The 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.
What you probably have heard of is what's happening on Paradise Island, a small stretch of island connected by a land bridge to Nassau on New Providence. The Atlantis mega-resort is there, as in a Tom Weiskopf redesign of a classic Joe Lee course at the recently renovated Ocean Club. Built in the 1960s, the resort is amazing, and the course is no less spectacular. Excess foliage was removed to provide more ocean views and the room to build several seaside tee boxes. Like most Oceanside layouts, water and wind are the main obstacles to scoring. Get on while it's still open to Atlantis guests.
Watch out for Puerto Rico on the golf destination radar. Already known as an excellent vacation spot, with 15 established resorts featuring world-class golf, a solid half-dozen more are in the works. To keep up with new course openings, visit www.gotopuertorico.com.
Of course, the new kids on the island will have a tough time one-upping what's already laid out on Puerto Rico, including the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort and its dramatic Arthur Hills design, and the Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach & Golf Resort, home to a course designed by Puerto Rico's favorite golfing son, Chi Chi Rodriguez. They'll have even more trouble replacing what has defined Puerto Rican golf for nearly 50 years _â__Ò Hyatt Dorado Beach. Once the personal playground of Laurence Rockefeller, Dorado Beach, which sits on 1,000 stunning oceanfront acres about 20 miles from San Juan, oozes class. The two Robert Trent Jones courses (paired by two others at the Hyatt's sister property in Cerromar Beach) have recently received renovation by Raymond Floyd, who attempted to make the course a stiffer challenge, considering recent advancements in equipment. Nonetheless, classic Jones hallmarks such as runway tee boxes and strategically placed fairway bunkers remain. The West course at Dorado Beach is an ingenious layout. Jones positioned fairways so that the player must hit into each point on the compass, challenging even the most skilled golfer to reckon with the prevailing wind direction on every hole. The East course, like all the Hyatt 18s, is lush with gentle drops and rises in elevation. The calling card of the East is the par-5 4th, which Jack Nicklaus has called one of the world's toughest holes. The double-dogleg fairway forces the aggressive player to hit two shots over water to hit the green in two. The approach plays straight toward the beach. If any of the new holes on Puerto Rico are as good as this, golf travelers are in for a real treat.
When To Go
The Caribbean has a tropical climate with two rainy seasons, from May to June and September to November. Also, hurricanes tend to occur between June and September, though they rarely have a serious effect on vacationers in the region. Typically there is little variation in temperature year round, but the period between December and April is the best for golfers, with an average temperature that ranges between the high 60s and low 90s. According to locals, the periodic rains that come at this time are a welcome source of refreshment that don't last very long or seriously interfere with the many outdoor activities available in the region.
What To Bring
The Caribbean has many top-notch golf courses to choose from, but be aware that it is the tropics, and it does rain from time to time. To be prepared, you won't need the thermal rain suit you took to Ireland, but you should bring a decent umbrella and some type of light rain jacket. Since the temperature rarely drops much below 70 degrees, you can feel pretty safe leaving your wool sweaters, rain gloves and warm socks at home. If you have lightweight golf shoes or golf sandals, bring them. Golf in the Caribbean is not a formal production.
Along with your normal golf gear (clubs, bag, etc.), be sure to bring a couple of hats to protect you from the sun, and plenty of sunblock. In addition, it's not a bad idea to throw some mosquito repellent in your golf bag, along with some extra golf balls. The tropics feature some beautiful, lush jungle, much of which could be adjacent to the golf courses you'll be playing, and unless you're Tarzan, you'll probably want to re-tee from time to time.
How To Get There
Air service is available to Caribbean destinations from most major cities in the U.S. and Canada. Consult your favorite air carrier for rates.
For a complete source for Caribbean travel and vacation information, visit www.caribbean-on-line.com. Places to stay, play golf, other activities as well as vacation packages are all covered here.
The Jamaica Golf Association's Website provides comprehensive information on golf in Jamaica and the Caribbean. It also covers current local news on what's happening in golf in Jamaica, tournament schedules, golf package deals and special events.
Information on vacation golf packages, as well as insights into the many fine golf courses in Puerto Rico can be found at www.gotopuertorico.com. Tips on nightlife, business facilities, local color and historical info can also be found here.
The official tourism Website of the Islands of the Bahamas, www.bahamas.com provides links and info on a variety of golf courses in the area, as well as hotel packages, local sites, attractions and other activities.
Where To Play
Montego Bay, Jamaica
One of the most celebrated courses in the Caribbean, Tryall Club features holes that skirt the water and the jungle. Designed by Ralph Plummer, Tryall's 18-hole, par-72 championship course has been host to the prestigious Johnnie Walker World Championship on a number of occasions. Noteworthy holes include the par-3 4th that incorporates the natural challenges of the Caribbean Sea and Flint River, and the par-4 7th, which provides a dramatic tee-shot through the stone pillars of a historic aqueduct.
Par 72, 6772 yards (72.5/133)
|Half Moon Golf Club
Montego Bay, Jamaica
This classic Robert Trent Jones Sr. course is sculpted out of the foothills of the western Jamaican coastline, and has an international reputation for being challenging and breathtaking. A member of Jack Nicklaus' "Great Golf Resorts of the World," Half Moon has hosted a number of prestigious tournaments including the Jamaica Open Golf Championship, the Dunhill Cup Final of the Americas, and the Red Stripe Pro-Am. With 7,119 yards of difficult driving areas, plenty of bunkering and undulating greens, this course puts up a challenge. Among its memorable holes are the 535-yard third hole and the relatively short, 362-yard fourth hole.
Par 72, 6700 yards (73.7/127)
(Robert Trent Jones Sr.)
|The White Witch
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Winding through the mountains of Jamaica's historic 4,000-acre Rose Hall Plantation, The White Witch golf course is carved out of 600 acres of lush greenery and rolling countryside that features panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea from 16 of its 18 holes. Conveniently located just ten minutes from the Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort.
Par 71, 6718 yards (74.0/139)
(von Hagge, Smelek and Baril)
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Cinnamon Hill Ocean Course, located at Wyndham Rose Hall Resort and Country Club, offers a variety of mountain, island and ocean views. Cinnamon Hill is situated on what used to be a 400-acre sugar plantation, and remnants of the area's history, such as inlaid stone walls and sugar mill plantation ruins, are sprinkled throughout the mountains and valleys. Stretching from Jamaica's lush Blue Mountains out to the coast, Cinnamon Hill offers nearly 7,000 yards of greens and tees suited to players of all skill levels.
Par 71, 6637 yards (72.4/133)
(von Hagge, Baril)
(876) 953-2650, x89
|Our Lucaya - The Lucayan Course
The Lucayan Course pits your golf skills against Dick Wilson's design and the natural wonders of Grand Bahama Island. Testing precision rather than distance, with doglegs, elevated greens and thick stands of tropical foliage, The Lucayan is a good test for any level of player. The tall trees give shade from the sun and other players on the course. With wide target areas off the tee and well-protected, elevated greens, it's a great place to enjoy a leisurely round. Built in 1962, The Lucayan Course is an Audubon-affiliated member of the USGA and The Metropolitan Golf Association.
Par 72, 6821 yards, (72.1/128)
Paradise Island, Bahamas
This 18-hole, par 72 championship course is designed by Tom Weiskopf and operated by Troon Golf. Weiskopf's PGA course features meticulous seaside green and tee settings, alternating fairways and breathtaking signature holes stretched over 7,100 yards. An on-site Pro Shop, teaching pro and Clubhouse complement this remarkable golfing experience. Tee times can be reserved 60 days in advance of the requested day of play and will be held with the authorization of a major credit card.
Par 72, 7100 yards (75.6/140)
|GT Selects (cont.)||_Ê|
|Wyndham El Conquistador Resort and Golden Door Spa G.C.
Arthur Hills designed this course to be challenging, player-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, all at the same time. The course's picturesque but daunting hills and bunkers are tamed by strategically placed openings. Other features include elevation changes of more than 200 feet, rare for a Caribbean golf course, and prevailing trade winds that add a touch of uncertainty to each round. The fairways are dotted with palm trees and are impeccably manicured and surrounded by lush flora and fauna. In addition, the 9th and 18th holes share a common green, with a striking waterfall located nearby. The El Yunque rain forest to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the north add to the beauty of this top-notch track.
Par 72, 6746 yards (73.1/134)
|Teeth of the Dog
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
Long considered the class of the Caribbean, The Teeth of the Dog, designed by Pete Dye, stretches to over 6,900 yards through citrus and coconut palm trees and along the rocky coastline. The golf course features seven ocean holes, each scenic enough to grace the cover of any golf publication. Flanked by the sea on one side, the front-nine ocean holes come back toward the clubhouse after the signature 5th hole, a short par-3 that requires a carry over the rocks and beach. Wayward shots are generally unwelcome here, particularly on the back nine, where plentiful sand, water and trees can wreak havoc on your score. While railroad ties are rare, all other Dye trademark hazards are omnipresent, including two holes where players are required to drive across the runway of the local airport.
Par 72, 6941 yards (74.1/140)
|Sandy Lane Golf Club
St. James, Barbados
This 7,060-yard, Par 72 golf course features lush greens, five lakes and relatively open fairways with angled slopes. Most holes offer impressive Caribbean Sea views, and are shared with the famous Bajan Green Monkeys, which live in the gullies in and around the grounds. The course is comprised of 5 par threes, 8 par fours, and 5 par fives. Also soon to be available at Sandy Lane is the new, championship-style Green Monkey Course designed by Tom Fazio. Carved out of a former quarry, the new course is said to boast dramatic elevation changes and views of the Caribbean.
Par 72, 7060 yards (74.7/140)
|Tierra Del Sol
Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, Tierra del Sol, situated on the scenic northwest point of Aruba, is the only 18-hole championship golf course on the island. Conveniently located just 5 to 10 minutes by taxi from all the major resorts, this free-standing facility is accessible to guests staying at any resort. Tierra del Sol includes a full-length practice range, putting greens, chipping areas, an impressive clubhouse with golf shop, restaurant and swimming pool. In addition, each of Tierra del Sol's golf carts is equipped with a satellite dish and a 10.4" color screen. Some of the features include graphic hole and green overviews; exact distancing from the cart to the center of the green; exact pin placement for each day; electronic scoring; two-way communication with the clubhouse; food and beverage ordering from the cart to the grill and pro tips.
Par 71, 6811 yards (74.2/132)
(Robert Trent Jones, Jr.)
|Hyatt Regency Britannia
Britannia Golf Club is the Caribbean's first signature Jack Nicklaus golf course with three courses in one. A nine-hole Championship regulation course with an 18-hole, par-57 executive course built in. For the Britannia Club, Nicklaus created a track reminiscent of legendary courses such as Royal Troon, Turnberry and Royal Birkdale. The hallmark of a Nicklaus design is his ability to provide players with a challenging and rewarding golf experience. Off the regulation tees, it plays as a par-35, nine-hole course. Play the additional nine greens and tees, and it's a par-57, 18-hole executive course. Or tee up the revolutionary restricted-flight "Golden Bear Cayman Ball" and play a par-71, 18-hole round. The course has all the natural challenges and hazards of a traditional seaside or links layout.
Par 70, 5829 yards (73.2/135)
+1 (345) 949-1234
|Four Seasons Resort
Nevis, West Indies
The course provides a dramatic view of the Resort, the Caribbean and the neighboring island of St. Kitts. Two complimentary weekly clinics are offered to guests, and a golfer's conditioning program is also available for an additional fee. Guests are invited to take part in the 9-hole guest/manager scramble each week.
Par 70, 6682 yards (73.6/132)
(Robert Trent Jones II)
+1 (869) 469-1111
|Provo Golf Club
Turks & Caicos
Provo Golf Club offers a solid test for golfers of any caliber. Designed in a way that offers a larger green area if your approach shot is long, while the shorter approaches generally challenge a larger number of hazards, this is a course that can be played conservatively or with daring. According to locals, the prevailing "Trade Winds" that provide cool air over the entire islands can also make your round a bit more challenging, so be prepared.
Par 72, 6705 yards (74/136)
|Carambola Golf Course
Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and built by Laurence Rockefeller, the Club annually hosts the Konica USVI Golf Classic featuring LPGA professionals. Nestled in a verdant tropical valley, the Carambola Golf Course features rolling terrain, 94 bunkers and four of the best par 3's in the Caribbean. The course also features natural spring-like ponds that come into play on holes 5 and 14. The most challenging hole is the signature hole #8, a 223-yard, par 3, which requires an uphill tee shot to a well-bunkered green. For variety, also try the nearby Buccaneer Golf Course.
Par 72, 6843 yards (74.3/135)
(Robert Trent Jones)
|Mahogany Run Golf Course
Mahogany Run's Signature 13th, 14th and 15th holes are known as The Devil's Triangle. The 327-yard 13th is a dogleg-left par-4 that slopes precipitously toward a tiny shelf-like green carved out of a hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Playing the hole in regulation requires an accurate 200-yard tee shot followed by a wedge into the windswept 25-foot-wide green. Number 14 is a 173-yard, cliff-side hole with the Atlantic Ocean in place of the fairway. The golfer often must play the ball out over the ocean, battling swirling winds to find the green. Finally, the 15th is a 560-yard par-5, and is the number-one handicap hole on the course. Accuracy off the tee is vital. After a monster drive, long hitters often try to smash a second shot over a pond that guards the front of the hole, only to find trouble with the out-of-bounds behind the dramatically sloped green.
Par 70, 6022 yards (70.5/133)
(George and Tom Fazio)
|Los Suenos Marriott, La Iguana G.C.
La Iguana is a 6,700-yard Ted Robinson Jr. design with a unique and dramatic setting at the Los Suenos Marriott. The front nine plunges into the shadow of the rain forest along a narrow river valley. From the hills there is an occasional chorus of howler monkeys, and mature trees near the stream are placed for maximum difficulty. For instance, the second hole requires a long iron shot either over or under two trees guarding the green.
Par 72, 6700 yards
|Guavaberry Golf Club
The black championship tees offer the greatest challenge at Guavaberry, as there is a 936-yard difference between the middle white tees (11-20 Hcp) and black tees (scratch golfer) -- the sight lines are quite different for the two tees and the penalty for missing a landing area can be harsh. There are a few holes that require some sharp, short iron play to avoid a big number and still others that offer birdie opportunities. The greens are quite true for such a young course and, as is the case with courses in this environment, they should become even more consistent with time
Par 72, 7156 yards