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As the story goes, when Robert Trent Jones Sr. was notified that he'd been selected to design a new golf course in the Dominican Republic, the famous architect of more than 350 layouts around the world burst into tears. Considering the beauty of the island, its gorgeous weather, fabulous beaches, delicious food, colorful flora and fauna, and interesting history, it's not surprising that just the thought of making another trip to this lovely location could make a grown man cry. The Dominican Republic is that spectacular.
The first European to learn this, not surprisingly, was Christopher Columbus. After discovering the island on December 5, 1492 (which he named "Hispaniola"), the explorer expounded in his journal about its high, forested mountains, expansive river valleys, and friendly inhabitants. Something else he clearly noticed was the gold ornaments and jewelry worn by the gentle Taino Indians that lived there. Returning to Spain in March of 1493, Christopher was soon making plans for a second voyage to the New World that September. Two months after setting sail - perhaps even with tears in his eyes - he landed again at Hispaniola. Obviously, just like Mr. Jones, Mr. Columbus was unable to resist the lure of this island paradise and its people. (Well, okay; maybe the gold had something to do with it.)
Over the centuries, Hispaniola was ruled in turn by Spain and France, and then, finally, by its own officials. In 1844, the island was permanently divided into two countries. The western third was named Haiti; the eastern two-thirds was dubbed the Dominican Republic. Since then, Haiti has struggled while DR - as many people call it - has thrived. Today, it is one of the most popular vacation spots in the Caribbean, and one wonderful place to play golf.
The course that Jones designed, Playa Grande, opened in 1998. In 2005, Golf Digest ranked it #3 of all the courses in DR. Located in Puerto Plata on the north coast of the island, Playa Grande is often called the "Pebble Beach of the Caribbean." To many golfers who have visited here, however, it should be the other way around: Pebble should be called the "Playa Grande of California." After all, Pebble only has six holes on the ocean; Playa Grande has 12. Set high atop a cliff that overlooks the Atlantic, this gorgeous golf course is as playable as it is pretty - yet, it can be a real challenge for even the low handicapper. By today's standards, Playa Grande's back tee length of 6,852 yards is not particularly long (three others are available). If the wind is up, though (you are on an island in the ocean, you know), this lovely layout can play a lot longer than its yardage. And that will make the six forced carries that you'll face during your round - each over a craggy crevice - even more daunting.
For a different kind of fun, take a break from golf and take advantage of the windsurfing, snorkeling, sailing or kayaking that's available in the beautiful Puerto Plata area. And if you happen to be staying at the Occidental Allegro Playa Grande Resort, be sure to take advantage of its fine restaurants: "Calipso" offers Caribbean cuisine, "Firenze" features Italian, and "Miranda's" boasts the best of Brazil.
The best of Brazil's weather can be found in Dominican Republic, too. In fact, it might even be better than Rio de Janeiro's. During a normal year in the Dominican Republic, there are more than 300 days of sunny skies, an average daily temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25° Celsius) and little rain. And when it does rain, it's usually early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or at night - well before your tee time and long after you finish the 19th hole. Make a note: bring a golf cap or visor, and plenty of sunscreen.
On the southern shore of this beautiful island, in La Romana (two hours east of the capital city of Santo Domingo), you'll find another golf facility to die for. In fact, one of the three courses here at the Casa de Compo Resort is named "Dye Fore." You got it: Pete Dye designed the course. Actually, all of the courses here were the creation of Mr. Dye. As you no doubt know, Pete is responsible for a number of famous layouts around the world. One of them, of course, is the TPC at Sawgrass in Florida, site of the annual Players Championship on the PGA Tour. (Yes, the one with that nasty little par-three 17th out in the middle of a lake!) Well there's another of his famous designs at Casa de Compo, and it's the reason why Pete and his wife, Alice, first came to the Dominican Republic over forty years ago (eventually buying a home here). It's called "Teeth of the Dog."
Almost every year since it first opened in 1971, Teeth of the Dog has been ranked within the top 50 courses on the planet by every major golf publication. In 2005, Golf Digest placed it #17 on its list of "Top 100 Courses Outside the U.S." and named it the #1 course in the Dominican Republic. As you might expect from Mr. Dye and his wife (Alice is very much his design partner as well as his life partner), Teeth of the Dog is as challenging as it is charming. From the tips, it measures a very sturdy 6,989 yards (three others are available). The fairways are generous and the greens are good-sized, but the putting surfaces are extremely difficult to read (which is a good reason to take a caddie). There is also plenty of sand (both waste bunkers and the greenside variety), lots of wind - sometimes it blows in from the ocean, sometimes it blows out - and more than a few scary carries. Oh, and then there are the dazzling but distracting views. Just like Playa Grande on the north shore, Teeth of the Dog has more holes on the ocean than Pebble Beach: seven (actually, many visitors will tell you that another green is so close to the water that it should be counted as the eighth). And, arguably, none are more pretty (and pretty frightening) than the par-three 16th, played over the H2O to a green fronted by jagged rocks that look a lot like a big canine's big canines. Sounds grrrrrreat, doesn't it?
Before you take on "Dientes del Perro", however (and the new Dye Fore course, as well), it might be a good idea to get your feet wet - so to speak - on The Links course here at Casa de Compo. Designed by the Dyes in 1976, The Links is less lengthy and less difficult than the other two but still a good test for players of all abilities. Thanks to two lakes, water is in play on five of the 18 holes. And if the wind is up, those hazards will be even harder to avoid and the course will play even longer than its yardage (6,461 from the back tees; three others are available).
Last but not beast, uh, least, is the newest "Pete and Alice's Wonderful Adventure" at Casa de Compo. Opened in 2004 and located in the foothills of the mountains above the resort, the Dye Fore course is so astounding that it's already causing conjecture that it may overtake Teeth of the Dog in the next round of rankings by the major golf magazines. It's big, it's brawny, and it's definitely capable of being brutal (but then, what Dye course isn't?). But it's also breathtaking. From the top of several of the elevated tees here (the 10th tee is some 50 high, for example), you may find yourself thinking that you're still in the airplane you flew in on a few days before. Eventually, off in the distance below, you'll make out the green complex of the hole you're playing. In between, though (depending on which hole), mostly what you'll see are deep gorges, chasms, crevices and the Chavon River. And not surprisingly, a fairway that looks about ten yards wide. Talk about "getting high on golf"! Intimidating? Oh, yeah. Impossible? No - at least, if you play the proper tees. From the white markers, this roller-coaster-ride of a golf course is a very manageable 6,420 yards. Head for one of the two back tees, however, the black or the blue, and the chances are very good your body will be black and blue when you finish. From the blues (second furthest), Dye Fore comes in at 7,100 yards. From the blacks, this sea monster measures a hard-to-imagine 7,770 yards. Play it from either, and you'll soon be calling it "Die From" rather than "Dye Fore."
Thankfully, though, Casa de Compo's Spa Treatment Center is only a cart-ride away. Once refreshed - your sore muscles thoroughly kneaded - you'll now be ready for some much needed nourishment. Among the many restaurant options that are close by to the resort's 300 guest rooms and 150 villas are Café del Sol, Chinois, El Pescador, El Sombrero, and the Tropicana Grill. All are superb and all are open late.
In addition to its fine dining and fine golf courses, Casa de Compo offers a variety of water sports, tennis, biking, horseback riding, a jogging trail - even a shooting center. Plus, there's the magnificent Altos de Chevon. Located right on site, this hand-built recreation of a 16th Century Mediterranean village is definitely worth a visit before you head back home. Authentic down to its cobblestone streets, Altos de Chevon is a stroll back in time that's also a working artists colony. Its attractions include quaint shops, exclusive boutiques, art galleries, an archaeological museum, and a number of excellent restaurants.
As you can no doubt tell, the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer to the golfer and non-golfer alike. And while just the thought of spending some time here may not bring tears to your eyes - as it did to one of the greatest course architects in golf history - don't be surprised if it does happen. When it's time to leave.