Seven hours, three airports, two flights, and a quick shuttle ride after closing my garage in the pre-sunrise doldrums of a grey, tree-bare, and still-cold Midwest morning, I was closely tracking a smiling bellman down the hallway at The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club while sipping on a lemon, mint, and honey island-concoction en route to an ocean-view guestroom.
Following an early wakeup call and full day of air travel, the tropical elixir hit all the right notes in all the right ways, equal parts flavorful as it was wildly refreshing. So delicious was said beverage that, prior to leaving the check-in counter for mi casa for the next six nights, other sampling lobbygoers repeatedly wondered aloud, “Why is this soooo good?” A fair question indeed, especially given its alcohol-free status.
By the time we reached my contemporary fourth-floor abode, I had unapologetically guzzled my drink in celebration of the fortysomething-degree temperature jump that my sun-seeking skin had accomplished since leaving the house in a puffy winter coat that morning, where my breath could be seen in the brusque March air. That’s when the bellman, after offloading my suitcase and golf clubs, unveiled the encore of my arrival as he peeled the curtains back and opened the balcony’s sliding door.
“Oh wow!” we exclaimed in unison as if reading from a script. The shade of my blue eyes instantly fell flat when set against the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic’s Photoshop-blue waters. Suddenly, I felt like Renée Zellweger in the famous Jerry Maguire scene when Tom Cruise unexpectedly returns at the end: “You had me at hello.” Given my Latin American coordinates and overwhelming desire for a multi-day Vitamin D bender, the view from my perch had me at “hola.”
Without delay, I kicked off my shoes and stripped my socks, resting every muscle of my fatigued body in a slouched position on the terrace lounge chair. The bellman, whose name drifted away during my prolonged Caribbean trance, read the room perfectly and quietly slipped out the door, sensing my awe and gratitude for this long-awaited greeting two time zones away. For the next hour, I watched kiteboarders ride the offshore surf just beyond the resort’s Tahiti-esque overwater gazebo, reached by a boardwalk that juts out from an idyllic snow-white beach. Overhead, thatch palms deejayed nature’s soundtrack, swaying in the breeze as I floated between awake and asleep.
These are the moments, inert and simple, that have long kept (and will forever keep) the Caribbean high on my “Return To” list. I’ve swam and lounged beachside in the Bahamas, Dominica, Anguilla, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Mexico to name a few, all impressive and expressive with their varying hues of blue, but I’d soon come to discover—and little did I know—that Punta Cana’s resplendent turquoise tinge would wind up topping them all.
It wouldn’t be all R&R on my first voyage to the Dominican Republic, however, as I had timed my visit with the Corales Puntacana Championship, an opposite-field PGA Tour event hosted by Corales Golf Club since 2018. For four days, I laid greenside and watched some of the best golfers on the planet duke it out in paradise for some hard-earned silverware and much-needed FedEx Cup points. When it was all said and done on late Sunday afternoon, Englishman Matt Wallace earned his first PGA Tour trophy with a one-shot victory over rising Danish star Nicolai Højgaard.
The Dominican has long been awash with first-class tracks—Casa de Campo’s “Teeth of the Dog” and Punta Espada are perennial ‘Top 100 Courses You Can Play’ in the world. Pound for pound, the island is easily the foremost golf destination in the entire Caribbean. And while Casa and Punta swallow most of the critic’s attention for their challenge and views, Corales Golf Club lured the PGA Tour, and, as I soon learned, was the preferred daily play for travelers and numerous Dominican golfers I spoke to. Come Monday, the morning after the pros jetted home, I took a lap around the annual PGA Tour stop—peak conditions, Sunday pin positions, and all.
Corales, like many a renowned track, has a famed three-hole challenge of its own: El Codo Del Diablo, or “The Devil’s Elbow.” What the Snake Pit is to Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, Amen Corner is to Augusta National, the Bear Trap is to PGA National, and the Green Mile is to Quail Hollow, the Devil’s Elbow is to Corales. It instantly became my choice nickname of the bunch, never mind saying it in Spanish, a debate-ending mic drop.
Players aren’t introduced to Satan’s Stretch until the closing three holes, each with oceanside real estate. Sixteen is a rather straightforward par-4 that plays directly into the prevailing winds. Seventeen, a 147-yard par-3 on the water, feels like a Scottish one-shotter went on holiday to the Caribbean. Don’t be fooled by its short length as the cross-breeze and crashing sea mist—sure to dampen your face at some point on the tee box—is the bewitching equalizer. To date, the hole cracks my ‘Top 10 Par-3’s in the World’ list.
And lastly, the eponymous 18th hole, which I opted to play from the tips because “When on a PGA Tour course in the Dominican,” right? Beautiful as it is, the cove-carrying tee shot, named for Lucifer’s anatomy, tops the intimidation charts. The bolder the line taken, the shorter the approach shot. Safer the line, longer approach. In other words, it rewards the fearless golfer. My game might be more reckless than fearless, but I play how I play how I play. After narrowly covering the dogleg right’s cove, I narrowly covered the fairway bunker’s lip on my second shot from 205 yards out. Following the greenside flop shot of my life… from a swale… with a downhill lie… over a ridge… to a short-sided flagstick… to three feet, par from the professional tees (a 481-yard par-4!) was all but certain. Until I cooked my putt over the hole’s right edge, that is.
At Corales, what’s lost amidst the greatness of the Devil’s Elbow is Tom Fazio’s epic three-hole stretch to close out the front nine. In my humble opinion, there’s no equal on the course to the double cove-carrying eighth hole, one of the best drone photographs in the game of golf. There, I watched multiple pros take drops on the short-but-strategic par-4 after misgauging the breezy layup off the tee. My Haitian caddie gave me two good numbers and I capitalized with a couple of nice swings and a birdie, or “Pajarito!” as he yells in Spanish after watching my ball disappear.
Like Corales, The Westin is part of the lush 15,000-acre Puntacana Resort & Club. Golf is certainly one of its shiniest amenities, but there is plenty to do away from the course.
Westin guests would be remiss to not visit Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve, a surreal 1,500-acre subtropical reserve a short shuttle ride away from the hotel. Twelve freshwater lagoons fed by an underground river highlight the oasis named by the Taino Indians. Before I jumped off the wooden platform into the 26-foot deep Guama Pool (this is the one you should swim in), a glittering-green Hispaniolan Mango hummingbird perched in the foliage feet above me as if to lifeguard my impending cannon ball.
Across the street at the Sustainability Center, guests can take a guided tour to learn about coral reef restoration, see an endemic rhinoceros iguana, discover the world of Puntacana Forest Honey at the on-site apiary, walk through the fruit and vegetable garden, and spot a nesting pair of Ridgway’s Hawks, critically endangered raptors endemic to the Dominican Republic.
When you’ve had your fill of adventure, a treatment at the Six Senses Spa, located at La Cana Golf & Beach Club—Puntacana Resort & Club’s other beachside golf course—is an indoor oasis. My massage therapist, Daniela, opened and closed my treatment with a Tibetan singing bowl. In between, her hands of gold worked out some overly ripe kinks in my neck, elbow, and back.
Each of The Westin’s 200 rooms will get a modern refresh to be completed no later than September of this year. Its restaurants, Brassa and Anani, will also be made over. Two new themed dining options will be unveiled in the coming months just as well, a steakhouse and a Pan-Asian concept helmed by Chef Bryan Emperor, who cut his teeth in kitchens like Nobu. Adding to the ambience is a fish-filled cenote that sits just outside the soon-to-be restaurant’s front door.
Before heading back to the mainland, where highs of 83 and lows of 74 only happen in the movies, I took a long dip in the clear blue ocean on my final morning. On my way to checking out, I nabbed one of the Dominican’s finest stogies for my grandpa at the hotel’s Don Queco Cigar Bar, just off its newly renovated lobby.
No matter the season (or reason), a voyage to the Caribbean is balm for the soul. From its beaches to its golf, adventure to its luxury, The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club has the perfect dose of it all.