There are dozens of islands in the Caribbean with fabulous beaches, but far fewer with standout golf courses. While swaying palm trees, trade winds, ocean views and rocky inlets all make for fantastic golf, many islands have no courses, while others have just one or two. There are a few powerhouses of Caribbean golf that have world class designs, enough for an entire golf vacation, or more than enough for a fun round or two during a relaxing getaway. These are the top golf islands of the Caribbean.
The 800-pound gorilla of Caribbean golf, the DR has the most high quality golf and the region’s Number One rated course, the fabled Teeth of the Dog at the Casa de Campo resort (pictured below). The area’s “must play” and legendary designer Pete Dye’s most famous work (he lives along the course part-time), it has a staggering seven holes playing on the very edge of the sea, so close that waves spray up onto tee boxes. The signature coastal par-3s (holes 5, 7 and 16) are the best such trio in the world. But despite all this, many visitors believe that Casa de Campo’s newest Dye layout is even better. The 27-hole Dye Fore has three nines playing along dramatic cliffs set thirty stories above the breathtaking Chavon River, where Apocalypse Now was filmed.
At the Punta Cana Resort & Club, not too far down the road, there are two more exceptional courses, also taking advantage of gorgeous coastal settings. Tom Fazio, often called the greatest living designer, included half a dozen waterfront holes at his Corales deisgn, sandwiched between inland cliffs and the surf. PB Dye (Pete’s son) designed the 27-hole La Cana, perennially one of the most popular layouts on the island, with ocean views from fourteen holes and a dramatic rocky peninsula incorporated into the routing. Up the coast in the other direction is the Cap Cana resort and its waterfront Jack Nicklaus Signature design, Punta Espada. The course has hosted a PGA Champions Tour event and is consistently rated among the best in the Caribbean, with several holes playing to the sea, and one memorable green set between the crashing surf and an inland lagoon. All this makes the southeastern Dominican Republic a one-stop shop for golf travelers seeking the very best. However, one of the finest courses in the Caribbean is on the less well-known North Shore, between Playa Grande and Cabrera. Among the oldest layouts on the island, the Playa Grande course was the work of legend Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and thanks to its unique clifftop setting, with ten holes overlooking the ocean, it is known as the “Pebble Beach of the Caribbean.” This region is currently enjoying a tourism resurgence, with more non-stop international flights, and the course was just thoroughly renovated by the designer’s award-winning son, Rees Jones.
Where to stay in the Dominican Republic
This island has the second greatest array of top courses, and keeps adding more: its newest addition is the stunning Royal Isabela, on the northwest shore near Rincon. Another course that is being called the “Pebble Beach of the Caribbean,” Royal Isabela sits on towering cliffs overlooking the sea, with several holes playing across rocky inlets and over the aquatic abyss. At the same time, the island’s most famous layout, the classic Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed Dorado Beach East Course, was just extensively renovated by his other son, Robert Trent Jones II.
The East is the star, but Dorado Beach is the largest golf complex on the island and has three other notable courses, including the uniquely playable and family friendly Pineapple, with few forced carries, larger greens, shallower bunkers and a wide variety of tee lengths to choose from, ranging from over 7,000 to barely 5,000 yards. The West Course is another Robert Trent Jones, Sr. classic, famed for its four exceptional par-3s, and is currently undergoing a minor facelift. The Sugarcane course is the longest and toughest test. Other top Puerto Rican golf offerings include the widely acclaimed Robert Trent Jones II design at the Bahia Beach resort, while the island’s two existing Tom Kite courses at Coco Beach were renovated and re-launched as the Trump International Golf Club. The Trump Club declared bankruptcy last year, but the standout courses are still operating. The final top facility is the 36-hole Rio Mar, with the only course on the island by Greg Norman (River Course) and a Tom Fazio design (Ocean course) that features sea views from every single tee and reaches the surf on sixteen, consistently rated one of the best holes in the Caribbean.
Where to stay in Puerto Rico
Steeped in the English tradition of the finest country club communities, Barbados is home to several noteworthy golf courses, including two standouts at the Sandy Lane resort (pictured left), the classic parkland Country Club and the jaw dropping Green Monkey. This Tom Fazio design is one of the world’s most radical, playing into and out of a former quarry, with a design like an upside down wedding cake, holes laid out on flat shelves tiered into the sides of the crater, with several holes on the quarry floor before climbing back out. Royal Westmoreland is the most venerable country club community on the island, and its course is widely considered one of the very best designs by the prolific Robert Trent Jones II. Famed for its front nine, which combines breathtaking tropical scenery with strategic elements, it includes a four hole signature stretch through a rugged canyon-like setting of exposed limestone ledges.
The island’s newest high end offering is the private course at Apes Hill, mostly limited to owners and home renters, though some outside play is allowed. The seven year old design is set in the island’s interior, a thousand feet above sea level, a much different environment of lush green fairways and trees incorporating coral stone quarries, wooded ravines and pristine lakes. Designed to fit its natural surroundings, with a strong emphasis on environmental and wildlife preservation, Apes Hill is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, an honor bestowed on less than 2% of all golf courses in the world.
Where to stay in Barbados
Jamaica has some very solid golf courses, though the associated resorts have been through many confusing rebrandings over the years. The highlight is Rose Hall, a famous and historic sugar plantation whose main house (said to be haunted) is one of the island’s top tourist sites. The plantation also has two excellent golf courses, the White Witch, which plays along the shore, and Cinnamon Hill, which runs from inland mountains down to the coast, offering great views along the way, as well as relics of the former planation, such as the ruins of sugar mills.
The island’s best golf is clustered in the Montego Bay region, and right around Rose Hall are Tryall and Half Moon (pictured right), both communities with top golf courses. One of the best walking courses in the Caribbean, the Half Moon Golf Course is also among the oldest, a classic 1964 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design on the site of a 17th century estate, with some ruins still visible. Named Jamaica’s Best Golf Resort by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, the course was superbly modernized by Jones’ protege Roger Rulewich in 2005. The Tryall Club is another design built through a 17th century sugar plantation, with ample use of the coastline and ocean views. The course has been extensively rebuilt and modernized with state of the art irrigation and the addition of another ocean-side hole, the fourth, to up the wow factor. Tryall has hosted the prestigious Johnnie Walker Championship and has challenged the likes of Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.
Where to stay in Jamaica