Tee off at Dominican course, rest up at a Hilton

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JUAN DOLIO, Dominican Republic -- The name Guavaberry Golf & Country Club doesn't register with many golfers in the U.S., but executives of this Gary Player signature course here are hoping to change that.

The 7,156-yard, par-72 course near Santo Domingo recently celebrated its first full year of operation. The course is 20 minutes from the capital city's airport and less than a two-hour flight from Miami.

Club executives also play up the relationship with Hilton Hotels. Golfers stay at the nearby 548-room Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton. The resort and the golf course are owned by Coral Hotels & Resorts, a Dominican company that joined forces with Hilton to market and promote its four inclusive resorts as one brand, Coral by Hilton.

"Americans know the Hilton name," said Tomas Hungria, general manager of Guavaberry. "It's a name that should help us appeal to the U.S. market."

The other name with appeal is Gary Player, who has won more than 160 golf tournaments, including the Grand Slam. Player also has designed more than 200 golf courses around the world, including some premier properties in the U.S.

The 998-acre Guavaberry course, set in rolling terrain in the southeastern Dominican Republic, should live up to golfers' expectations of a Player course. Fairways are wide and lined with tropical plants, and the property's coral deposits were incorporated into the course to create natural bunkers.

Each hole has five tees, ensuring the course is challenging yet fair for golfers of all levels. Several U.S. golfers who have played the course described it as "very friendly." Classes and lessons are available.

Hole 13 is the course's signature hole -- a 146-yard, par-3 carved out of an old limestone quarry with a waterfall. Hole 15 is a challenging 155-yard, par-3 with an island green in the middle of a 12-million-gallon lake -- the only hole of its kind in the Dominican Republic.

Guavaberry's large practice area includes a driving range, two pitching greens, a putting green and three practice holes.

The multistory Spanish-style clubhouse has balconies, a gourmet restaurant, a terrace bar, a swimming pool and several tennis courts.

Coral Hotels & Resorts built Guavaberry for $45 million; $8 million alone went into the golf course. And they're not done yet: About 600 residences and a beach club soon will be part of the project. In addition, a second golf course and an equestrian center are planned for 2005.

"We see Guavaberry as a premier golf destination in the Dominican Republic and Caribbean over the next few years," said Hungria.

That's an ambitious plan, given the competition from other Caribbean golf resorts. But Guavaberry does have some advantages, including good access from the U.S.

American Airlines has direct flights to Santo Domingo from Boston; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Miami; New York; and Philadelphia. Continental offers direct service from Newark.

In addition, the Dominican Republic is one of the least expensive Caribbean countries. "Golfers can stay and play here for a lot less than in Puerto Rico, for example," said Hungria.

Guavaberry also is 90 minutes from what some golfers still consider the best course in the region -- Pete Dye's Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo at the eastern end of the island. Historic Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the Americas, is less than an hour's drive in the other direction.

There's also plenty to do at the inclusive resort, a 10-minute drive from the course. Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton has a casino, a beach, several pools and tennis courts, buffet and gourmet restaurants.

The three-night Gary Player Style golf package is priced from $465 per person, double, through Dec. 23. Children ages 6 to 12 are $170.

The golf portion includes roundtrip daily golf course transfers, three rounds of golf with cart, welcome drinks, club storage and one basket of balls each day for the practice range.

The resort portion covers roundtrip airport transfers, accommodations, meals and alcoholic beverages, land and water sports, a kids' club and use of the gym, sauna and Jacuzzi. Commission is 10%.

For information, call (809) 333-4653 or visit www.guavaberrygolf.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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