The course at Hard Rock Golf Club at Cana Bay is a Nicklaus Design that first appeared in 2010 with very little fanfare and it flew under the radar for some time, taking us a few years to fully appreciate just how good it is.
Perhaps we dismissed Hard Rock’s golfing relevance because of its association with the contemporary music scene and a younger, hip crowd of golfers who prefer to dress more casually out on the course and listen to music in the golf cart during a round?
Whatever the reasons for overlooking this place before, we’ve tried to make up for lost time by asking Mark Meijer (then a Design Associate at Nicklaus Design who laid out the course) to tell us a little about his time on the Hard Rock project.
Here’s what Mark had to say:
In 2007, Palace Resorts hired a Mexican based contractor (National Golf) to build the course. Since they were successfully working together on other projects, it made sense and made the negotiation process much easier. Although, like many other companies during the "Great Golf Recession", National Golf fell victim to the financial crisis and decided after Cana Bay not to continue forward in the construction business.
In an effort to drive forward through the crisis
and to keep an excellent staff of shapers and personnel together, ROCA Golf was
formed. Today, Toby and Eddie Rodriguez run the company out of their Cancun
office and have been very successful on a number of signature and non-signature golf
projects. A year or so ago, while visiting one of their newly remodelled
courses in southwest Mexico, I saw they had incorporated the same bunker
styles I'd asked them to build at Cana Bay... I was very flattered!
Our bunker crew had a couple of Haitian guys who were very dedicated, eager to learn, and very hard workers. Sadly, during the construction in January 2010, Haiti experienced a 7.0 earthquake and our lead bunker shaper Domingo lost eight family members. He returned to Haiti to help his remaining family, but came back shortly after to complete the project.
We used Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum grass throughout and as far as I know the Superintendent (Ronnie Guzman) has been able to maintain it without any major issues. I believe the putting surfaces all rolled fast enough for a Latin American PGA Tour event that was held there a few years back.
When routing golf holes with varied terrain, I try and find high points to locate the back tees and low areas immediately in front to carry over. This helps to add visual drama and presentation of the fairways and bunkering at the landing areas. To create this "high/low" look on a very flat site, we creatively carved out the coral stone with rock hammers (typically the areas in front of the tees) and used the fill material to elevate the tees.
To generate as much fill material as possible and keep the area dry in front of the tees, we dug down as far as we could go while staying above the water table. Knowing we had coral stone to work with, the rocky "coral" edges could be carved out vertically to add extra "shadowing" and eye appeal without the worry of erosion or future maintenance issues.
The soils were typically coral stone (calcareous soils) throughout and lacked any substantial fertile alluvial material for reuse, so we sand capped the entire golf course, floating 8 to 12 inches throughout the fairways and tapering the depths towards the jungle edges. Before capping, we dug sump wells in designed low areas and piped the drainage to those areas. The drainage at holes 4 and 9 tie back to the lakes on each hole. Hole 9 was our irrigation lake, so all the drainage on the hole was recycled for reuse.
When the office sent the plans my way, the routing was pretty much fixed and the lots surrounding the golf course were already platted and surveyed for sale. After the routing was locked in, I did ask the developer for one change. In the original layout, hole 10 was hole 12 and facing in the opposite direction. In my opinion, hole 10 was too far from the clubhouse, so reversing the original hole 12 and making it hole 10 made the clubhouse relationship much better. Today, the original hole 10 (a par five) is now hole 11.
Hole 14 turned out to be a long par four at 475-yards and the longest par four on the card. It was fitting to have a challenging par four on the back nine, but I wanted to be fair if you missed your second shot to the green by providing ample bailout surrounding the putting surface. The "false" bunkers short of the green were to disguise the length of the approach shot and the putting surface was designed and shaped to have three distinct areas to set up pin placements: the front "pinnable" crown, the long saddle in the middle and the high platform to the rear. This is my favorite green complex on the course.
The Hard Rock was a pleasant surprise, albeit very flat and no eye candy. The first hole is a short welcoming par four. Favor the right side off the tee. The second is the shortest par five and big hitters can get home in two. There are fairway and greenside bunkers where you would expect them to be. The 3rd is a long straight away par four. The 4th should be a relatively par three, mid-length with a slight water carry. It did not seem all that windy, but none of us even sniffed the green. The 5th while long is another straightaway par four with one of the widest fairways. The par five 6th is the first really good hole with a dogleg left the last 150 yards. Fairway bunkers at 45 degrees across the fairway in the landing zone. For your second shot favor the right side to take the waste area out of play that starts about 130 yards out on the left. The 7th is a fun hole and the shortest par four. There are two fairway bunkers in the middle of the fairway about 50 yards out to keep you honest. You gotta go for it. I was just short, but the pin was up and I parlayed my best drive of the day into a par. The 8th is the longest and toughest par three. It has a narrow angled front left to back right green with bunkers in front. The 9th is the longest par four on the front and deserves the number one handicap designation. Dogleg right with water down the right side, fairway bunkers on the outside elbow and a green protected by four bunkers and the water hazard.
The back starts with a mid-length par three with a short waste carry. The 11th is the longest par five. Play it as a three shotter, there are waste areas right. Favor the left side to have the nest angle to attack the pin. The 12th is a good birdie oppty, favor the right side off the tee. There is a pesky fairway bunker just left of center about 130 yards out. The next two holes are long parallel par fours of 450 and 475 yards. They are the number 4 and 2 handicap holes respectively. The last par three is the shortest with a waste carry. The 16th is another long straightaway par four. The last par five is also another straight hole. It has several bunkers scattered about, I would play it as a three shotter. The 18th is an outstanding finishing hole. Long par four that leans right with water down the right side. Be careful as the hazard juts into the fairway on the right side about 100 yards out.
Good not great and a little too predictable
I have lived in the DR and have played all the courses on this list and my number one criteria is the quality of enjoyment of a course..so that a course that is always in bad condition or has unfair hazards or has many holes much the same or is between rows of houses or apartments has little appeal. On that basis, I would place Cana Bay in the top 6 courses in the DR ,along with the Teeth, Dye Fore, Corales ,Punta Espada and Playa Grande if you can afford to play there. Hard Rock,Cana Bay normally is in excellent condition, has very tight driving holes ,is mainly cut off from housing projects and is quite a challenge . It does not have the wonderful views that the other resort courses have but makes up for that by its privacy.