Luxe lodgings and world-class golf will have you on cloud nine at this all-inclusive in the DR
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 Casa de Campo resort 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 an “el cheapo” 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. At the 2011 World Travel Awards, Casa de Campo walked off with five accolades, including the Caribbean’s Leading Golf Resort and Caribbean’s Leading Resort.
Teeth of the Dog, designed by Golf Hall of Famer Pete Dye, opened in 1971 and still reigns supreme not only as the “top Dog” in the Caribbean but also 47th worldwide, according to the 2011 Golf Magazine rankings. Woody Allen, Jean Chrétien 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 11 holes, “the Man upstairs created seven.” Those heavenly seven border so close to the sea that you almost get your feet wet while teeing off. The inland holes meander through stands of palms, bitter orange, almond and teak trees.
Casa de Campo evolved due to the vast resources of the Gulf and Western Company whose sugar mill in the sleepy town of La Romana was the largest producer of raw sugar in the world. “Sugar Daddy” Alvaro Carta, a Cuban exile in charge of the operation, wanted to invest some of the company’s profits back into his adopted Dominican Republic by creating a tourist resort with golf as its cornerstone. The land selected was too dry to grow sugarcane and too sparsely vegetated for grazing cattle. He hired Pete Dye, in hindsight, a stroke of brilliance.
Beware of Dog
Back in '70s, the area around Casa de Campo was undeveloped and golf was in its pioneer stage. Pete Dye and a local 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.
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 confirms that Teeth is still Dye’s “baby.” Over the years, Dye returns to fine-tune his masterpiece, including a recent renovation that added about 500 yards to extend the Teeth’s bite to 7714 yards from the tips.
Teeth features generous fairways and swaying greens that mimic the pitch and roll of the nearby sea. Numbers six and 16 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. Hug the left side over the ocean and you’re rewarded with a shorter second shot.
The final Oceanside par-three 16th is probably the most penal. It generally plays into the wind and is relatively long. The trees around the green also cause swirl gusts, making club selection even more difficult. The front left pin position is the easiest, and plays to the small bail-out area.
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 remodelled and planted with paspalum grass. If your game is a bit rusty, this is where to work out the kinks. Or take some lessons at the Jim McLean Golf School with master instructor, Eric Lillibridge, whose philosophy is to improve your game and have fun doing it.
To Dye Fore
Dye Fore! the resort’s newest 27-hole giant set 165 yards above the Chavon River, might just rival the Teeth. Dye Fore! is big. Think wide tilting fairways, huge greens and whopper bunkers. Maybe mega numbers on your scorecard. Seven holes plummet 100 yards down to the Chavon River. Warning: not for those with fear of heights. Gagnon, the director of golf at Casa since 1980 succinctly sums up the options. “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.”
Donkey polo anyone?
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 travelling with non-golfers, they’ll be spoiled for choice.
Après-golf activities include polo, sailing at the marina and yacht club, horseback riding, tennis and sport 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. Swim in one of many pools or at the secluded Minitas Beach where you can also snorkel or take out a kayak, Hobie cat, windsurfer or paddleboat. The beach bar serves a delicious piña colada made with sweet local pineapples.
You might consider a romantic getaway to La Playita, a private beach, accessible only by boat, where you’ll be the sole visitors for a day that includes a lobster lunch prepared by your own personal chef.
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. The gourmet skin care products are made from local edible ingredients that are whipped up at the Spa Pharmacy. Consider the coffee/mint rub, raw sugar exfoliation followed by hydrating coconut oil, papaya/pineapple wrap or chocolate body mask.
Go artsy or go shopping
Another unique attraction at Casa de Campo is the Altos de Chavon art colony, modelled 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 5000-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. Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at pottery or life drawing. You’ll find more fantastic shopping, cafés, 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 only one beachside buffet in sight. Casa de Campo recently invested $12 million in its central kitchen, installing state-of-the-art facilities.
For super sushi, head to Chinos in the Marina. Or, try the snapper cooked in a sea salt crust and then flambéed at the Marina’s La Casita restaurant. My favourite dining spot was the Beach Club by Le Cirque. Request a table on the patio and dine by 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 a refined experience with golf to match, Casa de Campo delivers — in spades.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.