A Golfer’s Paradise: Casa de Campo La Romana, Dominican Republic
The Caribbean resort’s $42 million makeover showcases a wealth of outdoor fun for sports enthusiasts of all stripes and abilities. But the real draw here is the Teeth of the Dog, considered to be the Caribbean’s best golf course.
You can shoot all sorts of things at Casa de Campo. You can shoot skeet, shoot the surf, and certainly shoot plenty of first-rate golf. And you can bring the whole family knowing that the chances of boredom are zero. Casa de Campo sprawls across 7,000 acres, making it larger than White Plains, with lots more palm trees and beaches. The place is so big, they give you a four-person golf cart when you check in so you can get around on your own. I guarantee the kids will dig that. They might also dig the clientele. Casa de Campo has been a destination for A-listers for more than forty years. While I was there, the staff was busy planning for Michael Jordan’s bachelor party.
What attracted me, of course, was the golf. Casa de Campo is home to the Caribbean’s best golf course, Teeth of the Dog, a bucket-list track designed by the leading golf architect of our time, Pete Dye. Even though Dye is renowned for designing brutal, tricky golf experiences (like Pound Ridge Golf Club), he gave the average player a break when he first laid out this course, which opened in 1971. He’s tweaked it repeatedly since, but Teeth of the Dog still offers regular guys and gals a chance to make a par now and then as long as they don’t become besotted by the scenery.
Because views are what Teeth of the Dog offers in glorious profusion. Seven holes play along—or over—the sparkling Caribbean Sea, four on the front and three on the backside. The course is not quite as dramatic as Pebble Beach, but it’s very close. The biggest difference is that Teeth of the Dog has a more intimate relationship with the sea. You play directly over it on several holes and are close enough to bring it into play on more than you may like. You’re not separated from the water by a beach either—it’s right there most of the time. When the sea isn’t influencing your club selection it’s drawing your eye. Dye so loves the course, by the way, he has a home on the seventh hole—facing the water, of course.
Teeth of the Dog features five sets of tees ranging from 4,906 to 7,471. The blues, playing at 6,548 yards, are going to be more than enough for most of us. The course rating from there is 73.2 and the slope is 137. Teeth of the Dog is probably one of the most reasonably priced premier courses in the world. At $185 for hotel guests (and $250 for non-guests), it’s a huge bargain. Caddies are required (and who wouldn’t want one on a course like this?) and walking is encouraged. Need a swing tune-up while you’re there? Casa de Campo is home to the only Jim McLean Golf School in the Caribbean.
Along with The Dog, Casa de Campo offers three breathtaking nines at Dye Fore, spread along cliffs high above the Chavon River and overlooking the resort’s Marina, and The Links, which sits just east of its big brother and winds through the interior of the resort. It’s not too long, playing 6,664 yards from the tips and 6,040 from the next tees up (the blues), but driving accuracy is paramount since water comes into play on five holes, and Dye liberally sprinkled the track with well-placed fairway bunkers. The greens are small and many of them are elevated, so your iron play needs to be in top form, too.
Oops! Almost forgot the rest of the family while salivating all over the golf courses. It’s worth noting that kid-friendly and family-inclusive versions of all attractions are offered throughout Casa de Campo. Tennis, biking, and a 5K running trail are on site and water fun is a given, with snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, Hobie Cats, windsurfers, and paddleboats available at the resort’s private Minitas Beach and trips easily arranged to nearby Catalina Island and Palmilla Beach on Saona Island for full- or half-day excursions. There’s also a sailing school and deep-sea or fresh-water fishing.
Want to add something different to your sports accomplishments? Learn polo! Casa de Campo has three playing fields, a practice field, and one of the largest string of polo ponies in the world, not to mention instructors happy to teach the whole family (over age 7) how to wield a mallet while astride a galloping pony. And if you just want to watch a chukka or two, feel free! You can also arrange for trail rides and basic riding lessons.
Then there’s the world-class 245-acre shooting center at Casa de Campo. It offers more than 200 stations featuring trap, skeet, and sporting clays along with live bird hunting. I discovered that the skills required to putt a 30-footer into the hole aren’t at all similar to those necessary to knock down a sailing clay target.
If you simply must bring your own yacht, the shipyard at the Marina is the largest in the Caribbean—capable of handling a run-about of up to 120 tons. While you’re docked, you can visit the Marina, full of posh boutiques, or stroll through the resort’s Altos de Chavon, a cultural enclave of cobblestone streets, artists’ studios, galleries, and craft workshops. Check the schedule and try to take in a show in the 5,000-seat amphitheater that was inaugurated by Frank Sinatra.
Eighteen restaurants, ranging from The Beach Club by Le Cirque to Il Pistakio Ice Cream at the Marina give you a multitude of choices for every meal. There is a spa, too, with a 51-page pampering menu. —Dave Donelson
Details: There are 185 guestrooms; 50 three-to five-bedroom villa homes, each with private pool and butler, maid, and personal chef if desired; and 64 lodge rooms at the Pete Dye Golf Lodge. Winter rates through April 2014 start at $536 (plus 28% tax per person, per night; minimum three-night stay) and include a full breakfast, daily green fees on any of the three golf courses, use of the range and club storage, and fitness center. Packages with lunch, snacks, dinner, and unlimited drinks start at $686 (plus 28% tax per person, per night).
Getting There: JetBlue and Delta fly direct from JFK to Santo Domingo, which is about an hour-long drive to the resort. You can also fly nonstop twice a week from JFK on JetBlue to La Romana, just eight minutes from Casa de Campo.
Contact: Casa de Campo, Carretera La Romana-Higuey, La Roman, Domincan Republic, (809) 523-3333; casadecampo.com