MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA - Like the Ritz-Carlton's new White Witch course, its sister course, the Wyndham's Three Palms, is a great reason to visit Jamaica - not that you need another one. With last year's opening of the White Witch and this spring's "remastering" of the new Three Palms, Montego Bay, Jamaica now has two world-class courses within a long 3-wood of each other.
Just across the road from the Wyndham Hotel, Three Palms is the reincarnation of a course originally built by Henry O. Smedley in the early 1970s. Smedley's course was the home of four Jamaican Open championships, but the new Three Palms opened this April 19th after a $5-million renovation of all 18 holes.
"This project changed nearly every hole on the course," according to Head Golf Professional Tom White. "We designed new tees, greens, fairways, bunkers, and an irrigation system, as well as a lengthening and re-routing of the entire course."
Like the White Witch, which was named one of the world's top ten new courses, Three Palms was built into the Jamaican mountainside and offers spectacular ocean views, but unlike the Witch, it actually abuts the Caribbean shore.
Also like the White Witch, the course's name was inspired by the same local legend of Annie Palmer, the White Witch herself who ruled the Rose Hall plantation and killed her three husbands in the 19th century. Legend has it that Palmer buried the men under a trio of nearby palm tress - "hence the name," according to White.
The courses also share a designer - the renowned Robert von Hagge of von Hagge, Smelek and Baril, and they are both located within Montego Bay's Rose Hall area, which was masterplanned and developed by the late John Rollins. Despite holes named "Dead Ahead," "Dead and Gone," "Caribbean Ghost," and "The Ruins," Three Palms isn't quite as difficult as the Witch, but it nonetheless provides a terrific challenge for golfers of all skills, and it features some of the most unique features ever found on a golf course.
Three Palms now has a par-71, 6,637-yard layout, as well as a golf shop, driving range, and putting green. "There are several sets of tees [actually four] which allow golfers of all levels to enjoy the golfing and viewing experience," according to White. "Guests find Three Palms a great test of golf and very fair. There are no longer any blind tee shots or blind approach shots. It's not a course that will wear one out with unfair holes and difficult carries. All ability levels have enjoyed the course for both the challenge and the beauty."
Three Palms' first few holes are fairly straightforward, starting with "Big Bamboo," the straightaway, 574-yard par five. The next two holes are a 168-yard par three and "Dead Ahead," a relatively short par four. The fourth hole is "Dead and Gone," which can easily describe many of the hole's tee shots. The 177-yard par three is particularly difficult because of a huge water hazard that stretches from the tee boxes to a two-tiered green.
The seventh hole, "Majestic Blue," is Three Palms' signature hole. The 453-yard, par four is a dogleg left and the course's most difficult hole. Players tee off facing directly into the Caribbean, and the hole winds around with the curve of the coastline and lies adjacent to the Wyndham's private beach. It's not uncommon to see hotel guests walking the course from the beach to marvel at its beauty at this hole. Surrounding a thin and rolling green on three sides is the ultimate water and sand hazard - the ocean and the beach.
"Majestic Blue can play more like a par five," says White. "It runs straight down into the sea. You need a long drive to even have a chance with a long to mid-iron into a long, narrow seaside green. There's generally a strong wind either right to left or slightly in your face." In terms of playing the hole, the best strategy is "to favor the right-center of the fairway off the tee so you can see the green with your approach shot. One could play this hole 18 times and make a whole round out of it. It's a lot of fun. Majestic Blue can make your whole vacation worthwhile."
The next hole, the par-three "Witches Reef," doesn't offer much relief from the sand and sea. The 160-yard par three carries over a small inlet on the Caribbean that lies directly between the tee box and the hole. And if you're not out of golf balls by the ninth hole, you'll see a long row of ancient aqueducts that line up on the right side of the fairway towards the green.
According to White, Three Palms' other most interesting hole, next to #7, is the 15th. "Mountain Falls" is a harmless sounding 172-yard par three, but it's also "one of the most scenic holes on the course," says White. In fact, it offers such a nice view that "Live and Let Die," from the James Bond series, shot a scene on this hole, which features an elevation change of about 75 feet from tee to green, a carry over heavy vegetation, and a small waterfall that runs behind the green.
But aside from the golf, Three Palms is a great opportunity for tourists to learn about local history - assuming that you can understand the caddies, that is. Their patois, which is a rich blend of various languages such as English, French, and African tongues, is a local dialect that is beautiful to hear, but tough to understand. But this only adds to Jamaica's charm.
Historically, "the course was actually the site of an 18th and 19-century sugar mill plantation," says White. "There are various ruins scattered throughout the course and the surrounding area." My favorite feature was the aqueducts that bring to mind ancient Rome.
"There are also inlaid stone walls, gravestones, monuments, and above-ground tombs from that period," adds White. "There are many stories, myths, and tales about many of these features. The caddies can definitely shed light on these tales for all the guests."
"Last but not least," says White, "our golf course has a true American singing idol living within the course." Johnny Cash and his wife, June, have lived in their Rose Hall house for nearly 30 years and have become local favorites.
"Our guests almost always want to return to play again," says White. "They can't get over how much fun the course is and also how beautiful it is." Athletically, aesthetically, historically, and otherwise, Three Palms is a great course to play. But unlike Cash, if you're not careful, the course's elements will have you singing the blues.
Three Palms Ocean Course
PO Box 999
Montego Bay, Jamaica
David Stone is a longtime freelance writer and editor. Although he received his MBA degree in 1999 and works on the development of public facilities (including golf courses), he continues to write for a number of sports-related publications. He is currently the business writer for Soccer, Basketball, Football, Auto Racing, and Hockey Digests, and was formerly a staff writer for The Sports Business Daily.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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