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|At Cable Beach Golf Club, it's often man vs. water. (Chris Baldwin/GolfPublisher.com)|
Dirt-cheap twilight green fees make Cable Beach Golf Club one of the must-play golf courses on Nassau in the Bahamas.
NASSAU, Bahamas - Getting to talk to an actual Bahamian can be a lot harder than you'd think on the country's largest island.
Especially if you're staying on luxury offshoot Paradise Island with its casino resort/marina wonderland, filled with other tourists - almost all white - strolling along, shopping at the same American chain stores they shop at back home.
Golfers looking for at least a smidgen of authentic travel experience can break from this pattern by playing Cable Beach Golf Club in the afternoon. That's when the Bahamians who love to golf - and you're still talking upper middle class here, no one else gets the opportunity - come to play.
Everyone arrives in near mass a little after 3 p.m., lining up in front of the simple cash registers (one for cash, one for credit cards this afternoon) to pay the $35 twilight greens fee. Cable Beach's prime time regular rate is $180, which is ridiculous for the worst kept course on the island (there are only four courses total) - even if it is arguably the most charming.
For $35, though, Cable Beach is a near must-play - and well-off (by Bahamas standards) locals and tourists who are in the know flock to it.
Suddenly, you have a golf scene with a lively atmosphere. Cookie cutter air-conditioned mall life be gone.
The starter is a deaf guy who alone runs one of the most efficient shows in golf cart choreography you'll ever see. The main marshal is a local with a love and obvious understanding of golf. When it's 6 p.m. - closing time even if there's a trace of sunlight left - he comes around and tells everyone to play one more hole, rather than ordering people off.
You won't find any of the Caribbean's often suspect service here. The staff's looking out for you - while no one has their hand out. That $35 is all you're going to pay. There's no one reaching for a tip like at almost all the resorts and other golf courses.
"This is one of my favorite spots on the island," said Long Island visitor Mike Dougman, who's been coming to the Bahamas for more than a decade. "The $35 rate is the only cheap deal in Nassau ever. Otherwise, you're paying $250 at Ocean Club. And this place is real down to earth."
How down to earth?
When the complimentary shuttle back to the Sheraton Cable Beach I was depending on didn't show (a not all together uncommon experience), a Canadian roofer and a Bahamian woman working at the course drove two other golfers and me there while refusing to take even a few bucks for gas.
As ritzy as Paradise Island is, no one's offering to give you a stick of gum for free, let alone a ride.
You don't just play Cable Beach for the people and the authentic atmosphere though.
This is a rather ingenious pre-the-7,000-yard-course-craze design that can be a rollicking, fun play.
There's water on 16 of the 18 holes, and we're talking real hazards, not just pretty ponds put off to the side to only add ambiance. Cable Beach's water comes into play like a bad burrito at Taco Bell. You get into trouble and you're going to remember it.
Welcome to the lagoon!
Things really get rolling on No. 2 and don't stop until about 17. The second's a 408-yard par 4 with a raised tee surrounded by a small stone wall and set back on its own hill (forget any notion of Florida's little bump hills) looking out at a significant pond you need to clear to reach the fairway.
Bushy tropical trees lean around the edges of the hilly fairway - and even a few of the tee boxes - adding another element of danger.
It's think before you swing at Cable Beach. This is not one of those resort courses where you can blast driver away, aiming straight down the fairway, again and again.
Take No. 3, a 387-yard par 4 that makes a sharp dogleg left turn at one of Cable Beach's tall-grasses-sticking-out-of-the-water protruding lakes. Go ahead and try to cut the corner with your big gun if you insist. Just be prepared to play a breakfast ball after it crashes through the grass and plops in.
The much better play here is to hit an iron down the right side, the fatter part of the fairway, to about the 150-yard marker and then approach the green straight on from that angle.
Cable Beach maxes out at 6,423 yards, but with holes like this, it still carries just enough bite. Largely unknown course renovation architect Fred Settle Jr. actually argues in a quote on Cable Beach's scorecard that "golf should be fun."
That's unconventional thinking. At Cable Beach, the people's course on the island where the people are often forgotten, it fits right in though.
You wouldn't think that a course whose fairways can be worn and spotty could provide good visuals, but Cable Beach Golf Club pulls off the trick. The tall, tall grasses in the murky ponds and tropical trees that catch plenty of golf balls combine to create scenes you will not forget.
Even on No. 12, a par 3 that runs along a pretty busy road you have to cross, the pond grasses that can tower over a golfer swinging on the edge of the water rescue a hole that you'd assume would be as picturesque as Danny DeVito in a Speedo.
Most things turn out to be surprisingly first class at Cable Beach. They give every golfer a nice yardage book - even those playing on the $35 rate. It's invaluable on a quirky course with so many nooks and bends, and it's also unusual in a world where high-end resort courses often charge their customers $8-10 for a yardage book after having hit them with a giant greens fee.
Cable Beach Golf Club closed down several years ago in order for Settle to do a renovation that flipped the nines and resorted some of the luster to a course that first opened in 1929. First-timers will not believe it when they play it, but Settle actually made a number of the landing areas wider on this still-tight course.
A golfer who'd played Cable Beach back in the late 90s told me that the new layout stood as a definite improvement.
Devereux Emmet is credited with the original design, and he'd likely be pleased that it's still the only course on the island that has anything of an authentic Bahamian spirit.
Cable Beach's 14th hole - a little mouse of a par 3 (151 yards) that intimidates like a mountain lion with its near island green - draws plenty of talk. But don't sleep on the 10th and 11th stretch, two short par 4s (328 and 287 yards respectively) where ordinary golfers have a blast.
February 4, 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.
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