Corales Golf Club overwhelms the senses

No. 8 at Corales Golf Club

No. 8 at Corales Golf Club

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic – Whether it’s the quality of the light, the effect of the sea or simply the sharpness of the design, there’s something about Corales Golf Club that is just overwhelming.

Of course, golf is always fascinating when played on land that touches the sea. Here on the eastern shore, the game is additionally blessed by tropical warmth and the stark crystalline blue that’s tossed back and forth between the sky and the Caribbean Sea.

The same heat in a desert climate would be searing and oppressive because there the dominant tones are flash white, red and ocher. But along this coast the sensory experience leans toward the cooler side of the color wheel. Instead of shimmering in some torpid heat, shapes assume a steely coherence and lucidity that is calming, peaceful and stable.

It takes a designer’s eye to plan all of this, and the considerable virtue of Corales is that the team involved course architects, artists and visionaries. Tom Fazio and his associate Tom Marzolf did the golf course, but the setting – the palette of plant materials and its juxtaposition of turf against rocky shoreline – was the deliberate choice of the principals of the 15,000-acre Punta Cana Resort. That includes fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, singer Julio Iglesias, pioneering Dominican land planner Frank Rainieri and former labor attorney Theodore Kheel.

Together, they have exercised a strong aesthetic influence, one that’s highlighted by Fazio’s simple-yet elegant Rorschach routing. It allows both nines to conclude with dramatic waterfront holes, none more enticing and strategic than the dogleg-right, par-4 18th, whose fairway whips around the Bay of Corales. Blowholes eroded through the rocky shoreline add the occasional blast of saltwater to the already theatrical tee shot.

Think of Corales as “blue fairways.” Or better yet, as a sensuous walk along the boundaries of two ecologies. On one side, the cerulean sea, the wind and the ancient coral shoreline. On the other, a plush green Paspalum carpet that overlays what had been flat, barren caliche. The design works by harnessing aquamarine tones and enabling them to play off one another. The effect is highlighted by a vast natural horizon line that extends to include sky and sea, and gives the feel of playing golf along the top of open water.

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Rater’s notebook: Corales Golf Club, Punta Cana Resort and Club

1.) Ease and intimacy of routing: 8

Symmetrical routing of nines, easily walked despite two long hikes between holes and the occasional dislocation created by alternate greens on Nos. 3 and 15 and the alternate tee on No. 17.

2.) Quality of feature shaping: 8

Shapers moved a lot of earth – 1.2 million cubic yards – giving form to the place. Features are sharply edged and well-defined, thanks to lucid form and contrasting but complementary plant textures. Inland holes on back nine, however, are anomalously mushy; the 12th green is too narrow and convexed; the 13th green is artificially elevated when it should be at ground level near a beautiful lake behind it; and the 14th hole sags the entire way.

3.) Natural setting and overall land plan: 9

The 400-acre course envelope is spacious, with 120 acres of fairway and only 124 estate-sized lots (2.5 acres-plus) that are set back from hole corridors and sight lines. A lovely little pillbox of a clubhouse sets the placid tone for a private course that does only 40 rounds per day.

4.) Interest of greens and surrounds: 8

Half the greens are at natural grade and roll off gently; the rest are built up diagonally and offer distinct but not extreme contours and falloffs. Even with indigenous winds, some part of the surface always is accessible on the ground.

5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7

One decidedly short par 3 would be a nice change of pace. But with water (and coastal wind) in play on two and a pair of really long inland holes offering big targets and runups, there’s still plenty of variance.

6.) Variety and memorability of par 4s: 9

Big, sprawling fairway bunkers are in play from whichever tees you (properly) play. Good mix of approach shots played at grade level versus those that have to be flown boldly to perched targets. Lots of drama in the three seaside greens, none more heart-stopping than the shot to the infinity-edge 16th, where you just play for deep sky and hope it hits land.

7.) Variety and memorability of par 5s: 6

Best of the lot is the 504-yard seventh, which is unbunkered at the green and accessible in two when not played into a prevailing head wind from the sea.

8.) Basic conditioning: 9

Flawless Paspalum Supreme bedecks the course. Superintendent Julio Diaz and his staff are helped by fairways with 20 inches of sand capping to ensure good drainage and firmness on most of the course, and by extensive irrigation coverage – 3,147 sprinkler heads – that draws upon recycled water.

9.) Tree and landscape management: 9

Thousands of coconut palms have been planted – an ideal tree, because it’s light enough to sway (and thus embody the wind) without its canopy dominating the land or obscuring the sea and sky.

10.) “Walk in the park” test: 10

It’s the kind of place where you slow down during the back nine out of realization that the round is ending and you want to prolong the splendor.

Overall (not cumulative): 8

The result is a fanciful collaboration of color, texture and natural landforms in a light-saturated Impressionist idiom that is unlike anything else in the Caribbean.

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• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

www.puntacana.com; 809-959-4653, 888-442-2262

• Membership by invitation only

• Limited play available to guests via Punta Cana Resort

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