Above: If it wasn't for the warm weather you would think you were on a Scottish/Irish links.
Driving through the Punta Cana estate takes me back to when I was here back in late 2008. I was taken round the Tom Fazio-designed course, but at that time the grass had just been seeded. Those memories trigger my excitement as we turn up the road and past the practice ground on my left, which is probably where you will be dropped off. But first I have a few people to meet, and as Iím shaking hands I can see the course just behind the pro shop Ė itís just tugging at me.
I jump in the buggy with my caddie and itís down to the well-appointed practice ground to loosen up, then itís off to the first tee. Now, I have to say that if you miss this fairway you should head back down to the range! Itís wide and even from the back tees at 433-yards, itís a nice opening hole Ė the sea is not in full view but you get some tantalising glimpses, and when the wind blows I am sure you will be able to feel it.
The second is the first of the four great par 3s, and there really isnít a weak one on the course, with water coming into play on one and the sea on two. With 239 yards between me and the pin this is no pushover, playing to a raised green protected by five deep bunkers and a waste area that runs all the way along the right hand side.
The third is a great hole and there are two greens here, one on a peninsula in the lake and one that plays uphill. Itís a great driving hole and no matter what green is in play, I think you will very much enjoy this hole. The next run consists entirely of great golf holes, but itís the par 5 7th that takes you to the sea and the dramatic finish to the front nine.
If you get a good drive away on the 515-yard 7th youíll be able to have a go at the green, but the special element is that walk up as the sea comes into sight. With the breeze in your face, the salty sea air fresh and crisp, the view will make your heart sing. Apart from my caddie there is no one in sight, and as I stroll up the fairway to the green I feel at peace. I just wish I could bottle that moment so you could breath the tranquility.
Standing on the 8th tee with the waves crashing on the rocks to your left Ė depending on which one of the five tee options you have selected Ė there is more than 200 yards of rocks and sea to carry to reach the fairway. As I walk up to my second shot I see I have another carry over the sea if I chase the flag; itís a great hole, the crescendo to the back nine Ė again depending on which tee option you have chosen to play from Ė is a 204-yard par 3 over a sea inlet to a green that is 46-yards wide. Stunning/great/awesome/beautiful Ė Iíll let you choose your own adjective once youíve played it.
The back nine opens with a tough 496-yard par 4 that takes you back inland, and the par 3, 11th, which is played over water is, I think, one of the toughest par 3s you will play. It is 265 yards from the back tee to a green that is 38 yards deep and has a nice big step running across it, four bunkers and slopes from back to front, and more complexes to it than my girlfriend on valium. I can only wish you good luck.
The next run of holes are all great, and there really isnít one designed just to get you somewhere and fitted in for the sake of it. However, the piece de resistance to the back nine is known as the ďDevilís ElbowĒ, and as I step on to the tee at the 461-yard 16th with the sea back in view, itís time to see what the devil can throw at me. With the wind up and blowing in my face I know I am in for a tough test, and after a good drive I am still hitting a good 4-iron into the green, but I come off it slightly and that was all the invitation this wind needed, exaggerating the spin on the ball. I miss the green right and suddenly Iím in some horrid deep ****! A hack, a chip and a holed 10-footer later, I drag my tail to the final par 3 on the course. The warm Caribbean wind is still whipping into my face and off to my right, and at 214 yards I decide to bring out my own weapon to take on this section of the Devilís Elbow. With righteous justice I smash my 2-iron to 3-foot and hole the putt; I feel like Chi Chi Rodriguez as I sheath my putter and stride off to the 18th in buoyant mood to continue my personal battle.
But the Devil has a trick up his sleeve at 501 yards dogleg right, with the sea all down the right and as much risk and reward as you want to take on. But this is no par 5 Ė oh no, Beelzebub has decided itís a par 4!! After I smash my drive I still have 230 yards to go into the wind and come up just short with my 3-wood. I chip up and lip out with my putt. I am calling it quits Ė Satan wins. That was no par 4 at that length and into that wind, and I havenít waited six years to be conquered by a technicality.
Corales has everything, and on a day like today, with some of the low yellow flowering bushes and overcast skies, you really could be playing a links course in Scotland when you play along the Caribbean sea holes Ė well, apart from the manicuring of the course, and the warm breeze instead of the biting cold of the North Sea. Itís a must-play course, and there really isnít a weak hole on the track. I know that like me you will love the battle, so good luck in yours.
Heading back to the sea at the par 5, 7th hole
First of four great par 3s 2ndThe 8th green with its inletLooking back down the 11th
Overview of some of the lake side holes