The Ocean’s 4 club in the Dominican Republic originally opened as La Romana Golf Club in 2017, developed by Majorcan tourism business Grupo Piñero. It has an 18-hole layout that extends to 7,334 yards and has four holes that run alongside the Caribbean Sea, plus a nine-hole par-three course. With the club due to be renamed again this year, to celebrate its partnership with the PGA of America, Jack Lund of Maverick Golf spoke to GCA about the project, his debut design.
“I was working in a bar in the early 1990s after many years travelling around the world when I read an article on Peter Alliss, ending with the comment that he and Clive Clark were about to embark on their first project in the south of Spain,” says Lund. “The following day, after tracking down Alliss’s address, I found myself at his home in Hampshire begging a very surprised Peter for a chance to work my way into an industry which sounded like a dream come true.
“Several memorable years and some ten projects later, I set up a golf course project management company, Maverick Golf, whose first commercial venture was leading the construction of Son Muntaner in Palma de Mallorca, quickly followed by one of the company’s flagship projects, Alcanada Golf, which was my introduction to the RTJ II brand.
“Shortly after, I was invited to project manage the construction of a 27-hole course in Mexico, which became the PGA Riviera Maya. I was delighted when the ownership agreed to use RTJ II as the named architects and equally delighted that the Jones group, through John Strawn, allowed me to play the role of design representative for RTJ II alongside my position as project manager.
“The project was a huge success and it seemed inevitable that the same management structure would be used in the parent company’s new project in the Dominican Republic.”
The financial crisis, so difficult for so many, provided Lund with an opportunity. The ownership’s reluctance to pay big-name design fees gave him an opening for his first course design – 27 holes of oceanfront golf.
“It was enjoyable to have total autonomy,” continues Lund. “The project offered me the chance to be designer, project manager and design representative simultaneously, a situation which was a luxury for me personally and hugely beneficial for the project as on-site decisions were quickly taken and site visits were obviously a daily occurrence.
“Working in the Dominican Republic is hugely challenging, particularly due to the fact that being an island, most industrial materials have to be brought in from outside and one is very limited with the quality and quantity of the raw materials available. On the opposite end of the scale, the workforce comprised of hard working, enthusiastic Dominicans and Haitians who were a pleasure to work with.
“Particularly challenging was the necessity for continual modifications to the design to satisfy the infrastructure needs of the project. We found high-quality sandstone over large parts of both courses and it was understood that we would need to adapt the course design continuously to maximise the extraction of the sandstone for road construction and likewise to absorb the enormous quantities of substandard fill material emanating from infrastructure excavations. Much of this low-quality fill found its way to the dunes between holes nine and eighteen as well as the driving range.
“We spent two years dynamiting holes fourteen to sixteen in order to extract the 100,000 cubic metres of bedrock needed for the sub-base of various roads which were projected to cross wetlands. The rugged, arid feel to these holes is largely the result of allowing the dust to settle after the last blast and shaping what was left.”
The executive course was the first to be built; ground was broken in May 2010 during the aftermath of the economic crisis. Lund says there was “a cripplingly low budget and no guarantee from the owner that work would continue from one month to the next.”
As a result, greens were built using a modified USGA specification, reducing the sand and gravel layers to 50 per cent of the recommended quantities. The course was seeded with sea spray paspalum to avoid the cost of importing paspalum sprigs from outside. Opening in October 2012, it was among the first courses outside the US to use the Rain Bird IC irrigation system.
Construction of the main 18-hole course overlapped, with clearance beginning in October 2011. By May 2017, it was ready for play.
“The championship course at Ocean’s 4 has three distinct styles,” says Lund. “The opening holes of both nines are predominantly parkland with lakes and mature trees. As the player approaches the coastline, trees and lakes give way to dunes, cordgrass and pot bunkers, creating a links feel. Holes fourteen to sixteen have been carved through sandstone rock and scrub vegetation, creating a feel reminiscent of the desert courses in Arizona, in complete contrast to the rest of the holes.
“Ocean’s 4 is primarily a resort course and, as a consequence, offers generous fairways on all of the par fours and fives, and greens which average over 600 square metres. Water is obviously a dominant factor in the layout of the course; lakes border seven holes and the course’s [current] name came from the signature four holes which follow the Caribbean coastline.
One of the most notable features of Lund’s design is the double green on holes eight and seventeen, fondly known as ‘Los Gemelos’ (The Twins). “It is undoubtedly the most notorious feature, according to the golfers themselves,” says Lund. “This green, as with greens seven and sixteen, had to be rebuilt twice having been completely destroyed by Hurricane Hanna in 2014.
“Attention always seem to focus, understandably, on the ocean holes but I have always been particularly satisfied by the number of clients who comment on the fact that every hole is different and therefore very easy to remember. Arguably this must be the highest accolade for any course.
“The executive course offers holes from 105 to 215 yards, bunkering is light throughout, but the greens are relatively small and the prevailing wind requires not only precise execution but careful club selection from every tee. The grass footprint on each hole is limited to tee boxes, approaches, greens and surrounds – each footprint is set into the natural sandstone landscape, contrasting the green of the grass with the predominantly light beige surrounds. Water comes into play on the eighth and the 215-yard ninth, an exacting finale to a player’s round.”
All construction was undertaken in-house, except for bulk earthworks which were contracted to local road building company JM Construcciones.
“We employed Johan Quevedo, a Mexican-born shaper from Tezoyuca with extensive experience with Nicklaus and Norman,” says Lund. “As you well know, the course can only ever be as good as your shaper, and Johan is, and always has been exceptional in everything he does.”
David Hernandez and Edgar Radilla led field operations and were pivotal in bringing the project on time and on budget. David tragically died in a car crash during the construction and Ocean’s 4 would be his last in a long line of successful golf projects in which he played a vital part.
“During the construction, I found that I was simply too close to the project to be able to view it objectively, particularly from a player’s point of view,” says Lund.
“I became increasingly curious as time went by and holes shaped up to discover what the players would think of the course, the layout, the degree of difficulty, particularly whether the course would be challenging and enjoyable both for the professional golfer as well as the target tourist golfing market.”
Lund says he has been “surprised and amazed” at the enthusiasm and pleasure that golfers of all abilities have experienced since the day it opened. But he has struggled to find time of his own to enjoy the fruits of his labour: “My only round of golf on the championship course was with Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2017, a privilege in itself, made more special by his enthusiastic comments about the course.”