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Fergal O'Leary's Caribbean Tiger Tooth

14 March, 2013

Casa de Campo - Fergal O'Leary's Caribbean Tiger Tooth

Flying into La Romana airport offers a view of the barren Dominican landscape and how different it was from the vibrancy of where we were coming from.

Casa de Campo means "Country House" in Spanish. The resort has three courses designed by Pete Dye: Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore and The Links. These courses sit inside a 7,000-acre luxury property, which is made up of beautiful neighbourhoods, tennis and equestrian centres, a magnificent marina, private beaches, polo fields, and a world-class spa just to name a few things. The Teeth of the Dog is ranked amongst the top 100 golf courses of the world and having hosted 'Shell's Wonderful World of Golf' and offering visitors some of the best ocean holes in the world, I was certainly looking forward to it. Dye designed The Teeth of the Dog in 1971 and it is his most highly rated course on the world list. He has been tinkering with it on and off for years since he resides part of the year in the Dominican Republic. From speaking with the Director of Golf, the move to paspalum greens was a decision that has paid dividends and a great improvement from the troublesome Bermuda grass seed.

The term "Teeth of the Dog" is derived from the term locals give to the coral rock the course is built on. The course was originally called 'Cajuiles Golf Club' and was known by this name for the first 12 years of its existence. 'Teeth of the Dog' came about in 1983 and has stuck ever since. Mr. Dye favoured that name from the start; it was the client who liked "Cajuiles." The problem was, with people calling the course three different names [including Casa de Campo, Teeth of the Dog and Cajuiles], it had identity problems and a lot of people didn't understand they all referred to the same place. While driving up the main entrance, I saw signs around the property for Cajuiles, so the legacy of the name continues to exist if you keep your eyes open.

From researching the 18 holes on Teeth of the Dog, the obvious emphasis is on the ocean holes. Every review you read, and every interview with Mr. Dye, contains the words 'God built 7 holes, I just had to lay out the other 11,' or some derivative of that. I've played all of the Dye courses ranked in the top 100 in the United States, so am very familiar with his capabilities. Every photograph I've seen of the course is only of the ocean holes. This was a concern to me, as I knew the majority of the holes did not have an ocean view. Having played 86 of top 100 in the world, I have a strong understanding of what makes a course worthy of its ranking. As I have declared in other reviews, I don't get all hot and bothered about the surroundings that Mother Nature gave to us, but continue to prioritise and focus on what the architect created. I was trying not to be sceptical, but if a course only gets into the top 100 in the world because it's living off the reputation of just 7 holes, then I start asking questions quickly. Cypress Point clearly has dramatic ocean holes, but many of the inland holes are equally as memorable and possess architectural brilliance. The same goes for the likes of Portmarnock Golf Club and Pacific Dunes. A course doesn't get into the top 100 in the world just for a handful of holes. I expect the full package.

The opening hole was not very impressive, and somewhat disappointing. Generally speaking, the course has features typical of a Pete Dye design, such as waste bunkers and elevated greens, but I expected more from the opener. Thankfully things quickly improved on the 2nd. You peer out at more railroad ties than you can count. This is real target golf with a massive waste bunker running up the left hand side lined with the blackened railroad ties. How suddenly your mindset off the tee has changed. The hole has a tremendous amount of character, and despite being a short par four, it is significantly more demanding than number one. You actually worry about places that you really don't want to go. I was happy to make my par, that's for sure.

The 3rd hole stretches out to a long par five, only reachable to the very long hitters. The prevailing wind is slightly into you from the right and makes hitting the green in two shots a significant challenge. With the tiny raised green, I concluded that it's best to approach this green with a crisp wedge shot, otherwise you'll be spending time in pot bunkers trying to replicate re-runs of a Phil Mickelson TV lesson from last summer… best of luck with that. Every hole so far goes away from the clubhouse and is in the same direction, and the 4th hole is no different. It's the first really challenging hole, a long par four to a small green tucked away under the trees. Hitting this green in regulation, with the prevailing wind, is a daunting challenge as the approach shot is very demanding. Walking off the green, I couldn't believe my eyes looking at the scorecard. The 4th hole is 489 yards from the tips and is listed as Index 17. This is utter nonsense and I would like to meet the individual who authorised such tripe. I said to my playing companion who had a 10 handicap and didn't make less than a 7, 'if we were playing a match, you wouldn't get a shot here,' which he couldn't believe either. At this stage, I had enough of playing inland and was ready for the ocean. Number 5 was just a short walk away.

As with many stretches of holes on Teeth of the Dog, you find yourself going through the motions until you get to the ocean holes. You almost become impatient and lose interest while your imagination is busy dreaming about your next shot over water. The 5th hole makes your body go into sensory overload. Unlike Pebble Beach or Whistling Straits for example, these ocean holes are created at sea level. This little par three demands you to hit over the water to a target the size of your kitchen table. It's pretty simple really, the only bail out area is the ocean, so the decision process doesn't take too long. Saddle up and knock it on the green! Holes 5 through 8 turn right around and play along the ocean back towards the clubhouse. The sound of the waves crashing around you while you putt is really fantastic and you're suddenly in a different world.

The 6th hole is an index 1, par four continuing back along the coastline. The fairway is very bumpy and there are no flat lies to take advantage of. The par three 7th is many people's favourite hole on the property. It's 224 yards over the ocean. That's pretty spectacular, the likes of which can only be found on the Monterey Peninsula or Mauna Kea. There are small run-off areas around the green, but again, the water tickles the green and welcomes any ball that gets lost in the wind. This hole gets the heart racing. The helping wind is not always in your favour, however. Yes, it helps carry your ball over the accommodating water, but coming in hot with a low trajectory doesn't help with getting the ball to sit on the green as desired. Pete Dye has plenty of danger off the back of the green that could ruin what was once thought as an excellent tee shot. Those famous words come to mind 'well, it looked great in the air.'

Number 8 continues to impress with a par four hugging the jagged coastline, worthy of its index 3. The 8th green could well be the most amazing visual on the front side. From the fairway, you don't appreciate the architecture until you're standing on it. A redan style right-to-left feature, with the back left of the green expanding much deeper than you realise, offering many more spell-binding pin locations. I couldn't imagine playing to a back left pin into the wind with a 3 iron. Forget it. Not even Ian Woosnam enjoys hitting long irons that much. The green is almost like the letter L and you have to see it to believe it, a little like the experience of seeing the 11th green at Kittansett for the first time. When you step onto the par five 9th tee box, say goodbye to the ocean for over two hours. You're back to inland golf and the excitement fades away like my sunblock on a hot day (don't forget to reapply before you get burnt!).

The 9th hole plays uphill back to the clubhouse. The tee-shot is somewhat uneventful as you can hammer a drive out onto a fairway almost the size of a runway. There is a large unhealthy waste bunker which looks neglected and in serious need of TLC. From speaking with the Director of Golf about the sand and bunkers on Teeth of the Dog, we discussed at length the need to address the waste areas. The sand is inconsistent throughout and people notice the different colour sand in the greenside bunkers. I felt like the bunkering on this course was not Dye's best effort from a design, as well as a strategic placement point of view, and subsequent conditioning. I normally remember stand out bunkers from a golf course, but none of them tickled my fancy. When I think of what he did at Crooked Stick, The Golf Club, Pete Dye Golf Club or TPC Sawgrass, they seem like poles apart.

Holes 10 through 14 were not very memorable or challenging and could be easily navigated by golfers of all levels. I won't spend time describing them as they again play away from the clubhouse and don't have too much architecture to tell your Granny about. You find yourself a little let down by the sheer swiftness of how the ocean excitement sails away. I personally don't get energised about playing driver wedge, driver wedge over and over with the occasional 5 iron approach shot thrown in for variety sake. I quickly realised why these holes don't make the brochure or the website photographs. I will, however, promote the par three 13th hole which is a 200-yard carry to a long deep green surrounded by a huge amount of sand. I was proud to hit that narrow elevated surface which I'm sure has dished out many triple bogeys mid-way through the back nine for the hopeful player. Again, the conversation went back to looking forward to the ocean holes that have been hidden for too long, which is inevitable amongst a group of experienced players. I don't need resort style golf when seeking the greatest golf courses on earth.

The 'commute' from the 14th green to the 15th tee is like driving through a tunnel. At the end of the tunnel are holes along the ocean, which is the golfing definition of a happy ending. The 15th hole is a par four with water all to your right. The generosity of the fairway is not extended to the size of the dance floor. The prevailing wind (which has not been a factor for hours) suddenly slams in your face. The 150-yard approach shot is now offering up the possibility of having to hit up as much as a choked up 4 iron under the wind that is flapping your trousers off. The 'Teeth' part of the course name was firmly living up to its reputation. It was a welcome change. The green had gentle contours, exaggerated by the force of the wind whisking your ball over the paspalum seeds. If you par the 15th, you're off to a great start on a magnificent closing stretch.

The par three 16th brings the camera out of the bag. It represents 204 yards over the active ocean to a diagonal green. The wind is not your friend on this hole, and having the great fortune of Irish heritage, I didn't think twice about the requirement of playing the ball off my back foot and making sure that my follow through didn't go past my left hip. The 'stinger' was called upon and resulted in a 4-foot birdie.

My interpretation of the golf course overall was highly complimentary, but in the grand scheme of things, do the non-ocean holes support the ranking? It's like, if you only go into the lobby of the Empire State Building, have you really seen all that New York has to offer? You have to go all the way up to deserve the prize. I think the course ranking is too much of a big apple. Like the par fours along the ocean on the front side, the 17th is a brute. I can't remember playing a hole so tight along the ocean before in my life anywhere in the world. It's a straightaway hole measuring 463 yards into the wind. Even if you play to the left side of the fairway from the tee, you can't escape the need to directly play towards the water for the approach shot. There is a fall off the right side down to the water and it really separates the boys from the men. Mr. Dye placed a bunker in front of the green to stop balls from going down into the water, which might be the only time a golfer is happy to be on the beach. This hole can only be described as a Cracker! The last hole climbs back towards the clubhouse, has an ugly waste bunker visual off the tee, and an awkward looking pond in front of the elevated surface.

To recap the course routing, the first four are inland, with 5 through 8 dancing along the water. After playing along the ocean, holes 9 through 14 go back inland and are decent at best. You again hug the ocean on holes 15 through 17 and 18 is an uphill hole away from the water. I would say that Dye has done a good job with an imaginative routing and some really special water holes.

Article and images courtesy of our US Consultant, Fergal O'Leary, who continues his mission to become the youngest person to play the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.


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