Which Caribbean destination is right for your golf vacation?
So you've narrowed your winter golf trip down to somewhere in the Caribbean, but still not sure where? Here are six of the best options and their unique selling points:
Luxurious new facilities and restored classics in Puerto Rico
Native legend Chi Chi Rodriguez has been out of the golf spotlight for awhile, but Puerto Rico has upped its golf and resort game in a big way recently. Those who want a luxurious resort splurge complete with championship caliber golf courses, many of which are either new or recently redone, will find its new breed is as good as anywhere.
On the island's northwest side is Royal Isabela, an ambitious, seaside development boasting luxury accommodations and golf course with dazzling views on several back nine holes hugging the cliffs. Closer to San Juan, Bahia Beach Golf Club debuted in 2009 and mixes a closing oceanside stretch of holes to go along with a lavish St. Regis Resort.
On the other side of San Juan, Chi-Chi's home club, Dorado Golf & Beach Resort, recently renovated the famed Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed East Course. This large resort and golf development dating back to the days of the Rockafellers is also set to open a six-star Ritz-Carlton Reserve Resort along with a renovated West Course in 2013.
Couple these new developments with elder statesmen like like Rio Mar's Ocean and River courses, 36 holes at Trump International Golf Club and hilly, jungly El Conquistador Golf Club, help round out a golf scene that makes for one of the Caribbean's most versatile.
Rich, historic golf in Bermuda
Rosewood Tucker's Point
Though technically not in "Caribbean" proper, Bermuda is a convenient, four seasons getaway for east coasters and Europeans alike. About 500 miles off the coast of North Carolina, it has an illustrious golf history dating back to the 1920s. Back then, steam ship companies looked for ways to lure tourists to this tropical oasis when New Yorkers were bundled up. It's emergence as a golf hotbed coincided with the golden era of golf course architecture. The most prestigious course is Mid Ocean Club, an innovative design by C.B. MacDonald and a regular in Top 100 rankings to this day.
Thanks to a uniquely shaped string of rocky islands that yields few flat spots, most holes throughout Bermuda aren't easy. Golfers can take on hilly and scenic Rosewood Tucker's Point. Or play the island's supreme challenge: PGA Grand Slam of Golf host Port Royal Golf Club, home to the country's most photogenic hole, the cliffside 16th.
For something more beginner-friendly, the Fairmont Turtle Hill Golf Club is home to one of resort golf's better executive courses - and it's even lighted on certain evenings.
Resort golf buffet in Mexico's Riviera Maya
Playa Paraiso at IBEROSTAR
Resort golf courses stack up along the Riviera Maya, a vacation destination better known for its Mayan ruins and wild party scenes in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen before golf. These courses are set on mostly flat, sandy soil, a stark contrast to the most mountainous, cliffside designs on Mexico's west coast. That said, many are well-run, high-end facilities with courses designed by top names in the game.
Greg Norman designed the most high-profile of the bunch: PGA Tour host El Camaleon at Mayakoba Golf Club, as well as Playa Mujeres Golf Club. His old foe Nick Price contributed the Grand Coral Riviera Maya and the TPC Cancun, the first TPC facility outside the U.S. Nicklaus boasts his own foursome of designs: Moon Palace Spa & Golf Club, Riviera Cancun Golf Club, Cozumel Country Club and a well-regarded par-54 executive course called El Manglar Golf Course Riviera Maya.
The Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club by P.B. Dye remains the best of the two IBEROSTAR resort courses. Or, if you're feeling nostalgic, don’t overlook Robert von Hagge’s PlayaCar Golf Club.
A wealth of seaside splendor in Dominican Republic
Corales at Punta Cana
No destination in the Caribbean does soul-stirring ocean golf better than the Dominican Republic. At Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada Golf Club at Cap Cana, eight holes were routed so close to the shore, golfers can get wet if big waves crash in at the wrong time.
Of the 45 holes at the PUNTACANA Resort & Club, 10 of them straddle the Caribbean Sea, six at the luxurious Corales by Tom Fazio and four on the less exclusive La Cana Golf Course.
Near La Romana, Pete Dye's Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011, showcases the shoreline seven times, including three spectacular par-3s.
The Playa Grande Club & Reserve, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. creation that sits isolated along the northern coast, rides 60-foot cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Should the shuttered-yet-spectacular Roco Ki Golf Club ever reopen near Punta Cana, the course will add even more seaside marvels to D.R.'s resume. There are nearly 30 golf courses in total in D.R., more than any other Caribbean island.
Jammin' golf in Jamaica
Sugar plantations, secluded beaches, great coffee and reggae music make for Jamaica's allure, but the island's golf scene has become pretty extensive, now with a dozen courses. In particular, Jamaica excels in all-inclusive resorts, where golfers can not only enjoy courses by the top designers, but bevy of other activities, too.
The hub of golf resort activity is in Montego Bay, where you'll find Half Moon Resort, home to the Red Stripe Pro Am and a David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
Not far away is the mysterious (and many say, haunted) Rose Hall. Located next door is the Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort and the country's best-known course, White Witch. The Robert von Hagge & Rick Baril design is notoriously challenging, though views of the Caribbean from nearly every hole more than make up for it.
Monkey business in Barbados
The small, West Indies nation of Barbados boasts eight courses, including one of the most stunning newer designs in the Caribbean: Apes Hill Golf Club, built 1,000 feet above the coast overlooking both the Caribbean and Atlantic, while monkeys often serve as your group's gallery.
This new course is on top of the already terrific, Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed resort course at Royal Westmoreland. Nearby, Sandy Lane features three courses, including the famed Green Monkey Course and Tom Fazio-designed Country Club course. Golfers will also enjoy the course that put Barbados golf on the map, Barbados Golf Club, in the southern parish of Christ Church. Renovated in 2000, this Ron Kirby design has hosted a European Senior Tour event as well as the Barbados Open on several occasions.
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