Island Hopping: Caribbean Delights

caribbeanmapIf you are like many golfers you have completed your fare share of domestic golf trips.  As interesting and appealing as golf destinations can be within Canada and the United States, in no way can they offer the same effect as a trip to a warm island set in the Caribbean.  Many of us often travel to the Caribbean strictly for the beaches and “flexible” way of living, one where time is forgotten, replaced with “fun” as they way to measure a days passing.  So why not combine the two efforts?

For one thing, golf in the Caribbean has historically been not only scarce but expensive as well.  You would traditionally pay large sums of American money to traverse little more than what would be an ailing mediocre course back home, just jazzed up with an ocean view or two.  Not very appealing and reason enough to leave your golf clubs at home.  But that is changing as many resort developers realize that in a competitive tourism market, amenities like a top rate golf course may just be what attract you to their facility.  To explore this growing phenomenon we thought we would do a little island hopping to see what is now being offered for golf in the Caribbean.  The options are growing; as is the desire for serious golfers to make sure they pack not only their Sunblock, but their favourite putter as well when they seek out a Caribbean Island.

The Caribbean archipelago is one pf the most visited areas in the world for sun seekers.  Outside of the fall hurricane season, it delivers stable weather with consistently sunny days – ideal for relaxing on the beach or tearing up the links.

The multiple island countries in the region offer a range of cultural and ethnic experiences, all of which will enhance the total vacation experience.  For the sake of order let’s have a closer look starting to the west and moving to the southeast.

Cuba

Always in the media spotlight due to tense Cuban – American relations, this country still proves to be one of the most frequently visited destinations for Canadians.  After the revolution of 1959 almost every golf course was wiped out here, save for a few near Havana and Varadero and an American run one at Guantanamo Bay.  While visitors flocked to its resorts, they did so mostly without their golf clubs until a few years ago.  The government, finally recognizing the value of golf courses, sparked a new wave of development with their support beginning in 1998.  A number of companies from Canada and Scotland are involved with these projects.

75 years ago the first golf course was built at Varadero, Cuba, laying the groundwork for a much bigger project years later.  The primitive early course has now been replaced by the first operational 18-hole course in the country, a Les Furber design.  Furber, a Canadian, was able to construct a top quality golf course on the grounds of the former DuPont estate, setting the groundwork for other island golf projects.

The most striking point of this golf course is the clubhouse, the Xanadu Mansion, established by the DuPont family of chemical manufacturing fame, beginning in 1928.  The impressive building no only serves as the clubhouse but also contains five rooms available for rent.  Breakfast is included in the rental rate of each room, which are decorated to reflect their 1930’s heritage.

If you cannot manage to secure a room in the clubhouse than the Meliá Las Américas Resort beckons nearby.  This hotel is located right within the course itself and next to Varadero beach.  It boasts some 340 rooms and suites and all the modern amenities you would expect from a top class Sol Melia resort hotel.

Jamaica

Golf has had a foothold in Jamaica for more than 80 years.  Some historic venues have come to pass here, while newer properties affiliated with resorts have come to thrive.  They are currently eleven member clubs of the Jamaica Golf Association with some 750 local golfers as members.

For visitors there is not greater golf attraction on the island than the White Witch Golf Course located at the historic 4,000 acre Rose Hall Plantation and accompanied by a Ritz-Carlton Resort.

The golf course was laid out on 600 of those acres and features views of the Caribbean Sea from no less than 16 of the 18 holes!!

Crafted by Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, the 6719-yard, par 71 layout is an enchanting as the name.  The layout is a strong test but it pales in comparison with the views that are impossible to ignore.   The property is rolling and lush, just as you would expect in Jamaica so there are no surprises there.  If the course was laid out in the middle of Kansas it might get your attention but the backdrop of the sea absolutely gives it a lasting place in your memory.

Like all Ritz-Carlton Resorts, service is exemplary and even if you do not secure one of the ocean view rooms you will be pleased with all the place has to offer.  Make sure to experience the Reggae Jerk Center to hear island music and get a true taste of the island’s fare.

Dominican Republic

While Pete Dye’s “Tooth of the Dog” course continues to be a favourite in the Dominican Republic, he will soon find heavy competition in the form of a trio of course created by Jack Nicklaus.  The first nine holes of the Punta Espada golf course opened this past July.

Punta Espada is part of a huge (US $1.5 Billion) residential development called Cap Cana.  When completed it will entail three 5-star hotels, 3 Jack Nicklaus designed golf course and a complete marina and residential development.

Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Caribbean waters, the back nine holes of the Punta Espada golf course were unveiled July 7, 2006.  These are the first in the Dominican Republic to be designed with the signature, style and wisdom of golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

The Punta Espada golf course is one of three Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses that will be built for Cap Cana, which will require a total investment of (US) $43 million.

Punta Espada’s 18 holes have been seamlessly integrated into the stunning natural surroundings of Cap Cana.  The back nine, which are now open for play, are located along a dramatic coastline where golfers can look out into the blue expanse of the ocean in search of inspiration to help them achieve their best level of play.  Punta Espada is also the first golf course in the Dominican Republic that is entirely grassed with Seashore Paspalum, the preferred grass in tropical climates because of its tolerance to salt water and its vibrant green colour.

According to Nicklaus, Punta Espada will be a one-of-a-kind course and a perfect complement to the hotels, villas and other recreation options for the whole family at Cap Cana.  “Cap Cana’s topography represented a challenge in design, but one we embraced,” Nicklaus said.  “At the same time, the terrain also created an ideal scenario for a golf course that is unique and should appeal to anyone who has a passion for the game.  With the relationship Punta Espada enjoys with its natural surroundings–with almost half the holes playing to or along the coastline, and views of the Caribbean on all but a few holes–this is a stunning backdrop for golf.”

“We wanted to give Jack Nicklaus the perfect site to create a work of art; that’s why we didn’t think twice about putting more than 7,000 yards of land at his disposal so he could let his imagination and creativity soar,” said Ricardo Hazoury, president of Cap Cana’s board of directors.  “Our desire is to offer devoted golfers the best course in the world, designed by the best in the world.”

The Dominican Republic has the exclusive distinction of having more golf courses than any other country in the Caribbean; however, its stature as a premier golf destination has been raised considerably by becoming the only place outside the United States to have three Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses within a single development.

Turk & Caicos

Travellers from Canada always find a warm welcome in Turks & Caicos.  You might suspect that these small islands would be void of golf but that is not the case.  There are fairways to wander when you are not busy visiting some of the largest coral reef systems in the world.

The Provo Golf Club opened in 1992 and was designed by Karl Litten.  This 18-hole club also features a bar and grill, tennis, a pro shop, driving range, and golf instruction.  The lush, meticulously landscaped course is extremely popular with members, guests and vacationers who enjoy this challenging, tropical oasis of a golf course – a magnificent blend of lush greens, fairways and rugged limestone outcroppings.  The course is reminiscent of “Desert Style” courses with lush target areas and waste bunkers.  Rugged limestone outcroppings and twelve acres of inland lakes and marshes mark the property.  The water attracts not only your golf balls but also a wide species of birds including the official bird of Turks & Caicos, the Flamingo.

Tourists are welcome to participate in many of the club’s tournaments.

Barbados

Barbados is an island of luxurious accommodations and stunningly green golf courses built amidst inviting scenery, it is a place of culture, of personal warmth, of genuine hospitality, and of course – those many days of picture perfect weather.  All combined it makes Barbados one of the most fetching stops for anyone in the entire world.  Its attractive features are well known to a wide fragment of the population including sun seekers, newlyweds, and recently, with an increasing strength yearly, golfers.

To gain access to most courses on Barbados you will have to stay at an associated hotel property that has an agreement in place with the course.  Green fees are genuinely fairly high but still in the range of the top courses in North America.  Of course, with the weather so constant, be sure to try and golf either early in the morning or in the afternoon to avoid punishing heat.

One of their public, and very popular, golfing facilities is the Barbados Golf Club.  Guests of Elegant Hotels properties enjoy a number pf privileges at Barbados Golf Club including discounted green fees, a pro shop discount, and preferential tee times.  The course was recently renovated by Ron Kirby and no claims a full-length yardage of almost 7000 yards and plays to a par of 72.  It was the host to the Barbados Open in 2000 and 2001 and in 2003 hosted the European Senior Tour.

Overall, the course supplies a nice blend of links and parkland elements with medium sized greens and fairways that force you to focus on accuracy especially with the ever-present breezes more than happy to guide your golf ball off-track.

The biggest golf project that can be found on the island is the one at the exclusive resort at Sandy Lane.  They embarked on a several hundred million dollar renovation/recreation project several years ago under new ownership.  Part of those plans included forty-five holes of golf.  The new golf holes were designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio, the first project for him outside of continental North America.

The most basic of golf at Sandy Lane is the course referred to as the “Old Nine”, part of the original golf course laid out in 1961.  This mature layout winds its way through the old estate at Sandy Lane along with dense stands of trees.  Subtle elevation changes also add to the experience.

With a length of almost 7,100 yards and a rating of 74.7, the Country Club course at Sandy Lane is a muscular course that is ready to beat you up at the drop of a green fee.  Less than expert golfers will definitely want to make the walk ahead to more forward tee decks as the length of the course begins to feel even longer when the Caribbean breezes buffet the course – and they will, constantly.  The fairways are fairly wide and open, making inviting targets but flat lies can be hard to find.  Throw in fives lakes and you have all the golf course you need to examine your abilities.  For interest’s sake, keep an eye out for the famous Bajan Green Monkeys that live in the gullies in and around he course.

Speaking of Green Monkeys – the newest golf course at Sandy lane is named just that: Green Monkey.  Due to the addition of this impressive new course, Sandy Lane opened a brand new clubhouse to deal with the expected traffic.  It should come in droves, as the Green Monkey is an imaginative layout destined to become a favourite for many.  The holes of the course wind their way through an old quarry.  Adding to the layouts visual intensity are several elevation changes and continuous glimpses of the nearby Caribbean Sea.  If you choose to play this course make sure you bring your camera to take a photo of the bunker with a grass island carved in the shape of a Green Monkey.  This Green Monkey course is available exclusively to members and guests of Sandy Lane.

Enticing enough to attract former Masters champion Ian Woosnam to buy a home on the property, Royal Westmoreland, is an impressive resort spread over five hundred acres that is home to an intriguing Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed golf course.

Rocky chasms mark the 6870 yard, par-72, golf course t Royal Westmoreland and it’s proximity to the ocean, combined with some truly testing stretches of golf holes, make it a must play in Barbados.  The rating of 74.4 and slope of 130 attest to its sternness.

Prepare your game before you take on Royal Westmoreland from the tips as holes like the 600-yard, par-five, thirteenth hole and he 209 yard, par-three, fifteenth are all the golf hole you will ever need.  Just make sure to save some energy for the 450-yard final hole as a par four here must be earned.

St. Kitts

When the Marriott Hotel group took over what is now called the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino in Basseterre, St Kitts in 2002 they had big plans for the property.  Four years later they have delivered including a total refurbishment of the golf course by Canadian designer Tom McBroom.

Work began on the golf course in 2002 and was completed by 2004, resulting in one of the best courses that can be found in the Caribbean.

Jutting out between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the golf course property at St. Kitts Marriott Resort is stunning.  The 18-hole course features 5 picturesque holes on the water, including 2 holes on the Caribbean Sea and 3 complete holes on the Atlantic Ocean.  Here he successfully blended the creativity of man with the awesome beauty of nature.

The course meanders over 230 acres with numerous views of sandy beaches and pure emerald green waters.  “St. Kitts is one of the best courses in the Caribbean.  It’s a fabulous site,” McBroom says of what was his first design outside Canada.

Golfers experience views of the tropical Caribbean Sea on holes No. 3 and 4, while the Atlantic Ocean comes into view from the 11th tee to the clubhouse.  When he couldn’t see the water, McBroom raised fairways, while incorporating 11 saltwater ponds into the 6,911-yard design, to enhance the vistas and create undulation.  McBroom also designed the 20-acre, double-ended practice facility.

For those visiting the southern Caribbean, St. Kitts is one place where you want to make sure your clubs are along.

A Taste

With golf growing in popularity it may soon take an entire book to cover all the courses in the Caribbean and that is very promising for the traveller.  We could only give you a taste but what a promising sample it is.  Lots of delights already exist here but more are arriving each year.  So next time you book that Caribbean vacation, pack your bathing suit but make don’t forget to bring your sticks!  You won’t regret it.

Fast Facts

Cuba

Sol Melia Las Americas

Playa de Las Americas,

Varadero, Cuba

Tel: (53) 45 667600

Jamaica

The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort

1 Ritz-Carlton Drive,

Rose Hall,

St. James, Jamaica

Tel: (876) 953-2800

Dominican Republic

Cap Cana

Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Tel: 1-809-CAP-CANA

Turks & Caicos

Provo Golf Club

Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Tel: (649) 946-5991

Barbados

Barbados Golf Club

Durants, Christ Church,

Barbados

Tel: (246) 428-8463

Royal Westmoreland

St. James, Barbados,

West Indies

Tel: (246) 422-4653

Sandy Lane

St. James, Barbados

West Indies

Tel: (246) 444-2000

St. Kitts

St. Kitts  Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino

858 Frigate Bay Road

Frigate Bay, Saint Kitts and Nevis

Tel:  (869) 466 1200