The Caribbean conjures thoughts of sugar-white beaches, seaside breezes, and warm temperatures. But it's only in recent years that the islands have become a tropical tour de force in terms of golf. Here are five destinations to get you planning your escape.
Tierra del Sol ($99-$159; 866-978-5158, tierradelsol.com) is the championship track here. Designed in 1995 by Robert Trent Jones Jr. with Kyle Phillips, the 6,811-yard Tierra del Sol embraces four distinct natural environments—dunes, cacti, stone and beach—on the breezy northwestern tip of the island. With seaviews aplenty, the more dramatic back nine has a number of risk/reward beauties (like the par-5 14th), not to mention goats that roam the rocky terrain.
Seasoned golf lovers will recall that a few decades back the storied Tryall Club ($100-$175; 800-238-5290, tryallclub.com) hosted the Johnnie Walker World Championship, where the caddies carried golf bags on their heads. But this mountainous island's one can't-miss course is the White Witch ($99-$185; 876-684-0174, ritzcarlton.com), an 11-year-old Robert Von Hagge design affiliated with the Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, Rose Hall, a 10-minute shuttle ride away. Par is a tricky task given the 6,859-yard ravine-filled layout's formidable challenges. But sea views from 16 holes ease the pain.
Golf has exploded in the Dominican, thanks to new stunners such as Cap Cana's Punta Espada course ($135-$375; 809-227-2262, capcana.com), a 2006 Jack Nicklaus design, and the Corales Golf Course at Punta Cana Resort & Club ($195-$300; 888-442-2262, puntacana.com), a clifftop Tom Fazio creation.
But all golf talk in the D.R. begins with Casa de Campo and its Pete Dye–designed Teeth of the Dog course ($110-$230; 800-877-3643, casadecampo.com.do). Ranked No. 47 in our 2011 Top 100 in the World, the Dog celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The Links, Dye's second course at the property, is a worthy if less spectacular alternative. The resort's newest layout, Dye Fore, opened in 2003 with camera-worthy vistas for much of its journey.
Curaçao, located off the northeast coast of Venezuela, was long forsaken by visitors for better diving and beaches on other islands. The Pete Dye-designed Old Quarry ($125-$150; 011-599-9-840-5550, santabarbaraplantation.com), which opened last year as part of the island's first full-fledged resort within the Santa Barbara Plantation, is changing that. Less penal than most Dye offerings (steady winds take their toll, however), the 6,920-yard layout serves up spectacular views at many turns, which help distract you from the long drives between some holes.
ST. KITTS & NEVIS
The head turners at Marriott Royal St. Kitts Golf Club ($125-$145; 866-785-4653; royalstkittsgolfclub.com) are the par-3 15th (where bunkers are shaped to emulate ocean waves), the 383-yard par-4 16th, and the 404-yard par-4 17th; the latter pair bring the Atlantic into play.
For a completely different golf experience, take the ferry over to Nevis for a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design at the Four Seasons Nevis (869-469-1111; $195-$205; fourseasons.com/nevis). The lush layout, which is set in a rainforest, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
(Photo: Ritz Carlton Golf and Spa Resort)