Teeth of the Dog. Even the name is daunting. Rated the number one course in the Caribbean and number 32 in the world in the 2020 Golf Digest Course Rankings, the Pete Dye masterpiece on the south shore of the Dominican Republic lives up to the name. I visited the island with the sole purpose of playing the course, often described as Dye’s signature build, but what I ultimately found at the Casa de Campo resort in the town of La Romana was so much more than just Teeth of the Dog. My goodness.
I traveled, once again, with the old man. My dad is an able and willing golf companion and he was eager to leave the heat of our North Texas climate to escape to the Caribbean for a long weekend. The pandemic, ever-looming, created some hesitation but our research into the resort and their on-site testing and safety protocols eased our concerns. We made the trip. And the trip went smoothly.
Direct flights are available from DFW (as well as many other major cities) to Punta Cana and the airport was clean and efficient. A stay at Casa de Campo comes with a shuttle service to and from the airport provided by Prestige. More on them later, but I will tease by saying they are a tremendously useful and honest company.
We arrived around 5 p.m. and it’s a 50-minute ride to the resort. We headed straight to the main resort restaurant, La Cana, for a dinner overlooking the pool. Quite a start. I could immediately tell this place was wonderful.
Casa De Campo sits on 7,000 acres and is home to not only Teeth of the Dog, but three other golf courses, one of which is private. The other Dye course that we played, called Dye Fore, is actually three very unique nine-hole loops called Marina, Lagos, and Chavon. A round at Dye Four lets you pick which two of the three nines to play.
When you check into Casa, they give each room their very own gas-operated golf cart to navigate the property. Trust me, you need it. The activities and restaurants are sprawled about every corner of the property, but there seems to be four key locations: the Marina, Altos de Chavon, the beach club, and the main resort hotel.
Our room overlooked the 10th fairway of Teeth of the Dog and was basic yet comforting in its design. Everything you need in a golf resort.
Friday was our first round of golf at Dye Fore. You could call it a warm-up round for Teeth of the Dog, which is what I initially considered it as. But I can tell you that the Marina and Chavon are still Pete Dye designs, and with that comes pot bunkers, elevation, beauty, and challenge. The first nine holes for us was the Marina, which starts with a wide-open par 5 that goes down before it goes up to an elevated green. It felt like a course that was going to be fun right off the bat.
Dye Fore has a variety of total yardages, depending on which nine-hole tracks you decide to pair together. Each nine is named for the spectacular views found on each course. The Marina course provides just that: views of the not-so-distant marina at the mouth of the Chavon River, where the freshwater meets the sea. The gold tees played just under 7,000 yards on the Marina-Chavon combo and it felt every bit of that. There are, however, six different sets of tees for all abilities and ages.
The greens and fairways are pure. This course is incredibly well maintained. This part of the Dominican gets about 40 inches of rainfall per year and the climate is obviously tropical. The Marina nine was really fun but not quite as “Pete Dye” as I was expecting. It felt a bit more resort course than I would have pegged for Mr. Dye.
Spectacular views of the river and ocean, but this side also has quite a bit of mega-mansions worth gazing at. One of the notable aspects of Casa de Campo is that the property is home to many villas and homes owned by people with, quite obviously, a ton of money. Lebron James was rumored to be visiting days before our arrival, shopping for a property to purchase. Lionel Messi had recently vacationed there earlier this month, per his Instagram. The place is a playground for the uber-rich, which just gives us “every man” golfers something else to ogle at while we enjoy the decently (~$200) priced golf for the quality of courses provided.
Many of the villas are resort-owned or affiliated and can be rented out as a part of your stay at Casa de Campo. Pretty incredible setting for a golf buddy trip if that is your speed and style. The resort website also lists several “stay and play” packages, which can include unlimited golf and food as a part of the pricing. I’d recommend going with the food package as we later found out the dining on-site was as good as the golf, and I tend to eat more than I play on trips like this.
The Chavon Course, in contrast to Marina, is largely isolated from the rest of the property and its villas. Instead of large homes and views of the bay, you get seven scenic cliffside holes dropping over 300 feet to the Chavon River. And I don’t say this lightly, but the views on this course rival the oceanside holes of Teeth of the Dog. It was amazing.
And challenging, to boot. There aren’t many trees on this side and the afternoon wind was up. The par 3s played long and the closing ninth (18 for us) is a beautiful par-five right into the breeze. The clubhouse for Dye Fore overlooks the number one tee and the nine green from above, along with the Chavon River, and is a great spot to have a Presidente Beer.
The Chavon nine was as enjoyable a nine holes as I have played in a long time. Every hole is good and the views are just crazy amazing for an inland course. I was genuinely stunned. We could see hotel guests on boats and kayaks exploring the Chavon River, which looked like a lot of fun. But I preferred my view from the course.
This course is 100% pure Pete Dye. Bunkers everywhere you look and long enough to be enjoyably painful. I have been fortunate enough to do stories on several Dye courses (TPC Scottsdale, TPC Louisiana, Whistling Straits, TPC San Antonio) and Chavon measures up. It is not quite as consistently challenging as the other courses listed above, but it has its moments of sheer dye-abolical punishment. And the views, ah the views, leave you asking for more.
The signature pot bunkers have become, at least to me, sandy memorials to Mr. Dye on nearly every hole. We miss you.
Altos De Chavon
Just down the road (walking distance) from the Dye Fore clubhouse is Altos De Chavon, a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village. Yes, you read that correctly. This charming little collection of shops and restaurants overlooks the Chavon River and golf course and is a real-life time machine. Complete with a huge 5,000 seat amphitheater used for local music and shows, Altos de Chavon was such a unique experience. The amphitheater opened in 1982 and Frank Sinatra gave the inaugural performance, which, believe it or not, was televised on HBO.
We spent an hour or so just walking around, questioning whether this place hadn’t really been here forever instead of built in the last 1970’s. Ultimately and hungrily, we settled at Chilango Taqueria, and I had the best tacos of my life. This is high praise coming from a kid from Texas, but I mean it. The steak taco is thinly cut steak wrapped in cheese and a pickle spear-sized slice of avocado. The flavor was oustanding. This place was so good we actually came back two days later for lunch, the only restaurant we repeated all trip.
The village is only open to resort and villa guests, keeping the streets free of large crowds. St. Stanislaus Church is on-site and has regular mass each week. There are also active art studios and galleries from local Dominican artists, as well as an archeological museum. I don’t know who came up with the idea of Altos, but I am grateful to them for allowing me the chance to visit.
Lesson with Teaching Pro Eric Lillibridge
That afternoon, my dad took the first golf lesson of his life. We met with Head Teaching Professional Eric Lillibridge, who gave the stubborn golfer a short game lesson on chipping and putting. Lillibridge, who after an hour of time with us proved himself to be a first-class teacher, is also just a fun guy to hang out with. Originally from California, he hopped around professional tours a bit before accepting the job at Casa de Campo and moved to the Dominican full time. In speaking with him about his life and journey, I can say confidently he is happy right where he is. And that feeling comes through in his golf lessons and the way he speaks about Casa de Campo.
The practice facility is first class. TrackMan is utilized in two covered hitting bays along with a full short game area. My dad, who is typically averse to any form of practice, left the lesson with a smile on his face and a few swing tips in his mind for the next round. That was fun to see. He even said that he wishes Lillibridge lived in Texas so he could take more lessons with him.
Thanks so much, Eric.
Dinner at the Marina
Casa de Campo, as you can tell, can fill up your day. You can make this a beach and relax vacation if you’d like (see: tomorrow) but it also has enough to do to fill every hour of your trip. On top of the golf and dinner options, there is also a shooting range for clay pigeon shotgun shooting, horseback riding and polo fields, tennis facilities and a petting zoo for kiddos. All reachable with your golf cart.
We took our cart down to the marina for dinner, which is more than just a marina. The resort has built another residential and shopping community, which has a European plaza feel. The center of the crescent-shaped community is home to a half dozen or more restaurants, one of which was called Causa, where we had a real nice meal. Causa’s menu was a hybrid of Peruvian food (think creole) and Japanese dishes. The sushi was awesome and something I wasn’t really expecting in the Dominican.
We woke up and had breakfast at Lago. Overlooking the 9th green at Teeth of the Dog and adjacent to the clubhouse, this made-to-order style breakfast has everything you need. Omelets, local dishes and fruits, smoothie bar, pastries, you name it. Not a bad spot for a meal, with the ocean in the distance, knowing that soon you’ll be alongside the water hoping your golf ball finds the green. And then it was time.
Teeth of the Dog
The entrance to the Teeth of the Dog clubhouse is guarded by a wonderful tribute to Pete Dye, complete with a bronze statue and his signature pot bunker right in front. Walking to the pro shop, you can’t help but realize that the experience you are about to have is going to be a special one. It’s why you came all this way. And it’s why Mr. Dye came all this way too.
The pro shop is spacious and well equipped. All the major brands are available, from Polo to Under Armour, and there was a large variety of clothing and gear for women and kids, too. That isn’t always the case for many courses, as we know. I spent a fair amount of time in the shop, as I usually do, and couldn’t really identify anything that was missing. I’m a sucker for Peter Millar’s golf shirts, and they had plenty for everyone. Even mediums.
The lockerroom has a real old-world charm to it. Open-air and the locker boxes slide out and don’t lock. The showers feel like they belong on the beach. This was my first round of golf in the Caribbean, but I feel like all island locker rooms and clubhouses should feel this way. The nineteenth hole is also attached, and completely open-air as well, overlooking the number one tee box and the practice putting green.
Teeth of the Dog gets its name from the jagged coral rocks that surround the coastline around both the course and much of the island. As the course was being built, many of the locals remarked that the rocks resembled the pointy canine teeth of dogs, and the moniker stuck.
The course opened for play in 1971 and Dye, ever modest, was quick to acknowledge that he was only responsible for the design of 11 of the golf holes, while God created the seven that hugged the ocean.
The course, from the tips, plays to 7,263 yards with a slope rating of 76.0/135. The gold tees are sub 7,000 yards, however, and the blues reach 6,429.
Teeth begins somewhat benign, with a sub-400 yard par four with ever-present bunkering from tee to green. If you don’t like sand traps, just don’t play Pete Dye courses. I do want to mention the second hole because what would’ve been a very run-of-the-mill 375 inland par 4 was, instead, made very memorable with some creative design. The tee shot forces a slight carry over a large bunker complex that follows along the entire left side of the hole, but half of that bunker is filled with round stones that make any errant ball unplayable. Wooden fence posts also stand erect around the border of some of the bunkers, which serve no real purpose other than to make the hole look cool. I liked it.
Holes three and four continue out towards the ocean, but you finally get a glimpse of the sea. Good holes in their own right (there isn’t a bad hole out here–it’s one of the best courses in the world for a reason), the ocean finally being so close only gets you excited to finally make that turn and get seaside.
The par-three fifth is the course’s signature hole. The tee shot plays about 155 yards to a tiny green with the ocean left and behind. In front is a small tree, protecting the right side of the green and rejecting low shots back into a bunker and beach just below. Yes, a literal beach, with incoming waves and everything. Ask my dad, he will tell you.
Holes six, seven, and eight continue along the sea, with the shore on your left, and honestly, it was all a bit of a blur. You want to play well, but you also just want to take it all in. It was reminiscent of holes six through ten at Pebble Beach, but the water is so much closer and in play here at Teeth. Gorgeous golf.
Hole seven with worth singling out, since it is a 222-yard par three over water. Gracefully there is a bunker fronting the green to catch any short tee shots from rolling back into the saltwater. Still, this hole is an absolute beast. Beautiful and terrifying, just like the ocean herself.
Teeth of the Dog turns back inland on the back nine. With four of the first nine holes being along the ocean, my basic arithmetic skills told me there were more of those holes “created by God” to be played. Hole 13, a 180-yard par-three, is a pretty great inland hole. The green is islanded by sand on all sides and a tree just left of the green. You cannot reach the green without walking through the bunker, which is pretty unique.
There is also a little bar hut set up on the 13th tee serving ice-cold Presidente beer. Yes, sir, it’s the island life for me.
Teeth of the Dog did not waste the seven oceanside holes with a boring remaining course. The architecture does not ignore simple design techniques that make the internal holes aesthetically pleasing as well. The bunker island par three, the cobblestone bunkering on #2, uniquely raised stone tee boxes, and the beautiful coffin bunkers all over the fairways, the creative routing with challenging approaches would rank this course highly even without the Caribbean close by. The course even has several ponds that bring fresh water into play.
And then, as you leave the 14th green and follow the path to the right, you see it again. The walk between 14 green and 15 tee box is a special one. The anticipation is thrilling, even though the course has already given you a solid taste of ocean holes, you know you are about to get a second serving.
Holes 15 through 17 are wonderful. The closing stretch is wonderful. Teeth of the Dog is wonderful.
Sixteen is the last par three, once again over the sea, but this time with the water on your right and playing 180 yards from the tips. Just aim for the middle of the green as this hole plays tricks on you. The green is not as horizontal as it appears from the tee, but rather it gets deeper the closer you get to the water. That means that the carry is longer if the pin is right. Club up.
The closing hole turns back to the clubhouse with a devastatingly long and uphill par 4. Playing 473 yards up to the elevated green, it’s a nice way for Mr. Dye to tell you “goodbye and come back anytime you dare to face the Teeth. Enjoy a Presidente and see me again someday.”
Pete Dye is one of the greatest golf course builders this world has ever seen. It was a sad day when he passed in 2020 for all of us who love the game. But his legacy lives on in his work. And it seems clear that there is no course he loved more than Teeth of the Dog. Now I know why.
The Beach Club
Dinner after golf was down at the beach club, which gave us an opportunity to soak up some rays and jump into the cold water that so many of our golf balls had enjoyed earlier that day. Beach access, like everything else on the property, is just a short golf cart ride away. The beach itself is typical for the island…gorgeous white sand crystal clear blue water. The Caribbean is just the best.
There is a full bar, large swimming pool, showers, and food trucks at the beach, which honestly gives you every reason to stay there all day. The Beach Club itself is also open to all guests, but it provides an adult-only pool and full restaurant. We had dinner there our final night, a great way to say goodbye to Casa de Campo.
Time to Say Goodbye
The flight out the following day was not until 5 p.m. Unfortunately, a Tropical Storm had hit in the early morning hours and rain continued for most of the day. So we stayed around the main resort building, ate some lunch, and thought back on the weekend we just enjoyed.
Prestige Shuttles arrived on time to take us to the Punta Cana airport, and upon arrival and check-in with our airline, my dad realized he had left his wallet in the car. I got on the phone and called Casa de Campo, hoping they would be able to get our driver, Enrique, on the phone so he could somehow come back to the airport. We figured our chances of that happening was low, so we crossed through security and my dad began canceling his credit cards on his phone. A nightmare.
But an airport official found us, told us Enrique was here with the wallet, and my dad was escorted beyond security to greet him. Enrique was smiling, happy to see him again and to return such a valuable item. That is the kind of service you get with Prestige, with Casa De Campo, and, in my opinion, with the people of the Dominican Republic.
We came for Teeth of the Dog. We left with a brand new appreciation for the beautiful island and the wonderful people it propagates. I can not wait to go back.
If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Instagram and shoot me a message. And definitely check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!
PGA Frisco: A GolfWRX first look with Gil Hanse and Beau Welling
PGA Frisco in Frisco, Texas, is the new home of PGA of America. The two courses on-site, Fields Ranch East and West, are original designs by Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, respectfully, but they aren’t set to open for public play until the Spring of 2023. However, GolfWRX was given an opportunity to take an early look, play both courses, tour the facilities, and meet with the course architects ahead of the much-anticipated unveiling for the golf world.
The PGA Frisco location, which also shares the property with a brand new Omni Resort, a short course called The Swing, and a 75,000 square-foot putting course named The Dance Floor, appears to be joining the conversation as one of the country’s best buddy trip and family trip golf destinations.
The Omni resort is going to be complete with 500 luxury guest rooms and suites, 10 private ranch house residences, 13 different dining options, four pools, including an adult-only rooftop infinity pool, and a full-service salon and spa. They are going big with this place. All the facilities are currently under construction, but the plan is for them to be open by the Spring of 2023 as well.
The Swing is a ten-hole, lighted short course that provides a nice nightlife compliment to the larger courses, Fields Ranch East and West. Collaboratively designed by Hanse and Welling, The Swing is just steps from the Omni hotel, The Dance Floor putting course, both championship courses, and a sports bar with bays for hitting into the driving range. The golf isn’t going to stop when the sun goes down. And no shuttle is needed at PGA Frisco.
“With The Swing, we started off by saying you do five holes and we will do five holes but it turned into a true collaboration,” Hanse said when discussing designing the short course alongside Welling. “When you start to think about designing a golf course with the shot values and how is it going to be perceived, what are the players going to think…then that creeps into your design. But when you are designing something just for unbridled joy, you don’t think about those things and that just makes something super fun.”
As good as the atmosphere and vibes are going to be, people are going to come for the golf. And major championships are coming too.
Fields Ranch East is already set to host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2023, as well as 26 additional championships through 2034, including two PGA Championship events, and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Fields Ranch West Architect Beau Welling, who is probably best known for his work alongside Tiger Woods on the TGR Design projects, was excited about this property and opportunity right from the very beginning. “The original vision of this idea of multiple golf courses and a short course and practice course and all this fun stuff immediately resonated with me,” Welling said. “I remember thinking that this could be the coolest thing ever. It’s the PGA brand around this super accessible thing where people could not only visit to learn the game but also be the place where major championships are to contend.”
The East Course
The East course is the Gil Hanse design that is set to host all these majors. The course itself could either play incredibly long or as short as you’d like it, with huge flowing tee boxes being a feature that stands out immediately. Big fairways also immediately reveal themselves as the scale of this course is big. Very big.
“You have to think about how you are going to design for a major championship but also make it approachable and playable,” Hanse said. “We worked really hard to create a playing ground where you can accomplish both. The level of precision required to go out and play the golf course should be pretty low. Wide fairways, hit your ball, find your ball, and hit it again. But the level of precision required to score should be off the charts if we are trying to challenge the best players in the world. There are opportunities to tuck pins and lengthen the East course to 7,800 yards. We feel like we have the setup for a major championship course in place.”
After working on the renovation at Southern Hills, Hanse drew from his experience on the Perry Maxwell design to utilize the site’s meandering Pather Creek and natural dry outs throughout the par 72 track. The course features smallish greens to contrast with the large fairways, making it a second-shot course to put a premium on accurate approaches. The fairways and rough use the same grass type to allow for flexible widening and narrowing of hole corridors to adjust for championship play.
The course maintains a prairie-like feel throughout the routing, but the back nine really shines with Texas character. The creek comes into play on many of the closing holes, including a gorgeously long par three thirteenth hole, and an 18th-hole par five that will hopefully provide some incredible major finishes.
“When the stage is set, we would rather see positive outcomes to determine champions as opposed to negative ones,” Hanse said. “We really enjoy watching golfers make birdies and eagles to win as opposed to some guy making double bogey and the guy who made a bogey barely hangs on to win. So we set up our finishing holes with some tough stretch of holes to start the back nine and then the driveable 15. Then 17 is the shortest par three on the golf course. And then 18 is a reachable par five. So they will have to make decisions and then hopefully positive outcomes will determine how it unfolds.”
There are also rumors of a Ryder Cup coming to PGA Frisco.
“If we ultimately get the Ryder Cup,” Hanse said, “we thought about most matches not making it to 18. So what can we do with holes 14-16, where generally most matches end. So we wanted to set those up for interesting golf and put it in an amphitheater that is set up really nicely for viewers. So whether it is a PGA championship, LPGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, or Ryder Cup, we feel like that stretch is going to provide a really interesting way to finish a golf course as opposed to just a long slog to the finish.”
The West Course
The West Course, which is the Welling design, is a playable compliment to the East course, providing another glimpse into big golf in Texas. The expansive fairways average 75 yards in width but the green complexes on Fields Ranch West tend to be much larger than its sister course. The size and scale were both something that Welling wanted to provide as a hat tip to its host state.
“Everything is big in Texas,” Welling said. “There are big weather events and big wind. But there is also incredible passion around the game here in Texas. Frisco is going to get famous because of the major championships on the East golf course, but long term it is going to have such an impact on the game as 28,000 members of the PGA come here to Omni and see golf presented in such a fun and modern way.”
The West Course also plays about 500 yards shorter than the East, tipping out at 7319 yards. The greens are larger but much more complex, with lots of undulation and hills to navigate. While the fairways and greens are big, you need to be in the right spot of each if you want to score. Nearly every green has a false front or false side waiting to shoot an errant approach back down the hillside.
Still, the scale allows for any handicapped golfer to play this course with enjoyment.
The course also uses the local terrain and elevation changes to both challenge and support each hole. The shorter par 4’s are often uphill, adding length where it isn’t otherwise there. The marshland and Panther Creek are more prevalent on the West course as well, utilizing the hazard to create more necessary carries.
The end result for Fields Ranch West is an approachable compliment to its companion course. There is an obvious feeling of connection between the two courses, but the style of play required for each is unique.
With the partnership and resources of the PGA of America and Omni Hotels and the design leadership of Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, the PGA Frisco campus is primed to rival the best in the world as a premier golf destination.
Inside Pebble Beach’s “The Hay” Short Course (designed by Tiger Woods/TGR)
This is my first trip to Pebble Beach since Tiger Woods’ new “The Hay” short course opened up in 2021, so I had to see the new setup for myself. Preferably, I would have actually played it, but the course was closed for maintenance ahead of the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am festivities.
Luckily, though, I had my camera handy as the fine folks at Pebble Beach’s short course allowed me to walk around and check it out. Below, I’ll take you along my walking tour, but first, some brief backstory and information.
The short course, formerly known as the Peter Hay Golf Course, sits just across the road from Pebble Beach’s driving range, and it’s been a fixture at the resort since 1957. The course was originally named after Peter Hay, the head professional at Pebble Beach and Del Monte. He created the short course to provide a way for junior golfers and families to more easily access the game, regardless of their abilities.
In 2021, Pebble Beach teamed up with Tiger Woods and the TGR Design team to give the course a redesign (without moving any trees or dirt, according to a Pebble Beach representative).
The new 9-hole short course is open to the general public for $65, and juniors under 12 years old play for free. The putting course, which sprawls about 100 yards in length, is open to the public at no cost, as well.
“We know not everyone who comes to Pebble Beach will have a chance to play the U.S. Open course, so we wanted to create the opportunity for all visitors to experience one of its most famous holes,” said Tiger Woods, according to The Hay’s website.
There’s also a restaurant/bar – called “Hay’s Place” – that has views of the entire course, and of Stillwater Cove. It’s not a bad spot to grab a drink before or after the round, and I hear the fish tacos are phenomenal. Just saying.
Enjoy the photos below from Tiger’s new-and-improved Pebble Beach Short Course, called “The Hay.”
The 100-yard putting green course
Hole No. 1: “Hay”
Hole No. 2: “Seven”
Hole No. 3: “Watson”
Hole No. 4: “Bing”
Hole No. 5: “Grace”
Hole No. 6: “Lanny”
Hole No. 7: “Jack”
Hole No. 8: “Kite”
Hole No. 9: “Tiger”
The Jamaica Golf Experience
I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.
The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.
The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.
The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.
While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.
Day One: Half Moon Golf Club
Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.
Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.
The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.
Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.
Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.
Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.
Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.
The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.
Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill
Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.
Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.
Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.
I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.
As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.
Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.
Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.
The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.
The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.
The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.
Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.
Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.
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