LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic -- In a sense, all golf courses are a work of art. They embody the vision and creativity of the architect, the stroke of the builder and the tender loving care of the superintendent.
But there are few places where the description of art is more apropos than Pete Dye's Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo resort.
Dye, who said building Teeth was "a once in a lifetime experience," was just starting to make a name for himself when he took this assignment on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic. In what would become his trademark style, Dye is as much a builder as he is an architect.
Plans for Dye are more like guidelines. And when he got to the ocean holes on this course -- of which there are seven ocean holes -- Dye directed his crew to not use heavy machinery but pick axes, chisels and sledgehammers. This was golf-course building like it was 100 years ago, much of it out of necessity, as it was the only way to carve the holes out of the coral that surrounds the coast.
Forty years later, Dye's masterpiece has withstood the test of time. It's still, arguably, the top course in the Caribbean and certainly on most serious golfers short list of places to play before you die.
Since Teeth of the Dog, of course, many spectacular seaside courses have been built in the tropics. Some may even have as much beauty, but few have the character of Teeth. And even as this 7,000-acre resort added another 45 holes and a few fine resort courses have been built nearby, Teeth remains the course that brings most players to the Dominican.
Course certainly shows its Teeth
Teeth of the Dog has a reputation for not only being picturesque but tough. At nearly 7,500 yards long, it's plenty long enough to test the best players, but that's only part of the challenge. Add a little wind, which is pretty common on seaside courses, and you can find all kind of trouble out here.
The most obvious hazard, of course, is the ocean, which borders seven holes directly. In particular, there are three par 3s -- No. 5, No. 7 and No. 16 -- that cross part of the Caribbean. The fifth is just 176 yards from the back tee, but it's one of the most photographed holes in the world. And the other two are both more than 200 yards at their longest.
Interestingly, the course starts out rather easy. There's nothing tricky about the opening par 4, which has a wide fairway and medium length. Bust a driver out there, and you have a short iron into the green. The same could be said for the second hole, but by the time you get to the par-5 third, you realize you've been lulled into a false sense of security.
That's where you really start to see Dye's creativity around the greens, whether it's an oddly shaped bunker or swale around the green. The fourth gives golfers their first real glimpse of the ocean as they try to hold on throughout the round.
"At some point in your game, this Dog will bite you ... guaranteed," said Gilles Gagnon, director of golf at Casa de Campo.
Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog course: The verdict
Rack rate for visitors not staying at the resort is $350 in prime season, but you can get better deals than that if you stay at the resort.
Even if you didn't, though, and you made the trip to the Dominican and stayed somewhere else, you would still want to make the effort to play here, even if it meant playing full rate. For this is one memorable golf course that you'll talk about for the rest of your life.
It's also a very good overall golf experience. Forecaddies are required on Teeth, and they are quite knowledgeable and helpful, especially when it comes to reading greens and advising you on shots.
The staff is friendly, the golf shop is well stocked and the clubhouse offers a nice variety of food and drink. Practice facilities are also excellent with a full-grass range, short-game area and putting green.