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A New Caribbean Golf Kingdom

The Dominican Republic's eastern shore is taking shape as a world-class golf and resort destination.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

(continued from page 2)

But now he has some stiff competition. The Hazoury family, Dominicans of Spanish and Lebanese descent, are backing the huge Cap Cana project next door to Punta Cana Resort. The immensely wealthy Hazourys, who are involved in road construction, private schools, hospitals and resorts, have ambitious plans for the 30,000-acre parcel. They have built a European-styled marina that would do Monaco proud with room for 200-foot yachts. Enormous homes are going up, and Donald Trump has attached his name to one of the upscale housing developments. And of course, there is the highest quality golf.

The Punta Espada seaside course at Cap Cana has all the elements of drama and style that are associated with Nicklaus's design work. If you have been to his Punta Mita course near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, then Punta Espada will seem very familiar. Nicklaus was given substantial seaside land to work with and took full advantage of it. "Cap Cana is a spectacular piece of property," says Nicklaus. "You have the Caribbean, you have great views and you have this unique fault line running through [the] property that allowed us to do some different things with the design and strategy."

No more is that apparent than on the back tees of the par-5 second hole. Here, where the limestone has been raised by an ancient upheaval, the views are breathtaking of the course, the sea and much of the project. The connection with the water couldn't be closer than the par-3 13th, which is mindful of Robert Trent Jones's oceanfront par 3 at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The hole requires a carry over the Caribbean to a green planted on a ledge above the water. From the back tee this is a 250-yarder, and the prevailing winds are often in your face.

The pros of the Champions Tour will get to test this brute in April when the first senior tour event is held at Cap Cana. It will carry a $2 million purse and a $300,000 first prize, among the largest on the Tour. The Cap Cana people are making a big push for golf, having advertised on U.S. and British Open telecasts this past summer and put up millions to stage what they hope will be a very classy event. "We'd like it to be considered something like the Masters," says Sam Logan, general manager of the golf club. "We will be doing everything to a very high standard. That's the way this project is being done and that's the way the golf is being done."

"We are very proud of Punta Espada," says Nicklaus. "It fits nicely into their menu of amenities at Cap Cana. They have created perhaps the Caribbean's largest marina [Nicklaus is a huge fisherman] and have a beautiful beach club. Combine that with the golf course, and these are just among a number of things that make up a special amenity package."

The project's first hotel, the Sanctuary Cap Cana, is scheduled to open in December. A brochure describes it as five-star-plus. Given what has gone into the stunning marina and the condo and housing construction, there is no reason to believe the hotel will not live up to its own expectations. Cap Cana calls itself "the world's next great destination," so there isn't a lack of ambition.

The same could be said for the Roco Ki project, which is about 45 minutes northwest of the Punta Cana airport on a grand piece of property that boasts a remarkable four-mile stretch of beach, a stunning headland and a sweeping lagoon as well as vast acreage of mangrove wetlands, some of which is being converted to golf and to housing, but most of which will be left to nature. Roco Ki, in the native Taino Indian language, means "honoring the land," and to the extent that any large construction project can do so, the developers vow to honor that philosophy.

The developers have chosen Nick Faldo as their golf course architect. "It's a very exciting piece of property and a very exciting project," says Faldo, the six-time major winner who has become CBS television's chief golf commentator as well as a frequent contributor to The Golf Channel. "It has a nice diversity of the seaside headlands, the mangroves and a sandy area where we have done some holes around a lake we have created. From my first visit, I knew this was going to be a special place."

There will be nothing more special than the 17th and 18th, which hold the rare distinction of being consecutive holes that can be played off the same tee. The 17th is a short par 3 that is mindful of the seventh hole at Pebble Beach, just raised higher off the water. It has its own separate tee, but the tee markers can also be placed on the teeing area for the 18th. Hit your shots to the 17th green, drive down the hill to putt, and drive back up and play the 18th, a par 5 with two carries over water to get home. "Yes, that will be a very exciting finish, won't it?" says Faldo. "The 17th is really a short pitch hole, though it will be quite interesting in the wind, just like the seventh at Pebble. Those carries on the 18th look a little farther than they are, but it's a challenging hole. I think it's a really great finish."

A Westin hotel, spa and conference center is taking shape, as are residences that vary from condos to villas to a property described as "JungleLuxe" bungalows. The first units should be ready in March. There are also plans for individual beachfront homes. It is a project worth watching.

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