Course Rater Confidential: The best courses (and buddies trip destinations) in the Caribbean
GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking here, and meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.
1. With the PGA Tour in the Dominican Republic this week for the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, we cast our eyes to the golf-rich Caribbean. So many courses, so little time, so please help us out. What are the two best courses in the Caribbean, and why.
Bill Hogan, panelist since 1998, has played 62 of the Top 100: Until it’s displaced, the top course in the Caribbean remains Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo. The routing is terrific, and this is certainly among the top five from the late Pete Dye. A close second is about an hour away, in Cap Cana, where Jack Nicklaus carved Punta Espada GC from the rocky shoreline.
Thomas Brown, panelist since 2015, has played 95 of the Top 100: I agree with Bill. Teeth and nearby Punta Espada are an exceptional one-two punch. With the slope downhill, the 2nd hole on the Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada is an all-world, risk-reward par-5, with its turquoise waters on the horizon behind the green highlighted.
Jeff Lewis, panelist since 2003, has played 97 of the World Top 100: Obviously Teeth of the Dog is the Dean of Caribbean courses. Technically, the best course in this vicinity is probably not in the Caribbean, but Mid-Ocean in Bermuda is probably the only truly world-class course other than Casa de Campo within a few hundred nautical miles. What a gem! Back in the Caribbean, two courses have a lot of sentimental value to me, mostly from watching the world’s best play them back in the day – Dorado Beach and Tryall. Both are very serviceable Dull Age courses that will give a visitor a wonderful holiday.
Gordon Dalgleish, panelist since 2003, has played 73 of the World Top 100: It is extremely difficult to argue beyond Teeth of the Dog as the premier course in the Caribbean. For many years, it was far superior to any of its peers on a range of levels, including conditioning. The Corales course is a very solid Fazio design and is usually kept in excellent condition, with easy air access and superb on-site accommodations. It is a worthy contender.
2. Let’s imagine we’re off to the Caribbean with friends. What’s the best destination for a golf buddies trip, and why?
Hogan: I would fly to Punta Cana and stay three nights at The Westin Punta Cana or Tortuga Bay and play Corales twice (love it!) and Punta Espada, before driving an hour down to Casa de Campo to play Teeth of the Dog and Dye Fore. For me, it’s like Hawaii at half price.
Brown: If this is an invite to the annual Spieth/Thomas/Fowler/Kaufman Spring Break trip, count me in. Barbados is the spot for 2021. Sandy Lane Resort will be our home base, and most of our day will be spent slicing drives on Tom Fazio’s Green Monkey. Nearby courses are Royal Westmoreland and Apes Hill. Shaper Justin Carlton has been on-site at Apes Hill for the entirety of 2020 making dramatic renovation changes in collaboration with architect Ron Kirby. The reopening of Apes Hill is on my short list of anticipation.
Lewis: I think that Streamsong has really hurt the Caribbean for this kind of excursion. The weather isn’t that much more certain in the Caribbean, and the trip is a fair amount longer. I would say the best place for guaranteed golf weather and a buddies trip in the winter time is Streamsong.
Dalgleish: For a guys’ trip, when you consider nearby golf course options, ease of access, quality and variety of accommodation options, non-golf activity, food and drinking options, it is extremely difficult to get beyond Casa de Campo, as it checks off the boxes.
3. Are there any courses in the Caribbean that don’t get the love they deserve? Please tell us about your favorite sleeper in the region.
Brown: At this point in the COVID cycle, it’s just wishful thinking for next year’s travel, and Cabot Point on Saint Lucia is just starting to come into focus. The next Coore and Crenshaw design will be a spectacular seaside affair opening in late 2021. C&C design associate Keith Rhebb has been posting pictures from his bulldozer to social media for the past few months. Easy to say that its coastal views will decorate future golf calendars for years to come.
Lewis: Definitely a fan of the Barbados situation. A number of pretty good courses. Watch out for the trade winds, though. I will never forget walking off Royal Westmoreland having shot an 85 that felt like a 70 in a four-club wind. I went into the shop and said, “Wow, this is nuts.” And the guy said, “What do you mean?” Trade winds!
Dalgleish: The Abaco Club does not enjoy the high-profile visitors like some of the other courses in that area, but is an exceptionally challenging test of golf. A lot to like about the layout, although the course, like many around the world, is more fun to play in a healthy breeze than a strong wind!