Top spots to tee off
The Caribbean offers some of the best golfing in the world – from luxe championship courses to great-value public clubs. Lizzie Williams tells you where to get in the swing
Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados
• USP: Elegant resort on the ‘platinum’ west coast offering well-heeled players three outstanding, award-winning courses
• Vital stats: The Old Nine – 9 holes, 3,345 yards, par 36.
Country Club – 18 holes, 7,060 yards, par 72.
Green Monkey – 18 holes, 7,343 yards, par 72
• Signature hole: Green Monkey 16th – from an elevated tee, the green is 225 yards away and guarded by a bunker with a monkey-shaped grassy island in the middle
Ultra-luxurious Sandy Lane near Holetown is known as the grande dame of Barbados. Tiger Woods got married here in 2004 – need we say more about the quality of the golf? The most extraordinary of the three courses is Green Monkey, named after the Bajan primates that dash across it. When it opened in 2004, it was reputedly the most expensive golf course ever built. After zig-zagging across flattish fairways, from the eighth hole the course drops into a 60m-deep stone quarry shaped like an upside-down wedding cake. Players then realise what all the fuss and finance is about: each hole is laid out on flat shelves anchored to exposed limestone rock faces. It’s super-exclusive, open only to Sandy Lane guests.
The other two courses are open to all. The casual Old Nine is a remnant of the original course built when the hotel opened in 1933, and curves along tree-lined fairways in the Sandy Lane estate. The championship Country Club course opened in 2001 and, like Green Monkey, was designed by acclaimed golf architect Tom Fazio. Laid out around the hilltop clubhouse, it offers a solid round in classic parkland with lush greens, five lakes, immaculately cut fairways and ocean views.
• Highway 1, St James; www.sandylane.com
Apes Hill Club, Barbados
• USP: At almost 300m above sea level, this boasts spectacular views and is consistently one of the top-rated courses in the Caribbean
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 7,150 yards, par 72
• Signature hole: The 16th – between the tee and the green is a lake in an abandoned quarry and its coral cliffs make an eye-catching backdrop
Opened in 2009, Apes Hill winds seamlessly through a rolling landscape with views of Barbados’s west coast. Designed by Jeff Potts and Chris Cole, with an emphasis on environmental preservation, it features lush grassland, wooded ravines and sparkling lakes.
The versatile design of fast greens and moulded bunkers appeals to medium and advanced handicaps. Especially thrilling are holes 11–14, laid out in dense tropical forest – players often spot green monkeys feasting on the cherry and breadfruit trees. Popular with owners and renters on the Apes Hill residential estate, tee times are available for outside golfers, and there’s a large practice facility, driving range and stylish country club.
• Orange Hill, St James, Barbados; www.apeshillclub.com
Bahía Beach Resort & Golf Club, Puerto Rico
• USP: This well-regarded championship course nestles in the lush foothills of El Yunque Rainforest
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 6,890 yards, par 72
• Signature hole: The 18th – a challenging finish where a lake completely flanks the left side of the fairway, and the reward is a green right on the shoreline
This luxury resort and residential development, opened in 2008, is the only Caribbean property designated as a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary for its commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural environment. The golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, who wanted the layout to mimic the undulating waves of the sea. Golfers describe it as both beautiful and challenging; of the 18 holes set on 483 acres, 15 border either a lagoon or the Atlantic. Thick canopies of native forest and ocean breezes also come into play. Visitors are welcome, and facilities include a driving range, the largest golf shop on the island and a plantation-style clubhouse and restaurant.
• Bahia Beach Boulevard, Rio Grande; www.bahiabeachpuertorico.com
Four Seasons Resort Nevis, St Kitts & Nevis
• USP: A visual stunner, with plenty of wild holes and scenic outposts, and a dramatic backdrop of cloud-capped Nevis Peak
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 6,766 yards, par 71
• Signature hole: The 18th – right alongside Pinney’s Beach this is a fitting finish, especially at sunset
The Four Seasons Resort Nevis is easily reachable from Major Bay on St Kitts in just 20 minutes by ferry, water taxi or speedboat arranged by the resort – golfers even fly in for the day from other islands just to play this acclaimed course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr in the early 1990s, it imaginatively routes around the lower slopes of Nevis Peak, where green monkeys, tropical foliage and a ruined sugar mill give a taste of the island’s flora, fauna and history. It’s so pretty that the resort offers guided tours by golf cart for non-players.
Fairly challenging, the front nine holes gently climb up from the clubhouse to a flattish ridge before plunging downhill from the 14th for an exhilarating end to a round. Open to all, there’s a driving range, putting green and professional coaching, and the Four Seasons has an array of fine restaurants.
• Pinney’s Beach, Charlestown; www.fourseasons.com/nevis
Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico
• USP: Three championship courses set along two miles of tropical coastline, including the challenging East Course, polished to PGA-standard and rated one of the best in the Caribbean
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 7,200 yards, par 72
• Signature hole: The 4th – unarguably the most difficult (Jack Nicklaus once admitted it was tough), this double par-5 dogleg features long shots over two water hazards to an ocean-side green
In a private residential resort in Dorado, this collection of golf courses was first established in 1958 by renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. When his son Robert Trent Jones Jr restored the East Course in 2011, he elevated a classic seaside course into a modern championship layout. Affiliated with the Tournament Players Club Network since 2015, it now hosts celebrities, golf legends and world-class tournaments.
Flowering trees and coconut palms line landscaped fairways, sand from the beach fills the contoured bunkers, and 15 of the 18 holes enjoy terrific ocean views. Pineapple and Sugarcane are the other two courses. Facilities include a driving range, putting and chipping greens, caddy-instructors and a fine clubhouse.
• Plantation Drive, Dorado; www.doradobeach.com
Royal St Kitts Golf Club, St Kitts & Nevis
• USP: St Kitts’ only course sits between black-sand Atlantic beaches and the Caribbean Sea
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 6,900 yards, par 71
• Signature hole: The 15th – the highest point on the course; Nevis, St Maarten and Saba can be seen on a clear day
Sited on the flattest part of St Kitts between Half Moon Bay and North Frigate Bay, is this 125-acre course. Opened in 1976, it was redesigned in 2004 by Canadian golf course architect Thomas McBroom. The front nine holes have views of the Caribbean, while the back nine run scenically along the Atlantic with the closing sequence of 15–17 almost on the beach. Relatively flat, wide and forgiving, there are some challenges: 80 bunkers, 12 lakes, stands of trees and water hazards at ten of the holes. Open to all, facilities include practice greens, driving range and clubhouse. Stay-and-play packages are available at the adjacent St Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino.
• Frigate Bay Road; www.royalstkittsgolfclub.com
The Links at Royal Isabela, Puerto Rico
• USP: Curling along limestone cliffs above the Atlantic, this course slots right into the lay of the land
• Vital stats: 18 holes, 7,667 yards, par 72
• Signature hole: The 6th – called ‘Fork in the Road’, golfers can target two different greens from the same tees
This resort near Rincón sits on 60m-high cliffs, with several holes playing across rocky inlets. When Puerto Rican tennis-stars-turned-golfers Charlie and Stanley Pasarell laid out the course in 2009, they were reluctant to change the landscape, and very little earth was moved.
The challenging 426-acre course has 132 tees, blind shots galore, steeply mounded fairways, jungle-like rough, deep bunkers and four amazing holes along the cliff’s edge. Taking caddies is mandatory, just to find your way around – the holes go in every direction. There are tee times for non-guests, who can eat in the excellent La Casa restaurant overlooking The Links.
• 396 Avenida Noel Estrada, Isabela; www.royalisabela.com/golf
Swing for less
There’s great golf to be enjoyed at more casual public courses and private country clubs across the Caribbean – less expensive than but often as scenic as luxury resorts
1 Barbados Golf Club, Barbados
VITAL STATS: 18 holes, 6,805 yards, par 72
Easily reachable from south coast hotels, Barbados’s first public course, originally opened in 1974, was revamped in 2000 with a links-style design by Ron Kirby. It’s
a fun, playable course for all skills, with coral-waste bunkers at four holes; the two ‘returning nines’ finish on a triple-tiered green around a lake in front of the clubhouse.
• Durants, Christ Church; www.barbadosgolfclub.com
2 Cedar Valley Golf Club, Antigua
VITAL STATS: 18 holes, 6,157 yards, par 70
This club in north-east Antigua, opened in the 1970s, features a hilly, well-bunkered course with wide fairways lined with mature tropical trees. The signature par-4 12th hole has fine views of St John’s and the Caribbean coastline. Players often bump into Sir Viv Richards – the great cricketer has a passion for golf.
• St John’s; www.cvgolfantigua.com
3 Golf de St-François, Guadeloupe
VITAL STATS: 18 holes, 6,755 yards, par 71
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr in 1978, this public course is owned by the local municipality; it is reasonably priced and was upgraded in 2010. The winds can be devilishly unpredictable, and three lakes play challenging roles at six of the holes.
• Saint-François, Grande-Terre; www.golf-saintfrancois.com
4 St Lucia Golf Club, St Lucia
VITAL STATS: 18 holes, 6,829 yards, par 71
In a residential community not far from Rodney Bay, the only 18-hole course on St Lucia opened in 2001, spread across a lush landscape dotted with ponds and swaying palms. It may not have ocean views, but it’s laid out along the natural contours of the hills with plenty of blind shots, twisting fairways and elevated greens to keep golfers on the ball.
• Cap Estate, Gros Islet; www.stluciagolf.com
5 Punta Borinquen Golf Club, Puerto Rico
VITAL STATS: 18 holes, 6,314 yards, par 72
Puerto Rico’s first golf course was built in 1940 on a US army base. Today it’s a friendly public course with reasonable fees. It has no lakes or water hazards, but elevation changes, sloping greens, sandy bunkers and brisk crosswinds make for a fun round; eight holes sit spectacularly on top of a 55m-high cliff with views over the point where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean.
• Aguadilla; www.puntaborinquengolfclub.org