During the last ten years, golf courses have been popping up all across the Caribbean, growing faster than the islands’ tropical vegetation, banana trees and sugarcane fields. From Barbados to the Bahamas, top-drawer courses bear the stamps of noted experts such as Robert Trent Jones, Peter Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tom Fazio. Many other designs are under development or in the pipeline.
All the key ingredients are here: golf sunny-side up and year-round, generous helpings of sugary sand beaches, clear aquamarine waters and cheek-caressing trade winds.
No two islands are alike, and neither are the golf courses. You can almost choose a golfing destination by your cultural preferences, and with nearly 50 top-quality layouts waiting, the Caribbean presents a delightful dilemma. Almost without exception, the courses are linked to luxury resorts where you’re guaranteed the ultimate beach vacation lifestyle with romantic sunsets, pampered service and gourmet dining.
Here are five of the best:
Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic
A tempting trio of courses designed by Peter Dye awaits golfers staying at Casa de Campo, one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious resorts. Dye said he actually only created 11 holes on the Teeth of the Dog course, and God created the seven skirting the Caribbean Sea. Currently ranked No 34 in the world’s top courses, Dye’s masterpiece skirts a jagged, rocky coastline, so close you can feel the salt spray.
The first of the coastal holes, the 143-metre fifth, is a par 3 to remember and one scary-looking hole. The only option is to hit the green because short, left or long is definite shark food. The signature holes on the back nine are nos. 15 and 16, a medium-length par 4 and long par 3. In direct contrast to the front nine, these holes are lined along the entire right side by the Caribbean, above a coral cliff.
Inland lies the designer’s clever, lake-studded Links Course, and his third track, Dye Fore, is a 6,943-metre monster that marches along a plateau 150 metres above the mesmerising Chavron River. With a collection of forced carries over yawning chasms, plus the speed and severity of many of the putting surfaces, Dye Fore is a real test even from the front markers.
Picture this: you are at one of the Caribbean’s most stunning golf courses, carved out of 600 acres of lush greenery and rolling countryside, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea from 16 of the 18 holes. This is the eye-opening 500-metre, par 5 first hole at the White Witch golf course at Jamaica’s Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort.
The par-71, 6,113-metre course was so named by its creators, golf course architects Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, after Annie Palmer, the notorious “White Witch,” who in the early 19th century was mistress of Rosehall Plantation, on which the course is built. She was purported to be beautiful and beguiling and to have done away with three unsuspecting husbands.
Says Baril: “We have tried to create a course that will give you a different experience each time you play. We have done that at the White Witch by creating multiple tees throughout. Whereas the low handicapper might have to carry a yawning ravine to reach the green, there are also tees allowing the shorter hitter to get there as well.”
The Abaco Club, Bahamas
The Abaco Club’s new course, nestled in a Garden-of-Eden setting called Winding Bay on Great Abaco Island (the biggest of a chain of islands known as the Abacos), provides an unforgettable sight, with lush green fairways skirting pristine beaches and the deep-blue backdrop of ocean.
This spectacular layout is the centrepiece of a US$250 million resort being built by British tycoon Peter de Savary, who hired two of the world’s best golf course architects, Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, to bring a slice of Scotland to the tropics. They have incorporated classic links ingredients—swales, humps and hollows, small pot bunkers and undulating green—into the design. Add in the unpredictable nature of coastal winds and you have a demanding test.
The gin-clear waters of Winding Bay are in view on the first 14 holes, while the final four traverse a coral cliff above the Atlantic. On the 18th tee block, you are greeted by the sound of waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and a rolling landscape that stretches from tee to green.
Sandy Lane, Barbados
The exclusive Sandy Lane resort is home to two championship golf courses (and a nine-holer), and the place where Tiger Woods reserved all 112 rooms and famously tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at a reported cost of almost US$3 million.
The Country Club is a parkland course, featuring several man-made lakes and some challenging approach shots to greens well protected by water and sand.
Sandy Lane’s other course, the “Green Monkey,” is like the Mona Lisa of golf—enigmatic, untouchable and only available for Sandy Lane guests to play.
“The vision of the owners,” says course architect Tom Fazio, “was to create a place as dramatic as any there is in the world.” Starting from what was once a working limestone quarry, Fazio slowly builds that drama through the first eight, parkland-style holes, then startles golfers with a rapid descent into an abandoned quarry, where 27-metre-high coral walls dwarf the fairways.
From the 578-metre 9th, where you drive from a high tee to a fairway 150 feet below, bordered by the quarry wall, to the flags that feature a green monkey with an extended curled tail that flutters in the breeze, everything at the Green Monkey is about grandeur and detail.
The signature hole, the 206-metre par 3 16th, is destined to become one of the world’s most photographed golf holes. Players hit down into the old quarry to a green edged by a massive bunker featuring a grass island carved in the shape of a Bajan green monkey, a species introduced to the island from West Africa more than 350 years ago and the inspiration for the course’s name.
Four Seasons, Nevis
Little Nevis is the home of an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The 6,080-metre layout is a roller-coaster ride along the flanks of a cloud-capped volcano, with dramatic views at every turn. The course winds gently up the slope of Nevis Peak to the signature hole, the par 5 15th, which is set 150 metres above sea level, with magnificent views of nearby St Kitts and neighbouring islands. The hole measures a whopping 603 metres from the back tees and requires a 218-plus carry over a dramatic gorge to reach the shallow fairway.
The 18th, a straightforward par 4 played towards the ocean, may well be the best hole on the course. If you time it just right (teeing off around 2 pm), you can finish holing out on the green with a beautiful sunset cresting the crystal-blue water of the Caribbean Sea.
WHERE TO PLAY AND STAY
Casa De Campo (Teeth Of The Dog, Dye Fore & The Links)
+(809) 523 3333
Sandy Lane (The Green Monkey, Country Club & Old Nine)
+(246) 444 2500
Ritz Carlton (White Witch)
The Abaco Club (Tropical Links)
+(888) 303 2765
Four Seasons Resort (Robert Trent Jones Jr championship course)
+(869) 469 1111