March 12, 2014•
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.”
WandergolfJanuary 29, 2014
January 29, 2014•
While on a family trip to Nicaragua
recently, I made sure to detour
for a night from the sustainable
farm we were staying at long
enough to play David Maclay Kidd?s newly
designed Guacalito Golf Course at Mukul
Resort along the country?s Emerald Coast . . .
twice. On the Pacific, the resort has been open
less than a year.
The picturesque 18th green that has rounded
the golf magazine circuit tops off an amazing
round of jungle golf that blends into its
environment so well that I got the feeling the
howler monkeys probably never left during
construction. Maybe they were as impressed as
I was that not one of their trees was chopped
down to create the tract. Fifteen hundred trees
were relocated safely on the property to make
the course easier for me, and the wooden beams
used in the resort?s construction phase were
expensively collected from the wakes of hurricanes
to help me sleep better at night.
Starting with number one, Genizaro (a rain
or monkeypod tree), every golf hole is named
for a native tree found on it, and the artwork
above my bed at night was weaved with reeds,
made from the leaves of Nicaraguan coffee
bean trees. The golf course and resort overflowed
with domestic pride at every turn. The
only thing that could have made each of thesegolf rounds more enjoyable would have been my
two black labs running down the fairways chasing
iguanas, while I played.
The first two holes are each par fours, and
250-yard shots down the middle of the fairway
leave you fair approach shots, the second
one being more uphill and over riskier terrain.
Architect Kidd is building a stunning home
overlooking the par three 3rd hole that, if he follows
owner Don Carlos Pellas?s tradition, will
be rentable while he is not in residence. Holes 4
and 16 are similar par five target golf holes, both
fairways crossed twice with shot-stealing scrub
ditches. The par five number 7 hole has some
kind of weird dense-air-looking visual spatial
effect that guarantees you will use too much club
on your approach shot. You will be angry about
this but will probably do it again the next day,
too. The 8th green is accessed by a cool, locally
fashioned suspension bridge that you will really
like, if your ball is on the green already.
Hole #11 is a challenging downhill tee shot
that leaves you, in my opinion, the hardest
approach shot on the course. We agreed it was
the hardest hole on the course, but it was rated as
the 14th. I almost made par the second round and
was elated. The par three 12th hole tee box was
spectacular, and that was before we were treated
to a flash visit from a troupe of howler monkeys.
The Scotland-inspired, Redan-styled par three
15th hole was punctuated with a swale-divided
Biarritz green (ha, ha, ha, ha . . . Golf Digest,
here I come). The 17th hole was my favorite,
and the 18th is a one of a kind treat, leaving you
on the surf.
Adam Scott purportedly loves this place
because he can be fairly anonymous and surf up
from the Pacific Ocean to his golf cart and play.
I scored well both rounds here. So, I would have
to say it was probably the toughest course I have
ever played. Joking aside, Kidd has made this
a beautifully playable experience I could enjoy
every morning of a vacation, however long.
The cliff-side bohio we were delivered to bygolf cart after our round was a top-five favorite for me. High ceilings, wood, balcony, whirlpool, marble, little pillows, and flat-out style showcased the unrealized tree fort of my adult dream life. The kind of place you ashamedly find yourself texting pictures of to relatives before you start unpacking your luggage.
A chauffeured golf cart ensured that we were on time for our evening trip to the five-star resort?s award-winning spa. Each of the six spa buildings that make up the relaxing compound boast ultra-unique motifs, personal post-treatment pools, outstanding smells, and extremely knowledgeable masseuses. I am nowhere near spa-educated enough to tell you just how good this one was, but I had the best foot rub I have ever had there, and it turned my wife into a noodle.
Dinner in the formal dining room was elegant. The mural-sized black-and-white photos of owner Don Carlos Pellas?s parents wedding gave us the feeling we were celebrating with the owner in delivering a legacy resort that Nicaraguans can be proud of. Ninety-five percent of the workforce hails from within two miles of the resort, and the Mukul team spent years training them to five-star standards — another testament to the owner?s interests in the future of Nicaragua.
A breakfast decided upon the evening before magically appeared on our balcony table around seven, and we struggled with how to allocate our only hour left in a much too hurried visit. My wife chose a walk on the beach, and I finished a primo cigar from the evening before and scoured the ocean horizon hoping to see a whale. A shiny black sedan from Mukul?s fleet delivered us to the airport in Managua, and another Mukul team member stayed with us until we arrived at our gate.
A short flight later and an arrival home to roughly the same time zone we left from made the experience feel like a daydream. The only reminder of the recent past was the faint smell of cigar in my clothes, and the good taste it left in my mouth.
Wandergolf will be a frequently appearing golf column in The Georgetowner that will be reporting on the golf interests of Washingtonians. If you have suggestions for columns or comments, please email them to [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto:email@example.com)
Wandergolf: Creighton Farms, Playably Hard
November 21, 2013•
With his plantation Oak Hill so nearby on Route 15, it?s a cinch that if James Monroe were alive and well today he would be playing golf at Creighton Farms. Stately oaks, mature maples, wispy cedars, and rigid pines form the 900-acre landscape that this new golf club has been painted into. The small valley of golf you are confronted with after entering the security-manned gates is warmly welcoming and serenely unbusy. With a membership base of 120 members right now, the density ratio of Creighton Farms is 7.5 acres per person: plenty of room to pound little white balls over water, to trudge through sand, or to build 10,000-square-foot homes.
The course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is home to the Creighton Farms Invitational Hosted by Jack Nicklaus, which has raised close to a million dollars for local charities. Nicklaus is currently building an 8,000-square-foot home behind the ninth green. The standard fare Nicklaus design sporting massively undulating and shelved greens may limit views from his own back deck.
Two weeks ago, the leaves were in their prime as I teed off on the first hole with a mentor friend of mine and a retiring local orthopedic surgeon who had recently joined the club. The feeling that we were three extremely lucky cows in a very small herd on large range followed us from the first tee to the last.
The rolling downhill fairway of the par four that begins the experience had me feeling somewhat confident until we got to the green. The greens at this golf course are hard. The undulations, sizes and speed of these greens render pin placement an almost moot point, but credit to the designer (and quietly disheartening to myself), I walked off each one of them thinking that they were fair. The second hole is a short par four with a deceptively finicky green shot along the banks of a small creek that immediately negates the perceived advantage of a 316-yard hole. Walking off this green is when the course description in my head went from fair to what I would now say should be written on the entrance marquee: ?Creighton Farms, Playably Hard.?
The ubiquitous sand traps on the ?short? number three par five hole are the villains that rob you of advantage next. The access to greens on this course is so limited by sand traps that it became difficult to decide where to park the golf cart for the shortest walk to the putting surface. The only time I really felt like I had been truly wronged was when my blind tee shot on hole number eight found some unknown final resting place at the other side of an incredibly thin fairway. The fact that the ?Turn Shack? used to be the clubhouse before the current 30,000-square-foot building was completed speaks volumes.
The back nine continued to impress, with the largely untouched natural hunt country outlining a superb layout. The view down the eleventh fairway was majestic, and somehow hypnotized me into going for the green in two. Indirectly, this failure may lead to me staying at the nearby Salamander Inn at some future time, as guest privileges there are one of the only ways to play this course without joining, and I need to take that shot again. It is the fish that got away. I was warned to stay below the signature green on number twelve, and once again realized I was not terminally unique as I watched my ball roll down the sloped green like a surfboard down a wave. I got stuck in quicksand on a fairway bunker of hole #14, and my golf club became the tool I needed to literally and figuratively, get out of the trap.
I very much enjoyed this round, and the company I played it with. The facilities are brandnew and want for nothing. Nine spacious and luxurious club rooms are available to members and guests for overnight stay. Planned amenities include resort pool, Har-Tru Tennis courts, and wellness center. In categories focusing on ?Best New Private Courses,? accolades for Creighton Farms can be found in Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek. While there are no shortages of prestigious golf clubs available to consider joining in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area, the expansive grounds, state of the art facilities, and top notch golf course design ensure that Creighton Farms will be a favorite of many.
Wandergolf will be a frequently appearing golf column in The Georgetowner that will be reporting on the golf interests of Washingtonians. If you have suggestions for columns or comments, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org