During the last decade, golf courses have been growing in the Caribbean faster than the island’s lush tropical vegetation. From Barbados to the Bahamas, top-drawer layouts bear the stamps of noted architects such as Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.
All the key ingredients are here; sugary sand beaches, turquoise waters, cheek-caressing trade winds and golf sunny-side up. No two islands are alike and the mix of cultures and races give the Caribbean a unique style in cuisine, music, architecture and language.
You can almost choose a golfing destination by your cultural preferences, and with around 50 top-quality layouts, the Caribbean presents a delightful dilemma. Many courses are linked to luxury resorts where you’re guaranteed the ultimate beach vacation lifestyle with romantic sunsets, pampered service and gourmet dining. Here’s five of the best:
JAMAICA – Ritz Carlton
Picture this: You are at one of the Caribbean’s most stunning golf courses, carved out of 600 acres of lush greenery and rolling countryside, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea from 16 of the 18 holes. Golf clubs, balls, scorecard, tees, beverages and snacks are neatly arranged in your cart as your survey the surrounding landscape. This is the eye opening 500-metre, par-5 first hole at The White Witch golf course at Jamaica’s Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort.
The par-71, 6,113-metre course was so named by its creators, golf course architects Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, in reference to Annie Palmer, the notorious ‘White Witch,’ who was mistress of Rose Hall Plantation in the early 19th Century on which the course is built. She was purported to be beautiful and beguiling and to have done away with three unsuspecting husbands.
Says co-designer Rick Baril: “We have tried to create a course that will give you a different experience each time you play. We have done that at The White Witch by creating multiple tees throughout. Whereas the low handicapper might have to carry a yawning ravine to reach the green, there are also tees allowing the shorter hitter to get there as well. The topography is unique, making each hole memorable and distinctive in its own right.”
From pewter golf bag tags inscribed with each player’s name, to the elegant dining veranda of the clubhouse, to the luxurious changing rooms and well trained white-suited caddies called golf “concierges”, everything about the White Witch is decidedly top-drawer.
The golf concierges are a unique service offered exclusively at The White Witch, that provides traditional caddie services in addition to other services such as restaurant reservations, ordering flowers for loved ones or making spa appointments. “Their knowledge of the golf course includes everything needed to negotiate the gusty winds, drastic elevation changes, and deceptive greens,” says head golf professional Mike Cole. “All of our guests needs are attended to, leaving them to just swing the club.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Casa De Campo
A tempting-trio of Peter Dye designed courses await golfers staying at Casa de Campo- one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious resorts. Dye said that he actually only created eleven holes on the Teeth of the Dog, God created the seven skirting the Caribbean Sea. Usually appearing in the world’s top 100 courses Pete Dye’s masterpiece skirts a jagged, rocky coastline, so close you can feel the salt spray.
The first of the coastal holes, the 143-metre 5th, is a par-3 to remember and one scary looking hole. The only option is to hit the green because short, left or long is definite shark food. The signature holes on the back nine are nos. 15 and 16, a medium length par 4 and long par 3. In direct contrast to the front nine, these holes are lined along the entire right side by the Caribbean and are elevated above a coral cliff.
Inland lies the designer’s clever, lake-studded Links Course, and his third track, Dye Fore is a 6,943-metre monster that marches along a plateau perched 150-metres above the mesmerizing Chavron River. With a collection of forced carries over yawning chasms, plus the speed and severity of many of the putting surfaces, Dye Fore is a real test even from the front markers.
Casa de Campo is so extensive that guests are provided with a map and golf cart to help them get around. Besides the golf, there’s tennis, clay pigeon shooting, a marina, horseback riding, charter fishing, nine restaurants and the remarkable Altos de Chavron. Built entirely by hand in the 1970s, it’s an exact recreation of a 15th-century Mediterranean village, complete with cobbled streets. A collection of fine restaurants with enviable settings, add to the plethora of options.
BAHAMAS – The Abaco Club
When you first glimpse the The Abaco Club’s golf course, nestled in a Garden of Eden setting called Winding Bay on Great Abaco Island (the biggest of a chain of Bahamian islands known as the Abacos), it provides an unforgettable sight with lush emerald green fairways skirting pristine beaches and the deep blue backdrop of ocean. Billed as the world’s first “tropical links” golf course, without the sun-drenched weather and swaying palms you could easily be excused for thinking you’re on a seaside course in Ireland or Scotland.
This spectacular layout is the centerpiece of a $250 million (U.S) resort built by British tycoon Peter de Savary (and now a Ritz-Carlton managed club), who hired two of the world’s best golf course architects, Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie to bring a slice of Scotland to the tropics. They have incorporated classic links ingredients – swales, humps and hollows, small pot bunkers and undulating greens into the design. Add in the unpredictable nature of coastal winds and you have a demanding test.
The gin-clear waters of Winding Bay are in view on the first 14 holes, while the final four traverse a coral cliff above the Atlantic. On the 18th tee block, you are greeted by the sound of waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and a rolling carpet of lush landscape that stretches from tee to green. For the golf connoisseur it does not get much better than this.
After your round, recount every moment over a frosty beverage or two on the veranda of the club’s main restaurant, which overlooks the bay and golf course, relax in the world-class spa nearby or retreat to one of the 75 tastefully furnished Bahamian cottages.
BARBADOS – Sandy Lane
The exclusive Sandy Lane resort is home to two championship golf courses
(and a 9-holer), and the place where Tiger Woods famously reserved all 112 rooms when he tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at a reported cost of almost $3 million U.S.
Like everything at Sandy Lane, the golf courses have been landscaped to a high standard. The Country Club is a parkland course, featuring several manmade lakes and some challenging approach shots to greens well protected by water and sand. Holes 6 and 7 are particularly sweet, and it has nothing to do with the fact that plumes of smoke can be seen rising from a nearby distillery busily converting cane juice into rum, the islanders’ tipple of choice.
Sandy Lane’s other course ‘the Green Monkey’ has so far remained hidden from the golfing public. It’s like the Mona Lisa of golf – enigmatic, untouchable and only available for Sandy Lane guests to play. Some people will pay any price to play, and stories abound of people tossing their room keys to their caddie after a round.
“The vision of the owners,” says course architect Tom Fazio, “was to create a place as dramatic as any there is in the world.” Created and sculpted from what was once a working limestone quarry, Fazio slowly builds drama through the first eight parkland-style holes, and then startles golfers with a rapid descent into an abandoned quarry, where 27-metre high coral walls dwarf the fairways.
From the remarkable 578-metre 9th where you drive from a high tee to a fairway 150 feet below, bordered by the quarry wall, to the flags that feature a green monkey with an extended curled tail that flutters in the breeze – everything at the Green Monkey is about grandeur and detail. The signature hole, the 206-metre par 3 16th, has become one of the world’s most photographed golf holes. Players hit down into the old quarry to a green edged by a massive bunker featuring a grass island carved in the shape of a Bajan green monkey, a species introduced to the island from West Africa more than 350 years ago and the inspiration for the course name.
NEVIS – Four Seasons
This speck of an island southeast of Puerto Rico, was thrust into the forefront of world travel in 1991 when Four Seasons Nevis opened as the Caribbean’s first AAA Five Diamond Resort. Over the years it has compiled a list of awards and accolades as lengthy as the dining room wine list.
Adding to the appeal of the property is the 18-hole championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The 6,080-metre layout is a roller-coaster ride along the flanks of a cloud-capped volcano, with dramatic views at every turn. The course winds gently up the slope of Nevis Peak to the signature hole, the par-5 15th that is set some 150-metres above sea level with magnificent views of nearby St Kitts and neighboring islands. The hole measures a whopping 603-metres from the back tees and requires a 218-plus carry over a dramatic gorge to reach the shallow fairway.
The 18th, a straightforward par-4 played towards the ocean may well be the best hole on the course. If you time it just right (teeing off around 2.00pm), you can finish holing out on the green with a beautiful sunset cresting the crystal blue water of the Caribbean Sea. This is tropical island golf at it’s very best.
Casa De Campo (Teeth Of The Dog, Dye Fore & The Links)
The Abaco Club & Tropical Links
(A Ritz-Carlton Managed Club)
Sandy Lane (The Green Monkey & Country Club)
Four Seasons Resort
(Robert Trent Jones Jr. Championship Course)
Story by Andrew Marshall