Three decades ago, Adrian Zecha’s search for a beachfront home in Phuket, Thailand, led him to open a small resort he called Amanpuri. The term “boutique resort” was not yet in vogue, but the escapist luxury property drew a passionate and loyal following. Today, there are now almost 30 Aman Resorts worldwide, and “Aman junkies” are among the most devoted customers in travel. The brand spans four continents, with urban properties, mountain properties, and even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But one luxury travel niche Aman has lacked has been a golf property—until now.
The Dominican Republic has long been the king of Caribbean golf, but its hidden gem is the Playa Grande Golf Course, a stunning Robert Trent Jones Sr. clifftop design on the country’s less-visited north shore. Evocative of a tropical Pebble Beach, it debuted two decades ago, anchored by a long defunct hotel. “In this particular case, the destination and location provided us with the perfect opportunity where we could provide an experience on par with our brand,” says Aman CEO Olivier Jolivet. “The foundation of this course already had a rich history, which we wanted to bring back to life.”
They turned to the famed designer’s son, Rees Jones. The original hotel stood in the middle of the course, but with it gone, Jones was able to completely replace the few less-than-thrilling holes, moving the inland 14th to the edge of the sea, kicking off a five-hole, clifftop finish unrivalled in a sport where three consecutive oceanfront holes is considered excessive. Playa Grande has an amazing 10 coastal holes. When the new Amanera resort opened just before Christmas 2015, the Playa Grande Golf Course was immediately acclaimed as one of the best in the entire Caribbean. But that wasn’t enough for Aman—it just brought Jones back for another comprehensive overhaul for peak fall season 2018, including a complete re-grassing, better drainage, all new sand for the bunkers, extensive decorative landscaping, new greens or tees on half a dozen holes and two new luxury “comfort stations” with farm-to-table delicacies and custom cocktails.
Membership at the course is limited to owners of Amanera residences, and a few specialty selected non-residents. Aside from members, Amanera hotel guests are the only other players allowed access to the course, making tee times here essentially irrelevant. It has caddies, exclusivity, and a rare mix of stunning beauty, forgiving playability and dramatic daily changes based on wind. It is simply a stunning golf experience.
The resort itself is no slouch, with some two dozen decadent guest casitas with private pools, outdoor showers and dining areas, and first-class amenities. Service is far above the usual Caribbean standard, and white-glove treatment begins when you land. Flying into Puerto Plata (90 minutes from the resort) every arriving guest is met planeside by a VIP host and escorted to a hospitality lounge with snacks, cold drinks and cocktails, while staffers recover your luggage. Immigration and customs are expedited, and soon you are taken to a waiting chauffeured Mercedes, well worth the $200 per car transfer rate. (Guests can also fly into Samana or Santo Domingo, but those airports don’t have the VIP lounge, and Santo Domingo is nearly twice as far away.)
If there is one theme throughout the resort, it is emptiness: restaurants, bars, the infinity pool, and the beach are grossly oversized. The 2,000-acre resort has plenty to wow non-golfers, including a private beach, private hiking trails that lead to a private picnic cabin on Aman’s private mountain, and in-house guides for yoga, pilates, cooking classes and more. There is a lavish spa—an Aman trademark—and the Salon del Tabaco cigar lounge, which has cigarmaking demonstrations and a custom puro, hand rolled in four sizes.
From $1,650 per night, in season.