Long the Caribbean’s marquee golf resort, Casa de Campo owes its success to three spectacular Pete Dye-designed courses, a high-society clientele — and the siren’s call of bikini-clad supermodel Elle Macpherson.
In golf, as in fashion, it’s impossible to overestimate the marketing clout of a bikini-clad supermodel.
Already a favourite among the game’s cognoscenti, Casa de Campo instantly became a must-play destination for red-blooded golfers everywhere when the posh Dominican Republic resort provided the tropical backdrop for Elle Macpherson and other beauties in the 1987 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
“Sports Illustrated was the breakthrough we’d been waiting for,” says Montreal-born Gilles Gagnon, Casa de Campo’s director of golf since 1980. “It showcased a unique course and an exotic Caribbean setting that golfers wanted to tick off their bucket list along with St. Andrews and Pebble Beach.”
Today, Casa de Campo ranks among the world’s elite resorts, attracting, among others, billionaires, former U.S. presidents and movie stars who come to golf, play polo, skeet shoot, frolic in the surf and otherwise enjoy a sprawling 7,000-acre retreat so big and ripe with possibilities that hotel guests are given golf carts to get around the grounds.
But even more than Sports Illustrated, Casa de Campo’s success has rested from its opening in 1971 on the brilliance of Teeth of the Dog, the marquee attraction of the property’s three Pete Dye-designed courses.
Dye, now 86, is renowned for his often radical designs at TPC Sawgrass and other celebrated courses. He was hired by then owners Gulf + Western to literally chisel a course from the oceanfront site’s razor-sharp coral rock, called “dientes del perro” (teeth of the dog in Spanish) by his frustrated Dominican crew.
Planted sprig by sprig using machete-sharpened sticks, Dye’s generous fairways wind through now mature stands of coconut palms, gumbo-limbo trees and bougainvillea. The real fun begins closer to the greens, where sand and water and severe drop-offs demand surgically precise approach shots. Most unforgettable of all are the seven oceanside holes, including the eponymous 16th, a long and treacherous par three set in a rock cove roughly shaped like a dog’s snapping jaws.
A hands-on perfectionist, Dye, who used to own a home on the property, has spent half a lifetime tweaking and even massively reworking Teeth of the Dog and the resort’s two other courses.
Reopened in early 2012 after a major reconstruction, The Links is a 6,900-yard inland layout played around man-made lakes and through tall roughs of bahia and guinea grass. And, perched on windswept bluffs overlooking the Chavon River, Dye Fore, a rolling and starkly bare behemoth that launched to rave reviews in 2003, has been expanded from 18 to 27 holes. Dye Fore’s new nine, Lakes, snakes dramatically around 25 acres of ponds.
Between rounds, resort guests can enjoy the pool, spa and other amenities at a hotel that recently completed a $40-million refurbishment. Guest rooms are in red-roofed, two-story casitas that dogleg out from the main reception area. Also available are 50 three- to seven-bedroom villas.
Not to be missed is the Marina at Casa de Campo, designed by Italian architect Gianfranco Fini after the colourful seaside towns of the Mediterranean. Equally impressive is Altos de Chavon, a re-creation of an Old World artisan village that includes a Grecian amphitheatre inaugurated in 1982 by a Frank Sinatra concert.
Then, too, there are the weekly polo matches, as well as skeet and trap shooting at the 300-station shooting centre.
During the winter high season, Casa de Campo’s guest list reads like a Who’s Who of the social registry and entertainment world. Familiar faces include Bill Gates, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, and former U.S. presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton.
Within a single month several years ago, Gilles Gagnon played rounds with Bush, Clinton and sitting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Still more proof of the marketing wallop of great golf, a luxury resort — and a supermodel in a bikini.