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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 1)

"You can have a house in the Dominican Republic for under a million bucks with live-in help and the weather is flawless," says P. B. Dye. "I've lived here for 35 years and I can't think of five days when it rained all day. And the rain is warm, so who cares anyway."

Dye will never forget his first meeting with Rainieri. Rainieri loved the long expanses of beach and the great stands of coconut palms that lined them. While he understood that the allure of golf next to the sea was important, he also didn't want to disturb the natural landscape. Dye knew that some of the landscape would have to change to get the course down to the sea. He also knew that Rainieri was a pilot. "I said, 'Frank, you are asking a golfer to play around all these coconut trees,'" said Dye. "'It's like asking a pilot to land a plane with a 300-foot wingspan on an airstrip which is 200 feet wide with coconut palms on both sides.' I said, 'Frank, we are going to have an accident.' And then the lightbulb came on. I said, 'We can take these trees and move them 100 yards inland and take the white sand you love so much and create a feeling of the beach between the golf holes and the housing lots. These people are going to be looking at the coconut trees, the white sand, a manicured lawn and the Caribbean, and you are going to own the oceanfront forever and produce money for your great-grandchildren.'"

The job was Dye's.

He completed the La Cana Golf Club construction in 2000, doing much of the bulldozer work himself, running a backhoe to build some of the bunkering and supervising the movement of hundreds of coconut palms. The result is a very playable course in a very desirable setting with a lovely clubhouse that contains a beach club and spa. It was Rainieri's stipulation, with the advice of his closest adviser, his wife, Haydee, that the clubhouse be sited next to the sea and that there would be a beach club there. Dye wasn't certain that would work, with the noise that beach clubs can produce. "[But] he was absolutely dead right about that," says Dye. "The two elements coexist perfectly."

The son's work takes obvious cues from the father's. The course has its dramatic elements, an island-green par 3 and an island-green par 4, the latter surrounded by sand, not water. The layout touches the sea briefly on the front nine, then plays hard against it over the last two holes. There is some severe bunkering, quirky mounding and confounding greens. It is what you would expect from a course with a Dye name on it, and it's great fun.

The par-4 seventh has a green and a pot-bunker dimpled approach area that are surrounded by a moat of sand. Dye calls the pot-bunker minefield Hecklebirnie after a purgatory of Scottish lore. It's a short, drivable hole, yet danger lurks everywhere. The long par-3 14th has a green surrounded by an Alps of mounding and a Sahara of sand. At 239 yards from the back tee, to a green that's almost out of sight, the tee shot is a knee knocker.

The par-4 17th begins the long run along the Caribbean. The approach area to the green is elevated from the driving area of the fairway and is supported by the wooden sleepers that the elder Dye is famous for. The back of the green seems to fall off into the beckoning sea. The 18th is a long par 5 with a set of church pew bunkers on the approach to the green. It's a very appropriate and satisfying conclusion to a round.

Fazio's Corales course, being built in the area where Rainieri has his lovely beachfront home along with those of de la Renta, attorney Kheel, singer Julio Inglesias and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, will have Caribbean frontage, a seaside clubhouse and 140 housing lots, a number of which will be oceanfront or ocean-view. A look at the course during construction last May reveals it to be typically Tom with holes dug down into the landscape to provide isolation from each other, edgy bunkering and greens shouldered by mounding. Fazio hates cart paths and as always has taken care to conceal them.

Corales will be a significant addition to Rainieri's portfolio. He points out where an outdoor bar will be, at a spot where he used to come to dream. "Whenever I needed to think something out, I would come and sit here," says Rainieri of the little cove where a finger of the Caribbean roils. Now he's turning the Corales development over to others, like the proud father he is.

He's also quite proud of Tortuga Bay, a two-year-old oceanfront boutique hotel that is smack in the middle of the La Cana Club course area. It's an assemblage of two-story yellow stucco buildings, an oasis of tranquillity that allows easy access to the golf course. With rooms running $769 a night and up, the hotel is at the high end of the Punta Cana Resort's offerings and delivers substantial luxe. A round of golf, a dip in the Caribbean and a cocktail on the beach make for just the sort of experience that Rainieri has been giving to people for more than 30 years.

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