The Barcelo Beach Resort is one of several 5-Star facilities in the Punta Cana area that makes the Dominican Republic a special destination.
“Buena bola, Senor Leigh!”
“Gracias, Julio,” I said to my caddie as I handed him my driver.
As I walked down the first fairway of the Iberostar Punta Cana Resort’s Iberostate Golf Club, I began my grand Dominican Republic golf adventure.
I was the guest of the DR Golf Travel Exchange and had the privilege of experiencing a small segment of the island that has earned the title of the “Caribbean’s Best Golf Destination” for the last three years in a row at the World Golf Awards.
A Tropical Paradise That “Has It All”
With its natural beauty, tropical climate, and man-made luxury, the charms of the Punta Cana area where I stayed and played have made it an idyllic destination. Its all-inclusive resorts bordering the glorious Caribbean Sea contain world-class restaurants and lounges, casinos, spas and fitness centers, boutique shopping, live entertainment, aquatic recreation and pools, marinas, fishing, shooting ranges, horseback riding, tennis courts, sports activities, local pastimes and, obviously, lush and impeccably groomed golf courses with scenic coastlines and mountain backdrops.
The country boasts a growing list of world-class designer golf courses—more than 25—by some of golf’s most acclaimed architects, including Pete Dye, P.B. Dye, Nick Faldo, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Nick Price.
The Dominican Republic’s slogan is “The DR Has It All,” and I experienced three of the best venues—Barcelo, Iberostar, and Casa de Campo—on the eastern end of the island that did, indeed, have it all.
Certainly, for all New England golfers who would like to trade in their winter doldrums for summer-like delights, the DR is the place to go. Spanish is the native language of the country, but
English is a close second, and you will not suffer any communication problems. Just don’t forget your passport.
The 5-Star Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort
Golf writers from around the world gathered at one of the country’s most renowned resorts, the 5-Star Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort. Situated on 1.25 miles of one of the “10 Best Beaches in the World,” the Barcelo is a magnificent facility, and its all-inclusive package is the only way to go. Guests need worry about nothing except how best to enjoy the exquisite amenities and lavish surroundings.
Guests have full access to the 11 restaurants on campus, including two buffets, Bohio Dominicano and Miramar, for made-to-order breakfasts and casual lunches and dinners, a snack bar and a sports bar both open 24-7, and sixgourmet dining experiences. The gourmet dining has the international flavor at Kyoto, Mexico Lindo, La Dolce Vita, La Fuente, the Santa Fe Steak House, and El Coral for local meat and fish dishes. A seventh, La Comedie French Restaurant is the only dining room that in not part of the all-inclusive plan. A well-stocked wine cellar complements the epicurean festivities.
The property also offers 13 bars, including the nightclub, the casino, multiple pool bars, and the sports bar, Strikers. Guests can quaff all international and domestic beer and premium house wines and top-shelf spirits. Raiding the in-room mini-bar is also a nice perk! I spent quite a bit of time at Strikers, watching games on TV, drinking the delicious local rum punches, and helping myself to late-night snacks. I also liked Strikers because next door is the pool room, bowling alleys, and video games arcade.
For the water enthusiasts, the long white beach is a popular cooling off spot. The hotel also has four swimming pools with a huge expanse strictly for adults, a semi-Olympic swimming pool, and a pool just for children. In addition for children is Barcy Water Park, where the kids enjoy castles, slides, and waterfalls. For the more daring tykes, the new Pirates Island Water Park provides a pool with waves and many winding slides and chutes. A shuttle train transports guests around the resort if the old-fashioned way becomes too tiresome.
My spacious suite, one of 1991 rooms at the resort, with its plush furnishings included two queens, a sofa bed, large overhead fan, roomy walk-in shower, large-screen cable TV, and internet. A totally private, furnished balcony with a hot tub for two completed the creature comforts and gave me a commanding view of both the private beach and the sparkling Caribbean. However, outside of a Presidente beer just before bedtime, I did not spend much time in the room during the day and early evening as I had too much to do elsewhere. And so will you!
Most of what I did during the day was play golf and explore the two other resorts—Iberostar and Casa de Campo.
P.B.’s Star Design at Iberostar Punta Cana
My caddie Julio and I became a partnership during my first round of the tournament at Iberostar’s championship course designed by P.B. Dye, Pete’s talented son and a force in Caribbean golf. Like the Barcelo, the Iberostar Punta Cana is also a 5-Star resort with all the appropriate trimmings. The 427-room hotel is a newly renovated, all-inclusive accommodation that provides vacations especially for couples and for families with children.
I didn’t want the hassle of lugging golf clubs through the airports and throughout the DR, so I had the pro shops outfit me. No problem. I had top-of-the-line Titleist irons and woods at Iberostar and Barcelo with Vokey wedges and Scotty Cameron putters, and I had a new set of Callaways at Casa de Campo. I brought my own shoes, gloves, and balls and couldn’t blame my missed shots on anyone but me.
Julio intimately knew the Iberostate GC and helped me avoid many but not all the pitfalls that P.B. has instilled into this challenging and fun layout. My three media partners (one from Puerto Rico, one from Nantes, France, and one from Boston, my colleagueTom Gorman) and I played the 6329-yard tees and had all the golf course we could handle. The tips are 6897, and the forwards are 5654 or 4864. P.B. moved a lot of dirt, and the course sported a lot of elevation changes, especially around the greens.
The greens were flawless and relatively flat but contained enough gentle undulations that Julio had to read them for me. They Stimped at around 9 so were not wicked fast but were very true. The course was in excellent condition and just a pleasure to play.
The fairways for the most part were wide and forgiving but water and sand came into play with wayward drives. The green complexes supply the intrigue because P.B. created all sorts of trouble around them with elevation, water, and/or sand. Miss the green surface or the fringe, and there is a price to pay, usually a stroke or two. The four of us thoroughly enjoyed our day on P.B.’s course and then our lunch at Iberostar Punta Cana. A lot of praise from our colleagues was overheard around the tables and very little whining—a sure sign that the layout had passed the media test!
A Double Eagle at Casa de Campo
Round two in the DR Golf Travel Exchange tournament was at Casa de Campo. Few golf travel destinations can match this 5-Star resort, home of Pete Dye’s #1 course in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog. With seven spectacular holes along the ocean-washed cliffs of the Caribbean Sea, Teeth of the Dog has been receiving rave reviews and international play since 1971. As Dye has said many times, “I built eleven holes, and God built seven.”
Within the private confines of a 7,000 acre campus is a world unto itself. The prestigious World Travel Awards organization has honored Casa de Campo many times as the World’s Leading Golf Resort, and Casa de Campo calls itself, without hyperbole, “The Caribbean’s Most Complete Resort.”
The vast expanses include five separate sections: the Main Area with the luxurious hotel rooms and Teeth of the Dog; Altos de Chavon, a 16th Century recreation of a Mediterranean village with a 5000-seat amphitheater, situated on a plateau, high above the Chavon River; the Marina with the Yacht Club and the Caribbean’s largest shipyard; Minitas Beach for private oceanside pursuits plus access to three more secluded beaches; and the sporting fields north of the main campus.
The more than 20 restaurants in the resort, many with accompanying lounges, feature a wide range of international fare. Frequent shuttles provide rides to the more distant locations like Altos de Chavon and the Marina, but moving among all five centers is easily accomplished. Each hotel guest also gets a motorized golf cart to navigate the grounds.
Pete Dye is responsible not only for Teeth but also for all 90 holes within the resort, 63 for the guests and 27 for the residents and property owners. Sharing the same pro shop and driving range with Teeth is The Links, first played in 1976 and totally renovated in 2012. With the emphasis on fun, the 18 holes run through the interior of the resort and feature recurrent lagoons and numerous bunkers.
Living the Dye Fore Experience
Dye added the Dye Fore in 2003, two nines named Chavon and Marina, both with magnificent views. The front nine begins on top of the 300-foot-high cliffs near the Altos de Chavon village and runs along the Chavon River; the back nine runs down toward the distant Marina and the Caribbean. The fairways are ultra-wide and rolling, the bunkers are voluminous, and the greens are expansive, well contoured, and fast to slicker. Basically, the only flat lies are on the tees! Dye Fore received a new nine in 2011, the Lagos that has many water hazards, acres of sand, and flatter topography.
The journalists played the original 18 of the Dye Fore on a windy, overcast day. Julio did a yeoman’s job in reading the greens and hustling me to my off-line exploits. He even found a few shots I had thought were permanent Dye Fore fodder. We seniors played the Blanco (White) tees at 6070 yards, and the younger, more courageous types played the Azuls (Blues) at 6520. No one opted for the 7714 or 6951 tests. The forward tees are 5225 yards.
Yes, the Dye-abolical layout proved once again that Pete can make golf a humbling game, but the splendor of the scenery, the impressive condition of the course, and the absolute challenge in his design had us all wishing for an encore. Sure, we were all ready to play the Teeth of the Dog, but a rainstorm prevented us this time around. There should always be a next time at Casa de Campo—it’s that special.
A Great Finish at The Lakes
The final round of the competition took place on the home course of the Barcelo, another P.B. Dye magnum opus. Named The Lakes, this layout is within walking distance of the hotel and well within the top courses in the Caribbean. P.B. developed The Lakes well over 20 years ago, the first course ever built in the Bavaro/Punta Cana neighborhood. P.B. revisited his formation and updated it in 2010, maintaining its original essence of rolling fairways and strategically located green complexes. With its comprehensive renovation, this most visited course in the area received well-deserved plaudits from the media.
The course is relatively flat although P.B. has moved dirt to form low berms both off the fairways to keep the ball in play and close to the green to encourage more accurate approach shots. Like his sister course, the greens were meticulously manicured and true and rolled right around a nine on the Stimpmeter.
The course is the shortest of the three we played, the tips at 6655 yards and the forwards at 4688. We all played the Dorado (Gold) tees at 6200 yards, but maybe I should have played the Azuls at 5737 yards. The Blancos here were 5381. P.B.’s intent is very similar to Iberostate’s: give plenty of room off the tee with the drive but then make sure the second shots and following pitches or chips require accuracy and boldness in the execution.
Julio successfully guided me here and there through the ever-present mangrove forest into which P.B. cut his swathes. I missed all but one of the 25 inland lakes and all but several of the 122 strategically positioned bunkers. My final foursome, comprised of a Czech, a Venezuelan, and a Colombian, mentioned the natural beauty of the Bavaro surroundings, and Julio pointed out the native plants and local species.
Julio also tried to direct me through the final four holes, as memorable a Grand Slam as you’ll find anywhere. The 15th is a drivable par 4 at around 230 yards, but the fairway narrows to bunkers and water if the tee shot strays at all. The 16th is a reachable-in-two dogleg left par 5 at 464 yards, but water and trees make the risk as great as the reward. The 17th is a long par 4 at just over 400 yards that requires a well hit second shot to clear the creek that juts across the fairway just in front of the green. The sharp dogleg left 306-yard, par-4 18th hole earned universal acclaim from the journalists as a superb finishing hole. A drive of just over 200 yards had to carry the wide waterway to reach the fairway, and then the second shot required a laser-like trajectory to avoid a well-bunkered and well-watered green.
Unfortunately, that memorable 18th ended the DR Golf Travel Exchange tournament. As we sipped our Presidente beers and consumed our lunches at the Hoyo 19, we also agreed that few resort destinations in the world could have provided us with the golf, the accommodations, the restaurants and lounges, and the amenities that we had just enjoyed in this small part of the Dominican Republic. We also agreed that the service staffs at each of our venues went out of their way to afford us a singular level of attentiveness and concern. No need or desire or whim went unresolved, wherever we went at Barcelo, Iberostar, or Casa de Campo.
The Pats in LI and a Wish for the Commish
My final comment is that each and every New England golfer who is considering a winter escape to play excellent golf courses, to relax, to be pampered, and to wear only shorts and a polo shirt should seriously consider the Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic. Christopher Columbus discovered this tropical paradise in 1492. Now it’s your turn, and maybe you’ll run into Big Papi on one of the courses!
Specifically, unless you are planning on following the Patriots in person to Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, why not arrange your escape around the weekend of February 5, 2017. What could be better than playing The Teeth of the Dog, The Lakes, or Iberostate during the day and then watching the Pats accept the Lombardi Trophy from Roger Goodell that evening?
Let’s get it all!