Golf Travel Destinations
Ireland's top ten must-play courses
Ireland always has been a leading golfing destination but following the exploits of major winners, Harrington, McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke, it's attracting even more attention. Vic Robbie selects ten of the best
Scotland on a budget
Scotland is one of golf's leading destinations but it need not be expensive to experience a slice of golfing history.
Alabama's hidden gem
Doug Hollandsworth tastes the delights of the Gulf Shores.
All night long in Iceland
Vic Robbie discovers that there is more to the land of ice and fire. With 60 golf courses, the visiting golfer can play and party throughout the night
Golf’s Grand on the Strand
Myrtle Beach is a paradise for golfers where their every whim is catered for. Vic Robbie checks out why this area of South Carolina is often called the seaside capital of golf
Latest Golf News
Minty Clinch discovers that the Dominican Republic is not so much exclusive as all-inclusive with some unusual golfing challenges
RECENTLY I spent a golf week in the Dominican Republic. Or so I am told. My first-hand experience of this large Caribbean territory consisted of golf, often magnificent, by day and huge gated compounds by night. Three out of four we stayed in were on the all-inclusive plan now favoured throughout the region. When guests check in, they’re issued with hospital-style wrist bands entitling them to the delights on offer.
The villas, linked by golf cars or mini trains, spread over several hectares between echoing reception areas and palm-fringed beaches. Restaurants, ranging from buffets that stretch as far as the eye can see to niche Italian, French, Dominican and even Japanese, cater for every taste except gourmet. Bars serve as much alcohol as you can drink, not just plonk and limp local Presidente beer, but cocktails, bourbon, scotch and liqueurs. If you want to know how much your holiday is going to cost before you leave home, this is the way to go.
Daily programmes feature frenetic entertainment: beach volley ball, water polo, aerobics, poolside cocktail making contests, while the evenings lead with casinos, discos and bowling alleys. Leaving means spending. Most don’t.
Playing golf put us among the lucky escapniks. Bumping along the roads around our bases in La Romana and Punta Cana in our minibus, we caught occasional glimpses of real life. Gaucho-style horsemen rounded up hump-backed tropical cattle in sparse pastures, women inspected huge carcasses hanging in the streets, hot gospellers harangued the faithful in floodlit squares at night. In between the low rise villages with their openfronted shops, mile upon mile of tropical scrub awaited the next wave of bulldozers.
The wait won’t be a long one because the Dom Rep, as it is affectionately known, is budget Florida with booze which means that when it comes to concrete jungle, it ain’t seen nothing yet. It is the larger part of the large island due east of Cuba on which Christopher Columbus landed during his first voyage in 1492. Naming it Hispanola, he established the first Spanish speaking colony in the New World. Unlike most of the rest of the Caribbean, the Dom Rep retains its original language, while Haiti, the smaller segment at the western end of the shared island, is Francophone.
To date, the country has 35 courses up and running but British visitors would probably put Casa de Campo, a luxury golf development in La Romana, at the top of their wish list. By comparison with its brash new neighbours, it is desirably old fashioned and, with three courses designed by the idiosyncratic American, Pete Dye, there is no shortage of challenge. Unlike most of its rivals, Casa de Campo takes a lofty attitude: no ‘all inclusives’ and spacious thatched accommodation units fitted out to a high spec with lots of good wood. The breakfast buffet is right up there with the best but I can’t vouch for the rest of the cooking because the arrival of George W Bush restricted our visit to a single night.
Dye designed the first course, the evocatively named Teeth of the Dog, in 1969 and it was ready two years later. Imagine a large slavering hound, jaws fully opened and teeth fully bared. Tees and greens are on the jaws, the space between is ocean and the teeth are coral rocks.
This stunning coastal scenery occurs on seven holes, five to eight on the front nine and fifteen to seventeen on the back. The most dramatic is the seventh, a 229-yard par-3 from the championship tees with a long water carry to a circular green marooned in sand. From the golfer’s perspective, the first sighting triggers open-mouthed amazement at the sheer beauty of it all but when the wind blows, as it often does, the gawp becomes a snarl as balls bang off crags and ricochet into the sea.
There is some truth in Dye’s assertion that he created 11 holes and God created seven. The first four are a decent warm-up rather than an exhaustive examination, but matters get more interesting as you reach the heart of the course. Dye’s response to divine intervention was to provide sand in places God hadn’t thought of, resulting in large wasteland areas down the side of the inland fairways and a number of orthodox bunkers around the greens.
Dye, now a local homeowner due to Dominican demand for his services, re-vamped and lengthened the course in 2005 to cater for contemporary everyman golf, with tees to suit visitors of all standards.
His second course, the Links, which opened in 1975, is supposedly a nod in the direction Scottish coastal courses, though the dominance of lakes and lagoons with wading birds might not appeal to British purists. The most recent addition, Dye Fore, is another matter, a majestic layout focused on the Chavon River a 10-minute drive from the main part of Casa de Campo. The clubhouse is dramatically sited but annoyingly, there are no practice facilities.
The front nine are real estate led which means lots of space for Mediterranean style villas with expansive views over sweeping fairways, but matters get much more intriguing after the turn with a run of holes that challenge golfers to risk reward shots along the rim of the 300ft gorge.
How much do you dare cut off? The choice is yours.Then again, so is your scorecard. With contrasting holes on flatter land near the estuary, the overall test is rewardingly varied.
Nature, nurture or opportunity? Pete’s son, P.B. Dye, also resident locally, is making a name for himself in the family profession. His bumper sticker reads ‘my other car is a bulldozer’, a pledge he has redeemed by building the first of two La Cana courses in the Punta Cana Resort next door to the international airport.
His latest project, La Estancia, above Dye Fore on the Chavon River, has the potential to add another dimension to the La Romana golf portfolio, not least because one of the holes requires an intimidating carry over the gorge.
From a British perspective, Punta Cana, at the eastern tip of the island, is the beating heart of mass tourism in the Dom Rep. There are plenty of lower level – and lower cost – golf courses in the area, among them Cocotal, which makes the most of the lakes and palm trees in an old coconut plantation, and Bavaro, an undistinguished layout in appalling condition, but Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump are among those who believe that the time has come to up the ante.
Their chosen site is Cap Cana, a series of open bays flankedon one side by a cliff stretching far out into the sea. This is the division between the proposed Nicklaus empire on the flatlands and the Trump one on a plateau above. As yet, crowing rites are with the Golden Bear, creator of the Punta Espada course, which opened in June, 2006, as part of the first phase of a project that will cost $1.5billion over the next 15 years.
Also up and running are the swanky Carleton Beach Club and the Marina, but the real estate that underpins the project in its infancy. Within a decade, there will be 500 hotel beds, starting with the Altabella Sanctuary, which opens this year, and 5,000 residential units. There will also be three Nicklaus Signature courses: the second, Las Iguanas, is already under construction.
The Punta Espada course is totally compelling from that first cliff-top shot onto a broad fairway far below. On hole two (stroke index one), the ocean kicks in and it never goes away.
There are very few courses where the sea is so in your face, whether as a hazard, a backdrop or an overview from an elevated tee. The design is imaginative throughout, no repeats, none of that up and back down feeling that mars lesser layouts. Egrets peck in the grass and iguanas bake on the cart paths. For the moment, all’s well with their world.
The further you go, the more the semi-desert feel kicks in, with fairways linking huge stretches of wasteland sand dotted with palm trees rather than the other way round. Do you feel lucky? If so, your ball may click back off timber onto the inviting turf. If not, undergrowth and out of bounds await.
At the end, the handsome Punta Espada clubhouse provides balm for parched throats and bruised egos.
Imagine this glorious seascape a little way down the line, overlooked by Trump villas and overrun by Nicklaus wannabes. Trust me, the time to go is now.
Casa de Campo Resort
Teeth of the Dog, 18 holes, 6,888 yards, par 72,
Dye Fore, 18 holes, 7,770 yards, par 72.
Links, 18 holes, 6,416 yards, par 72.
Buggies are included on all three courses. A caddie is also compulsory. Further information: www.casadecampo.com.
La Estancia: www.laestancia.com.
Cap Cana (www.capcancom)
Punta Espada, 18 holes, 7,396 yards, par 72.
Further information: www.godominicanrepublic.com