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’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
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.
If you were considering a Caribbean vacation but thought otherwise due to recent hurricane damage, think again. The Dominican Republic was not directly hit by Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey, and their tourism industry is 100% open for business. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive Caribbean resort suggestion or Caribbean stay and play golf ideas, read on.
Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa
Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa is a sparkling brand new all-inclusive, adults only Dominican Republic resort which opened in November of 2016. The resort features 457 suites in several different buildings. Some rooms feature lovely swim-outs as seen below. In addition there is a spa, fitness area, beach, and massive pool area with bars all over so one isn’t far from a tasty and refreshing island beverage of choice, all included of course.
The resort features a spectacular open-air lobby area which contains resort registration, a bar, shops, coffee shop, and live entertainment most evenings.
My suite at Secrets Cap Cana was comfortable and spacious. The bed was so fantastic I wish I could have taken it home with me. I slept so well on it. Inside the room is a desk, sitting furniture, linen closet, large screen TV, safe, dressers, and secret box. The secret box is where you can request staff to put items you request, like room service.
The shower in the room was huge with three water spouts, two in the ceiling. The bathroom featured two very cool sinks, great lighting, and an isolated toilet.
The deck area in my room had a great view (night shot above). On the deck was a nice sitting area as well as a bathtub. I quite enjoyed my evening outdoor bath. It was, liberating. Yes I washed behind my ears.
Next time I get back, and I hope it is soon, I hope to get a “swim out” room. They’re rooms on the ground level with their own semi-private swimming area. See picture below:
Secrets features eight gourmet restaurants, all included with the all-inclusive resort fee. If you want to eat sushi every day of your vacation, there’s no extra cost. There are also restaurants featuring French, Italian, Japanese, buffet, snacks, and more. I really enjoyed the spectacular buffet for breakfast and lunch (below). There are numerous themed areas for meats, fruit, beverages, breads, entrees and custom prepared items. The meats and cheeses were fantastic. My go-to places were the buffet and the coffee shop. I enjoyed numerous lattes, shakes, and snacks in the coffee shop.
The resort occupies a massive acreage on the southeastern shore of the Dominican Republic, just 30 minutes or so from the Punta Cana airport. The Punta Cana airport is home to flights from most major airlines.
Naturally the fantastic weather and warm shallow waters of the Caribbean provide many possible activities. On property of course is the beach, with soft, fine sand. The water is very shallow and warm, and the shallow area extends hundreds of feet out. My guess is 500 feet. I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach as the service folks came by with my beverages of choice. One must stay hydrated of course. Other water activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, fishing, yachting, water sports and even working out in resort provided classes on the beach.
My group enjoyed a catamaran excursion which was very fun. The excursion included a scenic cruise along the shoreline, snorkeling, and even chilling out sipping beverages served up in a floating bar.
Secrets Cap Cana features a huge pool area. Sections and slivers of the pool wind in many directions. Numerous areas have a small connected pool area which is surrounded by a small number of lounge chairs. The pool could easily accommodate hundreds of people, yet each person would feel like it isn’t crowded because of the layout.
There are several bars in the pool area and plenty of service people to make sure the fun is flowing. There’s also a hot tub, but it didn’t make sense to use it when I was there.
The Dominican Republic is undoubtedly the golf capital of the Caribbean. It’s home to the 39th ranked golf course in the world, Teeth of the Dog, the masterpiece of famed architect Pete Dye. Teeth of the Dog is located at Casa de Campo, roughly a 60 minute drive from the resort. A mere 30 minutes away is Punta Cana, a Jack Nicklaus signature design which is ranked the #1 course in the Caribbean and Latin America. These two courses produce some of the most scenic and dramatic oceanside golf you’ll ever experience. There are nearly 30 other courses to choose from in the Dominican as well, including another famous Pete Dye called Dye Fore.
On most nights one can enjoy live entertainment at Secrets, ranging from small combos to full bands, and DJ’s.
If you have a group or business need, there is a business area with computers. There are some great meeting areas and banquet rooms which can handle very large groups.
Service is very important in the travel industry. The staff at Secrets works hard to provide their part of a fantastic experience. Despite only being open for about a year, the management at Secrets has their system down and have trained their staff to be courteous, knowledgeable, and ready for anything.
Photo courtesy of Greg Corbo
I was warmly greeted by every staff member and all were extremely polite and helpful throughout my entire 5-day stay.
The weather in the Dominican Republic doesn’t fluctuate much, except in rainy season. I was there in rainy season and it rained for 10 minutes on the way to the resort from the airport. That was it. Year-round the temperatures are always going to be somewhere between 75-90. The humidity is quite high and I did have to adjust, coming from a desert. Be ready to sweat when not in the pool or the ocean. Stay hydrated and bring plenty of sunscreen.
Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa is a fantastic choice for a romantic, all-inclusive trip with your loved one. The crisp new facilities are warm and welcoming with great dining and activities and of course, great weather.
Secrets and the fantastic golf courses nearby would also make for a great golf buddy trip. Forget Florida, South Carolina or other golf destinations. Make the Dominican Republic the location of your next golf buddy trip.
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.