Golf in paradise easily made this course my favorite I played this year
Evan Schiller Photography
At the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, paradise is everywhere. It’s where the perfect blue of the Caribbean Sea meets the limitless Atlantic Ocean. It’s defined by the friendly locals you meet, pristine beaches, palm trees and deep breaths of fresh air.
Punta Cana is the definition of paradise, and it’s the perfect setting for incredible golf. The area is home to three courses on our Top 100 Courses You Can Play list, and I was lucky enough to tee it up at Nicklaus Design’s wondrous Punta Espada. (GOLF.com and Nicklaus Companies are affiliates of 8AM Golf.)
It’s 7 a.m. on a winter morning. Back at home, it’s surely below freezing and pitch-black outside. But in Punta Cana, an orange sun rises slowly over the water. By the time it climbs above the clouds, the temperature will be a balmy 75 degrees. My partner Lindsay and I couldn’t be happier. We each grab a set of rental clubs and meet Dee, our caddie for the day.
The first tee at Punta Espada is nothing special. A simple, 360-yard par-4 narrows your focus onto the task at hand: the golf. Lindsay and I both hit the green in regulation — a first (and last) for the day. But considering what was soon to come, our scores were the least of our worries.
As we walked to the 2nd tee box, Dee stopped us and pointed to a path leading toward a giant rock. He instructed us to walk up the path to the base of the rock, where we would find our first gorgeous view of the day. He was right.
From all the way up there on the back tees, you bask in the glory of a 600-yard par-5. In true Nicklaus fashion, the hole doglegs right around a small pond that calmly flows into the ocean. Standing eye-level with massive, fluffy clouds, we looked out at the gorgeous expanse and laughed. There was little doubt now: we were at the start of an incredible golf experience.
By the time we reached the 3rd fairway, those fluffy clouds had turned into an island shower, which blew through as quickly as it arrived. After three beautiful seafront holes, the sun reappeared as the routing turned us back inland.
This, as anyone who has visited will tell you, is what makes Punta Espada so special: there isn’t just one rousing oceanfront crescendo, but four (!) of them. The routing leaves you constantly darting between the ocean and the land. And even when you’re nowhere near the water, elevated inland holes still manage to provide breathtaking views of endless blue from afar.
On the back nine, the waterside holes feature dramatic cliffs and rock formations. The course’s signature hole, the 200-yard 13th, requires you to carry a small inlet with nothing but water to your left. As it turns out, that crystal-clear water proves an ample distraction. My normal miss is right, but I duck-hooked my tee shot straight into the sea.
Neither of us played our best on the closing holes, but it didn’t matter. Dee kept us laughing while we soaked in the sun and the smell of the ocean. Even with a triple-digit scorecard, it was hard to be upset. We’d spent a beautiful morning together, playing golf on a perfect day, lapping in some of the most beautiful views paradise had to offer. I wouldn’t have traded that for shooting the course record anywhere else.