Only at Casa de Campo can you play 63 fairways by the legendary Pete Dye
By Anita Draycott
In the last few decades the Caribbean has evolved from a non-existent or no-frills golf destination to a hot spot worthy of your hit list. Gone are the days when tropical island golf was an afterthought; nowadays big-name designer courses with zillion-dollar budgets are sprouting up throughout the Caribbean. But it was Pete Dye’s first ever island creation, Teeth of the Dog at the Casa de Campo Resort & Villas in the Dominican Republic, that set the standard by which others are judged.
While the Dominican Republic (nicknamed the DR) is one of the most popular winter destinations for Canadians, the majority of sun seekers opt for a week at an all-inclusive where the emphasis is more on quantity than quality. However, if chasing a dimpled white ball is a prerequisite to your vacation, Casa de Campo delivers stellar golf, plus the kind of five-star service and amenities you’d expect from a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Casa de Campo ranks several cuts above your basic cookie cutter rum-soaked all-inclusive.
Beware of the Dog
Teeth of the Dog opened in 1971 and still reigns supreme not only as the “top Dog” in the Caribbean but also 39th according to the 2015 Golf Magazine “Top 100 Courses in the World” rankings. Woody Allen, Jean Chretien and Sting have been known to take a swing here.
Dye, who transformed a jagged coral reef into a masterpiece, is quick to point out that while he created eleven holes, “the Man upstairs created seven.” Those heavenly seven border so close to the sea that you’ll almost get your feet wet while teeing off. The inland holes meander through stands of palms, bitter orange, almond and teak trees.
Back in 70s the area around Casa de Campo was undeveloped and golf was in its pioneer stage. Pete Dye and his Dominican crew of 300 built the Teeth of the Dog course entirely by hand using primitive sugar cane tools and plenty of elbow grease to carve the tract out of rugged coral rock. While pick axing their way through the unforgiving terrain the Spanish-speaking workers started to refer to the parcel of land as dientes del perro meaning “Teeth of the Dog.” Pete Dye liked the name and it stuck. Coincidentally, the jagged seaside holes on the front nine also resemble the open jaw of a giant canine.
Dye’s dogged (pardon the pun) determination was to put the Dominican Republic on the map as a premiere golf destination. Mission accomplished! Even though Dye has received numerous kudos for his courses throughout the world, Gilles Gagnon, the Quebec-born director of golf at Casa de Campo and longtime friend of Mr. Dye and Alice, his partner in life and design, confirms that Teeth is still Dye’s “baby.” Over the years, Dye has returned to fine-tune his masterpiece, including a recent renovation that added about 500 yards to extend the Teeth’s bite to 7,714 yards from the tips.
Teeth features generous fairways and swaying greens that mimic the pitch and roll of the nearby sea. Numbers six and sixteen are officially named the signature holes but there are plenty more contenders.
The sixth is a long par-four right-to-left hole that usually involves some wind assistance, especially on the second shot. The tee shot presents the usual risk/reward. Hug the left side over the ocean and you’re rewarded with a shorter second shot. Play safe to the right where there is ample room and you might be too far away to reach the green in two. Worse, you’ll have to hit your long second off a side-hill lie.
The final Oceanside par-three 16th is probably the most penal. The front left pin position, the easiest, plays to the small bail out area. A flag on the right side of the green over the coral rock wall looks darn near impossible when you’re standing on the tee with a long iron or fairway wood in your hands. For that pin position, a shot to the middle of the green, like the 12th at Augusta, is recommended.
I would argue that number five, the shortest par-three on the course playing alongside the ocean rivals the seventh at Pebble Beach for sheer beauty and drama. Your tee shot must carry the water all the way to the green, which is surrounded by a small strip of sand and rocks to keep the waves at bay. Bring your camera.
If you’ve come to the DR to golf your socks off, you’ve come to the right resort. Casa de Campo offers a grand total of 63 holes by the same designer. The Links, an undulating interior course reminiscent of the traditional British and Scottish layouts, features small greens and lots of lagoons. Its greens were recently remodeled and planted with Paspalum grass. If your game is a bit rusty, this is where to work out the kinks.
To Dye Fore
Dye Fore! the resort’s newest 27-hole giant set 500 feet above the Chevon River, might just rival the Teeth. Dye Fore! is “grande.” Think wide tilting fairways, huge greens and whopper bunkers. Maybe mega numbers on your scorecard. Seven holes plummet 300 feet down to the Chavon River. Warning: not for those with fear of heights.
Gilles Gagnon whose has been director of golf at Casa since 1980 succinctly sums up the golf here: “When you finish playing The Links you usually have some energy left. When you walk off Teeth, you’re tired. But at the end of a round on Dye Fore, you’re exhausted, the tank is empty.”
There are plenty of ways to refuel. Casa de Campo has been voted the “World’s Leading Golf Resort” at the World Travel Awards for five consecutive years. The property offers so many attractions and activities it should have its own zip code. Indeed, guests are given their own golf carts to travel from place to place. Should you be holidaying with non-golfers, they’ll be spoiled by choice.
Après golf activities include polo, sailing at the marina and yacht club, horseback riding, tennis, and sports shooting. If you’ve always wanted to try polo but lack the horsemanship skills, consider a round of donkey polo, played on Dominican burros using a broom and ball—only at Casa de Campo and probably the most fun you’ll ever have on your “ass” with a broom.
Swim in one of many pools or at the secluded sanctuary, Minitas Beach, where you can also snorkel or take out a kayak, hobie cat, windsurfer or paddleboat. How about a day of sport fishing? The beach bar serves a delicious Piña Colada made with sweet local pineapples.
At The Spa you are encouraged to de-stress via a stroll through a labyrinth prior to your treatment. Allow plenty of time as each therapy room has individual showers, change rooms and private gardens. Consider the coffee/coco/cane sugar exfoliation followed by a massage using warm golf balls.
Go Artsy or Go Shopping
Another unique attraction at Casa de Campo is the Altos de Chevon art colony, modeled after a 16th century Mediterranean village with coral block and terra cotta buildings complete with towers and turrets.
Follow the winding mosaic cobbled paths to the 5,000-seat Roman-style amphitheatre where Frank Sinatra performed on opening night. Then visit the archaeological museum, art gallery, boutiques and the Church of St. Stanislaus, a popular venue for weddings. Depending on the season, guests may participate in several workshops given by painters, designers and writers in the Artists in Residence Program.
You’ll find more fantastic shopping, cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours at the Marina, dubbed “a Rodeo Drive by the Sea.”
On the Menu
The dining options at the resort are plentiful and outstanding with not a buffet in sight, except the remarkable breakfast spread at the Lago Grill. Not long ago, Casa de Campo invested $12 million in its central kitchen, installing state-of-the-art facilities to ensure that all meat, eggs, poultry and produce are handled and stored according to the strictest hygienic standards.
For super sushi, head to Pubbelly in the Marina. Or, try the snapper cooked in a sea salt crust and then flambéed at the Marina’s La Casita restaurant. La Piazzetta at Altos de Chavon offers Italian fare including a fantastic antipasto bar. For a romantic interlude, head to The Beach Club by Le Cirque. Request a table on the patio and dine via candlelit under a sea grape tree while the waves provide gentle background music.
I know that many folks flock to the DR for its all-inclusives, but for those of us who prefer an exclusive and personalized five-star experience with golf to match, Casa de Campo delivers—in spades.
The resort’s Casa de Campo / La Romana International Airport is just ten minutes from check-in. Also, a new road between the Punta Cana International Airport and La Romana has cut the driving time from about two hours to 45 minutes.