Review: Hard Rock Golf Club at Cana Bay

Course Name: Hard Rock Golf Club at Cana Bay

Designer: Jack Nicklaus (2010)

Location: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

History: The Jack Nicklaus-designed Cana Bay opened for play in March, 2010 and is attached to the Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana.

Conditions: 8/10, The conditions at Cana Bay are strong, with lush fairways and teeboxes surrounded by dense Dominican jungle. These greens are very fast and there are two different kinds of sand on the course – beautiful white sand in the greenside bunkers and waste bunkers full of darker, firmer sand.

Value: 2/10, Cana Bay is way overpriced at $200 USD, but it’s resort golf at a casino in the Caribbean – I doubt price will stop many people on vacation here.

Scorecard:

Tee             Par         Yardage         Rating           Slope

Black         72           7253                76.1               135

Blue          72           6751                73.7               134

White        72           6247               71.1               122

Red            72           5368                72.1               121

Hole Descriptions: Jack Nicklaus designed his fair share of courses in the Southeastern U.S., and Cana Bay feels very similar to your typical “Florida golf.” These courses are found on flat terrain and characterized by lush Bermuda grass, many bunkers, and lots of water. I often feel Nicklaus the architect is a bit too penal with bunkers and hazards, and Cana Bay is certainly a difficult course. While the fairways are generous, any misfire will be lost to a water hazard, or worse – dense Dominican jungle where you’re more likely to find a snake than your ball. Overall, this is a fun resort course that will challenge good players and keep the lesser golfer engaged with strong variety and visuals.

Nicklaus likes to begin his courses with a “practice” hole and the opener at Cana Bay can accurately be described as one. At 363 yards, this slight dogleg right features a wide fairway after a mild forced carry over a waste bunker. At 250 yards, bushes encroach on the right and the hole doglegs. Bunkers line the left fairway at 310 yards and two guard the green left and long. While many golfers will find this green in regulation, it is one of the most undulating and difficult on the course.

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The gentle par 4 1st

At 501 yards, the par 5 2nd is another short, gettable hole. This hole plays straight and narrow the entire way with thick jungle lining both sides and a bunker on the right at 200 yards. Additional bunkers line the left 200 and 150 yards from the green. As good short par fives should, this green is well-protected by numerous bunkers on either side and a particularly nasty one about 40 yards short in the middle of the fairway. This green is two-tiered and slopes back-to-front.

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The par 5 2nd
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Approach at 2

The 405 yard 3rd hole is a good example of unnecessary bunkering. This is a straightaway, relatively uneventful par 4 lined by jungle on both sides. This hole is most notable for a tiny pot bunker in the center of the fairway at 240 yards, but the fairway is simply not wide enough for a centerline bunker players can navigate around. A crossbunker would’ve been a good alternative, and unfortunately this isn’t the last midline bunker at Cana Bay. This green runs back-to-front and is guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 3rd

The 4th hole is one of the most memorable holes at Cana Bay as an all-carry 175 yard par 3 over water to a narrow back-to-front sloped green. Deep bunkers guard either side, and the safe miss is short right.

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The beautiful par 3 4th

There are a few too many straightaway par fours at Cana Bay like the 396 yard par 4 5th. There’s nothing wrong with these holes but they do get a bit repetitive. This hole features a wide, bunkerless fairway and a well-bunkered green with a giant swale running horizontally through the middle.

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The wide-open par 4 5th

At 548 yards, the par 5 6th is the longest hole at Cana Bay. This hole features some more unusual fairway bunkering with bunkers running diagonally left-to-right at 220, 235, and 265 yards, respectively. I have no problem with the corner bunkers, but the one in the middle leaves the golfer relatively few options on an already long hole. This lay-up/approach is one of the best on the course as a giant waste bunker occludes the left fairway for the final 140 yards, forcing golfers right. An undulating green is dotted by bunkers short, right, and long.

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Why more unnecessary bunkers in the middle of the fairway?

The 7th is a good short par 4 reachable for many golfers at just 288 yards. This hole plays straightaway and slightly uphill to an undulating and well-guarded green. Deep greenside bunkers line just short and long, but the most devastating bunkers are a pair in the middle of the fairway about 45 yards short. These appear closer to the green than they actually are from the teebox and may lead the golfer to misclub.

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The well-protected 7th green

The par threes are a strength at Cana Bay continuing with the beastly 220 yard 8th. Playing over bushes, this hole provides lots of bailout room, but beware of difficult bunkers short left and right and a collection area to the right.

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Today, my cousin would probably use a 7-iron here…

Officially 420 yards on the scorecard, the par 4 9th is a strong Cape hole and one of my favorites on the course. This hole plays as a giant dogleg right around water to a generous fairway that narrows the further you hit it. Bunkers at 200 yards on the right and 250 and 280 yards on the left are common destinations. Depending on how far you lay-up off the tee, this approach may also play over water to a wide, shallow green lined by two bunkers short and long.

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The green is only about 350 yards from the teebox
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The approach at 9

The 10th hole is another excellent par 3 that makes great use of the sandy terrain, evoking almost Pine Valley-esque vibes. At 171 yards, this hole plays over a waste bunker for the first 110 yards towards a tiny green sandwiched between two bunkers. This is a great hole, but I think it’d be even better if the waste bunker extended all the way to the green.

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The par 3 10th

At 546 yards, the par 5 11th plays basically as a dogleg right version of the similar 6th. This long hole features a wide fairway with a waste bunker on the right at 200 yards and two pot bunkers at 260 yards and 305 yards. Another giant waste bunker occupies the final 180 yards on the right, leaving only a sliver of fairway to the left for a lay-up. Those who attempt to reach in two will need a heroic carry over this bunker to a two-tiered green surrounded by two bunkers.

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The par 5 11th is very generous off the tee

The 12th is one of the easier holes at Cana Bay as a straightaway 358 yard par 4. After an 100 yard forced carry over waste bunker, this fairway opens up and is sufficiently wide enough to justify another curious bunker in the middle of the fairway at 230 yards. A tree on the left at 260 yards forces you right anyways. This large green is guarded by bunkers on either side and one short right.

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Aim right of the bunker and tree on 12

The closing stretch at Cana Bay can best be described as long and somewhat monotonous with three par fours over 420 yards and a long par 5. The 13th, 14th, and 16th play as essentially the same hole with jungle-lined fairways dotted by occasional bunkers. At 425 yards, the par 4 13th is notable for a tiny bunker on the right at 230 yards and a green lined by bunkers short and right.

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The par 4 13th

The 14th runs parallel to the 13th as the longest par 4 on the course at 450 yards. While long, this straightaway hole features a wide fairway with only one bunker at 280 yards. The most interesting aspect of this hole is the sideways Biarritz green guarded by tight lies and a pair of bunkers 30 yards short.

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The long par 4 14th encourages a grip and rip attitude

At just 128 yards, the final par 3 15th is the shortest and easiest hole at Cana Bay. This cute little one-shotter requires a brief carry over a waste bunker to a large green lined by two bunkers on either side.

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The par 3 15th

The 397 yard 16th is another nice, yet somewhat bland par 4. This hole again features a generous fairway lined by sand on the right and jungle down the left. A tiny bunker at 230 yards on the left is to be avoided. Another bunker guards about 40 yards short of an exposed green.

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The par 4 16th

The final par 5 plays straightaway at 540 yards. With plenty of room to spare on the right and jungle lining the entire left side, this fairway is littered with bunkers at 220 yards, 270 yards, and then two more at 410 yards down the right. One final giant bunker in the middle of the fairway just short of the green leaves a very difficult up-and-down.

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The par 5 17th

The 18th is a spectacular closing hole as a 420 yard dogleg right Cape hole similar to the front 9 closer. This hole has more character than the 9th with an 120 yard forced carry over a sandy wasteland to an initially wide fairway that snakes around a lagoon. A bunker at 280 yards and trees down the left loom for those that run through the fairway. The water hazard wraps around the right side of the green, making this a dangerous approach to a small green with a giant hump in the middle. Bunkers guard short, left, and right as well.

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The 18th is the best hole at Cana Bay

General Comments: There were very few people on the course when I played and pace of play was fantastic. The grass driving range is large and a great place to warm up your long clubs.

Verdict: Cana Bay is a must-play (maybe even twice) if you stay at the Hard Rock Hotel. With that being said, this is not Casa de Campo; you go to the resort for the resort here, not the golf course.


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