Forget the cold winds and spitting rain of Ballybunion and Bandon Dunes. Golfers who visit the Caribbean are willing to forsake a little history and tradition for a kinder, gentler lie. “Clients who consider the Caribbean are looking for an island golf experience,” said Matthew Diehl, Marketing Manager for Links Golf Travel. “They want to play in the jungle, with views of the ocean and the mountains. They want to play along the coast, with palm trees swaying.”
The Caribbean has not traditionally been viewed as a standout destination amongst course design aficionados — the sun and surf that make the islands so appealing are brutal on turf grass. And the challenge of growing and maintaining first-rate playing surfaces has historically discouraged many top-shelf designers and developers from doing adventurous work in the Caribbean.
But in the last 10 years, a vigorous new turf hybrid has been put in play — Seashore Paspalum. “Agronomic advances are making golf more viable on the islands,” said Brian McCallen, an acclaimed golf travel writer. “The new hybrids require less than half the pesticides of earlier grasses, are salt tolerant, and can even be irrigated with brackish water. They’re low maintenance, they’re very playable, and they're fueling a boom in new, high-quality courses.”
Some of the up-and-comers on the Caribbean front include the Green Monkey at the Sandy Lane Resort in Barbados (Sandy Lane’s other 18-holer, The Country Club Course, hosted the 2006 World Golf Championships). Punta Espada, a Jack Nicklaus design at the Cap Cana Resort in the Dominican Republic, is the first of three Nicklaus Signature Courses that will be built there. Also, El Camaleòn, a recent Greg Norman design at the Fairmont Mayakoba resort in Playa del Carmen, 42 miles south of Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula recently hosted the Mayakoba Classic, the PGA’s first-ever, full-field event in Mexico.
“It used to be that Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas were the golf spots in Mexico,” said Bill Hogan, president of World Wide Golf. “Within the next 10 years, the Mayan Peninsula will exceed those venues, thanks to the many fine new courses being built. In addition to El Camaleòn, there’s Moon Palace (a Nicklaus design), Playa Mujeres (another Norman design) and the Hilton Cancún. There are at least four more being built. The resorts around Cancun provide excellent quality and great value.”
Of the old-guard Caribbean golf resorts, one stands out for everyone: Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, along with Teeth of the Dog, one of Pete Dye’s first breakthrough designs and one that’s considered among his greatest.
The “teeth” of Teeth of the Dog refer to a local nickname for the island's jagged-edged coral reefs, which are often in view along the track’s famed seaside holes — particularly the fifth through the eighth.
“I love to send clients to Casa de Campo,” Matt Diehl continued. “All three courses — Dye Fore, The Link and Teeth of the Dog offer a very different experience, and they’re all fantastic.”