Golf Resorts We Love: Casa de Campo

Long the Caribbean’s marquee golf resort, Casa de Campo owes its success to three stunning Pete Dye-designed courses, a high-society clientele—and the siren’s call of bikini-clad supermodel Elle Macpherson.

 

Sports Illustrated 1987 Swimsuit Issue (Elle Macpherson photographed by John G. Zimmerman)

Elle Macpherson posing at Casa de Campo in 1987. (Image: Sports Illustrated)

(Last updated February 2021.)

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 from 1980 to early 2016 and now the resort’s Director of Golf Emeritus. “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 2,833-hectare 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, who died at age 94 in January 2020, was 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.

Casa de Campo, Teeth of the Dog golf course, Aerial View (Image: Casa de Campo)

Casa de Campo’s famous Teeth of the Dog course. (Image: Casa de Campo)

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.

“I created eleven holes and God created seven,” Dye said of his now iconic design.

A hands-on perfectionist, Dye, who for years owned a home on the property, spent half a lifetime tweaking and even massively reworking Teeth of the Dog and the resort’s two other courses.

Extensively remodelled about a decade ago, The Links is an inland layout played around man-made lakes and through tall roughs of bahia and guinea grass. A far stiffer test of golf is found at Dye Fore, a rolling and starkly bare behemoth perched on windswept bluffs overlooking the Chavon River. Launched to rave reviews in 2003. Dye Fore has since been expanded from 18 to 27 holes. The new nine, Lakes, snakes dramatically around 10 hectares of ponds.

Kayaking on the Chavon River, Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic (Image: Casa de Campo)

Kayaking on the Chavon River. (Image: Casa de Campo)

There’s also a 4,459 square-metre golf practice area complete with driving range, a dedicated short-game zone, as well as grass mounds and depressions designed to simulate conditions on the three courses.

Between rounds, guests can enjoy the pool, spa and other amenities at a resort that has 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 Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Still more proof of the marketing wallop of great golf, a luxury resort—and a supermodel in a bikini.

 

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