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Rocking the Casa

Among longtime Casa de Campo loyalists there is a widespread fear that the recent improvements may actually harm the resort's delicate standing. "Casa de Campo has always been a different kind of place," says Wendy ruefully. "Not too crowded, not too American, not too ritzy. We're afraid, as are most people, that when the secret gets out Casa will never be the same."

In the Teeth's first year of operation 15,000 rounds of golf were played. Now the annual number of rounds exceeds 50,000. The number of villas has topped 1,000 (approximately 150 of which are sublet to the resort and made available to guests), and the resort today has 300 rooms. The new course will increase all of those figures. "We're selling lots on the new course like cake," says Gilles Gagnon, Casa de Campo's director of golf operations, who adds that a new spa is scheduled to open in mid 2003.

The village, called Altos de Chavon, may be Casa de Campo's most outrageous touch. The Italian cinematographer Roberto Copa and an army of local laborers spent six years building an exact replica of a sixteenth-century Mediterranean artist's village on the cliffs above the Chavon River. It is a stunning achievement, home to excellent restaurants and enchanting shops, and yet somehow the splendor of Altos de Chavon doesn't quite go with the low-key vibe of the rest of the resort, just as the commercial component of the new marina seems a little too fancy.

Clearly for Casa de Campo this is a transitional time, which in actuality began September 22, 1998, when Hurricane Georges and its estimated 200-mile-per-hour winds blew through the Dominican Republic. The resort suffered so much damage that it was shut down for three months, and the Fanjul family poured $24 million into a top-to-bottom remodel, modernizing every single room, among numerous other improvements. Casa de Campo has been marketing itself more aggressively ever since, and the buzz will grow only louder with the arrival of the new golf course, which, from my reconnaissance, will be nothing short of spectacular.

"I've never seen Pete so excited about a project," says Eusabio Nuñez Malena, Casa de Campo's longtime superintendent. Something about the Dominican seems to bring out the best in Dye. In 1990 he opened his third course at Casa de Campo, La Romana Country Club, a sweeping, imaginative design with ocean views and devilish turtleback greens, done in an homage to Donald Ross.

"If I had to pick one course I built and I really like, I'd say La Romana," says Dye in a startling admission. "It's as good a setup as I've ever done." Basically a playground for the Fanjuls and their inner circle of friends, La Romana Country Club does not generally allow play by resort guests—indeed, interested parties would be wise to send a letter to Gagnon well in advance of their arrival.

As good as La Romana is, the pride and glory of Casa de Campo will always be the Teeth of the Dog, but even this august course is not immune to the resort's evolution. "I finally got that damn runway out of the middle of my golf course," Dye thunders. He did it in 2001 after the new airport opened, replacing the tarmac with waste bunkers and grass. He also moved the twelfth tee back and to the right, turning a long, straight par four into a longer hole with a dogleg. Further changes are in store when the course closes in 2004 for six months so the architect can complete the renovation—in diabolical fashion, no doubt. "Oh, don't worry, I've got plenty of ideas up my sleeves," Dye says.

There are those, of course, who were sorry to see the old runway go. "It had a mystique," Gagnon says. For all of the Teeth of the Dog's glorious seaside views, that strip of pavement in many ways represented all that was unique about Casa de Campo. Even Dye recognizes that—he left a piece of it on eighteen, he says, "as a momento."

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