New golf course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic is to 'Dye' for

By Dale Leatherman, Contributor

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic - We are standing on the 10th tee of "Dye Fore," the latest Pete Dye creation at Casa de Campo, the Dominican Republic's premier resort. The golf course is so new that the tee markers are wooden stakes and the scorecard is a scrap of copy paper. Pete's son, P.B., is grinning. His wife Jean is grinning. They had warned us we were in for a treat when we teed off on the first hole.

"I've seen enough golf courses to know nothing compares to it," says architect P.B. Dye. "Where else do you have the Caribbean Sea, a 300-foot deep river gorge, a 16th-century Mediterranean village and mountains as a backdrop for a course?"

"It's shock and awe, isn't it?" Jean asks.

I had to agree. The 10th tee is perched atop a 50-foot-high mound of earth that resembles the platform for a Mayan temple, with steep stone-and-wood steps leading to the top. To the right is a 300-foot chasm carved over eons by the Chavon River. Ahead, the fairway arcs along the edge of the precipice to a green with its back edge suspended in space. Downriver, on a rocky cliff even higher than the tee, the tile roofs and stone walls of Altos de Chavon shimmer in the sun like a mirage. The village is Casa de Campo's amazing recreation of a 16th-century Mediterranean town, hand-built in the 1970s of stone, rough wood and wrought iron.

We had a hint of what was to come on holes three, four and five, a par-3 and a pair of dazzling par-4s on the cliff's edge with the resort's posh new marina and the Caribbean Sea in the background. Hole No. 5 has a nest of bunkers on the right, the chasm on the left. The green is a slender lozenge presenting a small, deep target with lots of chances to slip off the putting surface.

But nothing really prepares you for the back nine - five holes flirting with a dizzying precipice that draws the eye and, sometimes, the shot.

P.B. Scoffs at the challenge: "There's plenty of room out there. The fairways are 200 feet wide or more. There's some length out there, but the fairways are quite benevolent."

Length, yes.

The course is 7,770 from the tips, but a reasonable 6,420 from the tees most men will play. From the forward tees there are a couple of hefty (175- and 170-yard) par-3s over gullies that probably will have women howling in protest. How do you hit your driver or three-wood and make it stick on a slick surface like these TifDwarf Bermuda greens?

Which brings up the subject of grasses. For the most part, the course is turfed in two strains of seashore paspallum grass, irrigated with salt water. The grass is finer than Bermuda, and sets a ball up nicely.

But even the cushiest lie will not save you from the brink if you fixate on it. On the plus side, if you make it to your approach shot without mishap, every hole has the opportunity for a run-up.

Holes 10, 11 and 12 are sustained awe, as Jean says - a 590-yard par-5, a 490-yard par-4 and a 235-yard par-3. You are either hitting over chasms or to fairways that drift inexorably toward the gorge. The bunkers on 12 are particularly awesome - steep mounds with deep sand pits from which there can be no forward escape.

On the 13th hole the course bears inland briefly, then returns on the par-4 14th to a green on the cliff's edge. Fifteen is a 220-yard par-3 spanning a ravine and concluding next to the 12th green. The course turns slightly inland, finishing with a flourish. Eighteen is a roller-coaster hole that drops off on the left to a rough plateau. Unless you regain the fairway on your second shot, your approach will be over a deep bunker to a tabletop green you cannot see from below.

In theory, it's impossible to be all things to all people. In reality, Casa de Campo, a 7,000-acre resort on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, comes close. It is constantly changing, improving, and evolving into a Caribbean playground where even the most jaded visitor can find delight. No other resort in the Caribbean has world-class facilities for polo, tennis, shooting, sailing - and, of course, golf.

Dye Fore is the resort's third Pete Dye-designed golf course (four including the private La Romana Country Club). Dye's enduring Teeth of the Dog is the Caribbean's only course ranked consistently in the world's top 50 (35th this year). The inland, lake-studded Links Course is overshadowed by TOD but is a challenging, beautifully crafted and manicured course in its own right.

Last year Casa opened a new marina and yacht club that could be a stand-alone resort. Shops and restaurants range along brick-clad promenades overlooked by balconied apartments and villas.

The marina is located where the Chavon River flows into the sea. Farther up river on a high bluff is Altos de Chavon, a working artists' community with shops and restaurants. The village's stone 5,000-seat amphitheatre is the venue for operatic performances and a spectacular new show, "Kandela," incorporating non-stop, high-energy music and dancing.

Lodging at Casa de Campo

Guests stay in 300 hotel rooms or 150 luxury villas, and enjoy more than a dozen bars and restaurants. Beaches, pools and other amenities are a given. The size of the place might be a drawback if it were not for the availability of four-seater rental golf carts for use on the resort's golf-cart-sized roadways and parking lots.

Dining at Casa de Campo

Casa de Campo proper has several restaurants, including the popular Tropicana, an open air dining area overlooking two swimming pools. The specialty of the house is beef, which is beautifully prepared.

Altos de Chavon is also home to four fine specialty restaurants serving everything from pizza to Mexican, including the cosmopolitan Casa del Rio and La Piazzeta, with its antipasto bar and old-world Italian food.

Dale LeathermanDale Leatherman, Contributor

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.

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