There are two kinds of golfers in this world: Let’s call them “Dye-fors” and “Dye-hards.”
The former think nearly everything Pete Dye builds is amazing, a mix of beauty and challenge, a combination of imagination and fearlessness not exhibited by any other modern architect.
The latter consider Dye the “Marquis de Sod,” constructing courses that are hard, harder, hardest. They believe he likes to make high-handicappers scream and good players cry, and that in his spare time he pulls the wings off flies and kicks puppies.
Put me in both camps. The more I see of Pete’s work, the more I respect and appreciate what he’s been doing for more than 50 years. By building courses that force players to think and execute on every shot, he is the true descendant of the great architects of the Golden Age – the natural-born son of the likes of MacKenzie, Tillinghast and Ross.
Arguably the most inventive architect working today, at age 87 Dye continues to amaze and continues to build (and that’s his word, rather than “design,” because he still believes in getting on the bulldozer himself and pushing courses out of the ground). And if you’re looking for the quintessential canvas from Pete’s portfolio, somewhere to play his finest work while enjoying other forms of play, as well, the place to go is Casa de Campo, in the Dominican Republic.
Casa de Campo boasts 81 holes of Dye-designed golf, spanning the extent of both his career and his architectural philosophies. It is, to hand Voltaire a hybrid, the best of all possible golf worlds. With ideal Caribbean weather. But this 7,000-acre property along the Dominican Republic’s southern coast, 90 minutes from the capital city of Santo Domingo, was not always a piece of paradise. Just the opposite. For many years, the thousands of acres near the town of La Romana were planted with sugarcane, and by the 1960s the local mill – owned by the conglomerate Gulf and Western – was the largest producer of sugar in the world. G&W decided to reinvest some of the profits locally, not only improving economic conditions but launching a tourism industry with a world-class golf resort at its heart.
Dye was asked to help find the perfect location, which turned out to be an expanse near the mill that was too dry for cane and too sparse for cattle grazing. Many of the world’s great courses on land near water but otherwise unusable; under Dye’s leadership, another one took form.
More than barren, the land was badass: covered with thick underbrush, boulders, and cactus, it could only be worked by hand. For more than a year, some 300 locals wielding hammers and pickaxes turned nothing into nirvana.
Soil had to be carted from a mile inland, oxen pulled carts back and forth, and slowly the golf course took shape. It originally was referred to as “Cajuiles” for the cashew trees that grew in the surrounding mountains. But Dye overheard the workers referring to the sharp coral rock underfoot and along the sea as “diente del perro,” or “Teeth of the Dog,” and the course – which opened in late 1971 – had a new name.
Like any kind of canine – dental or dogged – the course can change from painless to biting in a heartbeat. The fairways are wide, letting golfers think they have lots of room: which they do unless they want to approach the small, sloped greens from smart spots and at the proper angles, a Dye trademark. There are trees galore, some defining lines of play; same with sand.
But what inevitably stops players cold is the ocean, with seven holes lapped by the Caribbean Sea and demanding precise judgment regarding wind, distance, and adrenaline. The two seaside parthrees, numbers 5 and 16 (pictured on the opening spread), are stunners, as is 17, a par-four “Cape” hole that dares the bold to challenge the waves and wind. (Note the cleverness of the routing, the ocean holes split three and four between the front and back sides.)
A few years ago, Dye returned to the Dog and brushed its coat while sharpening its teeth – adding length, changing some angles, and improving on greatness. As spectacular as Pebble Beach but closer to the water and more fun, this dog is a purebred, one of the world’s finest. At the other end of the property – it takes the shuttle a good 15 minutes to get there – and as much a part of the sky as the Dog is of the water, sit the three nines collectively known as Dye Fore. Rolling over the sinuously curving cliff tops, Chavon, La Marina, and Lagos (or Lakes, which just opened a few months ago) seem to spread for miles, which isn’t entirely an illusion but is exaggerated by the 300-foot-high altitude and the 360-degree views.
While the land heaves and falls, producing tough tilting lies and invisible targets, all three courses remain true to Dye’s principle of messing with the golfer’s mind. And as if dealing with brisk breezes and natural landscape weren’t enough, Pete added clusters of pot bunkers, raised and rollicking green sites, and, on Lagos, five bodies of water, 20 acres’ worth. According to Pete, it took five years to build Lagos, partly because – just as with Teeth of the Dog 40 years earlier – soil had to be brought in from the cane fields. But also, Dye confided, “When you have so much time to build it, you keep looking at it.” He’s right about that: It is something to see.
Back near sea level and abutting the Dog on the inland side is The Links, which isn’t links-like at all but can provide a good warm-up before tackling one of its much bigger brothers. Its water holes, five of them, are all on lakes; the fairways are generous but tightened by well-sited bunkers. Dye recently treated The Links to a makeover, too, most notably switching the small greens to salt-water-resistant Paspalum grass.
The last 18 holes at Casa de Campo are private, but rounds at La Romana Country Club can be arranged. The course begins on low land near the Links and the Dog, then climbs almost up to Dye Fore. In someone’s office sits a master plan for taking nine holes from the country club and marrying them with one of the Dye Fore nines, creating two “new” 18s that would combine broad views with extreme topographic variety.
Maybe some day…
With all Casa de Campo boasts from tees to greens, it’s easy to forget that it’s a full-service resort with more services than most. A recent multi-million-dollar renovation to the accommodations and public spaces has expanded the low-key elegance into almost every corner. Just off the main lobby is La Cana, a steakand- seafood restaurant and one of eight dining options across the property. The other high-end eatery is the Beach Club by Le Cirque: Located at the resort’s secluded private beach, Minitas, it is managed by New York City’s Le Cirque restaurant and one of its chefs.
There are other sandy options including Playita Beach, which must be reserved in advance and is open to only one couple or family per day. Of course, there are the requisite water-sports, from fishing and snorkeling to kayaking in the sea or on the Chavon River.
Polo has been played at Casa de Campo since the resort’s earliest days, and today it has three playing fields and the world’s largest string of ponies under a single brand. Run by world-ranked player Cali Garcia – whose father was involved with the resort from its earliest days – the polo centre is set up for those who want to watch or learn the game.
High on the hills near Dye Fore is a 245-acre shooting centre with more than 300 stations for trap, skeet and sporting clays, and other simulated hunting. Plus there’s a spa, marina and yacht club, equestrian trails and lessons, and a 13- court tennis centre.
Other attractions help make Casa de Campo unique. Next to Dye Fore overlooking the river and mountains is Altos de Chavon, a full-scale replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village. Along its cobblestoned streets are artists’ studios and galleries, workshops, boutiques, restaurants, and bars. There’s also the local church – an idyllic setting for a wedding – and a Grecian-style amphitheater that since opening in 1982 has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra and Andrea Boccelli to Sting and Santana.
Ten minutes from the resort’s main gate is Tabacalera de Garcia, the largest cigar factory in the world. Employing 4,700 people and producing more than 60 different brands – Don Diego, H. Upmann, Romeo and Juliet, and Montechristo among them – the plant is open for tours. The entire process is on display, from the drying of tobacco leaves to the rolling and cutting of the finished products, which can be purchased on-site. At any moment there are as many as 10 million cigars curing in the enormous storeroom.
The cigar factory and the resort both opened in the early 1970s, and there’s long been an intertwining of the two pursuits. That two of the world’s best in their respective specialties should be next-door neighbours is very fitting.