New Golf Mecca: Dominican Republic

A big, agricultural nation with the tallest mountains and deepest rivers in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, at 19,000 square miles, is twice the size of New Hampshire. Led by its premier resort, Casa de Campo, the D. R. offers sun-starved players a genuine elixir—thrilling seaside golf. Add friendly Dominicans, pristine beaches, fine cigars, smooth rum, and the oldest city in the Americas (Santo Domingo), and the D. R. emerges as the world’s finest tropical golf destination.

There may be trendier getaways in the Caribbean, but you won’t find a more complete resort, or one with better golf, than Casa de Campo (“House in the Country”), a vast 7,000-acre playground in La Romana. A vacation here is like visiting the estate of a rich Dominican uncle whose best friend is Pete Dye.

Teeth of the Dog, Pete’s hand-built masterpiece, deserves the international accolades it has received since its debut in 1971. Recently buffed and stretched, the venue, with seven holes cantilevered into the sea, is better than ever. From the white tees, it may be the most pleasurable resort course in the hemisphere, especially with a knowledgeable caddie on the bag. Dye Fore, recently expanded to 27 holes, is a massive upcountry spread that tiptoes along river bluffs near Altos de Chavon, the resort’s cliff-hanging replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village. The Links, a mid-1970s Dye creation routed through a hilly tropical forest, shines in the wake of a recent $1.8 million renovation. In addition to golf, Casa de Campo offers a shooting facility, an equestrian center, a 13-court tennis center, and a marina and yacht club that appear airlifted from the Italian Riviera.

On the island’s eastern tip is Punta Cana Resort, a distinctive 45-hole complex. La Cana, a heavily contoured 27-hole layout by P.B. Dye, sits opposite a long sandy beach dotted with tall coconut palms. Corales is a beautifully sculpted newcomer by Tom Fazio that traces the serrated coral coastline for six holes: Expect a little salt spray on the closing three holes, a.k.a. the “Devil’s Elbow.” Under co-investors Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias, the resort has expanded its accommodations (a new Westin hotel opened last year) and maintained its 1,500-acre ecological reserve.

Nearby Cap Cana is an ambitious development anchored by Punta Espada (“Tip of the Sword”), which Jack Nicklaus called one of the top-10 sites he’d ever seen for golf. Ladled along the sawtooth coast, the 7,382-yard course has eight holes carved into a flat coral shelf washed by the pale blue sea, with the remainder tucked below a curving limestone bluff. Guests can choose from the newly opened Eden Roc, a stylish 34-suite hotel, or the Spanish Colonial-style Sanctuary Cap Cana.

There are few secrets in the world of golf anymore, but a truly great course has lain undiscovered on the D.R.’s north coast since 1997. Reputedly Robert Trent Jones’s final project, Playa Grande is a stunning layout with an elongated figure-8 routing and 11 holes perched on headlands 100 feet above the sea. Named for a pristine beach at the base of the cliffs, the course is currently being revised by Rees Jones. Slated to re-open later this year, Playa Grande will be joined by an exclusive 30-room Aman Resort with a spa and beach club in 2015.