Puntacana Resort & Club
The Puntacana Resort & Club was this area’s pioneer. The brainchild of Frank Ranieri and Theodore Kheel, together with Julio Iglesias and Oscar de la Renta, the resort is virtually next door to the airport. P. B. Dye designed Puntacana’s playable and well-maintained seaside La Cana Course, which has wide swaths of waste areas and plentiful, pristine bunkering—more Scottsdale than Scotland.
As on most island courses, the wind dictates the difficulty factor at La Cana. Club selection can be a riddle at the par-three fifth, where on a recent visit a stiff breeze mandated a knockdown shot rifled seaward that carried back to a devilishly humped putting surface. This impeccable course builds to two finishing oceanfront holes, the eighteenth being a superlative par five. My caddie recommended coming in from the right side, but that was a daunting play to a horseshoe-shaped green bent around a bunker. Fortunately, his read on my par putt was outstanding. Plucking the ball from the cup, I repaired to the comfortable, modern Caribbean clubhouse, where food and drink are served on palm-shaded terraces overlooking the pool and beach just beyond.
The resort takes pride in its casual sophistication, and management focuses on sustainability and contributions to the local economy and culture. A second eighteen, set to open this winter, will help sustain the golf culture: Tom Fazio’s Corales Course works its way from some seriously reshaped headlands down to the sea. The eighteenth, an extraordinary par-four Cape hole, curls above a broad aquamarine bay, offering seven sets of tees and an opportunity to saw off as much of the dogleg as you dare, with the approach to a peninsula green playing directly into the prevailing wind. Owner Ranieri has dubbed it the Mother of All Golf Holes, but I suspect some may use a slightly racier epithet. The resort is loaded with activities away from the courses, as well, including horseback riding, diving, kayaking, tennis, and visiting a particularly elegant spa. Its Tortuga Bay hotel, offering one-to four-bedroom villas, is first-class and great for families.
Also in this area is Cap Cana, the first of two massive resorts under way ten minutes to either side of Punta Cana airport. It feels as big as many Caribbean countries, and at present its vistas include an endless procession of heavy equipment along thirty-thousand acres of high ridges and oceanside flatlands. The master plan calls for at least five golf courses, a vast array of private residences (five thousand or more), and multiple hotels, restaurants and other facilities in a half-dozen or so distinct developments.
Cap Cana’s flagship course, the Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada, opened in 2006, and it’s a challenging, deeply engrossing day of golf. Every hole feels different (the Champions Tour played its first event here in April, and the course more than held its own). The long, sinuous second is a par five that plays from elevated tees to the ocean six hundred yards away, with an inlet that, together with the wind and yardage, makes it a true three-shot test. The tenth is a classic short par four, with a green that’s reachable in theory—a branch of physics that maybe a Bear or a Tiger might understand but for me means a layup fairway wood and a short iron to avoid the huge waste bunker and lake guarding the island green. I recently played the par-three thirteenth, 249 yards over the roiled sea, with a three-wood, the wind pushing my ball to the back of the green and winning me a high five from my caddie. The seventeenth provides another long carry over water to a snaking fairway, and the second shot at eighteen, along the beach, requires precision to hit a green that teeters over the water, fighting the breeze all the way. A finishing par for me here in a light drizzle was a happy segue into an eight-year-old rum and a fat Dominican cigar.
This winter Cap Cana will open the second of a planned three Nicklaus courses, Las Iguanas. The Sanctuary Cap Cana hotel, a seaside recreation of Colonial village architecture, opened last January. (The Sanctuary Spa is due to open this winter.) The two Island Suites are particular beauties, with bedrooms and baths perched above the breaking waves. The more intimate Caletón Club & Villas hotel opened early this year, its one-to four-bedroom suites flanking a lovely oceanfront club. An entirely self-contained facility with two restaurants and bars, it already rates as one of the Caribbean’s best walk-out beach hotels. The Marina Village is almost complete, and along with the myriad restaurants that will open on the property, it will have every possible amenity and activity, including a spa, the Racquet Sports Village, and several more hotels, managed by Altabella, Sotogrande, Ritz-Carlton and Trump.