Punch Shots: Best golf experience in the Caribbean?

By Brandon Tucker, Jason DeeganDecember 21, 2011, 9:12 pm

It's the thick of winter in the United States, so your mind may be wandering off, thinking about a golf escape in the sunny Caribbean. There are over 30 nations and countless ways to enjoy a golf vacation here. Writers Jason Deegan, Mike Bailey and Brandon Tucker have their own favorite golf courses. 

Jason Deegan: Punta Espada at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

No other Caribbean golf course interacts more intimately with the ocean than the Punta Espada Golf Club at Cap Cana.

Crashing waves actually almost forced my playing partner to back off his tee shot on the 17th hole. If you love seaside golf, the Dominican Republic is your place. The Teeth of the Dog by Pete Dye and Corales by Tom Fazio are two other oceanfront stunners, but Punta Espada in Punta Cana is my favorite of all the Caribbean courses I've played.  

Say what you will about Jack Nicklaus as a designer, but the Golden Bear nailed Punta Espada. He routed eight holes directly along the ocean. It's good enough to test the best - the 7,396-yard course hosted the Champions Tour's Cap Cana Championship from 2008-10 – and playable enough to be enjoyed by the rest.

There are so many signature spots. The view from the elevated second tee reveals a gorgeous par 5 that runs to the shore. Its peninsula green button hooks right into a bay.

I still can't get over the fact that Nicklaus birdied the dramatic par-3 12th from the tips at the club's grand opening in 2008. The club's staff encourages everybody to attempt this epic shot, a 250-yard carry over the ocean to the green on the cliffs above. I was thrilled just to have made it across safely, even though my ball was never close to the green. It's a shot I'll always remember. Punta Espada is a place you'll never forget.

Mike Bailey: The Golf Links at Royal Isabela, Puerto Rico

When it comes to views, a course that's still under the radar might be hard to beat. The Golf Links at Royal Isabela, perched high above the cliffs on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, offers stunning views and an intriguing layout over 21 holes.

Yes, you heard right, 21 holes, because there are actually three optional holes, meaning you can change this course up from time to time to get a different experience.

Royal Isabela isn't your typical big-name designer resort course. It was actually designed by the owners, Puerto Rican tennis brothers Charlie and Stanley Pasarell. They got a little help from architect David Pfaff, whose resume includes being the associate architect with Pete Dye on Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. But really, as the Pasarells will tell you, this course was laid out by a higher authority.

This makes Royal Isabela akin to something you see on the coast of Scotland, naturally fitting the land. Signature holes? Take your pick; there are so many, but the 200-yard par-3 17th, that spans from a tee on the cliff over the deep blue surf and rocks, would probably suffice.

The greens complexes will catch you off guard as they follow the natural contours of the land, with natural false fronts and tricky reads. There are blind shots, plenty of native areas, and a double green for the 12th and 14th holes that overlook the ocean. And for good measure, the course can play to more than 7,600 yards to challenge the best players of the world.

Golfweek has Royal Isabela ranked as the 42nd best course in the Caribbean and Mexico. I haven't played all the courses ranked ahead of it, but I've played more than a dozen of them and can honestly say that few are as good as or better than Royal Isabela.

Brandon Tucker: Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas

I've spent more time cruising around the Caribbean than playing golf. But among the handful of high-profile resort courses I've played, I'm most impressed with the Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club on Great Exuma Island. 

Compared to busier parts of the Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean, Great Exuma is a secluded and quiet retreat with world class waters for scuba, snorkeling and boating. It's technically the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea, but the remarkable water clarity and color is as good as anywhere. 

I generally favor courses with more elevation change, and other Caribbean islands have more of that than the flat, sandy Bahamas, but the Greg Norman-designed Emerald Reef has plenty of great holes regardless. 

The front nine, while further inland, is still a great test. But it's the back nine that's the real treat: Six holes that tip-toe along clear, emerald waters, that steals the show. Waves crashing on rocks add to the nerves standing on the tee box. 

With a championship-caliber design, I'm surprised its not higher-ranked in some Caribbean golf course polls, but that's probably because a lot of raters haven't made it down since Sandals took the course over the property and put some real work into it, clearing out native areas and widening playing corridors, giving it a clean, open look.  

Sandals also built a traditional English pub onsite, where golf groups will surely spend most of their time.- and drinks are included at this all-inclusive resort, so bottoms up to one of the Caribbean's best golf experiences. 

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''