced carries, water, and of course sand, so flying it all the way in those situations is required. Other greens offer options for chipping, pitching, or even putting off the surface (one of my favorite shots because chipping is one of my least favorite shots).
Despite the fact that I couldn’t make any putt for birdie inside of 10 feet, and there were a lot of them, I still enjoyed the putting surfaces. They rolled very true and well. Putts that were on line dropped but puts, like mine, that were off by even a fraction of an inch, did not.
One very unique feature at the Wekskopf course is the 19th hole. No that doesn’t refer to the bar. The bar is the 20th!
19th Hole at Forest Dunes
The 19th is a short par-3 which is used to settle matches or bets in the event that there’s a tie after the 18th is completed. What a cool idea. My group was hitting sand wedges into the green but it looked like the hole could be stretched out a bit more. One fun part, hard to see in the photo above, is the bunker in the middle of the green which made the green’s shape like a donut.
Forest Dunes has a tremendous practice facility. From numerous practice greens to a solid and interesting driving range to a very detailed and creative short game area. The answers to your game’s issues are there somewhere.
I also noticed a putting course which had just been seeded. I imagine it will be fully operational by the 2018 season, if not sooner.
The clubhouse is large and elegantly appointed inside and out. Inside the clubhouse are a few rooms, a restaurant, and the pro shop. The shop is fully stocked with great gear and apparel.
The clubhouse as seen from the 18th fairway
I enjoyed several great meals in the restaurant. Two of them were smoked filet mignons with baked potato and French onion soup. The reason I had a second one was because the first one was so good. No, they weren’t at the same sitting.
In addition to the rooms in the clubhouse, there are “villas” which are about a one minute walk from the clubhouse or any of the courses’ first tees. The villas have numerous rooms, with shared living space. Each room has its own shower. The shared living space in the villas feature large cushy reclining chairs, couches, a large flatscreen TV, kitchen, microwave, refrigerator, and kitchen table.
Villa sweet villa
I stayed in one of the villas (photo above) and loved it, sans a closet or somewhere to hang up my expensive golf shirts.
Bring bug spray.
I had a fantastic time taking on the challenge of Forest Dunes Golf Club. The variation between nines, immaculate conditioning and maintenance, and fabulous design made it one of my favorite golf experiences of the year.
Forget boring flat Florida golf or the other traditional golf travel locations. The Loop and Forest Dunes golf club are the perfect recipe for a memorable golf buddy trip.
The Loop at Forest Dunes review
What a fantastic opportunity I was able to take advantage of on the recent HOG World Tour stop in Forest Dunes, Michigan. Forest Dunes is located in rural northern Michigan (map below).
I had the chance to play perhaps the most talked about new course in the last several years, The Loop. The Loop is a course designed by one of my favorite golf course architects, Tom Doak. Doak is as much a mad scientist as he is a brilliant golf architect. I’ve played many of his courses and always enjoyed his designs.
The Loop Overview
While only 18 physical holes, The Loop plays as two distinct par-70 18 hole golf courses, the Red Course and the Black Course. It is reversible. One day The Red is the play (counter-clockwise) and the next it’s The Black (clockwise). Reversible courses aren’t new. Even the Old Course in St Andrews played two directions, though they only do it once a year or so these days. The Loop is the first fully reversible course in the United States.
There are certainly unique challenges when trying to make holes that play in both directions and Doak’s genius in making that happen is impressive. Think about it for a minute. When facing a hole going one direction there are many factors to consider. The tee must setup appropriately and the sight lines from the tee must produce the look and feel the architect intends, but on The Loop it has to do the same thing backwards. Fairway bunkers and waste areas showing in one direction may not show or be in play going the other direction and vice versa. Some fairway bunkers and waste areas are visible from both directions. Those must play and look appropriate clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in a reversible golf course is designing greens and green complexes that are approachable, playable, and visually pleasing from both directions. Green side bunkers, false fronts, and collection areas present the approaching golfer challenges and opportunities to be creative in one direction, but must not ruin the playability coming from the other direction. Doak does very well here, with the exception of a couple of greens which fall off in both directions making the effective surface quite small.
Reversible Hole Comparison
My first round on The Loop was the Black Course. The Black course plays The Loop in a clockwise direction, starting left of the 18th green. See first photo below, from the first tee. It was early in the morning so the photo is a little dark.
Now contrast the look above with the view from the 18th tee on the Red Course below. It was a little brighter when I played the Red.
Interestingly, the elevation from the Red tee to the bottom of the fairway and back up to the green seemed to be more than it was going the other direction, on the Black tee down and back up to the putting surface. It’s the same elevation change of course, but it “seemed” different. It looked different too as you can see. The fairway on the Black looks more narrow from the tee than the fairway on the Red looks from the tee, and its the same fairway!
Every hole seemed quite different when comparing the Red vs the Black. Even the tree-lines looked different.
Despite occupying the same real estate, the Red and the Black courses look, feel, and play differently.
I felt like driving the ball was a little easier for me on the Black course. Somehow the fairways felt wider. The ball runs and bounces hard on the links-style hard ground. Love that. As I mentioned, the look from the tee from the Black is very different than it is from the Red. The landing areas are quite wide and forgiving on both courses. Some course knowledge would help in knowing where to aim.
Many fairways have some fun humps and bumps which can result in interesting bounces and lies. A few others are very wide and flat. There are numerous fairway bunkers and waste areas which can eat up strokes and the smart player will aim for the fat part of the fairway, away from those round killers. It’s quite fun to examine the fairway bunkers and realize they can be seen and in play going one direction, but invisible going the other.
Approaching the greens is more challenging than hitting the fairway. Often times approaches must land short or at a different angle to the pin to allow for bounces and release. But if one releases too far the ball may go over the other side of the green and end up in bunker normally in play for the opposite direction.
The green design is so interesting because the greens have to be able to take approach shots from two directions. Most approaches can be run ups which I really like since I’m a low-ball hitter and links lover. There are a couple of approaches over hazards or waste areas that require forced carries. Course knowledge or having a caddie can really help around the greens because often times aiming at the flag when chipping on or putting isn’t the best play.
Click to see more photos of The Loop
The bunkering around the greens is so unique. Like the fairway design, bunkers can be in play and visible from one direction but not the opposite. I really like the rugged styles of the bunkers with rough edges and native grasses growing around the edges.
A few of the greens roll off on both sides, which can make finding the right spot on the green tough.
Putting is fun on The Loop. I struggled with my reads from shorter distances because there are situations which look uphill but are down, and there are nuances and subtleties which can move the ball just enough to miss. I found long distance putting to be a blast, even putting from several yards off the putting surface, just like in Scotland. The highlight putt of both rounds was my birdie putt on the short par-4 15th on the Red. The pin was far left-front and I blocked my approach to the back right. I was 90 feet downhill with a good 10 feet of break and nailed it dead in the jaws for birdie. Easily the longest putt I’ve made in years.
Speaking of putting off the greens, there are a lot of opportunities to do that because of the short grass and hard ground. That’s why I love Scottish links golf. I chi-putted many times on the Red and Black. One really fun one was the par-3 17th on the Red. There’s a half pipe in the back of the green (front on the Black). The pin was right in the middle of it and I missed the green left. I putted over the hill, down to the green, back up the hill on the other side. From there the ball rolled back onto the green and nestled to a foot or so for an easy par. Very fun.
Bring bug spray. There were lots of bugs when I was at The Loop. In fact some of my photos have dots in the sky which are gnats flying around the camera. I also managed some nasty mosquito bites.
Having played both courses once now, play the fat areas of the fairways. Don’t take on hazards or waste areas unless you’re sure you can carry them. That would have saved me several shots.
Have I mentioned I hate cart paths? In my opinion cart paths ruin golf courses. Yet another reason I love golf in Scotland and now The Loop… there are no carts or cart paths. The Loop is a walking-only course. Make sure you have good shoes and socks, and take a caddie. You’ll enjoy it.
No cart paths! Great!
Rates on the courses at Forest Dunes run between $69-149/round, based on time of year and day of the week.
There is a massive practice area at Forest Dunes for sharpening all aspects of one’s game: large driving range (below), short game area, practice green… and a soon to be opened putting course similar to the Himalayas in St Andrews.
The clubhouse is large and spacious with a finely appointed pro shop. Inside the pro shop one can find any kind of Forest Dunes logo items from apparel to accessories, as well as high end golf clubs and balls.
The clubhouse as seen from the Weiskopf course
The restaurant at Forest Dunes is great. I enjoyed two smoked filet mignons there (not in one sitting mind you). Fantastic. The burgers are great too and even the salads.
I stayed right on the property at Forest Dunes, just a 1-2 minute walk from the clubhouse in a “villa.” The villas are multi-room buildings which have common areas and individual rooms with showers.
The common areas have couches, a kitchen, fridge, sink, microwave, and TV. My villa had four rooms and was very nice and comfortable with a big shower.
I always try to point out areas of improvement when I do my reviews. In the villas there is no internet-wifi available and the wifi at the clubhouse was very weak and undependable. I dig the remoteness of the resort, but no wifi is painful for doing business or keeping in touch with the outside world.
Also in the villa rooms there are drawers but there is no closet or anywhere to hang clothing.
As I previously mentioned, a couple of The Loop’s greens with false front/backs can be pretty extreme, making the effective target area on the greens very small and difficult to hit.
Add The Loop to your golf bucket list. Forest Dunes makes for a tremendous golf buddy trip. Hit the Red and Black, and the Weiskopf course (review coming soon). The experience of playing Doak’s mad scientist creation is one of the best you’ll have in golf.
The Loop Image Gallery