Early in his career Pete Dye established a beachhead in the Dominican Republic with the creation of this course at Casa de Campo. He was so enamored with the place he bought a residence next to the 7th green and spent his lifetime tinkering with this beautiful seaside course. What resulted is a distinctive seaside layout that has been chosen as the site of the prestigious Latin American Amateur Championship twice in the last five years. Because of the success of his first design Pete’s fingerprints can be found on a plethora of resort and private courses on the island and as a result the Dominican presents a full treatise of the Dye design expertise.
Looking at an aerial view of the jagged coastline Pete must have noticed that it resembled the snarl of a German Shepard guard dog from a WWII prisoner of war camp. This is where the course gets it’s moniker and Pete staked his reputation on the difficulty that represented. If the wind is up at 20 mph plus the reputation is well earned and all bets are off on the medal score. As I suggest to people when they play wind swept capricious links lay outs, make sure you have a match going, it is a hedge against a medal score train wreck and will insure that you have a good time no matter what transpires.
It is worth noting that with so many greens set against the seaside backdrop it gives you little depth perception which makes calculating approach carry distance a major challenge. An experienced caddie with an accurate range finder can instill some needed confidence in solving the riddle of picking approach clubs.
Having said that, in spite of the reputation as Pete’s most punitive design, I think the course has a bark that is far worse then it’s bite. This is very much a positional driving course where success on the approach depends on the angle of attack you are left with off the tee. If the wind is not debilitating, a player who thoughtfully positions their tee ball can, for the most part, control their own destiny.
The call of the rocks and the surf is the obvious psychological battle you must negotiate. But, as you see with Pete’s most challenging tracks like TPC Sawgrass and the Ocean Course at Kiawah, it is the innovative green complexes that present the stiffest challenges and make the value of position off the tee so pivotal to scoring well. This is a relatively flat seaside piece of ground so Pete created topographical interest by raising many table top greens to create shoulders that will spill a shot without the requisite intention into low hollows or fierce collection bunkers from which full Phil antics are required for recovery. The green surfaces are often narrow irregular shapes which accentuate the difficulty in keeping an approach on the dance floor-the proper attack angle makes that much more plausible.
The greens and surrounds have Paspalum grass which is a hearty plant that survives well in hot, seaside conditions. The stuff is very grainy and affects putting pace and, equally problematic, chipping off the sticky surface of greenside surrounds. Both of these factor into your play so, in anticipation of the Paspalum effect, you should probably prepare by hitting a dozen pitches and chips in the designated short game practice area next to the driving range.
Once on the greens take notice of the angle of the shadows which will reveal the direction of the setting sun and help you anticipate the effect of the grain on all putts. This is a place where you should read the pace of the putt first and then consider the line to match up. There is sufficient swerve in the surfaces themselves that makes picking the accurate line difficult enough, but controlling the speed of your putts will have more to do with avoiding a knee-knocker above the hole or a six-footers coming back.
The bottom line is that you better carefully consider your preferred drive position on every tee and expect that a short game with a wide variety of creative recovery shots will be required if you are to shoot something within your handicap range.
As is detailed in the Hole-By-Hole descriptive below, both sides have a similar rhythm-they start with mellow inland holes before tossing your fate to the call of the Sirens on the rocky coast line. Standing on the first tee a wide fairway fans out in all directions but it is a solitary palm through the left rough that is your shot line. With a short club in your hand, a coffee table green complex that repels shots in three directions awaits your approach so it is evident early on that dexterity will matter.
The next three holes slowly ramp up the challenge before you reach the first toothy stretch of The Dog. From the fifth to the eighth it features a pair of rocky par threes and a couple of tough par fours mixed in for good measure. At only 125 yards an on-level pitch into a tiny green of the fifth seems very doable, but wind, fear, and one tree with long reach off the front right make this anything but a pushover.
This is followed by the #1 handicap hole on the course, a mid-range four par where the prevailing wind pushes your Titleist toward the rocks that snuggle the coastline. The further right you play off the tee to play safe from the sea the harder the angle into the green tucked back to the left.
Next is a signature par three that sits adjacent to the backyard of Pete’s Dominican residence. This green is a much more generous target then the fifth but the sweeping contour of the putting surface can lead to serious head scratching as your ball separates from the hole and you think you can make out an audible chortle from just over the fence to your right.
Much like the sixth, the eighth profiles right-to-left around the coastline but it actually plays a half a stroke harder to me because the green complex has much more immediate peril associated with it. This puts a premium on the distance control and accuracy of the second shot.
The outward half ends with a three-shot par 5 where you drive it over remnant of the runway of the old Casa airport. In the old days you had to sequence your drive with arrival and departure of jets servicing the resort. Once in the fairway show sine restraint on the layup to get into position for a short pitch to get one more birdie chance on this side.
Relatively tame inland holes start out the second nine but the wake up calls begins at a very kitchy Par 3 at the 13th hole. The descriptive below tells the story, this is a tough par if you miss the elusive putting surface. The sobering Par 5 that follows brings you back to the sea and it is definitely a hole where you must keep your wits about you. Pete sets you up for a sucker punch baiting you to go for the green in two but you have to resist that temptation because the green is set on a tight angle to the hazard and it is very shallow to your approach. There are bad results lurking on missing in any direction.
From 15 through 17 you are back in the jowls of the dog and it takes sound strategy and great shot making to get through this sequence without serious scorecard carnage. Both par fours have green complexes hanging over the Atlantic so the wind influence is at it’s maximum. The par three in between is probably the hardest hole you will play all day. Pay close attention to the pin position which will dictate the proper intended flight line for your approach.
Turning back inland the day ends with a solid four par which once again calls for articulate shot placement off the tee and conservative line on the approach since a watery grave is hovering below the left front of the green. There is plenty of room right of the green complex and, with the right shot shape, the contours in that landing area can feed your ball onto the putting surface.
When you are done make sure to enjoy a post game buffet lunch in the Lago Restaurant that overlooks the finishing hole of the Dog and a long view of the shoreline. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is perfect for decompression after the round.
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
Architect: Pete Dye (1971)
Par Rating Slope Yardage
Black 72 76 135 7263
Gold 72 74.4 134 6969
Blue 72 71.2 132 6429
White 72 68.8 126 5954
Red 72 68.0 118 4827
For more on the Casa de Campo resort click to see Postcard From Casa de Campo