Having played the Links Course this morning, the Golf Road Warriors have now sampled all three tracks here at Casa de Campo. With that sort of first-hand experience in tow, I’ve taken it upon myself to issue five vital directives to golfers mulling or already planning a visit here:
1) Play the Links Course first — If you’re coming from a winter clime and haven’t touched your clubs in months, this is the place to work out the kinks. The front nine is especially playable; it’s not till hole 12 that it gets at all penal — in the form of several lakes that require serious negotiation. Even then, Pete Dye has fashioned an extremely comfortable, attractive piece of eye candy here, a Florida-style faux links with enough elevation change and design interest to place it head and shoulders above 98 percent of the courses you’ll ever find in Florida.
2) Play Teeth of the Dog next — The temptation is to head out there right away, what with all those ocean holes and the beautiful pictures you’ve no doubt seen in advance. But get a round under your belt first; get the feel of the greens and considerable wind here at Casa de Campo. A quick session with the staff at the Jim McLean Golf School here wouldn’t be a bad idea either. You don’t want to get out there with all those expectations and stink it up.
3) Play Dye Fore third, when you’re good and ready — The scale of this course and the views from various spots along its 18 holes (down the Rio Chavon canyon, or down to the Marina on the front nine) are truly extraordinary. But Dye Fore is not for the faint of heart (or, for that matter, some New Englander right off the plane after three golf-less months). You’ll want two rounds under your belt before you tackle this beast. But do tackle it. The risk-reward dynamics here are stark, oversized and (should you negotiate them with dexterity) extremely satisfying. My favorite? The gigantic speed slot on the par-5 18th — a veritable half-pipe carved from the left-center of an uphill slope 60 yards wide. Wow.
4) Bring your “A” short game — Dye courses have the reputation for being difficult, and talk of threading a drive down a half-pipe probably doesn’t help. But that rep is too simple to be true. Pete’s fairways are always generous, with bunkering that, while legion, nearly always funnels golfers down the right path. However, his green complexes are often all-or-nothing affairs. Miss and you’re bunkered (often deeply bunkered) or mired in some swale that requires a putt up a steep, shaved face, or a delicate flop shot to a plateau putting surface, or a bump-and-hope into said steep-shaved face. If you can handle the short sticks, if your sand game is handy, you can score on all three courses here, especially Dye Fore and the Links, where the greenside features are most severe.
5) Don’t worry about bringing enough golf balls — There are two reasons for this. First, these courses aren’t ball-eaters, thanks to the super wide fairway corridors. Yes, there’s a lot of water on the back nine at the Links, and the Caribbean laps against 7 holes at Teeth of the Dog. But that’s about it. Second, the grounds staff at Casa de Campo has scrubbed the course clean of lost balls, shined them up, grouped them together by brand, and will gladly sell them back to you at very reasonable prices — a win-win practice Director of Golf Gilles Gagnon fully endorses.