Casa de Campo
Caribbean Calling – Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
By Dave Finn
La Romana, Dominican Republic – Imagine yourself on a winter day perched on a peninsula with a gentle on-shore tropical breeze. The waves of the Caribbean Sea are lapping against the rugged ironstone shoreline and the sheer beauty of this daunting par three has you completely mesmerized. You pause and think “this must be heaven”.
I’ve been in the golf business for over 25 years now. Over that time I have enjoyed reading the many acclaims from my colleges and drooled over their breathtaking pictures of the Casa de Campo Resort. You see their “Teeth of the Dog” is consistently ranked as the best course in Latin America and has proudly been showcased in the Top 50 Golf Courses in the World by many publications since its inception over four decades ago. It has always been on my bucket list and this past spring I got a chance to live the dream.
The Perfect Introduction
My brief stay started with a direct flight from Toronto to Punta Cana International Airport and a comfortable 45 minute shuttle ride to La Romana to check-in. We arrived in time to enjoy drinks and a light lunch on the outdoor patio at La Cana by il Circo overlooking the main lobby swimming pool. What a great way to start!
After settling into our well-appointed rooms we drove ourselves in our own private golf cart past the golf courses (just to tease me) for a tour of the Altos de Chavon. This is not to be missed! It took over 10 years to meticulously replicate a 16th century Mediterranean village complete with cobble stone walkways, a functioning St. Stanislaus Church for weddings and receptions, restaurants, boutiques, galleries and workshops featuring local artisans. There is also the Museum of Archeology and the Altos de Chavon School of Design, part of the “Artists in Residence” program with the Parson’s School of Design in New York. You will find some amazing art from up and coming artists for an inexpensive price. Truly inspiring!
After a spectacular Italian dinner at La Piazzetta we walked to their Amphitheatre, an impressive Grecian-style open-air forum that seats 5,000 spectators. Opened in 1982 by the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, it has featured many international performers including Julio Iglesias, Sting and Carlos Santana. On this night we were treated to the colourful and entertaining Kandela Show, an Afro-Caribbean extravaganza of dancing and music, with a fireworks finale. It was an early night since the next morning I was going to be playing my dream.
Golfing the Dream
I was up bright and early in anticipation of finally getting to tame the famed “Teeth of the Dog”. There is an amazing full length practise facility along with the Jim McLean Golf School so make sure you warm up or take a lesson before tackling this beast. Before we headed out we were warmly greeted by Ian, our very knowledgeable and personable caddy who helped us immensely with our club selection and direction. The first two holes are inland so I got to ease my way into the game and get rid of the butterflies that were fluttering in my stomach. However once I got to the third and fourth holes the course starts to “wag her tail” as the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea come into view. For the first time I had a clear vantage point to what is in store for me and the true reason why I always wanted to come here.
For the next four holes I was in shear heaven as the “Dog” really shows off her teeth. Each hole perilously hugs the ironstone shoreline offering dramatic scenery and intimating shot making. Any of these holes could be signature holes anywhere else so make sure you have your camera ready.
Holes 9 through 14 are all inland holes that are very well designed but somehow pale in comparison to the ocean. Dye was very generous with his fairways off the tee allowing you room to spray the ball. However your approach shots here are paramount as there are deep swales around all the greens will leave you with very tough up-and-downs. The greens are in perfect condition but very irregular in shape making them even more difficult to hit.
Once I got to 15, 16 and 17 we were back along the ocean. Like a great buffet I gladly welcomed a second serving of the most delicious views you will find anywhere.
Even though the topography is relatively flat the conditioning is pristine and boasts as being only course in the world to have seven holes directly on the ocean. As Pete Dye humbly said himself “I created eleven holes and God created seven!”
After a very satisfying buffet lunch at the Lago Grill we headed to the Shooting Center to aim at something that was moving versus a little white ball that is stationary. I was a little apprehensive at first since I have not shot a gun since I was a young teenager with pimples. However once we were suited up and given some lessons, I found it quite invigorating and a bit of an adrenalin rush. I can’t say I’m any better at skeet shooting then I am at golf but it was a blast never the less.
We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around their white sandy Minitas Beach before enjoying a romantic meal in a gazebo at The Beach Club by Le Cirque. What a day indeed!
A Day to Dye Fore
After breakfast the next morning we boarded their catamaran for a short 20 minute shuttle to hang out on the private beach at Catalina Island, which is also owned by Casa de Campo. I found my own hammock in the shade to relax and unwind before we headed back to play the “Dye Fore” Club in the afternoon.
Built in 2005, the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World currently ranks Dye Fore as #5 in the Dominican Republic and #14 in the Caribbean so I knew it was not going to be a disappointment and I was right. There is much more elevation changes here and the wind will certainly be a factor. The front nine, known as the Marina course, is not on the water but still has plenty of ocean views from 3 through 6.
The Chavon nine offers seven stunning canyon views from their 300-feet cliffs down to the Chavon River below. There are very few trees but plenty of natural contours to keep you off balance. The fairways are wide and forgiving but most of the green are all elevated so take an extra club.
Even though the Dye Fore Course is overshadowed by its’ sibling, it is a great test of golf and not to be missed.
Our last night was spent at cocktail reception and dinner.
Time to Reminisce
On my last morning I visited the Casa de Camp Spa for a glorious full body massage while overlooking my own private Zen garden. What a great way to relax and reflect on my stay in paradise.
Obviously I knew some things about their golf but I had no idea of the sheer size and magnitude of this resort. Casa De Campo sprawls over 7,000 diverse acres along Dominican Republic’s southeastern coastline with one of the most picturesque settings in the Caribbean. Their tagline “The Sporting Life” justly describes the experience l had here. Along with 90 holes of fantastic golf designed by the legendary Pete Dye, there are endless amenities and activities to choose from. There is the La Terraza Tennis Center with 13 world-class courts, a Polo and Equestrian Centre, a 245-acre Shooting Center, a 370-slip Marina & Yacht Club and every kind of water sport imaginable. They also own the nearby Rancho Peligro with 10,000 acres for diverse terrain for horseback riding and small game hunting. With 185 guest rooms and suites plus 50 multi-bedroom villas to choose from I can see why so many celebrities, politicians and royals have frequented and still flock to this five-star destination in the past.
In 2014 IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators) voted Casa de Campo the “Golf Resort of the Year” in the “Rest of World” category and now I know why. This was a dream come true for me! For more information on Casa de Campo visit http://casadecampo.com.do/
Find more of Dave Finn’s writing at http://golftravelandleisure.com/