Being the same age as former Dominican-born baseball star Sammy Sosa, I found it a bit painful that my knowledge concerning the Dominican Republic -- largely derived from reading cigar bands -- was tripled solely by gawking out the airplane window on the way there.
Four days at the brand-new Westin Puntacana were an experiential windfall for me. With no shame, I admit, I ended up doing the retirement reevaluation thing, where you drive around with a realtor. A low-density community, knockout ceviche and ocean spray drifting over tee boxes from waves slamming into the island’s perimeter made this winter golf getaway something special.
La Cana Golf Club comprises 27 of the 45 resort holes, in three separate P.B. Dye-designed nine-hole tracts: Arrecife, Hacienda and Tortuga. Hibiscus hedges and Bougainvillea abound. Arrecife and Tortuga boast six holes along the gently frothing, splotchy blue Caribbean waters. Possibly having to yield your ball flight to kite surfers on Arrecife’s trifecta of ocean holes to finish the nine is a mesmerizing reality.
Tortuga’s ocean introduction by way of an absolutely beautiful par five #4 hole is followed up by a wickedly provocative par three over the ocean, easily my favorite hole at La Cana. The curvy and seductive shoreline cuts into just a little more than half of the approach and made me just a little uncomfortable. I blame the mental images of tottering seesaws, curve balls that don’t break and the recessionary pull of the ocean on my nine iron for the resulting ball theft. Unapologetically, the ocean belched away, hungry for more.
The implanted grassy knolls and lumpy, wide fairways of the newly designed Hacienda course could have been transported from the northwestern United States, and complemented the other nines well. The La Cana clubhouse had a great evening view and was completely relaxing. If I had found that it wasn’t, I could have walked down one flight of steps for any number of types of massages designed for everyone from golfers to grandmothers, if they were not already both.
Corales golf course was a consummately manicured, expansive piece of unpopulated greenery, bordered by limestone bluffs, and featured massive catcher’s-mitt-shaped Fazio trademark sand traps. Stretched to 7,650 yards at the tips, with forward tees of 5,123 yards, this course proves a challenge for any level golfer. We enjoyed it so much that we played it twice in a row. We had to, because while approaching the ocean on the par five hole #7, standing on the tee box and fairway at #8, playing the entire 9th hole and all the way through the “Devil’s Elbow” three finishing holes, we took more shots with cameras than with clubs. The humbly sized clubhouse alone atop the bluffs brought to mind a ranger station at a national park -- a reminder that the real show is the venue that nature lets us borrow for a little while to play in.
From course management to cuisine, sustainability is a popular theme at Puntacana. The resort is on the forefront of irrigation techniques that utilize ocean water and fertilization methods that highlight the use of worm scat. That’s right! Turns out all those fishing worms you found in dark, rich soil didn’t migrate there, they were the reason it was there. A 1,500-acre ecological park that boasts 12 swimmable, freshwater lagoons and iguana habitat (not on the same acre) amongst a network of walking trails are good for eco-friendly exercise.
Without being too noticeably available, there was no shortage of anything that I could think of doing on vacation. Just the fishing and food options launched me into a mini panic attack halfway through my second day there, when I realized how much I would leave untouched on my visit.
The staff at the Westin, and at every other establishment within the resort, could not have been more welcoming without being intrusive. My room was right on the beach. I couldn’t wait to throw open the double doors each morning and watch the sun burn off the predawn gusts of warm wind rustling through the palm trees, leaving the tapered tips of their long-legged leaves tap dancing in the air.
Upon learning I was from Georgetown, the realtor who was unwittingly co-authoring the future of my daydreams, called local resort homeowners from Georgetown. A short time later, I was drinking lemonade in their backyard, which, by the way, is a few driveways away from P.B. Dye’s Puntacana house. Longtime Georgetown residents Sacha Knob and Anthony Van Eych couldn’t say enough about the merits of raising their son in Puntacana, exposing him to “a population base that really is only 20 or 30 percent American, with representation from all over the world.” With business partners like Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias living at Puntacana, the resort’s pull is far-reaching but manages to maintain its rudimentary charm.
Talk of expanding the airport owned by the resort, which already flies directly to more than 98 cities worldwide, leaves the future development of Puntacana yet to be defined, although wall murals all over the resort promote the ownership’s desire for responsible growth over time. On talking over my recent trip to the Dominican Republic with my father, who is thinking of hosting a family get-together there, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud about the exploitation of the resort’s future potential. He summed this up perfectly by replying: “Well, it can’t all happen this year. So, let’s go there for Thanksgiving.”