5 Aside: Planning A DR Golf Trip
1. Punta Cana is paradise. Santo Domingo is the DR’s largest and capital city, but it is 120 miles to the east, near the tourist-friendly resort town of Punta Cana, where you will find the country’s best golf courses. Despite being home to less than 50,000 year-round inhabitants, Punta Cana actually welcomes nearly two-thirds of all flights into the DR each year, and visitors can choose from a wide range of hotel and resort options that sit alongside white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. Most importantly (at least in my opinion!), Punta Cana is a golfer’s paradise, with most of the country’s top golf courses within one hour of the Punta Cana International Airport. The world-famous Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo, the highly-acclaimed Nicklaus Signature Course at Punta Espada, and Corales – host of the PGA Tour- are all nearby, with plenty of other oceanside layouts to fill in your itinerary. In short, choosing which region of the DR to visit is the easy part.
2. Consider a variety of accommodation options. The DR is know for its budget-friendly all-inclusive resorts and they certainly offer great value. However, there are a range of accommodation options from which to choose:
- Bávaro’s All Inclusive Resorts – Bavaro Beach, which is about 25 minutes north of the Punta Cana Airport (PUJ) and has been called one of the best beaches in the world, is lined with sprawling, lively, all-inclusive resorts. Families and groups that are seeking great value on food and drinks, and hoping for lots to do in terms of seaside activities and nightlife, will really enjoy this area. Also, a round at one of the fun resort courses in the Bávaro area can supplement a golf-filled itinerary.
- High-End “Golf” Hotels and Resorts – As you move south and west from the Punta Cana Airport, you will find the DR’s best golf courses along with a host of high-end hotels and resorts that offer an upscale alternative to the Bávaro party scene. The Puntacana Resort (adjacent to PUJ), Cap Cana (about 15 minutes south of PUJ), and Casa de Campo (about 55 minutes west of PUJ) are each home to one of the DR’s best golf courses as well as “quieter” luxury accommodations that are among some of the finest in all of the DR.
- Private Villas – I’d strongly urge just about any group visiting the DR to at least consider a private villa for their stay. There are tons of options in terms of size, location, and price point, and they can allow guests their own privacy while, in many cases, still enjoying resort amenities. Golf carts, private pools and villa mangers are pretty standard inclusions, while an optional butler or chef can really enhance the experience.
3. Choose your dates wisely. A few considerations:
- Weather: While the weather is warm year-around, November through April is typically much drier than May through October, with the summer and early fall bringing rain and the occasional hurricane (August – October is hurricane season).
- Crowds/Rates: If you choose to visit the DR during the warm and dry winter months, you can expect crowds and increased rates, especially during holiday time. Alternatively, you can save as much as 30-40% on your trip by traveling in the off-season, from May through October. May probably provides the best of both worlds, with typically nice weather accompanied by reduced rates.
- Course Closures: A final consideration is to avoid the sometimes lengthy closures at the area’s top courses. In addition to tournament closures (Corales hosts the PGA Tour in March, for example), many of the area’s best courses close down for several weeks during the off-season for course maintenance – so confirm tee time availability before committing to specific trip dates.
4. Just Relax. This advice probably goes against what you may hear from others and I am often a big proponent of getting the most out of a vacation by seeing and doing all that you can. The DR is one of the few destinations where I think less is more, though. Rather than trying to play 36 holes a day or scheduling a bunch of sightseeing tours or fishing excursions, just relax. Set your watch to “island time” and sleep in, schedule mid-morning tee times, lounge by the pool with your favorite tropical drink in hand, get a massage, take an evening stroll on a postcard-worthy beach, or party late into the night. Whatever it is that makes you happy, let it be your restorative escape.
5. Other Considerations.
- Arrival/Departure – Previously, visitors had to pay a tourist fee upon arrival but this has now been rolled into flight prices. However, you will have to provide health, customs and travel information on a digital “E-Ticket” when you arrive and depart. You can actually fill out your arrival card before you depart for your trip in order to save precious beach time once you arrive in the DR.
- Transportation – It’s very simple – don’t drive. Transfers are easy to arrange and will keep you out of harm’s way.
- Caddies – Caddies are mandatory at the top courses, although they won’t break the bank compared to other high-end golf destinations. You can expect to pay around $30 plus a $15-$20 tip.
- Currency – The Dominican Peso is the local currency in the DR, although you may not have to worry about exchanging your dollars, since most hotels and golf courses accept USD. If you do need some local currency, it’ll be hassle-free to find an ATM or exchange at your hotel’s front desk. Just remember to leave a few dollars or pesos to show your gratitude for good service from the friendly locals along your way.