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Rocking the Casa

Designing the course was easy enough—"God made seven holes, and I only had to come up with eleven," Dye has frequently said. The coastline was curvier than a Hollywood starlet, pocked with inlets and coves, allowing for crescent-shaped fairways like the one that makes Pebble Beach's eighteenth hole so memorable. Dye was able to place those celestial seven holes hard against the ocean, with the help of 300 strong-backed locals. Every inch of the Teeth was built by hand—the bunkers were dug with shovels, the ground graded by oxen and the fairways planted sprig by sprig. While Dye pushed the ocean around on the par-three fifth and seventh holes, stacking rock and coral to place the tees and greens farther out to sea, his most creative touch was incorporating the old airport runway into two holes, notably at the par-four twelfth, where players had to drive across the tarmac.

To name the course, Dye, a master marketer, seized on the locals' name for the snaggle-toothed coral that adorns the course: dientes del perro. "Teeth of the Dog" first entered the collective consciousness of the world's golfers in February of 1971, when it served as a backdrop to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Splayed across the pages in almost pornographic detail were pictures of the course, which was still under construction. "I had to put lime in the bunkers, because we didn't have any sand yet," Dye says. The course officially opened for play in 1971; a year later the first privately owned villas were built, complementing the small, cozy resort complex. Between 1973 and 1974 fifty additional hotel rooms were built to house participants of the 1974 World Amateur Team Championship. The U.S. side featured such future stars as Curtis Strange and Jerry Pate, yet only six of the tournament's 556 rounds produced subpar scores. Thus began the course's fearsome reputation. The Teeth's seaside real estate is not quite as spectacular as the cliffs at Pebble Beach, the course it is most often compared to, but the inland holes are better and more varied, and since its inception the Teeth of the Dog has been a fixture on top-100 lists. (Golf Magazine has placed the course as high as twenty-third in the world.)

While the Teeth made Casa de Campo famous, it was the unique ambience that made the resort so beloved. Alvaro Carta once said: "There will be no honky-tonky here. We will have no casinos. The character of this country will be exposed, not buried under some kind of Las Vegas-Miami Beach nonsense." The resort's tasteful decor owed much to designer Oscar de la Renta, who built a home here. Heavy on mahogany and native arts and crafts, Casa was comfortable, not chic. The resort was not conceived as a place to make the scene but rather a haven for those wanting to relax and enjoy. Its pleasant vibe can be attributed to its most important asset—the mellow Dominicans, who have shown little interest in the profiteering found on other Caribbean isles and have none of the wariness of native Hawaiians, say, who have been overburdened by tourists. With the sugar mill creating some 25,000 local jobs, the tourists are not seen as meal tickets to be exploited but rather guests to be celebrated.

Even the golf operation added to Casa's scruffy charm in the early years. In 1977 the Teeth got an engaging little brother, an inland course named The Links. Dye resisted planting trees on the undulating earth, toughening the course instead with pot bunkers, gnarly guinea grass that frames the fairways and tiny greens that average only 5,500 square feet. But even as the number of golfers increased, Casa hardly resembled a golf factory. For much of its existence it had no system for storing overnight golf bags, so every morning dozens of bags would be piled out in front in a confounding mess. In the pro shop there was something known to staffers as the "Mission: Impossible shirt," so-called because after one washing it was said to self-destruct. When an unsuspecting golfer would walk out with one, workers would break into the strains of the M:I theme song.

Casa de Campo, too, hummed along in its own off-key way until 1984, when the resort (and the mill) was snapped up by the Cuban-American Fanjul family of Palm Beach, Florida, the world's leading sugar barons. Says Dye, "That was the beginning of a whole new era."

As my 737 banks toward the Casa de Campo grounds, the clouds suddenly part, revealing below the expanse of the Teeth of the Dog, strung out like a dazzling emerald necklace. As I step into the airport, a couple of charming local kids politely ask to carry my bags, and once loaded into a resort shuttle I am whisked to Casa de Campo's check-in desk. From there I am promptly escorted to my expansive room. "It's incredible to see how the place has changed," says Dye's son, P. B., an accomplished architect in his own right who spent the summer of his seventeenth year working for his father, digging ditches at the Teeth. "It's so efficient now, so sophisticated and service-oriented. In the old days it was service-oriented, but you never knew what that service was going to be."


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