Caribbean

written by | Posted on April 30th, 2013

Bahia Beach Course at St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico

puntacana resort & club, dominican republic

The Property: Casa de Campo is the obvious pick in the Dominican Republic, but consider Puntacana Resort & Club, where the golf is world-class, a spanking new Westin will open in December, and the current choice of hotels in the complex includes the all-villa Tortuga Bay, the only AAA five-diamond property in the country. Tucked between a lovely beach and La Cana Golf Course, Tortuga Bay is stylish instead of just faddish. Its designer? Oscar de la Renta.

The Golf: More boldface names: Tom Fazio designed the Corales Golf Course, which features 18 holes that track cliffs, coves, and quarries (ergo, caddies are mandatory). P.B. Dye laid out the 27-hole La Cana Golf Course, “the number one course in the Caribbean” (Golf Magazine). The par 3 third hole on Arrecife is a standout, says Jeff Neal, director of La Cana. “With winds from the right, if you don’t aim a little to the right, your ball will find a watery grave!”

Accommodations at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico

The Amenities: Coincidentally or not, Puntacana’s other offerings are Casa de Campo-like: three miles of beach, watersports (including fishing and diving), tennis, horseback riding, shopping, an ecological reserve, a day camp, a mini-zoo(!), the superb Six Senses spa, and eight splendid restaurants, one of which, Bamboo, was designed by—yup—Oscar de la Renta.

The Scene: VIP treatment, especially for Tortuga Bay guests, begins at the airport, the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), which the resort owns. Most guests are from North America, but, says Arturo Diaz, senior director of marketing firm HL Group, “people from Europe and South America come, too, thanks to nonstop flights.” By day, you see golf widows and hookey-playing duffers on boats, horses, tennis courts, and beach chairs; at night, dining is the primary sport.

Deluxe Room at Half Moon, a RockResort in Jamaica

The Rates: Off-season rates start at $710 for a 1-bedroom suite at Tortuga Bay. Puntacana’s 4-night golf package includes a room at the Puntacana Hotel, roundtrip pickup from the airport, three rounds of golf, and taxes and gratuities. With lodging at the Puntacana Hotel, that package is just $469 per night for singles, $738 for couples, through Nov. 23; at Tortuga Bay, it starts at $1,230 per couple.

the ritz-carlton golf & spa resort, rose hall, jamaica

The Property: This resort occupies 5,000 acres of a historic plantation with colonial buildings haunted by Annie Palmer, the circa 1800 “white witch,” who is said to have murdered her
bedmates. The main building bespeaks plantation-style grandeur, and the 427 units feature traditional Ritz-Carlton decor: sitting room furnishings, sheets with astronomical thread counts, and tasteful accents of tropical colors.

The Golf: “If the White Witch Golf Course were the only game in Jamaica, savvy golfers would still make the trip. It’s that good,” says noted golf/travel writer Dale Leatherman. This par 71, 6,859-yard championship layout features hills, lush greens, cool tradewinds, and dramatic ocean views. The second shot on the 10th is world-famous: The fairway slopes right to left, so the ball is higher than the right-handed golfer’s feet.

The Amenities: Its world-famous golf, white beach, night-lit tennis courts, spa, award-winning Ritz Kids program (from $30), and valet parking are vintage Ritz-Carlton, but here, in addition to its Horizon restaurant, with the requisite Mediterranean cuisine, there are three other restaurants, the fifth of which, the Reggae Jerk Center, delivers as promised and offers cooking lessons.

Poolside at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico

The Scene: No sleeveless T-shirts or bad tattoos here. This is a dignified crowd that ranges from tykes to Great Grandma—yes, that woman who just made par on the 4th hole. Between the comforts of the resort and the White Witch Golf Course, this Ritz-Carlton also attracts upmarket buddy trips, romantic couples, and meetings.

The Rates: Off-season, non-refundable rates start at $183. The Golf All-Inclusive package includes unlimited golf for two at the White Witch Golf Course plus play at the great (and nearby) Cinnamon Hill and Half Moon courses, transportation to those courses, golf cart and caddie fee, and a dining plan from $649. It’s good through Dec. 31. Really.

La Cana Golf Course

half moon, a rockresort, jamaica

The Property: Built by corporate legends Harvey Firestone, Jr., Richard Reynolds, and Mrs. Laurence Armour on a 2-mile half-moon beach (hence, the resort’s name), this exclusive getaway with 33 villas and 197 rooms and suites has hosted Queen Elizabeth, Clark Gable, and George H. W. Bush. A neighbor to The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon became a RockResort on Jan. 1, 2011.

The Golf: Frequent host of the Jamaica Open and other tourneys, the course was designed by golf royalty: Robert Trent Jones, Sr., planned the original, which Roger Rulewich updated in 2005, putting in five sets of tees and repositioning some fairways and bunkers for today’s gear. Rulewich’s makover respects Jones’ concept and the terrain itself, with the 13th, a short par 4 dogleg, serving as the signature hole.

The Scene: Although Half Moon offers a slew of diversions, many of the guests, including couples and families, are there for the golf. After all, having the White Witch and Cinnamon Hill (another highly ranked Rose Hall layout) courses in the neighborhood, plus Half Moon’s own great layout, is compelling. The after-dinner scene migrates to Lester’s, a “swellegant” piano bar.

The Amenities: Modestly sized Half Moon has six restaurants and seven bars/lounges, including the much-acclaimed Sugar Mill. Furthermore, this smallish resort has an equestrian
center, a swim-with-dolphins facility, a 68,000-sq.-ft. indoor/outdoor spa, a 13-court tennis facility, a children’s program and a camp for teenagers. And did we mention the beach?

The Rates: Rooms start at about $279, and jr. suites, $469, but the sweet spot is the Total Golf Experience: An additional $210 pp gets your clients all meals, beverages, daily golf including one round at White Witch and one at Cinnamon Hill, and a golf cart and caddy who will coach players through that killer 13th.

Club House at Puntacana Resort & CLub in Dominican Replublic

dorado beach, a ritz-carlton reserve, puerto rico

The Property: All the raves about the Dorado Beach, which opened in December, are well-deserved. With just 115
all-beachfront units on an estate once owned by Rockefeller—a guy who knew a thing or two about estates—this getaway respects its surroundings while raising the bar for casual elegance. What’s more, North American work-hounds on a short leash can easily fly there.

The Golf: There are three 18-hole courses (and soon, there’ll be four), the star of which is Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s East Course. Jones Jr. has restored 15 of its 18 holes, using native sand for contoured bunkers and fast Champion Bermuda grass on the greens. This 7,200-yard beauty is both challenging from the championship tees and negotiable from (our recommendation) the forward tees.

The Amenities: From the grilled fish at Encanto Beach Bar & Grill to the Spanish and fusion dishes at open-air Mi Casa by Jose Andres, Dorado Beach’s cuisine rises far above mere “gourmet.” The guests also love the 5-court tennis center, the extensive nature reserve (explore by foot, bike, or golf cart), Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment programs, the 5-acre(!) Spa Botanico, and that lovely beach, replete with watersports and a jetty to keep the surf as smooth as the greens.

The Scene: The guests are pretty smooth, too. Primarily North Americans with an appreciation of the Robert Trent Joneses and the beauty of nature, they take the time to appreciate a Rioja Gran Reserve with dinner and feel that the greatest show in the Caribbean is the star-filled sky, as viewed during a post-prandial stroll on the beach.

The Rates: Low-season rates start at $719. The smart money trades up to the Discover with You package, from $1,079 a night, which includes golf for two at any of the three courses (the other two are user-friendly Pineapple and stump-the-duffer Sugarcane), a $100 resort credit, and breakfast for two. Good through Dec. 20.

st. regis bahia beach resort, puerto rico

The Property: This AAA five-diamond resort in Rio Grande has made Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot and Gold” list for three years straight. With only 139 units in updated plantation-style buildings, its smallest room is almost 700 sq. ft., featuring a spacious private balcony, a restrained color scheme, and enough electronic gizmos to stock a Best Buy.

The Golf: Guests can play three world-class courses. The spectacular St. Regis’ Bahia Beach Course (Robert Trent Jones, Jr., 2010) is a Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary with 15 waterfront holes that track the lakes, lagoons and the ocean. The St. Regis can also arrange play at the two neighboring Tom Kite layouts, the Trump International/Coco Beach and the Trump Championship course, host of the Puerto Rico Open.

The Amenities: This is the kind of place that hires Jean-Georges Vongerichten to oversee its premier restaurant, Fern. Guests can pursue virtually every sport here, including competitive shopping at the Golf Pro Shop and Resort Wear Store. Tennis instructor Carl J. Gavine could improve an Andy Murray’s stroke, both the jogging trail and the Iguana Children’s Club (from $50) make use of a nature reserve, and the Remede Spa customizes treatments to each client’s needs.

The Scene: Many of the guests come for the golf, yet there’s no single scene. Some of the non-golfers immerse themselves in the Remede Spa’s locally inspired treatments, and at dinner time wear expressions that, by comparison, make Gandhi look nervous. There’s a small tennis contingent, too, not to mention folks in the reserve using binoculars. The unifier is that virtually everyone is an active, well-traveled professional with worldly tastes.

The Rates: Rooms start at about $450 ($519 with breakfast); some weeks the fourth night is free. The $699 Golf in Paradise aka Fourrr package includes continental breakfast, golf on the Bahia Beach Course, and rental clubs or a complimentary golf clinic. For a 5- or 6-night stay, clients might want the Golf in Paradise for just three or four nights so they can spend two or three days on the Trump courses. Whatever the arrangement, add $60 per night resort charge.

Accommodations at Tortuga Bay at Puntacana Resort & Club

teeing off with sophisticated golfer

Does Joe Cerino, the president of the Sophisticated Golfer sleep around? He must, because although his company designs trips to Europe, the United States, and Mexico as well as the Caribbean, he seems to know every premium resort room on the islands. We suspect he also plays around (a round?), because he can vividly describe individual holes on scores of courses. Good, because, as Cerino notes, “arranging a golf vacation is not a simple thing, and the difference is in the details.” No wonder travel agents trust Sophisticated Golfer. Besides, Cerino and his employees like working with travel agents, and they offer intriguing packages at resorts mentioned in the accompanying story. For example:

“At Puntacana Resort and Club, the Tortuga Bay Villas are exclusive and private—ideal for couples and families,” Cerino says. Sophisticated Traveler can design a 4-night stay featuring a 1-bedroom suite, roundtrip VIP airport transfers, a self-drive resort cart, all-inclusive meals and drinks, three rounds of golf, and all taxes and resort fees for $2,195 pp dbl through Nov. 24. Additional nights (and golf), are $549.

“Half Moon works well for buddy trips because it has 4- to 6-bedroom villas,” he says. For couples, Sophisticated Golfer offers a 4-night stay with roundtrip airport and golf course transfers, all-inclusive meals and drinks, unlimited golf at Half Moon, one round each at White Witch and Cinnamon Hill, and all taxes and resort fees. That’s $1,795 pp dbl, through Dec. 19, with extra nights ($449) including an additional round at White Witch. If possible, he suggests, upgrade clients to the handsome Royal Suites.

Cerino likes the fact that the five-star St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, which has its own great course, is just 10 minutes away from the Trump International courses. Sophisticated Golfer’s 4-night package includes breakfasts, two rounds at the Bahia Beach Golf Club, one round on the Trump International Championship Course, $100 food and beverage credit, and all taxes and resort fees through Aug. 18 and Oct. 18 to Dec. 18. For buddy trips, Sophisticated Golfer often snares condos and villas within the Trump complex. (877) 288-9799; sophisticatedgolfer.com

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Top Golf Resorts: Caribbean & Bermuda (May 2012)

contact information
Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve:
(800) 542-8680; ritzcarlton.com or travelagents.marriott.com
Half Moon, A RockResort: (800) 626-0592; halfmoon.rockresorts.com or rockresorts.com/info/travelagent.asp
Puntacana Resort & Club: (888) 442-2262; puntacana.com
The Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, Rose Hall: (800) 542-8680; ritzcarlton.com or travelagents.marriott.com
St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort: (877)-787-3447; starwoodhotels.com or starwoodpro.com