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On the road in the Caribbean: Dominican Republic growth adds bark, teeth to choices

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,

CASA de CAMPO, Dominican Republic - All one has to do is check the guest list to find out how big golf has become in the Dominican Republic.

Before Casa de Campo's brand-new Dye Fore layout opened on a limited basis this spring three former U.S. Presidents had already hit golf balls on its wide Paspalum fairways -- the elder George Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

What they discovered here at the D.R.'s newest layout, originally named Pete's Dream, is a 7,700-yard, par-72 high on a plateau 500 feet above the Chavón River. The former presidents also enjoyed views of the Caribbean Sea and the resort's remarkable Altos de Chavón -- a 16th-century replica of a Mediterranean village.

It's here Dye Fore's clubhouse will be located and after a round golfers can walk cobblestone streets lined with art galleries, museums, shops and restaurants. Its 5,000-seat amphitheater was opened by Frank Sinatra, and stages frequent concerts, both pop and classical.

No doubt Dye Fore is a stunning complement to Teeth of the Dog, ranked No. 1 in the Caribbean and No. 35 in the world by Golf Magazine. But the growth of golf on this beautiful island is not limited to La Romana.

Guavaberry Golf and Country Club opened last year near the capital of Santo Domingo. And the eastern tip of the island is exploding with golf choices. Punta Cana Resort and Club has one P.B. Dye design open and another in the Corrales area is under construction with multiple holes on the rugged coastline.

Then, just south of Punta Cana is Cap Cana, a billion-dollar development that is boasting Punta Espada, the first of three Jack Nicklaus-signature designs with 13 of 18 holes overlooking the Caribbean.

Here's a closer look at the best of the Dominican Republic:

The must plays

Casa de Campo

Located behind security gates, this 7,000-acre resort is truly the most complete outdoor playground in the Caribbean. Name an outdoor activity and you can find it here.

Dye brought a vision to transform an overgrown, but scenic turquoise-tinted coastline, jagged and rugged with coral rock, into one of the world's best golf courses. Named for that same rock that bites unmercifully at bare skin, Teeth of the Dog, is the gem of the Caribbean.

"I never get tired playing Teeth of the Dog," said Gilles Gagnon, Director of Golf, who has been hitting balls here for 23 years. "But the Links Course is often overlooked. If we didn't have Teeth, I think the Links Course could be highly ranked, too."

But Dye didn't stop with just those two. Actually, the private La Romana Country Club, is ranked No. 2 in the D.R. And now there's Dye Fore, which cost $6.25 million. No doubt Dye Fore will pull a big load in April 2004 when Teeth of the Dog is closed up to five months for renovation.

Teeth of the Dog isn't cheap -- you will pay $196 per round and Dye Fore will pull the same price tag when it is in full bloom. But when you reach the par-3 fifth, with the Caribbean on your left, you will think it's worth the price.

Linksters get the best deal with the resort's Golf Inclusive Package that features, accommodations, meals, drinks, tennis, horseback riding, beach water sports and unlimited golf - alternating between Dye's three resort courses.

Guavaberry Golf and Country Club

Gary Player's new Guavaberry layout has a lot going for it outside the 7,156-yard, par-72 layout built along gently sloping terrain, fairways lined with 700 corozo palms and sights of dramatic coral-rock formations.

Guavaberry is the closest daily-fee layout to Santo Domingo, the first city of the New World, discovered by none other than Christopher Columbus in 1492. He's also buried on the island. Guavaberry is in Juan Dolio, a former fishing village just 20 minutes from the airport and 40 minutes from Santo Domingo.

There's also Coral Resorts, owner and operator of Guavaberry, which is a collection of four, 4-star all-inclusive resorts in Dominican Republic. Ten minutes from the golf course is the 548-room Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton, which offers golf packages and the all-inclusive feature popular in Latin America.

You will enjoy Guavaberry's signature hole, No. 13, a 146-yard, par-3 that resembles an old limestone quarry, complete with waterfall and two greens. Water cascades off a manufactured concrete rock wall downward at a rate of 2,000 gallons a minute. Just two holes later the par-3 15th, at 155 yards, makes you pinpoint a stroke to an island green surrounded by sand and a three-acre pond.

Punta Cana Resort and Club

P.B. Dye, son of Pete, had plenty of experience when he came here to build a world-class golf course on land similar to Teeth of the Dog. Coral rock dominated an overgrown, jungle-like land with very little top soil. P.B. spent two summers on the back of a bulldozer helping to shape Teeth of the Dog.

Punta Cana Golf Club measures 7,152 yards at par of 72 and has sweeping vistas and five holes played along the sea. It's fun and quirky, just like its designer. But the new layout under construction just minutes away might take your breath away.

P.B.'s new layout will include holes perched on cliffs high above the turquoise sea, scenic coves and jagged edges on solid coral rock and a forced carry over an inlet much like the second shot at Pebble's No. 8. Ocean spray could dampen you at any time.

Punta Cana is a cinch to get to -- it has its own International Airport.

Playa Grande Golf Course

Located on the North Coast, which gets significantly more rain, Playa Grande is another with unmatched coastal scenery. This Robert Trent Jones Sr., 7,046-yard par-72 beauty is sitting atop a cliff with 12 of the holes bordering the ocean and six will challenge you with forced carries over craggy barrancas.

Opened in 1997, it was one of RTJ's last designs before his death. D.R. golfers say this is the most scenic of all the island golf courses with views of the Atlantic Ocean atop 100-foot bluffs.

Future must play?

Cap Cana

Marketing lingo says the first of three Jack Nicklaus-designed courses to grace Cap Cana, the Punta Espada Course, is destined to be the most eye-popping, with 13 of its 18 holes overlooking the Caribbean.

Bluffs, beach, waterways and jungle make Punta Espada sound like a big-time Nicklaus challenge. When finished you will also be able to stay at The Golden Bear Lodge, a collection of 52 Spanish colonial-style villas, each with a spectacular view of the links and the Caribbean Sea beyond.

Each unit will have its own private swimming pool and veranda, luxury furnishings, interior design by Barbara Nicklaus and two- and three-bedroom floor plans.

Where to play

Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore, Links Course
Casa de Campo, La Romana, D.R.
Telephone: (800) 877-3643
Web site: casadecampo.cc

Punta Cana Golf Club
Punta Cana, D.R.
Telephone: (809) 959-4653 or (888) 442-2262
Web site: puntacana.com

Guavaberry Golf & Country Club
Juan Dolio, D.R.
Telephone: (809) 333-GOLF
Web site: guavaberry.org

Playa Grande Golf Course
Carretera Río San Juan-Cabrera, María, D.R.
(North coast, Puerto Plata area)
Telephone: (809) 582-0860, ext. 27

Other choices

Playa Dorada Golf Course,
Puerto Plata,
(809) 320-4262

Cocotal Golf& Country Club,
El Cortecito,
near Punta Cana,
(809) 221-1290

Los Marlins Golf Course,
Metro Country Club,
Juan Dolio,
(809) 526-3315

Where to stay

Costa Caribe Coral
by Hilton for Guavaberry,
(800) 847-0291, (809) 526-2244

Punta Cana Resort and Club,
(809) 959-4653 or (888) 442-2262

Casa de Campo,
casadecampo.cc, (800) 877-3643

Allegro Caribbean Village Playa Grande,
(800) 663-2561

Sol Melía Resorts for Cocotal Golf & Country Club,
(809) 221-1290,

Places to dine

At Casa de Campo visit Altos de Chavón and order Mexican specialties at Casa del Rio or the fun La Piazzeta, with its antipasto bar and old-world Italian food.

At Punta Cana try La Yola, La Choza, El Cocoloba, The Grill at the golf clubhouse, Franco's Pizzeria, Mamma Venezia, La Cana and La Tortuga. La Yola, located at La Marina, specializes in seafood and pasta. Enjoy the beautiful sea view while surrounded by a casual atmosphere. Daily breakfast buffet is served at La Tortuga.

At the Costa Caribe Coral near Guavaberry try the Ambar Buffet Restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, try El Charro for Mexican food and El Fogon for Caribbean cuisine. The Caribbean Grill Restaurant serves an all-you-can-eat menu of Caribbean specialties.

Most high-end resorts offer the all-inclusive package -- food, alcohol, and all-day munching is included in the price.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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