Teeth Of The Dog Arguably Pete Dye’s Best Work
This story, published on Jan. 20, 2019, is reprised to honor the passing of Pete Dye.
LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | For the second time in its five-year history, the Latin America Amateur Championship is being staged on the Teeth of the Dog course at the Casa de Campo resort. The fact that organizers brought the championship back to this Pete Dye gem so soon speaks to two basic truths: Teeth is among Dye’s best creations, and the course deserves to be ranked, as it so often is, as one of the top 50 in the world.
Before it opened in 1971, Dye laid out Teeth of the Dog on a relatively flat piece of property within what was once a massive sugar plantation. The land’s only redeeming feature was its seaside location. Bringing in modern construction machinery was prohibitively expensive and difficult. So, Dye had to use a couple of alternative assets: his fertile imagination, and a construction foreman, Bruce Mashburn, who was a longtime associate of Donald Ross.
Mashburn and Dye employed 300 local laborers who used sledge hammers, chisels and pickaxes. To haul rock and topsoil, they relied on ox-drawn carts, much as Ross had used in the era before mechanized equipment.
But Dye had grit. A one-time insurance salesman who was good enough to qualify for the 1957 U.S. Open and the 1963 British Amateur, Dye was determined to leave his mark on the game through his designs. Teeth was one of the designer’s earliest efforts and garnered all his attention.
He also had the Caribbean. Seven holes run along water so blue and stunning that it is hard to look away.
The setting was so spectacular that golfers always seemed to walk off the course in a good mood, no matter how well or poorly they might have scored.
Then, Dye assembled as good a foursome of par-3s as there are anywhere.
“Three of them are on the sea, and they vary greatly in length and the size of the greens,” said Gilles Gagnon, who started working at Casa de Campo as the resort’s director of golf in 1980. “The shortest is 137 yards from the tees most people play, the longest 186 yards and they are great fun to play.”
So are the par-5s, which Dye made so that golfers willing to take on risks have a chance to score well. A good mix of tees and generous landing areas for the opening shots made Teeth playable for a wide range of handicaps. The subtle contours Dye fashioned in the fairways and greens conferred the course with lots of character. In addition, near-constant trade winds ensured the track played differently day to day. And the setting was so spectacular that golfers always seemed to walk off the course in a good mood, no matter how well or poorly they might have scored.
Teeth of the Dog’s dramatic par-3 fifth hole. Photo: Patrick Koenig
As for its appellation, that came from workers who constructed Teeth of the Dog and how they described the ways the rock coral here resembled diente del perro.
Given its rather isolated location, it took a while for golfers to discover Teeth of the Dog, and to appreciate how good a layout it really was. “When I first arrived in the Dominican nearly 40 years ago, I could not get a salesperson to call on me,” Gagnon said. “People didn’t know where the DR was, and they had no idea how good the golf course was.”
But that changed as more golfers discovered it – and as Teeth of the Dog started appearing on the most highly regarded top-100 lists. “Pete loved the course, and I truly believe it was his favorite,” said Gagnon, adding that Dye and his wife, Alice, liked the DR so much that they built a vacation home by the par-3 seventh hole.
Then, there was the esteem with which Teeth came to be held in the greater golf course architecture community, with none other than Tom Doak declaring that it was, “Pete’s best golf course.”
Doak knows a little about Dye’s courses, having worked for the Hall of Fame designer as a young man and carefully studied many of his 100-plus creations.
In addition to being great, Teeth of the Dog is also important, which is also a consideration among design aficionados. “For one thing, there is Bruce Mashburn,” said Tim Liddy, who worked for Dye’s design company for more than two decades before starting his own firm. “Bruce worked for Donald Ross. Teeth provides a direct link between the two.
“Teeth of the Dog is also one of the few seaside sites Mr. Dye ever had. And as it was built almost entirely by hand, it became a forerunner to the current craftsmanship movement we are seeing in golf course design today.”
Gagnon believes it is important for another reason. “Teeth of the Dog opened up the Dominican specifically, and the Caribbean in general for golf,” he said. “They are the great golf destinations they are today because of Teeth.”
Top: The par-3 seventh hole on Teeth of the Dog. Photo: Patrick Koenig
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