Courses: Carribean Greens
Published on Friday, May. 24, 2013 09:43PM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 10:39AM EDT
(This article first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Golf Canada Magazine)
During the last few years, golf in the Caribbean has been growing in popularity faster than the island’s lush tropical vegetation - and three of the best destinations for tee times sunny-side up, with the added bonus of aquamarine waters, towering palms and sugary sand beaches are the islands of Jamaica, Barbados and the Dominican Republic.
No. 1 hole at White Witch
We’re on the north coast of Jamaica 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. Clubs, balls, scorecard, tees and beverages are neatly arranged in our cart as we survey the surrounding landscape. “The line is the large tree on the horizon, just swing nice and smooth,” says our caddie at the White Witch’s stunning par-5 opening hole.
This par-71, 6,748-yard course spills up and down the hills high above the sea. Many holes demand long and scary carries over chasms filled with rocks and two of the par-3 holes feature stomach-dropping shots from elevated tees to water-fronted greens far below.
Says head golf professional Mike Cole, “The White Witch is a course that will give you a different experience each time you play, and we have done that 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 topography is unique, making each hole memorable and distinctive in its own right.”
The White Witch is one member of a quartet of quality courses that includes Half Moon, the Tryall Club and Cinnamon Hill, all clustered around the elite enclave of Rose Hall near Montego Bay. Half Moon Golf Club is a tropical parkland layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, located in the exquisite resort of Half Moon, and is perhaps the most forgiving of the bunch.
The Tryall Club features spectacular ocean panoramas and exotic tree-lined fairways, with nine level holes by the sea and nine rolling holes in the hills. Look out for the tee shot through the stone pillars of a historic aqueduct, part of a former sugar plantation, and a par-3 with a shot over Flint River to a devilish putting surface.
The gently rolling front nine of the Cinnamon Hill course opens under the gaze of the 18th century Rose Hall Great House, then rambles past the walled graveyard of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s family and down to the ocean. “Number 5 is a standout hole,” says Director of Golf, Robert Ames, who keeps us company for our round. “It’s aptly named Majestic Blue and you tee-off facing the ocean on this dogleg left downhill par 4, with the green right by the beach.”
Although there are another eight courses on the island (including the oldest course in the Western Hemisphere, the historic 9-hole Manchester Club), these four are the most varied and distinctive and provide a good focus for a Jamaican golf vacation.
Off-course highlights include walking through the village of Nine Miles, (Bob Marley’s birth and final resting place), sampling jerk chicken at Scotchies in Montego Bay, climbing Dunn’s River Falls, rafting the Martha Brae River and kicking back on Negril’s beautiful white sand beaches.
Green Monkey Course
The exclusive Sandy Lane resort, and the place where Tiger Woods famously tied the knot in a lavish ceremony, is home to two championship courses of excellent quality. The Country Club is a parkland layout featuring several manmade lakes and some challenging approach shots to greens well protected by water and sand.
Sandy Lane’s other course, the Green Monkey may be the most spectacular eighteen holes created in the Caribbean since Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog. “The vision of the owners,” says the designer Tom Fazio, “Was to create a place as dramatic as any there is in the world.” Sculpted from what was once a working limestone quarry, Fazio slowly builds drama through the first eight parkland-style holes, and then startles golfers with a rapid descent into an abandoned quarry, where towering coral walls dwarf the fairways.
Another top-drawer course is Royal Westmoreland Golf Club, majestically situated on the rolling slopes of St. James and carved through a plethora of natural rock gullies, chasms and rock-faces. The scenic Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is the centrepiece of a $400-million residential and resort development that, in principle, is restricted to guests, although visitors can usually secure tee times. Welsh golfer Ian Woosnam, who owns a house here, believes the course has one of the best collections of par 3s in the world, and as we soon discover, it’s certainly one of those courses you want play again.
Bunkers abound, but one of the more unusual hazards is the Bajan green monkeys that live in the surrounding vegetation. After teeing off on one hole, a cheeky monkey jumps out of a tree, grabs my ball from the fairway and scampers back into the branches with its prize. Rule book anyone?
A friendly and very popular course for golfers of all abilities is Barbados Golf Club. Wide-open fairways, gently rolling hills and a series of coral waste bunkers feature at this 18-hole track redesigned by respected golf architect Ron Kirby. Two lakes enhance play on five holes creating a dramatic ‘Amen Corner’ on holes 15 and 16, and the flora, especially the yellow-and-red flowers of the Pride of Barbados bush that line the fairways add to the visual appeal. A nine-hole track at Rockley Golf & Country Club completes the Barbados golf collection.
Away from golf there’s plenty to do: self drive the island, watch a cricket match at Kensington Park Oval in Bridgetown, visit the famous Friday Fish Fry at Oistins and take a Mount Gay Distillery tour - where the world’s oldest rum brand was born over three centuries ago. After a tour, visit the shop next door to select your tipple of choice – one that naturally compliments a round of Caribbean island golf.
Teeth of the Dog Course
Already home to the infamous Teeth of the Dog, a Gary Player 18 holer, two Robert Trent Jones Sr. tracks, and other offerings from Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus, the Dominican Republic is the third Caribbean island for the aficionado of challenging tropical golf.
“It must be one of the best 19th hole views in the world,” says Olivier Brizon, Director of Golf Operations, as we share some cold beers at the end of our first round at Punta Cana Resort & Club’s La Cana Golf Course on the east coast. From the elegant clubhouse, the 18th fairway and green skirt the coastline with a superb white sandy beach and the sparkling turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea beyond.
Dominated as much by abstract expanses of sand as green fairways, La Cana Golf Course certainly has it’s own character. Innovative, beautiful and fun, this tropical gem designed by P.B Dye (son of Peter Dye), is a blend of long, rolling inland holes and several spectacular holes that line the ocean. The tee shots are wide and inviting, but it’s the second shots and the delicate ones around the greens that provide the real challenge. Punta Cana Resort & Club also features P.B Dye’s Hacienda Golf Course, and Tom Fazio’s Corales Golf Course that culminates in a striking eighteenth hole with a dramatic carry over the rocky Bay of Corales.
A tempting-trio of Pete Dye-designed courses awaits golfers at Casa de Campo; one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious resorts. In the world’s top 100 courses, Dye’s masterpiece the Teeth of the Dog skirts a jagged, rocky coastline so close you can feel the salt spray. Dye is quoted as saying that he actually only created eleven holes on the course, God created the seven running by the side of the ocean.
The 157-yard 5th 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 numbers 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 and are elevated above a coral cliff.
Inland lies the designer’s lake studded Links Course, and his third track, Dye Fore is a 7,714-yard monster that marches along a plateau perched 500 ft above the mesmerizing Chavron River. If the river snaking its way through this dramatic landscape looks familiar, it is because director Francis Ford Coppola when filming his epic movie Apocalypse Now used it as a location.
Situated about 45 minutes from the capital Santo Domingo is Guavaberry Golf & Country Club, a Gary Player signature design – a big, gently sloping track that features one of the island’s most challenging finishing holes, a 466- yard par-4 with a green tucked behind an enormous bed of coral rock that runs along the entire right side of the fairway.
When not strolling the Dominican Republic’s lush fairways, there are plenty of attractions and things to do. How about gorgeous palm-lined beaches, windsurfing at the lively north coastal town of Cabarete, whale watching, climbing the Caribbean’s tallest mountain and exploring Santo Domingo with its fabulous Carnivals, vibrant nightlife and the Zona Colonial - a treasure trove of early colonial architecture.