By TIM BAINES
As you walk up to the teebox at the fifth hole at the legendary Teeth of the Dog golf course in the Dominican Republic, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.
On a course that’s got beauty to go with its bite, it’s a slice of heaven – golf nirvana.
Teeth of the Dog’s No. 5 is not a true island hole, but it’s a bucket-lister – on a tight peninsula with ocean waves crashing around the green.
It had been 32 years since my last visit to the golf course, in the middle of the magnificent Casa de Campo Resort in La Romana, less than an hour from Punta Cana. So much has changed, yet so much has remained the same – you’re almost overcome by the elegant ruggedness of the golf course.
Again, I was brought to my knees by the fifth hole, which is a comfortable 136 yards from the blue tee box and 119 from the whites. My golf ball didn’t find the ocean – coming up just short of the green and tucking itself into a small bunker. Three shots later, I blasted out of the sand and one-putted for a five. Not often you can take a double bogey and smile about it. The hole has that kind of impact. So does the rest of the golf course and, for that matter, the resort. It’s one of those visits you never forget.
Casa de Campo is much more than golf. The resort is all about making you feel welcome. They remember your name. They pamper you. Great resort. Great people. Oh, and for Canadians, they’ve got Clamato – yep, they serve Bloody Caesars.
Located over 7,000 acres, the resort has hotel rooms, suites and exquisite villas. There’s a marina, tennis courts and polo facilities. There are communities within a community – with a terrific selection of restaurants (I had delicious meals at Pubbelly Sushi, La Piazzeta, La Casita and La Cana, along with lunch and breakfast each day at the Lago Restaurant) to choose from.
“People typically don’t come to Casa de Campo just once, they come multiple times,” said the resort’s Director of Golf Robert Birtel.
I understand why.
There’s also often an A-list of celebrities coming and going at the resort. Among the celebrities who either live there or have visited: Beyonce, Jay Z, Rihanna, Michael Jordan, Justin Bieber, Vin Diesel, Marc Anthony, Drake, the Kardashians, presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton and baseball players Derek Jeter (his bachelor party was held there), Sammy Sosa and Hanley Ramirez.
“You look in the marina and see some of the yachts … and, yes, it can definitely be a Who’s Who,” said Birtel.
But back to the golf. I played three courses – Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore and Links, all designed by Pete Dye. While I came away from Teeth of the Dog with a 93 (50 on the back nine), I had a 92 at Dye Fore (with a 42 on the Marina side) and 91 on Links (where I dropped two golf balls into water along the right side of the fairway at the 12th hole).
At hole No. 3 of Dye Fore, my helpful caddie Jesus warned me, “This hole, it has 25 bunkers.” I believe him, I found two of them and narrowly missed a third on my way to a triple-bogey eight.
Teeth of the Dog is the best, though, my all-time favourite with its seven oceanside holes.
Asked about his favourite hole, Birtel said: “The first time I played Teeth, No. 5 was the one that stuck out the most. I just couldn’t get over that little peninsula in the ocean. It’s just jaw dropping. But as I’ve gotten to play it more, 16, I think, is my favourite hole.”
About the splendid golf course, Birtel said: “Golf Digest just came out with the top courses in the world, we’re at 52. They also came out with the top 100 outside the U.S. and we’re 27. Teeth of the Dog is a special golf course, it’s unbelievable. It isn’t overly difficult for people – it’s not a distance difficulty, if you hit it right and left, it can be tough. It’s great for ladies to come to play, it’s great for juniors. There really aren’t forced carries. The golf course doesn’t play long. The ladies tee is 4,800 yards.”
The other golf courses, though, are very, very good.
“Between Teeth, Dye Fore and the Links, they’re three completely different golf experiences,” said Birtel. “Teeth of the Dog is that traditional oceanside, championship golf course. Dye Fore is a different feel, a lot of up-and-down elevation changes, panoramic views of the Caribbean. The Links is a fantastic resort course – I guess, on paper it’s the easiest of the three, but in truth when you have a tournament on it, it doesn’t end up that way. It takes you through the neighbourhood so you get to see some houses and the back nine plays around three lakes.
“Dye Fore’s views are just unbelieable. You’re on a cliff, you’re 300 feet above the Chavon River and you’re overlooking the Caribbean Sea so it’s a different view. Teeth of the Dog, you can do a backflip into the ocean on seven on the holes. Dye Fore, you’re sort of on top of the hill. You have a lot of elevation changes. Teeth of the Dog has some small elevation changes, but it’s nothing compared to Dye Fore.”
High-season prices range from $395 US (Teeth of the Dog) to $295 (Dye Fore) and $175 (Links), with the cost dropping by about $100 in low season.
Next January, Teeth of the Dog will host the Latin America Amateur Championship, with the winner getting a spot in The Masters.
The terrific Learning Center, with the Trackman system in place, has just officially opened – with an option for pros to create stay, learn and play packages.
“It’s not necessarily just for Casa de Campo pros to teach and give lessons, although we will,” said Birtel. “It’s also for visiting pros with their members to do winter golf schools. We have all the equipment, we have all the facilities – come train and play golf here. We’re inclusive, not exclusive, when it comes to visiting pros teaching.
Said Learning Center Director of Instruction Eric Lillibridge: “The owners really wanted the top learning facility and driving range. Having that extra flair really stands out. It’s just a great addition, it’ll help out the quality of golf. It’s a learning envionrment, people can come down, use our pros or teach themselves. The grand scheme is to get more action down here.”
Lillibridge isn’t looking to turn anybody’s swing upside down.
“Everybody has a different swing, you have to work with what they have,” he said. “There are times – using a doctor reference – that they need surgery. I try to avoid surgery. Changing takes so much time and they have to put in so much effort to make those changes. For the average golfer, the weekend warriors, you have to work with what they have.
“People always say, ‘I want to hit it 10 yards further.’ I’ll give them all the means necessasy to do that. But maybe their chipping is horrible and they can’t chip it onto the green. That’s more the focus they would need.”
For more info, check out https://www.casadecampo.com.do/golf