[Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving! We begin our yearly Jazzy Awards on Friday. (Three guesses who gets Sports Turkey of the Year Award and the first two don’t count! Hint: He’s a multiple Turkey award winner already!) One of the winners will be Casa de Campo’s tremendous Dye Fore, (Marina-Chavon nines), so to set the table for that, let’s take a look first at the 27 private holes on property – the excellent La Romana Country Club.]
LA ROMANA COUNTRY CLUB
Begun in 1986, La Romana is a bridge between Pete Dye’s early work from the late ’60s and ’70s and his modern courses from the ’90s forward. It has many of the playing angles and shot requirements as Teeth of the Dog: length, precision, and careful planning and placement of your drive. It also has smaller-sized greens, (read: not oversized), where one side dramatically slopes off into bunkers, (of which there are 126!), or grassy hollows well below the level of the green, while the other side is more playable. While it lacks the more severe penalties at Teeth for those who spray off the tee, (fairways are wide enough to hit driver on every hole), strokes can bleed away quickly and the round can get out of hand in a matter of moments: one bad swing, one poor decision, one bad break and – BOOM! – there go four-to-six shots, (yet not one of them unfairly).
Again Dye employs the line of charm to keep the golfer honest – the direct line to the hole is perilous, if not impossible, and you must pick the correct angle off the tee to have the optimum angle into the green. The greens have lots of internal contours, the fairways have excellent strategic angles, and the terrain moves up and down constantly – great movement in the earth both horizontally and vertically.
It’s thinking man’s golf all day, relentless in its requirement that you carefully plan your shot and then execute, a good, fair, interesting, tough test of golf. Set over 144 acres, it’s a tough walk, with some longer distances between tees and greens and some hills to traverse, but it’s certainly walkable. Though it’s the least scenic of the Casa courses, (the New nine has prettier and more expansive views), nevertheless La Romana grows on you as the round progresses.
“It’s a member’s course, but a member’s course for good golfers,” said sprightly septuagenarian Marion Demko, a frequent member of Alice Dye’s regular foursome.
“It is a member’s course, so it shouldn’t beat you up too badly,” agreed Pete Dye, “but I put in several huge grass bunkers in bail out areas to keep guys honest. There’s a big one right on eight for example.”
Dye is right about both assertions. First, La Romana is an excellent players club, meaning many great golfers belong there, much like Winged Foot or Garden City or Quail Ridge in Palm Beach area of South Florida. Excellent players and a commitment to both amateur golf and playing competitively are a part of the club culture. Second, those closely mown grass bunkers are a benefit – you have more options to choose from than just your lob or sand wedge.
The opening holes of La Romana are particularly good and set the tone for the entire day. No fountains, no lakes, no waterfalls, no railroad ties, no island greens: nothing too fancy, just great golf shots required. On the opening hole, much like the other courses at Casa, if the golfer follows the Rule of Thirds off the tee, it will serve him well, keeping him away from the most dangerous hazards and providing a reasonable angle to the flag. In this case, the plateau fairway angles sharply around a deep rough filled depression that guards the entire length of the hole, leading up to a small, two-tiered green.
After driving from a tee box set next to a home with a regulation size soccer net (or is it “futbol” net?) in the back yard to a fairway severely sloped from left to right, one approaches one of the best green complexes in the entire Dominican Republic. While it’s not a true false front, a severe roll off to the front and right will leave golfers a long and extremely difficult pitch back to the green from sod-faced greenside bunkers set deeply below the level of the green, a staple design tenet right out of Macdonald, Raynor, and Banks’s architectural repertoire.
“Three may be the strongest par-3 we have here,” notes Casa de Campo Director of Instruction Eric Lillebridge, and he may be correct. At 210 for mortals, a bloated 252 for experts, it’s all carry over a bunker and valley to a long, deep green designed to accept a fairway wood. The two tiered green actually rolls somewhat away from the player, making the tee shot even harder.
The rest of the front nine is equally strong. After an interesting par-5 which wanders around some steeply faced fairway bunkers, two of the best greens on the course appear at five and six. The green at five is two-tiered and features a long hump that rolls all across its horizontal axis, the front half rolls towards you, the back half rolls away.
The par-4 seventh takes the player to a completely different portion of the property, cutting through some homes, indeed playing to a green set nearly in someone’s yard, but it is an idyllic scene, not too unlike the warmth and charm of other neighborhood courses such as Rockaway Hunting Club. With the green set in its own little dell, the hole works quite well. The par-3 eighth is also strong, setting up in the shape of a reverse Redan, but without the green running away from the player. Don’t be short and right since the pitch back to the green is not only steeply uphill, but the green is shallow from that angle.
Nine is the only head-scratcher on the golf course. Highly unusual for Dye, the hole not only plays straightaway, but sharply uphill. A lake guards the back of the green, as well as particularly long rough.
Like Sawgrass, 14 and 15 form the backbone of the inward nine. Possibly the best hole on the course and the best short par-4 at the entire complex, the fourteenth is a true Knoll holl, where the green is obscured on the right side by a tall mound. The green is also crowned, set below fairway level, and surrounded by bunkers, so the approach shot is petrifying even with a wedge in your hands, and recovery from any of the deep bunkers surrounding the green is a sandie worth remembering for your entire golf career. 15 features a false side, (as opposed to a false front), with deep, sod-faced, Raynor-esque bunkers set well below level of green. 18 is a great finisher, if a little different form the rest of the course. A short par-5 with water guarding the entire right side, it’s a great chance to end the day with a birdie.
LA ROMANA (NEW 9)
While completely different from the original 18, the New 9 at La Romana is wonderful. Dye explores themes he continues at the Lakes 9 at Dye Fore: enormous width, (sometimes upwards of 80-90 yards with no rough!), pot bunkers peppered everywhere, and wall-to-wall paspalum over a vast 91 acre plot just to the east of the original 18 holes. It’s long – stretching back to a brutal 3,900 yards if necessary, with a solid amount of fairway undulation and a total of 69 (seemingly) randomly placed bunkers, which dot a verdant landscape lined with palm trees, sugar fields, native grasses, quaint homes.
The first hole is the prettiest at La Romana, with a gorgeous picture window view of the sea off in the distance. The fairway is saddled to help keep errant drives in play. The second fairway not only bends hard right, curving like a scimitar, it also tilts severely left to right. Again the “Rule of thirds” is in play again off the tee as the right third of the fairway dives off into a bunker set well below fairway level. A similar challenge appears at four, where the left of the fairway and the front of the green are level, but the right side plummets into a deep depression. The green contains a false side, a fold in the left middle portion, and a hump on the right portion of the green.
Indeed, the greens are all scintillating at the New 9, each featuring either folds in the green, (again at five), or crowns, rolls offs, and false fronts, (at six).
“It looks easy, but can play hard if you hit it in the wrong place,” explained Demko.
Also like La Romana’s original 18, the only strange hole is nine. This time, Dye gives us a par-3 with a 95 yard long runway teebox
Doak called lining a golfer up at a hazard off the a “dirty trick,” and vowed never to employ such a feature. To my knowledge, Dye’s never done this before and hasn’t since, so it proves he’s good at distingui9shing the wheat from the chaff…or perhaps he was in a puckish mood and wanted to have a little joke on us. After all, he’s allowed one…