‘Teeth of the Dog’ Course Can Bare Its Fangs

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Golf is a game of patience and acceptance, but it is difficult to maintain your emotions when the Latin America Amateur Championship is on the line.

The winner of this championship will earn a berth in the 2019 Masters Tournament, as well as spots in final qualifying for the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and The 148th Open at Royal Portrush. He will also receive full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championships for which he is eligible.

It will be just as difficult to block out thoughts of those prizes this week as it will be to ignore both the scenery and the potential ruin presented by the spectacular holes along the Caribbean Sea on Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog.

“Teeth of the Dog is not an overwhelmingly difficult golf course, but it does put a premium on your tee shot and your iron play – especially along the water,” said Robert Birtel, the resort’s director of golf, of the layout’s seven seaside holes. “The tees are set against the coast and the water is right there in your visual.”

Teeth of the Dog opened in 1971 as one of Pete Dye’s first noteworthy designs, and it has hosted numerous important events through the years, including the 1974 World Amateur Team Championships and the 2016 LAAC. The scorecard yardage for the par-72 layout this week is 7,210 yards, and the major change from the LAAC three years ago is that the nines have been reversed.

“Under the 2016 routing, you played four of the hardest holes on the course coming in, and they typically played dead into the wind,” said Tommy Tangtiphaiboontana, the director of international competitions for the USGA, who is setting up the course this week. “With the reversal of the nines, Nos. 14 through 18 generally play downwind. Most people think downwind is an advantage, but not necessarily, because if the greens are firm, it’s going to be difficult to stop the ball.”

Last year at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile, Joaquin Niemann of the host country set a 72-hole scoring record of 11-under-par 273, helped by a closing round of 8-under 63. Teeth of the Dog will present different challenges to the 108-player field.

“This course is 400 yards longer than Prince of Wales, but the fairways are double the width,” said Tangtiphaiboontana. “The largest fairway is on No. 9 [a 473-yard par 4]. It’s 80 yards wide in the landing zone, and on average, the fairways are more than 43 yards wide here. That is almost double the width of the fairways of Prince of Wales last year. The main defense is the wind; when it kicks up, it makes this a very difficult course to navigate.”

The premium on Teeth of the Dog will be on hitting the small putting surfaces, and even more importantly, minimizing the damage when you miss one.

“Particularly on the ocean holes, the big number is out there,” said Tangtiphaiboontana. “Because of how challenging a golf course this is, you know you’re going to make some bogeys. They won’t hurt you so much; if you can avoid making doubles and triples, that is going to help you a lot.”

Early this week, 2017 champion Toto Gana of Chile ruefully recalled his 2016 experience, when he made two triple bogeys on the seaside par-4 eighth hole, which played as No. 17 in 2016. He went on to miss the 36-hole cut.

“I would describe the greens as subtle, with Pete Dye bunkers that allow for lots of different short-game shots,” said Birtel. “You can’t succeed here with a stock short game; you need to be able to use your imagination and your clubs.”

“This is probably the fairest Pete Dye course I’ve ever played,” said Gilles Gagnon, who was the longtime director of golf at Casa de Campo and is now the director of golf sales. “I would be happy to play those seven holes along the ocean at even par for four rounds and take my chances with the rest of the course. If you can do that, it’s hard to believe you wouldn’t win the championship.”

A more detailed breakdown of the closing holes is available here.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.