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|Negril Hills Golf Club has lovely views from almost every tee and green. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
NEGRIL, Jamaica - Negril Hills Golf Club is fairly close to the world-famous Seven Mile Beach in this sun-tanned tourist area but a world away in terms of scenery.
No frolicking bikinis here, a little inland from all the beach revelry, just the gorgeous Jamaica backcountry.
Negril Hills Golf Club sits up high on a rolling, rollicking piece of earth, with elevated tees and greens, and the views are spectacular. You may not see the aquamarine waters of the tourist magazines, but you'll see a different, just as pretty, piece of Jamaica.
Just about every tee and green shows off vistas of mountains, lush fields and tropical greenery, the wet spots on the course reflect the Jamaican sky. Despite being so close to Negril, there is very little development to spoil the eye candy.
The golf course itself matches the scenery. It's a great course for those golfers who love to tee off downhill, making it seem like those tee balls go on forever. Crank it up, watch it fly.
Don't get over-heated, though - most of the approaches are back uphill, and some of them are so steep they should be attacked with ropes, cleats and rappelling gear. In point of fact, some of the more dramatic uphill approaches make the flag invisible, so you'll be arriving blind.
Also, many of the greens drop off to somewhere south of Jamaica. With the flag near the edges, it's guaranteed you'll be leaving some putts short on the hard-sloping greens.
"Yeah, mon, these slopes are frightening," said Head Professional Garfield Lettman.
The fairways twist, turn and tilt like a Rasta Man loco on the ganja weed.
The course at Negril Hills Golf Club is only 6,333 yards from the back tees - and very playable from back there, even for mid handicappers - but the dramatic elevation changes make it seem longer.
There is no flat earth here. The whole thing is a carnival ride, pretty much every hole.
It's also a strategic layout. It was designed by Robert Simmons in 1994, and even though your driver might like that downhill flight path, it isn't always the weapon of choice off the tee.
There are some tight and narrowing fairways - I'm thinking here particularly of No. 18 where you must, absolutely must, hit a fade if you're going to employ the big stick. With jungle growth horning in hard on the right side of the tee box, you'll be heading left and bringing her back around.
"The reason I like this course is you can use a lot of iron shots," said regular Shern Stewart.
Any number of holes are memorable. It starts with No. 1, which has a blind landing area. Your approach will be aimed toward the clouds.
No. 2 is a downhill, reachable par 4, No. 5 is a sharp dogleg with a hard-tilting fairway and the par-3 seventh hole would be a good training ground for the Jamaican bobsled team.
It's a very fun day of golf, made more so by the beautiful views.
It's also affordable, with green fees under $60. Carts are extra, and there is a caddy program. The course isn't free to guests of the Super Club resorts in Jamaica, but it's worth the green fees.
The golf course has a driving range, putting green and a very unpretentious clubhouse.
Breezes Runaway Bay Resort & Golf Club is aptly named: The outdoor restaurants and bars, and even the lobby, are all open and subject to the warm breezes off the Caribbean.
It's on the north shore of Jamaica, 42 miles from Montego Bay Airport, less than an hour and a half drive.
The resort caters to active people, not only golfers. Set on the longest stretch of private beach in Jamaica, it has a very active water sports program, with a scuba program that includes all-day dives and deep-dives of 60-90 feet. One of those is "The Canyons," where two vertical walls face each other over a 150-foot gorge, only 200 yards from the beach.
The other is "The Wreck," where The Reggae Queen is buried in 50 feet of water.
The resort offers scuba classes taught by PADI-trained instructors.
If scuba diving is too intense, the resort has windsurfing, hobie cats, water skiing, glass-bottom boats, snorkeling, kayaks and a super-catamaran.
December 1, 2008
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald 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.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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