When it is the middle of January in Connecticut and the ground is covered with snow, I will likely think back to the past week in the Dominican Republic and a dream vacation with my wife, son and daughter and their significant others. We tried our first "all-inclusive" resort vacation -- at Secrets Cap Cana near Punta Cana -- and, for the most part, it really is as advertised, which is to say relaxing and entertaining given that swarms of staff really do everything to make you as comfortable as possible. And you don't have to ever dip into your pocket for a tip, unless you want to. (We experienced some incidents of extreme service and felt the need.) Okay, the food doesn't quite rate four chef's hats but the drinks were all from the top shelf and well made, especially if you make friends with any of the dozens of friendly and entertaining bartenders who tend to their craft at inside and outside locations, by the pools and on the beach. (Some of my family members seemed quite taken with a drink called a Dirty Monkey which tasted to me like an alcoholic chocolate milk.)
There was plenty to do on site, including a smallish but professionally outfitted fitness center, organized activities like beach volleyball and baseball, and a horseshoe pit and bocce court, although urban lovers of bocce will find it strange to throw the balls on the soft sand rather than roll them on a legitimate bocce surface, but no one seemed to care. Some might complain about the two feet wide stretch of seaweed -- actually more like sea kelp -- that washes up onto the beach and also bounces around in the first few feet of water before you step into a clear blue (warm) sea. We thought the seaweed issue was much ado about nothing. All in all, though, this is a great way to pack away all your cares and woes for a week.
The three golf courses we played ranged from fun to more fun to tons of fun with relentlessly drop-dead gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffs. I'll let the photos below speak for themselves, except for some brief notes that follow.
La Cana Golf Club
This was a great layout for a warmup round since water was fairly easy to circumvent on the first nine, the Hacienda course, but was both a visual and hazardous presence on the Arrecife nine, especially the last few holes along the ocean. (We did not play the Tortuga nine, which seems to have the strongest presence of sand and a couple of holes with close views of the ocean.). We noted that greens on all the golf courses we played were not cut for speed in fear that the hot summer sun would wreck havoc on the grass. So they were much slower than they would be in season, in winter. Some of the ocean views showed the bluest water I have ever seen this side of a Disney cartoon.
Corales Golf Club
Corales has scored a major coup by landing a PGA tour event next March, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. As you leave the airport in Punta Cana, you pass a billboard promoting the event and featuring a huge photo of PGA star Jim Furyk. The Tom Fazio-designed Corales should be a worthy test of the pros' shotmaking abilities, given the championship tees are set at 7,670 yards and sand and water hazards abound. The ocean views from the three finishing holes, as at La Cana, showed unnaturally blue and green waters. TV coverage of the first PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic should be a lot of fun to watch.
We saved the best for last with a goodbye round at Jack Nicklaus' Punta Espada, rated by most followers of Caribbean golf as the best in the islands. I believe it as the course doesn't come close to having a clunker of a hole and it is drop dead beautiful from the first tee to the 18th green (especially the 18th green, which is perched over the brilliant blue waters on the ocean below). Indeed, eight holes play along the ocean and few others are within site, the golf course sitting pretty much above the water at most points. The final three holes may be the most visual anywhere this side of the Irish and Scottish coasts, with the ocean directly behind the long par 3 16th and beside the 17th and 18th, two par 4s that will test your patience and ability to negotiate the fickle ocean breezes. Punta Espada is expensive but I would say worth every penny. And, what the heck, you'll be on vacation. However, if you want to stay forever, most homes are priced above $1 million.