JUAN DOLIO, Dominican Republic -- When Guavaberry Golf and Country Club opened last year only 40 miles from the capital city of Santo Domingo and 20 minutes from Las Americas Airport, it was a welcome addition to the tourism industry here on this beautiful West Indies island nation where Columbus landed in 1492 and Ponce de León, searching for new lands for Spain, resided.
Long known for nearby San Pedro de Macoris and its production of major-league baseball players such as Sammy Sosa, George Bell, Alfonso Soriano, Rico Carty, Joaquin Andújar and Pedro Guerrero -- golf has long been an afterthought.
All that may be changing. In a land bountiful with natural beauty and great athletes, a modest spurt of new golf courses are now open to the public in the Dominican Republic.
Could there be a Tiger Rodriquez hitting his first practice shots on the range at Guavaberry?
"It could happen," said Henry Butler, Jr., Guavaberry's executive director, and someone who has studied the history of golf in the D.R.
Butler would like nothing more than to see the island's junior program explode right here on Guavaberry's practice facilities and start producing some major-league golfers.
"My father was a national champion here back in 1939 and 1940 -- all the result of my grandfather winning a set of golf clubs in a raffle," Butler said, "but in those days golf was just for the very wealthy."
With some help from the elder Butlers, Bobby Jones actually visited the D.R. in 1930 and Gene Sarazen played a 1940 exhibition round, but for years and years the only golf game on the southern coast of this friendly, large Caribbean republic was the private Santo Domingo Country Club, which to this day is a tough tee-time to acquire.
"Santo Domingo Country Club ruled for about 80 years," said Tomás Hungría, Guavaberry's general manager. "So you can bet we are excited to be the closest, best golf course to the capital city. There are more than 3,000 hotel beds in the area, the beach, a safe environment, stable politics and we are only two hours or less from Miami. We think we have positioned ourselves to be No. 1 in the entire Caribbean."
There's also Coral Resorts, owner and operator of Guavaberry, which is a collection of four, 4-star all-inclusive resorts in Dominican Republic. Ten minutes from the golf course is the 548-room Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton, which offers golf packages and the all-inclusive feature popular in Latin America that includes food, drinks, recreation and entertainment.
The 7,156-yard, par-72 Gary Player signature course with Warren Henderson as senior architect, is big and wide built along gently sloping terrain and traverses some dramatic coral-rock formations.
"Most people think it's a friendly course tee-to-green, but its gets challenging around the greens," said Butler. "The greens are new and still pretty firm, they are gently rolling and some are surrounded by huge waste bunkers. And the entire property is scattered with more than 700 corozo palm trees, which are native only to this area."
A few guavaberry trees remain, which is a fruit that produces a liqueur with a unique woody, fruity taste.
"When Mr. Player was here for the grand opening he said the course is long enough to test Tiger Woods, but from the right tees it is player-friendly," Hungría added.
The signature hole is No. 13, a 146-yard par-3 that reminds you of an old limestone quarry, complete with waterfall and two greens. Water cascades off a manufactured concrete rock wall downward at a rate of 2,000 gallons a minute. Just two holes later the par-3 15th, at 155 yards, makes you pinpoint a stroke to an island green surrounded by sand and a three-acre pond.
Conclude your round with one of the most challenging holes in the Caribbean -- a par-4 monster of 466 yards. Fire it down the middle and avoid the huge bed of coral rocks to the right. Geologists say this rock pile was pushed off the ocean floor about 200,000 years ago, but it won't take you more than a minute to realize this makes the hole a hard par and easy bogey. The green is tucked to the right of the rocks and there are two large waste bunkers nestled inside the rock pile to catch errant shots.
Guavaberry Golf and Country Club offers several types of Membership Programs for both the villa homeowners and non-resident, including unlimited golf year round at a preferred, discounted rate. Membership also includes preferred rates at all other recreational facilities such as the Equestrian Center, the Tennis Center, the Gym and the Beach Club, as well as food and beverage outlets. Membership initiation fees starts at $4,000.
The Club House at Guavaberry features a gourmet restaurant, terrace bar, piano bar, gym room, locker rooms, club storage area, meeting rooms and pool, as well as golf pro shop, hole 19th snack bar and golf academy classroom. Renowned Dominican architect Antonio Casasnovas designed the three-level building. The Pro Shop features logo golf clothing and it is open year round.
Guavaberry Golf & Country Club
KM 55, Autovia Del Este
Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic
Telephone: (809) 333-GOLF.
Green Fees: $78, includes cart. Caddies $20.
Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton Golf Package:
The "Par in the DR" golf package includes three or four nights accommodations at Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton with a free room upgrade, daily transfers to and from Guavaberry Golf and Country Club, daily rounds of golf with cart, unlimited meals, national drinks and snacks, land and water sports, daily use of gym, sauna and Jacuzzi, one complimentary massage, nightly live entertainment, discotheque, sports bar, tennis, swimming pools, mini-golf, kid's club with swimming pool, aerobics and Latin dance classes, all taxes, tips and service charges.
Check web site for current rates. To make a reservation, golfers can call their favorite travel planner or Coral Resorts at (800) 847-0291, (809) 526-2244 or log on to www.coralhotels.com. E-Mail: email@example.com.
Where to dine at the resort:
Try the Ambar Buffet Restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The variety of food will make you dizzy. Also, try El Charro for Mexican food and El Fogon for Caribbean cuisine. The Caribbean Grill Restaurant serves an all-you-can-eat menu of Caribbean specialties.
Par 3's: 3.8
Par 4's: 3.7
Par 5's: 3.7
Practice Facilities: 4
Club House/Pro Shop: 4
Pace of Play: 4
Overall Rating: 3.8
April 16, 2003
David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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