Punta Cana - New Golf Course, Timeless Style
This month, I headed down to Punta Cana, an elite, glamorous, privately owned resort destination in the Dominican Republic for the launch of their new oceanside golf course: Corales. I had the privilege of staying in a PUNTACANA Resort & Club Tortuga Bay villa designed by Oscar de la Renta (above, see gallery for a peek inside), and even meeting Mr. De la Renta himself at his private Punta Cana home -- which was imaginatively designed and definitely curated with a touch of genius; more on that later.
Though I'm not much of a golfer, I was immediately issued my very own golf cart at Tortuga Bay and a parking space at my villa, as well as a splendid yellow bicycle for getting around the extensive resort grounds. Daily trips to various restaurants on the property and the discovery of natural springs and hidden beaches made the experience somewhat like living on your very own small island and having full rights to explore. There's plenty to do in Punta Cana for non-golfers, from kiteboarding to Segway tours (which I did for the first time and now totally understand what the fuss is all about -- those things are fun!). There's a Six Senses spa, tennis, and a lot of great food, as well as pools and white sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. If you happen to stay at PUNTACANA Resort & Club, you'll even get special, VIP treatment at the airport, the kind where you don't have to wait in any lines, as the resort actually owns the airport.
When I attended the launch of Corales, which was hosted by various Punta Cana officials as well as Oscar de la Renta, Tom Fazio, the designer, and the president of the Dominican Republic himself (who is charming), I was more than impressed by the overwhelming beauty of the course. We sat in an intimate ocean view pavilion right on the green as everyone gave speeches and a Catholic priest blessed the course. The residents of Punta Cana wore white almost universally, which is the custom not only for public events but for every day. Another thing I noticed is that though the weather is hot, they drink red wine, even at lunch. It turns out that a light bodied red pairs quite marvelously with traditional shrimp ceviche and conch salad, both of which were rampantly available. But I digress.
Gallery: Punta Cana Resort & Club
Corales took three years to build, though Fazio commented at the launch that "Mother Nature had already designed six holes." "I never thought we'd have this many holes right here on the ocean," he continued, noting that Punta Cana was host to many unexpected pleasures, such as riding to the hotel from the airport in a golf cart. There are six holes on the oceanfront, where you are surrounded by cliffs and crashing waves. The well-renowned La Cana course nearby is reportedly more challenging, but there is no match for Corales' beauty, and the eighteenth hole was designed to be "unique and special." It completes the "El Codo Del Diablo," or "Devil's Elbow" created by the final three holes. Fazio calls it "one of the most challenging and exciting finishes I've ever created." Membership to the Corales Golf Course and Golf Club is granted exclusively for residents of the community (such as De la Renta, Julio Iglesias, Bunny Williams), but visitors are of course welcomed at a price determined by where you are staying.
After El Tee Off (yes, they called it that), we dined at Playa Blanca, a thatched-roofed restaurant right on the beach with excellent food. Having visited many Caribbean destinations, I feel confident saying that in Punta Cana, the cravings we landlocked folks get when we visit the sea are impeccably well-met. As for drinks, the best I found in the resort were at La Cana Clubhouse, easily accessed with your bicycle or golf cart. The Passion Fruit Caipirinhas at Bamboo are also commendable. And you can drink them in a romantic jacuzzi.
While I wouldn't be so brash as to post photos of the inside of Oscar de la Renta's private home, I can certainly tell you about its design. The exterior of the house is all but swallowed in green ivy and looks like something out of a fairy-tale.The home is comprised of expansive pale stone rooms decorated cozily in warm reds and browns with eclectic accents like bird cages and blue china trinkets, bringing comfort to the stark rectangular spaces and wide columns. There are tons and tons of books. In a guest bedroom, books were literally stacked all over the desk. Mr. De la Renta and his wife actually change the selection of books in their guestrooms to suit the guests they are hosting, so if you ever happen to get invited to stay at their house, be sure and take note of what books are in your room -- that's what they think of you. There were three lovely dogs in the house, one named Olive for Abigail Breslin's character in Little Miss Sunshine, and Mr. De la Renta wore fine white linen, the customary Punta Cana attire. He told me that he travels with virtually nothing; he keeps clothes appropriate to each climate in his various homes. While I didn't see the whole house, I'm certain the rest of it carried on with the madcap charm; fabulous art, strange conversation pieces, walls lined with paintings of birds and elaborate rocking chairs.
Even if you don't get to visit Oscar de la Renta's mansion or stay in one of the villas he designed, a trip to Punta Cana is likely to be unforgettably beautiful. If the natural beauty of the land -- well cared for by their Ecological Foundation -- doesn't win your heart, the fresh food and abundance of leisure activities will. I was worried one might have to be an avid golfer to truly appreciate Punta Cana, but that's simply not the case. There are many resort choices for couples and families, from Club Med to Iberostar, and there is plenty to do.
My trip to Punta Cana was sponsored by PUNTACANA Resort & Club, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.