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Rocking the Casa

I am standing on the seventh tee of the Teeth of the Dog, facing one of the great par threes in the world, 188 yards of carry over an angry Caribbean. A twenty-knot wind is blowing right to left out to sea, eager to send my ball to a watery grave. The surging waves occasionally blind me with a stinging mist.

Overlooking the seventh green is the thatched-roof home of famed course designer Pete Dye, the patron saint of the Teeth and its accompanying resort, Casa de Campo. To dump a ball in the ocean in plain view of the Dye household would, I feel, somehow dishonor all that he has accomplished in this sleepy corner of the Dominican Republic. My caddie, Cesar—who by the fourth hole had stopped giving me yardages and started simply handing me clubs—optimistically lays a four-iron in my sweaty palm.

"Aim right," he says in accented English, unable to suppress a gap-toothed grin. Improbably, I bank a hard draw off the breeze to within twelve feet, inducing Cesar to pound his thigh with his cap and shout "Bueno!" through the wind. I float toward the green, propelled by the timeless, immutable glory of Casa de Campo . . .

I am now standing on what will be the fourth tee of the new golf course that, upon its completion in early spring 2003, will be the fourth Dye track at Casa de Campo. There is no grass here—only graded dirt plunging toward the horizon, twisted into the shape of a sinister fairway. Wild goats can be seen scampering through the native coconut and mango trees that have yet to be cleared on what will be the back nine. Below me the powerful Chavon River empties into the turquoise sea. Behind me the mountains of Cordillera Oriental create a sawtooth horizon.

And from this aerie, even more evidence of progress can be seen. A new Gianfranco Fini-designed marina opened in December 2001, where the mouth of the river meets the Caribbean, boasting 183 boat slips, upscale boutiques, world-class dining and a private yacht club. Ten minutes from the resort a new international airport has been carved from the earth, its concrete runway stretching 9,678 feet past a giant terminal modeled after a sugar mill. Last year the world began enjoying the new infrastructure en masse.

For more than a quarter century Casa de Campo has been cherished for spectacular golf and its sleepy, relaxed charm, built on the ethos of mañana—as in enjoy today because life's complications can be dealt with mañana. But these days, mañana is arriving in a hurry.

In 1917 the South Puerto Rico Sugar Company built a sugar mill outside of La Romana, a tiny village on the Dominican Republic's southeastern coast. Over the next half century this mill would grow into one of most prolific sugar refineries in the world, with a grinding capacity of 330,000 tons of cane a year, fed by more than 400,000 acres. In the late sixties Gulf & Western purchased the mill and its properties, and Alvaro Carta, one of the company's visionary executives, oversaw development of Casa de Campo (Spanish for "country house"). The idea was to create an idyllic playground in a corner of the property where it was too sunny and dry to grow cane effectively.

The first priority, sensibly, was building a championship golf course for the resort to grow around, and when Pete Dye arrived on the scene, in 1969, he canvased the expanse of the property looking for his site. After weeks of searching by land and air Dye was forlorn. "Don't you people have any decent ground around here?" he groused. On a whim he decided to check out a stretch of craggy coast that laid just beyond the G&W property line. "It was the greatest piece of earth I've ever seen," says Dye, 76, on the phone from his Florida home. The land was acquired the next day, and thus began one of the most monumental construction jobs in the annals of golf-course architecture.


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