It has been nearly thirty years since one of the hospitality industry’s happiest accidents, when Adrian Zecha’s search for a beachfront vacation home in Phuket instead led him to open a small resort he called Amanpuri. Zecha’s response to large, impersonal hotels of the era was a small, escapist, luxury property – the term “boutique resort” had not yet gained popularity, and he is more than partly responsible for its current vogue. Averaging one new destination annually over the 28 years since, Aman Resorts has built one of the most loyal and devoted followings in the travel industry, “Aman junkies” who stay no place else whenever possible. Today the brand spans four continents, and has added urban properties, mountain properties, and even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But one luxury travel niche Aman has lacked has been a golf property – until now.
With the highest ranked courses in the region lining its southeastern coastline, the Dominican Republic is the 800-pound gorilla of Caribbean golf. But its hidden gem has long been Playa Grande, a stunning clifftop design by the late Robert Trent Jones, Sr. on the much less visited north shore. Evocative of a tropical Pebble Beach (minus all the distracting houses), it opened two decades ago, anchored by a long defunct hotel whose absence left it rudderless for years. That changed in December, when the Amanera Resort opened, with Casa Grande, its main building, overlooking the 14th green, and in turn the turquoise waters of the Caribbean just beyond the putting surface.
Many top shelf luxury resorts have sub-par courses for the sheer sake of offering a golf option, and avoiding that misstep was one reason it has taken Aman so long to get into the game. “The situation had to be right,” Aman Resorts CEO Olivier Jolivet told me. “In this particular case, the destination and location provided us with the perfect opportunity where we could provide an experience on par with our brand. The foundation of this course already had a rich history which we wanted to bring back to life.” To do that, they hired the famed designer’s equally renowned son, Rees Jones for a re-design.
While Rees Jones’ renovation portfolio includes such famous names as Baltusrol, Congressional, Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines, most recreational golfers will likely have a much better time on Playa Grande than any of his other courses. It offers the rare mix of stunning beauty, forgiving playability, and dramatic daily personality changes based on wind. The original hotel, now completely vanished, stood in the middle of the course, adversely impacting the original routing. But with it gone, Rees Jones was able to replace the few less than thrilling holes, and most significantly, he moved the inland fourteenth to the edge of the sea. This now kicks off a truly stunning five-hole cliff-top finish unrivalled in a sport where three consecutive oceanfront holes is considered excessive. But that is just half the story, as Playa Grande is now the only course in the Western Hemisphere with ten coastal holes. The highest rated golf courses on earth are disproportionately located on the coast, and Amanera simply has more coast than any competitor.