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|Blue Shark Golf Club's a different look than most Bahamas golf courses. (Courtesy Blue Shark Golf Club)|
NASSAU, Bahamas - Watching Greg Norman go birdie, par, birdie on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes on the new Blue Shark Golf Club, one thinks, "well, yeah, he's freakin' Greg Norman." Age 52, and he still has the tennis babe of his generation as his new fiancée.
It's going to be a different story for ordinary human golfers, of course. You're thinking this golf course will probably eat them alive and belch them out - particularly that 10th through 12th stretch dubbed "The Shark's Teeth" in one of those marketing plays that can elicit groans.
Only, it turns out, not so much.
You might not be able to go 2 under on this three-hole run like Norman (okay, you won't), but you'll have a good chance at having your moments. Blue Shark could be known as Blue Easy. Norman certainly never forgot he was designing a resort golf course when he remolded an old Joe Lee design into a largely different longer course with its own quirks and personality.
The fairways can be more generous than a president is with pardons on his last day in office. You have plenty of room to go wide. The greens have all the undulation of an arrow. There's no craning to try and decipher breaks. It's aim right at the pin and fire.
Guests at the 600-room luxury resort and casino planned for the site around the golf course will not be in for many rude slaps in the face. Norman's Blue Shark is much more pleaser than punisher, and that seems to be the intent.
"When I first heard that Greg Norman was interested, I didn't know if he'd be the right fit to be honest," Gene Fraser, president of the South Ocean Development Company, said on a bumpy bus ride from the Blue Shark to downtown Nassau. "Part of his reputation was that he designed golf courses that could be extremely tough to play. I was a little hesitant.
"Greg and his team couldn't have been any easier or more professional to work with, though, and we discovered he had a vision similar to ours. I think you'll find he did a great job here."
You could argue that Norman's done almost too good a job. I once wrote that the Greg Norman Course at PGA West was a beautiful course that no one but Norman could play. Well, The Shark's gone completely the other way with Blue Shark.
To think Blue Shark is cruel, you'd have to burst into uncontrollable tears at any reality TV romance. This course might be nicer than Hallmark.
It works because Blue Shark brings distinct features with those wide fairways. There's more than enough to keep you interested from the imposing rock wall on No. 10 to the slave ruins right up against the 12th tee to the blue holes that can make your golf ball the stuff of old legends.
Blue Shark is a conversation starter as much as a golf course.
It's the rare golf course that makes you realize what country you're playing in. Let's face it, many international golf courses end up being so homogenous that by about the fifth hole, you might think you're golfing in Myrtle Beach. You'll never forget you're in the Bahamas on Blue Shark.
The local caddies help. On this preview play (Blue Shark isn't going to open to the public until around June), these rookie caddies didn't know much about reading putts and helping with yardages (Blue Shark will be putting in a cart GPS system). But you'll talk to a local Bahamian for four hours.
It's no stretch to say this is the only time that many visitors will converse in anything more than general pleasantries with a local. It's silly to suggest that golf's some cross-cultural experience, of course (golfers just care about golf), but it does add to the day.
The blue holes add a sense of mystery - and maybe take away a few of your golf balls.
You can hit what you think is a good shot on the 184-yard, par-3 15th only to watch it sail just over the green left and disappear from view. Blue Shark first-timers will stroll up to the green, confident they can just punch one off the side of a hill back toward the flag.
Then, they get there and stare at the steep, quick drop to the murky water you cannot see from the tee.
It's not just any water either. It's a blue hole that goes so deep that it eventually reaches the ocean. No joke. Divers have gone down through the blue holes and emerged out in the sea. As they're going, the divers feel a pounding on their helmets.
It's all the golf balls that ended up down in the hole coming free as they swim by. This has been a watery grave for balls since the Joe Lee course first opened up in the '70s.
Which brings up one of the best things Norman's team did with the new Blue Shark: Rather than completely change everything in some ego-flexing display, The Shark took the best parts that were already here and highlighted them more.
So the blue holes are even more in play on 15 and 17. And the slave ruins get primetime treatment on No. 12 with the back tee put right up against the rocky remains.
"All I've done here is take pig's ear and turn it into a silk purse," Norman said.
OK, modesty still isn't The Shark's thing. But what do you care? The course is still fun.
As soon as it opens, Blue Shark Golf Club becomes the most interesting course on the Bahamas' most populated island. The equally high-dollar Ocean Club Golf Course has many more striking water looks, but it's a largely flat course with little on it that lets you know you're in the Bahamas.
Blue Shark's best ocean view comes on the 155-yard, par-3 11th, and even here the colorful apartment building off to the side might distract you from that relatively far-off view. If it does, what Norman jokingly calls "the shortest par 3 ever" will mess with your mind. Especially if the wind's swirling.
No, you don't go to Blue Shark for ocean postcards. Instead, you play it for holes like 16 - a 541-yard par 5 with a sudden peninsula in the center about 100 yards from the green that makes this one of the more unique strategy holes you'll play anywhere. There are three very different paths from which to tackle 16.
No. 10 is another fun hole, with golfers shooting uphill (thankfully with the wind usually at their back) to a green tucked up past that striking white rock Shark wall. You're not going to remember a ton of holes at Blue Shark, but you'll remember enough.
Some of Blue Shark's best touches are the details. At the preview day, they kept talking about how the landscaping guru brought in took some risks, like this was an episode of "Project Runway" rather than a golf course. On days when the sun shines, Blue Shark figures to be much more colorful than most golf courses, though.
Who knew Norman was a color guy too?
A sign of how seriously New York City real estate developer Roger Stein is making everything first class at Blue Shark is the size and look of the course's temporary clubhouse. It'd be a great permanent clubhouse by many standards complete with a nice wraparound porch-like sitting area.
The drawings of the full South Ocean project (which will take years to complete) include a marina docked full of luxury yachts and an area definitely geared to compete with existing fantasyland Atlantis.
February 7, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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