Course Review: Teeth of the Dog (1971, Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic)
Designer: Pete Dye
Overview: I didn’t realize Teeth of the Dog opened in the year of my birth until I started doing some reading in recent days. I guess great things happened in 1971 — or at least a great golf course has stood the test of time. Teeth of the Dog is the second highest rated course by Pete Dye, sitting behind Whistling Straits, something I actually find hard to believe. Set in an exclusive resort, Teeth has seven or eight truly exceptional ocean holes, holes that I’d say rival many of the great ocean courses in the world (Turnberry, Pebble, Cypress, etc.). The question is whether the inland holes measure up. Regardless, I think the resort is one of the best I’ve visited — the golf facilities are top notch, and the small hotel in the midst of a much larger real estate development is charming, with unique facilities. Add in two additional golf courses (the revamped Links and the 27-hole Dye Fore) and you have one of the best golf resorts in the world.
- Ocean holes. Dye’s routing is like a piece of classical music, that builds until it hits a peak on the 5th hole, the first of the dramatic ocean par threes, and then calms from nine through 14, before building to a crescendo for three of the final four holes. The best of the ocean holes — to my way of thinking — are the less than obvious ones, like the 8th, with its half-blind tee shot and terrific green (my favourite on the property), that slides from front to back and hard from right to left.
- Strategies. Dye’s use of bunkering is rather minimal compared to his later work (see Whistling Straits) and the wide fairways for much of the course present a few options in how they can be played. Interestingly, the ocean holes are often best approached from away from the water. In other words, greens like the 15th are best attacked from the left, away from the water. In fact, I’d suggest playing near the water on any of the holes but the 17th would probably be a mistake.
- Par threes. There’s no denying the three par threes along the ocean are among the most dramatic in the world. All three play adjacent to the water, though you do hit over the ocean on the 5th and 7th holes. There are also ways of playing these without worrying about the forced carry, which makes them playable for those who struggle with long shots. Still the ocean gets its share of victims, which is as it should be.
- The debate — like every ocean course — is whether the inland holes hold their own when compared with those along the sea.
I think both nines start on relatively plain holes — the first has a nice green, but is pretty subtle otherwise, as is the case with 10, which has a long waste area along the left of the green. However, I happen to be fond of a couple of the inland holes; two is a terrific hole that might be the toughest driving challenge on the course, and the third, a par five, has one of Dye’s best takes on a Seth Raynor green, with its hard angles, that you’ll find, making it hard even from inside of 100 yards. That said, there were a couple I wasn’t keen on, including the relatively mundane par five 14th. But I doubt anyone even remembers that when they see the ocean on the 15th hole.
The other thing I’d note is the strategy. Very often on the ocean holes there is little reason to play close to the water — there is actually an advantage in playing away from it. It might seem counterintuitive, but I found on holes like 6, 15, 17, the greens are actually more receptive to shots coming in from the left, away from the ocean. Not sure it is a bogey exactly, but you’d think there would be an advantage to playing near the water. Maybe that is what Dye wants you to think, only to find that isn’t the correct position.
Grade: A (and I think it deserves its world ranking)