Golf: Bear Necessities

When presented with a visually arresting landscape for a golf course, some designers respond with a byzantine layout that is more frustrating than it is thought-provoking. But in building the new Punta Espada course, which opened in November at the Cap Cana resort in the Dominican Republic, Jack Nicklaus refrained from gimmickry, relying instead on the natural beauty and challenges of the Caribbean surroundings.


Nicklaus certainly had a vivid palette with which to work at Punta Espada, the first of three courses he plans to build at this massive new resort on the Dominican’s southeastern tip. Most of the holes sit on a plain that was formed, not unlike links land in the British Isles, by centuries of shifting currents. The erosion created bluffs that provide extreme elevation changes and striking views throughout the course.


Punta Espada’s cliffs—along with its craggy coastline, sinkholes, and acres of waste bunkers—present constant hurdles. However, assuming you choose judiciously from the four available tee boxes, the course is quite manageable, which was the designer’s intent. “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 plenty tough,” says Nicklaus. “But our focus was incorporating a number of different elements into that design, not toughness for its own sake.”

One such element is the presence of waste areas that line many of the fairways and function as forgiving buffers that prevent lost balls. Nicklaus also showed discretion when planning carries from the tees. Playing from the back tee at the 13th hole, a par 3, for example, requires a 250-yard carry over crashing surf. However, Nicklaus created a generous bailout zone to the right of the green, and the forward tees, at 114 yards, demand no forced carry at all.

Other notable man-made features include an “infinity bunker” on the eighth hole (the trap’s sand extends to the beach) and bear paw–shaped bunkering on the seventh hole. Still, natural attributes predominate at Punta Espada. On the 611-yard second hole, golfers strike tee shots from atop a bluff to a landing area that narrows as the fairway turns sharply to the right, skirting an ocean inlet. Punta Espada’s namesake point (espada is Spanish for “sword”), which juts sharply into the Caribbean, forms the distant backdrop for the green.

With its cactus plantings and copious sand, the Punta Espada course at times resembles a desert layout. But thanks to the Caribbean views and fairways of seashore paspalum grass (which thrives in high-salinity environments), the scenery remains tropically colorful and lush.


Punta Espada is part of Cap Cana’s first phase of development, which encompasses 8,680 acres and will include 5,000 residential units and 500 hotel rooms. The resort’s first hotel, the Alta Bella Sanctuary, is scheduled to open in March. Eventually, Venetian-style vaporetti will transport yacht owners between the resort’s Nicklaus courses and a 500-slip marina.

Cap Cana, 800.785.2198, www.capcana.com

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