You feel an adrenaline rush as you’re handed the four-inch plastic badge that reads, “Bahamas Great Exuma Classic.” This is it. You’re officially all in on your first Pro-Am event. You’re also a player in a setting that feels like a real, live postcard.
The tournament is held on the island of Great Exuma, a 37-mile-long sliver located one hour south of Nassau. What the island lacks in size it makes up for in jaw-dropping beauty. One of the reasons you chose this amped up golf vacation is that you’ve seen photos of the ocean holes located on the Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course’s back nine. The ocean view from your room’s balcony delivered a seeing is believing glimpse.
The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic is held on the 7,000-yard championship layout designed by none other than Greg Norman. Rumor has it that Norman will make an appearance at tomorrow’s first round of the Korn Ferry Tour event that follows the Pro-Am. Wow! Your heart starts beating in double time.
Bahama Mama Rocks Me
As you blast a few five irons on the palm tree studded practice range, Darius Rucker is singing “Mama Rock Me” through the sound system reverberating from the registration tent behind the practice area. The congenial, laid-back vibe you’re feeling will change dramatically tomorrow when the hungry Korn Ferry players tee it up for the first event of the 2020 season. Oh yes, the winner will take home a check for $108,000.
For now, smiles abound from participants eager to play in this scenic golf environment conceived by Norman, the Sandals Resort, Bahamas Tourism, and BD Global. The Kentucky-based BD Global owns and operates this tourney, and they work in conjunction with the Golf Channel for broadcasting the tournament worldwide. CEO Brooks Downing stops by to make sure you’re doing well, before he glides down the line to speak with a Korn Ferry player hoping to become golf’s next big thing.
As you get acquainted with the professional who is assigned to your foursome, the reality kicks in that you could be playing with a star in the making. Some of the recognizable names participating in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic include Camilo Villegas, Sean O’Hair, and Robert Garrigus.
Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Ocean’s 13….
The idea of a winter golf tournament vacation is such a win-win. Not only does it feel great to dust off the sticks in January, but the balmy temps and beauty of luxuriating at the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort makes everything seem easy. The resort’s all-inclusive offerings mean you don’t have to break out your wallet once you’ve arrived on island. Plus, the proximity of the resort to the tournament means you’re rubbing elbows with the Golf Channel crew at breakfast. The best news is you’re within tidy walking distance of the course once the tourney begins.
On the heels of the first round, Norman addressed the fans, the players, and the Golf Channel on the Par 3, 148-yard 11th hole. This petite golf hole is one of the most picturesque in the world. Only in the Bahamas will you experience this vibrant painting of turquoise ocean, green Bermuda follicles and temperamental trade winds. Golfers will remember the 11th as an unforgettable golf versus nature moment.
The dynamic landscape bar gets raised ever higher as you progress through the ocean-rich 12th through 17th holes. After avoiding the turquoise water on the 11th hole’s right side, Emerald Bay’s topography flips a switch starting on the 418-yard 12th hole with the ocean latching on to your left side for the next six holes running. After holing out on the 637-yard, Par 5 18th hole, you notice an electronic leaderboard scrolling through the Korn Ferry field. You reflect that you’ve played a small role in a tournament witnessed by 70 million viewers on the Golf Channel.
Caribbean Thrill of a Vacation
As you reflect on your first Pro-AM and ponder your week in Great Exuma, the thrills were almost too numerous to count. Your French-born professional playing partner couldn’t have been more patient and helpful with your game. Even better was the now forever image of experiencing the Norman-designed Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course up close and personal. Your round is now a bucket list keepsake.
Oh, what a week. You observed the Korn Ferry professionals master Exuma’s wind, you witnessed Will Zalatoris’ hole in one, and you watched as 44-year-old Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey raised the winner’s trophy. You stood within a chip shot of legendary Greg Norman. And time will tell if you were in the presence of golf’s next big thing
Most of all, you fell in love with Great Exuma and the exquisite water color that is the island’s trademark. From the Emerald Bay Beach white sand shore you bask in one last sunset, and gaze at the 11th hole in the distance. This magic moment is when you realize that this Caribbean golf tournament vacation idea just may be an annual tradition.
Story by Tim Cotroneo