Casa de Campo- Dominican Republic

Earlier this year, I was invited to the Dominican Republic with 100 other PGA professionals for the PGA Ambassador Conference.  It was a mix of breakout sessions discussing industry standards, golf, networking and viewing the spectacular property that is Casa de Campo. I had previously visited the property in 2008 before it had undergone a $20 million renovation shortly thereafter in 2009.

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Flying from Miami International is a very easy 2 hour direct flight to La Romana.  American Airlines has one flight leaving every day at 12:50p, which turns around in La Romana and arrives back in Miami at 6:15p.  Upon arrival to La Romana, we were the only flight.  This provided a very easy and quick transition from the airplane to the transfer.  There is a $10 per traveler charge to enter into the country at immigration.  Part of me wonders if this is pocketed by the workers. (Pessimist, ignorant American?) The next closest airport is Punta Cana.  It is a very busy international airport with many more flight options than La Romana and is a 45 minute drive to the property.  I wouldn’t recommend flying into the capital airport, Santo Domingo.  It is not a very nice airport and it is much further away by transfer.
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Arriving to Casa de Campo, you are greeted by a very natural, minimalist design. I love the use of teak, bamboo and other natural materials.  The staff throughout the visit couldn’t have been more helpful or proficient in English.  Actually, I was quite surprised how living in Miami, I am forced to speak much more Spanish than I needed to in Casa de Campo.  I like to practice my Spanish in Spanish speaking countries, but it seemed the workers in Casa de Campo would prefer to practice their English.  I had a very nice conversation (in Spanish) with my skeet shooting instructor.  He told me that speaking English has a direct relationship with their position at the company.  Casa de Campo has an English school for its workers, but many of them go to school in La Romana.
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The guest rooms were complete with flat screen TVs, modern furnishings, espresso machines, iPod docks, and a bathroom equipped with a private toilet area, and a large walk-in closet attached to the bathroom and an umbrella available for use during your stay.  Smart thinking.  Each guest room comes with a golf cart for touring the property and for ease of travel during your stay.  We went to the Marina for dinner one night, which would have been 20+ minutes by cart, so we opted for the shuttle that runs until 11p everyday.  It is nice to have transportation options.
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The food at Casa de Campo was particularly good.  My favorite was our group welcome dinner at Beach Club by Le Cirque.  Worldwide food experts rank ‘the’ Le Cirque amongst the top restaurants in the world.  For 38 years, Le Cirque has offered an unparalleled dining experience in New York City and since 2009 the Maccioni family has managed the Beach Club at Casa de Campo.  I also enjoyed the restaurant by the lobby called La Cana.  I had a fabulous dish of spaghetti for lunch on one of our off days.  My only critique about the food would be the breakfast served as a buffet each day.  It is quite a nice variety, but not as healthy as I’d prefer.  I ordered an omelet, which took 15 minutes to wait in line and have the chef prepare, that came out undercooked.  Most of the typical breakfast food was fried: hashbrowns and french toast.  I opted for oatmeal and some fruit.  The most interesting restaurant of all was at Altos de Chavon.  It is the area of Casa de Campo that looks like it has been there for many years.  It is all cobblestone, so it is advised as a woman to wear wedged heels or flats.  There is a small church, some shopping, and a restaurant.  During the month of December, they had Christmas lights strung all over the church and throughout the area.  It was gorgeous.  Another point to make, is this is the area where most weddings take place.  Our dinner was set-up like a wedding reception.  The restaurant was open air, there was a band outside on the veranda, and the entire place was set-up with Chivari chairs.  As a recent bride who got married outside the United States, I was picturing how charming a setting Altos de Chavon would be for a wedding.  It is very difficult to find a location, anywhere, with a cute church near-by a reception venue.
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Much of the 4 days was spent in the conference center.  I liked the layout of the facility.  It was positioned with one wall lined with doors to exit.  As a woman, I always search for an easy exit to a nearby restroom during long morning conference sessions.  Did I mention how happy I was about that?  The first day the air conditioning was too cold, but I was ecstatic to see that it worked.  There is nothing worse than listening to speakers while sweating.  The conference area continues across the main road to a building that includes 5 rooms that our group was able to use for group breakout sessions.  Again, great layout!
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Casa de Campo has an impressive array of activities for those not interested in golf.  During a free afternoon, I went to the skeet shooting area.  I had never shot a gun before, so they arranged for an instructor.  The range is amidst a heavily bushed, private area.  It was quite pleasant.  The clubhouse is very comfortable.  I was very nervous because it was my first time shooting a gun.  As I write this review, I am feeling the nervous butterflies in my stomach thinking about my experience.  The instructor did a nice job of calming me down.  The gun was a 20 gauge and it was heavy.  Two bullets was plenty before I needed a break.  I learned that being right handed and left eye dominant is not a great combination for shooting a gun.  We tried shooting lefty and covering my left eye.  Once I shot right-handed, with both eyes open, I shot two clay pigeons.  At the end of the day, I was happy to have shot for the first time and can appreciate how terrifying a gun really is.  Casa de Campo also offers horseback riding, donkey polo, kayaking, yoga, a beach club, fishing charters, and a state-of-the-art fitness facility.
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The most important part of our trip as PGA Ambassadors was the golf!  Boy, is Teeth of the Dog spectacular.  The stretch of holes 5,6 and 7 terrify a golfer to hit the ball left.  I started on hole 5 during the shotgun, and sure enough I was in the bunker on the right of the Par 3 green.  After winding inland for a few more holes, you pass by Oscar de la Renta’s old home, to discover the next stretch of water holes.  Teeth of the Dog is a good course to train for fear.  Most holes have trouble opposite the water, so you can choose to go for an aggressive line down the middle or you will face a penalty.  I love that type of golf course.  The other course we played was Dye Fore.  Creative name!  The course doesn’t have the same spectacular ocean holes as Teeth of the Dog, but it has views of the cliffs of Chavon River, Altos de Chavon, and some McMansions. The course is positioned on top of a mountain with little to protect golfers from the force of nature.  The first time I ever played Dye Fore, there was a 4 club wind.  It is hard to fathom hitting a 5 wood when you’d otherwise be hitting an iron.  I played well both times I have played the course, perhaps part of my good review.  Joking aside, I like the diversity of the two courses.  Casa de Campo has two other courses- the Links and La Romana Country Club, which is private.  We didn’t play Links on this trip, but as I recall from 2008, it is a hilly course that runs through the private residences of Casa de Campo.  To me, it is very similar to many other courses in the United States.  It is a true plantation course.  There aren’t any views of the ocean.
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Casa de Campo is a great destination for a golf trip.  Rooms are plentiful.  The service and food are great.  The Director of Golf, Gilles Gagnon, is one of the most hospitable guys you’ll meet.  And there is plenty of activities for everyone.  I would recommend playing Dye Fore, Teeth of the Dog and I would drive to Punta Cana (1 or 2 days) for Corales and Punta Espada.
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