By Ron Driscoll
LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – As players stand over the daunting tee shots on the stunning seaside par-3 fifth and eighth holes of the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo in the Latin America Amateur, the notable agronomic history of these putting surfaces does not enter their minds.
However, the proximity of these two greens to the Caribbean Sea means that they are often sprayed – and occasionally doused – by saltwater. For the first 30 years of the course’s existence, the salt-intolerant bermudagrass on the two putting surfaces was frequently damaged from the spray.
“This has to be one of the first places where seashore paspalum was used,” said Darin Bevard, director of championship agronomy for the USGA. Casa de Campo superintendent E. Nunez Malena, who has been at this course for 38 years, quickly concurred, then expounded on the history.
“This was definitely the first place in the Caribbean to start working with seashore paspalum, and those greens were the first trial for it,” said Malena, 68. “Mr. [Pete] Dye [Teeth of the Dog course architect] worked in combination with Dr. [R.R.] Duncan from the University of Georgia to receive some plugs in 2001, and we made the first trials on No. 5 and No. 8.”
Duncan, a longtime turfgrass breeder and geneticist, saw the burgeoning need for a salt-tolerant grass, and he initiated the first breeding program for seashore paspalum in 1993 at Georgia. The USGA joined Georgia in a joint project in the mid-1990s, and the first two cultivars – one for tees and fairways, one for greens – were released in 2000.
The warm-season perennial grass tolerates sandy and infertile soils, high salt concentrations and occasional inundation by seawater, which led to its installation and adoption by Malena and Dye on their marquee course. According to Malena, the grass introduced in 2001 on Nos. 5 and 8 is still there. Today, it is commonly used in lawns, recreation areas and golf courses far and wide, but those two seaside greens at Casa de Campo were proving grounds for its future success.
Round 1 Notable and Quotable
Herik Machado, 18, of Brazil, who won the South American Junior Championship in March, stood at 4 under through 15 holes on Thursday. However, he found the water on both 16 and 17, leading to a triple bogey, a double bogey and a 1-over-par 73.
Raul Pereda de la Huerta, of Mexico, eagled his fifth hole, the 495-yard, par-5 14th, on the way to a round of 69. He was one of three players to eagle the hole, which played to a 4.68 stroke average, the lowest in relation to par for the day. The second-easiest hole – and the only other hole to play under par by the 107-player field – was also a par 5, the 595-yard ninth, which played to a 4.92 average.
No. 4, a 450-yard par 4, was the day’s toughest hole, playing to a 4.65 stroke average, which included 12 double bogeys and two higher scores. The most difficult of the par 3s were the 16th and the 13th, which played to nearly identical yardages (185 and 190, respectively) and stroke averages (3.31 and 3.30).
“I had a very good relationship with my caddie, Sambo. He was pushing me and cheering for me, so that really helped me throughout the round.” – Defending champion Matias Dominguez, of Chile, who rebounded from an early double bogey for a 1-under 71.
“I like to play late in the afternoon on the first day and early in the morning on the following day, because you have less time to think about it.” – Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, who shares the first-round lead with a round of 68. Ortiz played at 7:38 a.m. on Thursday and has a 12:18 p.m. starting time on Friday.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.