Sunday, January 1, 2006
Double-bogeys mean nothing when you're in paradiseThe lure of the Caribbean islands is strong. Prospects of warm weather and a needed respite from the perils of modern living make the region a fine escape. Pair that with a geography exceedingly tropical and seemingly remote, despite the fact that the islands can be reached via a twin prop from most Eastern cities, and you have a bona fide vacation winner. Now, throw in golf far better than most people have ever imagined, and you have the incentive to start packing immediately, especially if your itinerary includes Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
Golf in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico is rich, dating back several decades. Although the somewhat gentrified nature of the game clashes a bit with the nations’ island culture, it is nonetheless embraced and respected. In fact, you can sense the pride each country has for its golf facilities, from the caddies to the locals in the grillroom interested in knowing how you fared. For purists, the Caribbean is a true golf treat.
For years, golf in Jamaica was synonymous with Tryall and Half Moon Bay, two privately run resorts on the island’s northwest shore. Visitors to Tryall or Half Moon were treated to the luxurious elegance befitting their English landowner heritage, with accommodations ranging from suites to large homes complete with full-service staff. That continues today, but with a recent modernization of golf that should bring them back to prominence. The Tryall layout plays over the remains of a former coconut grove, and features some relatively dramatic change in elevation, given its seaside locale. It’s a shotmaker’s course that doesn’t disappoint. Half Moon Bay is relatively flat, but is surprisingly long. Wide fairways make it an easier challenge than its 7,115 yards would indicate, although the constant breeze presents a challenge. You’ll need a caddy as your 15th club.
The old-world elegance of Tryall and Half Moon Bay is augmented by the pure elegance found just outside Montego Bay at the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall. The 428-room Ritz has as its centerpiece the Robert von Hagge-designed White Witch, a course named after the 19th-century sugar plantation owner who, legend has it, abused her slaves and murdered three husbands. The name is apt, as the White Witch can seemingly make balls disappear and putts break in every direction. There’s no sugar coating the fact that the Witch is a test, but the views are worth the challenge, even if you lose. Ocean vistas on no less than 16 holes and from the magnificent clubhouse are free with every greens fee.
A fantastic course that features some of the spine-tingling chills of the White Witch and the recreational playability of Tryall and Half Moon is Cinnamon Hill, at Wyndham Rose Hall. Recently upgraded by von Hagge, Cinnamon Hill is one of the most varied golf courses you’ll ever play. For a stretch, the course hugs the sea so tightly, there are a few opportunities to lose your ball in the island’s biggest water hazard. For another spell, the course winds up and down through the foothills, then blows straight into the jungle until Nos. 17 and 18 run you through the remains of an old sugar mill back to the safety of the clubhouse. It’s a must-play track full of character and the spice you’d expect from a Caribbean locale.
There are over 700 islands that comprise the Bahamas. For golfers, consider only three: Grand Bahama Island, New Providence and Great Exuma, home to a new Four Seasons Resort and a Greg Norman-designed stunner that’s garnering rave reviews.
On GBI rests the sleepy town of Freeport, home to three Joe Lee-designed courses from the 1960s during what could be considered the island’s heyday. A recent multimillion dollar investment in the town signals the onset of another, spear-headed by Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort. This stunning property houses over 1,000 guest rooms, yet is surprisingly homey. Furthermore, it can call its own what was the first new course in the Bahamas in over 30 years, when construction on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Reef Course was completed in 2000. The Reef is noteworthy in that it’s a links-style layout nearly devoid of trees. Jones allows the opportunity to play several different types of shots into the greens, placing emphasis on the short game rather than length off the tee. For a more tropical round, consider Our Lucaya’s second 18, the original Lucayan Course. This Joe Lee design from 1964 gets better every year, with a dizzying array of doglegs cut through lush tropical foliage. It’s the best course you’ve never heard of.
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