No golf course can be all things to all players, but Punta Espada, which opened last fall on the Dominican Republic’s eastern shore, comes remarkably close.
The first of three courses Jack Nicklaus is building at the massive Cap Cana resort, Punta Espada sits atop a spectacular landform defined by high bluffs and an alluvial plain. Built along the Caribbean coastline, an area constantly buffeted by winds, the course could have become more daunting in the hands of a less judicious designer. But Nicklaus took full advantage of the topography—the constant elevation changes afford stunning views of the Caribbean—while keeping the course playable. “Our focus was incorporating a number of different elements into the design,” he says, “not toughness for its own sake.”
Still, Punta Espada can be as challenging as you want it to be. The course plays as long as 7,396 yards from the tips, with a slope rating of 137. “If you tuck the pins behind bunkers or in precarious sections of the green, and factor in the winds, you have a layout that’s pretty tough,” says Nicklaus.
From the forward set of the course’s four tees, Punta Espada measures just 5,052 yards. (The shorter tees also eliminate several forced carries.) From any set of tees, landing areas are often generous, and waste areas lining the fairways help keep balls in play.
Punta Espada’s layout moves toward, then coyly away from, and finally back to, the ocean. The 600-yard second hole, a par 5, begins with a tee shot from atop a bluff. In the distance is Punta Espada, the point that gives the course its name (espada is Spanish for sword). The next hole runs parallel to the coast and is followed by a par 3 that plays over an inlet. The course then turns inland, and does not return to the coast until the 12th and 13th holes. The 13th—a par 3 that requires an over-water tee shot—is generally acknowledged as the signature hole, although Punta Espada has many contenders.
Nicklaus’ success at Punta Espada owes much to his reliance on the site’s natural beauty and challenges. The terrain’s cacti and sand can give the appearance of a desert layout, especially on holes farther from the sea. Still, the lushness of the course’s seashore paspalum grass and the near-constant ocean vistas make Punta Espada a classic Caribbean canvas.