I’ve been to the Dominican Republic several times to see its unfolding development as a major golf destination. But there aren’t going to be a lot of beer tourists heading this way any time soon, unless they’re extremely undemanding.
My last visit, chronicled here, turned into a quest to find Ambar Cerveza Oscura, the darker-hued sibling to the ubiquitous Presidente, the flagship beer of the sole brewery in the DR, the Cervecería Nacional Dominicana. With no more nights to spare on that trip, I was finally successful.
So this time I thought I’d get my order in early, so to speak, shortly after arriving at the Casa de Campo resort. At a cocktail party for our arriving group of golf writers, I already had a Presidente in hand when I met the resort’s general manager, Daniel Hernández Quiñones, and expressed the hope that he might be able to track down an Ambar for me.
As it turned out, he was not able, but he didn’t let me down, either.
Nor did anything else about the resort. I’ve been writing about Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog course for years–without ever seeing it–because one can’t write about golf in the Caribbean without mentioning it.
Ever since it opened in 1971, preceding the opening of Casa de Campo in 1975, Dye’s course has routinely been considered one of the best in the world. (Number 47 in GOLF Magazine’s current Top 100 Courses in the World list.) Its seven holes right on the water (four on the front side, three incoming) have become something of a Caribbean template.
The first seaside hole, number five, is an iconic eye-opening par-3 that starts putting the teeth into the course, which is showing no signs of wear. Dye has returned twice to polish the Teeth, which he still calls one of his favorites.
Others enjoy the Links course (undergoing work during our visit), and some have gone so far as to call the Dye Fore course their favorite. It was mainly to see nine new Dye holes that our group was invited, a nine that will become part of a 27-hole Dye Fore layout.
With the former front nine of Dye Fore (the Marina nine) also undergoing work, we began on the former back nine, now called the Chavón nine since it plays high above the Chavón River in spectacular fashion. In hopes of doing something completely different for the new nine, Dye went to small and sometimes tabletop greens in a links-style nine.
Eric Lillibridge, director of instruction at the resort’s Jim McLean Golf School gives a brief intro here:
Just as we were finishing up our round at Dye Fore some nasty looking clouds rolled impressively in, and the ensuing storm was a dozy.
Mostly the weather was drippingly hot, and under the circumstances Presidente sure began to seem like the beer of choice.There are others–Cervecería Nacional Dominicana also makes a Presidente Light and another cerveza tipo Pilsner, Bohemia and Bohemia Light. But the call of “beer” in these parts provokes the smiling response of “Presidente” to any local I spoke to, almost a point of national pride.
Presidente is a totally unremarkable pale lager, made with sugar and corn grits adjuncts, the kind of beer I pretty much stopped drinking years ago. So I was a little surprised by how much I was looking forward to one, or several, after coming off the golf course.
Or after a round of shooting clays, one of the many non-golf activities available at the 7,000-acre resort. The shooting center is spread out on 245 acres, with 300 different stations available. Our group headed over, put on a protective vest, were handed a box of 25 shells and earplugs, and were soon merrily blasting away.
I expected to hit absolutely nothing. True, I was a sharpshooter with an M-16 back in my army days, but I think I’ve fired a rifle exactly once since the early 70’s. More surprise, when I had 17 hits, tops in our crew. But it was hot and sweaty work–time for another Presidente.
The weather wasn’t all that was hot. The Zimmerman Agency had arranged the trip and the two capable reps they had on the Casa case, Kerry Anne Watson and Jennifer Gillespie, also happen to be stunners. And one of the invitees, Renee Knorr, is the fashion and beauty director for The 19th Hole Magazine.
Golf press trips rarely have a pulchritude level this high. Renee has, unsurprisingly, modeled and done film work, and she wore one killer outfit after another on and off the golf course, though if that dress above looks good from the front, its absence in the back was also tough to beat (eyes right).
The emphasis on fashion is something of a tradition here, if one recalls that the 1971 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue used Teeth of the Dog as a backdrop.
The resort was owned in the early days by Gulf+Western, which owned Paramount Pictures, and a few movies were filmed on location here as well. (Dip back into “Apocalypse Now” and check out the river scenes, filmed on the Chavón River, pre-Dye Fore days.)
A Paramount set designer created Altos de Chavón, an artist gallery and shopping area near the Dye Fore course, made to look like a Mediterranean village. I took a stroll through one morning and it seemed like a fashion shoot was going on around every bend.
The cameras were firing the last night of our visit as well, as we’d all been asked to dress in white for a dinner at the Beach Club by Le Cirque.
Daniel Hernández Quiñones was at the dinner and he turned a little white himself when I mentioned that the Ambar beer had never shown up. As I soon discovered, he then set the wheels to turning, turning to executive chef Luca Banfi, something of a beer nut himself after over a decade of work in craft beer-crazy San Diego.
I’d spoken to Luca earlier in the trip and found out he’d been at beer-food pairing at a San Diego Beer Weekend event in June, 2010 that I had attended. Sure enough, when I returned home I spotted him in a photo I’d taken then–small world, getting smaller all the time.
Before long a Erdinger Dunkelweiss was sitting on the table and a Köstritzer Schwarzbier in the ice chest. I was a happy man, but still, I wondered aloud, no Ambar? Daniel pulled out his phone, and an acquaintance told him he didn’t believe it was being made anymore.
This I later confirmed–Cervecería Nacional Dominicana ceased production of Ambar in February. Descansa en paz.
I was a happy man as well when I asked Jennifer Gillespie to strike a pose and my misbehaving camera caught her at just the right moment. I think we have a chance to turn Jennifer into the Farrah Fawcett poster girl of the 21st century–if anyone reading is old enough to know what I mean by that.
Brewer: Cervecería Nacional Dominicana
Style: Pale lager
Availability: Ubiquitous in the Dominican Republic; 15 states east of the Mississippi and Washington, D.C.
For More Information: www.cnd.com.do
[Sept. 29, 2011]