Breathtaking Bahamas – Exploring Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort

Sitting poolside is just one way to relax in the Bahamas
Sitting poolside is just one way to relax in the Bahamas

It doesn’t matter about age, if you’re in love and looking for an all-inclusive romantic island getaway then Sandals with their fourteen Caribbean Resorts destinations should be an option for you. A variety of rooms and suite options, culinary experiences as well as sea and land activities are included at their Antigua, Barbados, Bahamas, Granada, Jamaica and Saint Lucia destinations.

Along with my wife, I recently made a weekend visit to the Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. At the top of my to-do list during the visit was a thorough examination of their Greg Norman-designed Emerald Reef Golf Club.

Before our introduction to the Emerald Reef Golf Club, we explored the Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort and what we found was an eye-opening, all-inclusive paradise destination created for couples.

It was an experience after walking along the pristine, white sand beach beside the turquoise, crystal-clear waters of Emerald Bay to drop in at any of the many dining outlets or bars and not have to worry about money or a credit card.

Apart from the beach area, the main water activities were concentrated around the main pool while my preference was the aptly-named quiet pool where we relaxed pool-side and were able to walk over to the pool-side bar and order a beverage at our leisure.

Lodging Options

Space in this article does not allow me to itemize the many lodging options available to guests at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort. Suffice to say, no matter which luxurious room or suite you choose from the many available options, you will treated to the spirit of opulence created by Sandals.

Dining Options

Options for informal dining without reservations included the Bahama Bay buffet for breakfast or lunch or A la Carte dinner; Barefoot by the Sea for the freshest seafood fare; Cafe de Paris for specialty coffees and sweets; Dino’s Pizza for crisp gourmet pizzas from a wood fired oven; The Drunken Duck Pub and The Emerald Hot Dog Station at lunch.

For that special intimate dinner where reservations are required, Il Cielo featured a genuine Italian experience while La Parisienne offered a French menu and white glove service.

Golf

Waterside Greg Norman designed golf holes
Waterside Greg Norman designed golf holes

All Sandals Emerald Bay guests are offered two rounds of free golf based on a 3-night minimum stay after which reduced green fees are available to Sandals’ guests. Unlimited free golf is available for all guests in Butler Suites based on a 4-night minimum stay.

The Emerald Reef Golf Club, designed by Greg Norman, opened for play in 2003 and it played host to the 2010 Golf Channel Big Break All-Women Challenge won by Carling (Coffing) Nolan.

The competition course was described in an LPGA press release – “The 10-episode series will unfold on one of the most picturesque golf courses in the world, Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club at Sandals Emerald Bay. A Greg Norman design, Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club is a 7,200 yard, par 72 Oceanside golf course that features six signature holes hugging the perimeter of Emerald Bay’s scenic peninsula overlooking the Caribbean Sea.”

On the Sandals website, Greg Norman talks about his 1997 visit when he walked the future golf club property and how the developer allowed him to build a signature golf course with many holes built on prime real estate bordering the Caribbean Sea; real estate usually reserved for homes.

We were privileged to have Emerald Reef Head Professional Richard Gibson escort us on our round of golf. Having trained under Ken Venturi as a youngster, Mr. Gibson has gone on to make a living from the game of golf and has interested his children enough in the game that they have gone on to earn college scholarships.

When asked what golfers should look forward to when playing the Greg Norman-designed layout, Mr. Gibson responded – “They should look for relaxation first of all, the beauty and layout of the course, the friendliness of the golf course and just go out and enjoy themselves.

When asked about any signature holes, Richard was quick to respond with his infectious smile, “Holes 11-16 are the signature holes. You see the beauty of those holes on the peninsula overlooking the ocean. We are lucky that we have a calm day today. If the winds were up, the course could play like a monster.”

After checking in at the fully-equipped pro-shop, we visited the full-length driving range, practice bunker and putting green area for a warm-up. My advice to golfers is to bring extra golf gloves as they tend to get soaked quickly in the tropical temperatures as well as extra golf balls for obvious reasons..

Challenging and awesome are two words regularly used to describe the Emerald Reef Golf Club. Mr. Norman truly believes that he has achieved a great balance between the two nines.

The front nine winds through a natural mangrove forest featuring shallow lagoons, lakes and rock outcroppings in a natural wetland habitat where water comes into play on two-thirds of its holes. Mr. Norman makes a pleasing visual statement with his strategic placement of white-sand bunkers to frame his paspalum-grass fairways and greens.

My favourite hole on the outward nine was the 6th and it is not long, playing only 90 – 165 yards depending on the teeing ground you choose. It features an island green surrounded by water with some protection in the form of a semi-circular bunker placed around the right and back of the green offering a dry receiving area for balls missing the putting surface and the water.

After stopping at the Shark Shack to pick up water we proceeded to the 10th tee to begin our inward nine on what may be the toughest par 4 on the course, measuring up to 460 yards with a lake down the right side waiting to catch errant tee shots.

And then we enter the signature hole phase of the Emerald Reef course with holes eleven through sixteen carved into the rocky peninsula surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Elevation changes are as abundant on these holes as the eye-pleasing views of the crystal-clear turquoise ocean water. Take a closer look in the water near the greens and you will see hundreds of golf balls resting in their watery grave, waiting for divers to retrieve them as treasures.

The 11th hole is a picturesque short and tight par 3 with only a green-side bunker offering a bail-out for miss-hit tee shots. Miss right off the tee and the waters of Emerald Bay offer no relief.

Beautiful ocean water offers no relief along the left sides of holes twelve through sixteen and the right sides aren’t much better with palatial homes protected by out of bound stakes. Mr. Norman does provide adequate landing areas for tee shots on each hole so don’t be distracted by the stunning views.

After negotiating the fairway on the dog-leg left 12th hole, a well struck approach shot is still required to find safe haven on the elevated green.  Hard to see from the 13th tee, a two-tiered green awaits downhill tee shots and a generous bail-out area to the right of the green is available.

A blind tee shot awaits golfers on the par 4, 14th hole. If this is your first time on the course it would be advisable to drive to the crest of the hill to pick out your intended landing area. Once the fairway is safely negotiated, your approach shot can be sent to the two-tiered green which is located on the further-most point of the peninsula.

The par 5, 15th and par 4, 16th holes offer a multitude of challenges to golfers as well as eye-catching views of Emerald Bay and the Sandals Resort.

Don’t discount the finishing 17th and 18th holes. The par 4, 17th hole features sand along its entire left side and the island green itself is set in a sea of sand. The lake along the right side of the par 5 final hole comes into play as the fairway narrows as the green is approached.

All too soon, our game of golf came to its inevitable end. I can only imagine playing these signature holes as well as the remainder of the ocean-side course in a wind. As it was, I donated a few golf balls in benign conditions.

Thanks to all the dedicated staff at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort who made our short visit memorable. Among them, we thank our professionally-trained butlers Alvin, Lee and Stephen for their services which we are not accustomed to as well as Javardia and Latravia from the Red Lane Spa, who pampered us in our timely and romantic ‘Scents of Love’ Couple’s Massage as we celebrate 45 years of marriage this year.

While a visit to Sandals Resorts may not be for everyone, think about it if you are looking for a special couple’s getaway. If you are a golf couple, you can’t go wrong playing the Greg Norman-designed Emerald Reef Golf Course at the Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort. It is certainly at the top of my list when I think about tropical sea-side golf courses.

Words & Images / Joe McLean @FlagstickJoe

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