It was in 1971 that the renowned American golf course architect, Pete Dye, unveiled his new layout near La Romana in the Dominican Republic. It was called Cajuiles, in honour of the cashew trees of the region. But Dye must have appreciated that the name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue and soon he was struck instead by a phrase the locals had for the sharp coral rocks that lies just off the coast. They called them diente del perro: the teeth of the dog. That name stuck. Today the the luxurious resort of Casa de Campo – it even has a polo lawn! – also has two other golf courses, The Dye Fore and The Links Course, but there is no question which is top dog: the one that is frequently ranked the best course in the Caribbean and equally often among the top-100 courses in the world (if ratings are your thing as much as they are Donald Trump’s). And last week I was fortunate enough to have the chance to play it.
If you read my previous golf blog, you’ll know that I was interested to find out how well my ‘new’ swing would stand up to the pressure of playing such an outstanding test of golf. Well, allow me to refer to you to the 5th hole, the par-three you see above which we played off the blue tees (there are also gold if you want more course and white if you want less), from where it was 151 yards with a slightly helping wind. It has, quite appropriately I think, been described as an amalgam of the ‘Postage Stamp’ 8th at Royal Troon and the 7th at Pebble Beach. Having taken a look at the hole, my wife, who has seen me hit some horrendous stuff over the years, said knowingly: “You may as well just throw your ball in the water to save time.” Ha! Instead I hit an 8-iron over the stick – while it was in the air, Ed, the guy I was playing with, said: “Oh my God, in the hole!” – and it settled down 20 feet past the cup. Par. Since by that point I had played four consecutive holes in bogey-par-bogey-par, I think it’s fair to say the revamped swing was doing fine. (In the interests of frankness, I should perhaps admit that I had taken eight at the first due to an unlucky shank and a tree getting in the way of a recovery shot.)
However, despite the comparative successes at the 3rd and 5th, overall I have to acknowledge that the Teeth of the Dog got me more than I managed to bite it. It is understandable that the breathtaking settings of the seven oceanside holes – the 5th to the 8th on the front nine, 15th to 17th coming home – mean that it’s those which attract all the attention, but there is plenty to admire while you’re inland as well. On the par-three 13th, for example, there is a reminder of the invention Dye brings to course design. The green is effectively an island, albeit surrounded by sand rather than by water, the latter being the case on what is perhaps Dye’s most famous hole of all, the 17th at the TPC Stadium course at Sawgrass in Florida, home to the Players Championship.
And it is, inevitably, the water holes which command the chief attention here. If the course was being built now rather than when Dye was working wonders with the virgin terrain at his disposal, those sites would probably all have villas on them. As it is, thankfully, going out the ocean is on your left, later it’s to the right. On the short par-four 15th, Dye shows a sense of humour by having a flag planted on an island about a mid-iron away in the middle of the sea…I guess in case you haven’t found enough opportunities to lose a ball in the conventional way.
In fact, talking of the middle of the sea, I would suggest that in terms of off-mainland American golf, Mid Ocean in Bermuda – the spectacular course created by Charles Blair Macdonald exactly 50 years before Dye built his masterpiece – would be the only one to rank alongside Teeth of the Dog. Which is the better? I’m going to have to play them both again and have another think about that.
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