The Pebble Beach of the Caribbean
Posted: Mar 10, 2010 9:17am ET
The rating of golf courses is subjective. Some players like old-style parkland courses, some like the links format, others only get excited over target golf. The debate over modern versus traditional designs can go on forever. There are very few perfect golf courses, although we all know the ones that get touted as such by name: Pine Valley, Augusta, Shinnecock, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Seminole and places like Pinehurst No. 2 are just a few of the great ones.
I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of great courses in the United States. My playing partners in Casa de Campo last week have been even luckier, playing not only great courses in America but around the world. About the only major resort they haven’t played is Bandon Dunes. And, in their mind the combination of Dye Fore and Teeth of the Dog (rated the 34th best course in the world by Golf Magazine) represents two of the best adjacent courses that they have played.
Dye Fore was completed in 2003, and the setting alone is spectacular, flowing down and then back to the Tuscan style hilltop village called Altos de Chavón; The front nine has numerous vistas of the Caribbean Sea to the south of Casa de Campo, and on the back nine, you can peer down 300 feet into the gorge where the Rio Chavón runs.
The front nine begins with a magnificent par 5 slight dogleg left that ends in a sharply elevated green, one of the common defenses of the greens on this Pete Dye design. The next stunning hole is number 4, a long downhill, dogleg left par 4 (495 yards from the gold tees) with a sharp drop into a gully on the left, that reminded one of my partners of the 18th at Kapalua. The second par 5 on the front nine feels like you play up a small gulley with mounds and houses on both sides, and the green is tucked away behind a hill. The back nine presents an entirely different character, an almost pure links feel across a windswept series of bluffs that overlook the river below. Both par 5s, 10 and 18 are challenging with the latter playing downhill for the latter 200 yards, with the green sitting 50 feet above the low point of the fairway at 100 yards. But the truly spectacular holes here are the two par 3s, one 220 from the blue tees, and 235 from the tips, and the other at 190 and 210. By the way, if you’re a masochist or simply a scratch golfer, the black tees run out to 7700 yards and bring the rating up to 77/134 slope.
Teeth of the Dog is considered one of Pete Dye’s masterpieces, opened in 1971 when Casa de Campo was owned by the Gulf and Western corporation. The course begins benignly, the first four holes playing away from the clubhouse and hotel—two short par 4s, a par 5 made difficult by a small, elevated green and another short par 4. Then, the course announces itself. The fifth par 3 plays 157 yards from the blue tees, but the postage stamp green juts out into the sea; which ever way the wind blows, it’s a fight to hit it. Holes 6, 7, and 8 play alongside the sea, two par 4s and another par 3 with a long carry over water; mercifully it does have a small hill that serves as a backstop behind the green. The back nine begins tamely also, but the final two inland holes, the par 3 13, an island style design surrounded by a waste bunker, and the par 5 14, which requires a 200-yard plus carry over water if you’re brave enough to go for it in two, are excellent golf holes. Then, it’s back to the sea. The two par 3s on the water always require target line adjustments based on the wind, and the fairway and green on the par 4 are bordered on the right by steep drop-offs down to the rocks, the waves and the sea. In short, the seven ocean holes give the course its name, not only for the tooth like promontories that jut into the sea, but for how quickly it can bite you. From the back tees, it now can play more than 7000 yards with a rating of 75.9/145 slope…ouch.
There is a fifth course on the way too. Gilles Gagnon, the director of golf at Casa de Campo, said the final details hadn’t been determined yet, but there will be a new nine up top next to Dye Fore, that mostly likely will linked with the back nine for a new 18-hole track. The other 18 will most likely combine the front nine at Dye Fore with a nine-hole addition to the private La Romana Country Club, which was completed last year. The new tracks should be playable by late in 2010, or early 2011.
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