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|A redesign by Tom Weiskopf in 2000 transformed the Ocean Club golf course into an entirely new track. (Courtesy of Ocean Club, Bahamas)|
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- History on Paradise Island, a sliver of very precious land a bridge away from Nassau, can be measured in pre-Sol and post-Sol. Sol Kerzner, that is, the incredibly imaginative and canny South African developer whose Sun International Hotels is an international leader in family entertainment and gaming destinations.
Kerzner took the island by storm in 1994, scooping up several major hotel properties owned by Merv Griffin. In less than a year, he opened the doors on Atlantis, a spectacular 1,136-room resort with a 14-acre waterscape park.
Four years and $650 million later, the soaring Royal Towers more than doubled Atlantis' guest capacity.
The world's largest outdoor open-water aquarium became even bigger -- 11 million gallons, 100,000 species. New attractions were added - The Dig, an interactive underground replica of an archeological site with windows onto the underwater world of the lagoon; and a huge likeness of a Mayan Temple with five-story waterslides into a shark lagoon.
It is a fantasy land - pricey, but who can put a price on feeling like a kid again -- or acting like a kid with your own children? It's not all about kids, either. There are 38 restaurants, an impressive spa, a huge casino, a world-class marina, and more.
While Atlantis was being built, a much quieter project was underway at another Kerzner acquisition, the Ocean Club, the 1960s private enclave of Huntington Hartford II, heir to the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company fortune. It was Hartford who convinced the government to give Hog Island a new name -- Paradise Island.
Hartford built the Ocean Club, a luxurious 52-room hotel and four two-bedroom cottages, and commissioned architect Dick Wilson to create an 18-hole course for the pleasure of his guests. In the 1960s the Ocean Club was the place to be seen with the likes of William Randolph Hearst, Burl Ives, Benny Goodman and a host of earls, dukes and ambassadors. When Hartford's fortune and interest waned, the club passed into other hands.
I visited the Ocean Club in 1994 when the Kerzner purchase was being finalized. Hartford's idyllic playground was down-at-the-heels, tended by a dispirited and careless staff. But the place charmed me nevertheless. The two-story hotel encloses the Courtyard Restaurant, a romantic dinner setting complete with candlelight, fountain, reflecting pool and overhanging palms.
I fell in love with the swimming pool, set in gardens designed to resemble Versailles. Stone steps climb a quarter-mile from the pool through seven grassy terraces with fountains and statuary imported from Europe. At the very top of the steps lies a twelfth-century Augustinian cloister, purchased in France by William Randolph Hearst and shipped piece-by-piece to Florida, where it was bought by Hartford.
Six years later, approaching the hotel in a limo from the airport (standard treatment for Ocean Club guests), I worried that the place would have lost its charm. No need. The $107.5 million spent to restore and expand the hotel was well spent, and the staff members are attentive and understandably ebullient about their jobs. At 107 rooms and suites, the hotel is still small enough to be cozy and exclusive (Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan are among the frequent guests). And it has world-class amenities such as a full-service spa and a chic beachfront restaurant, as well as the historic Courtyard Restaurant. Two miles of beautiful beach front the resort.
The Ocean Club golf course, a classic Dick Wilson design, was also in poor shape when I saw it back in 1994, and the constant traffic of small planes into an adjoining airstrip was distracting. It was a pretty track, with occasional views of the ocean, and fairways lined with thick tropical vegetation.
A redesign by Tom Weiskopf in 2000 has transformed the course into an entirely new track (which encompassed the old airstrip). Much of the foliage that blocked the ocean views was removed to make way for seaside tees and greens, as well as 121 luxury homesites (all sold in a month) along the Atlantic Ocean and Nassau Harbor. Ernie Els is the Ocean Club's touring pro, and Michael Jordan stages his annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational here.
The wind gives notice on the first hole and can cause you to overshoot on this downwind, moderate par four. Then it's in your face on the long par five second hole, and water enters the picture in the form of wetlands along the right side, leading to a small green backed by the ocean. The third hole, a 176-yard par three to an elevated green, is also into the wind, which makes the large bunkers surrounding the green particularly menacing. Four, a long demanding par four that is ranked most difficult for men, also battles the wind, with a thread-the-needle second shot to a green protected by ocean two sides and sand on the other.
As this opening quartet foretells, wind and water turn out to be the prevailing threats on this 7,123-yard par 72 layout, and there's plenty of sand, to boot. With the seaside foliage removed, there is nothing to protect the course from gusty breezes off the ocean which play havoc with club selection and shot placement.
Lagoons large and small come into play on many holes. One of the prettiest of these is the 208-yard twelfth hole, "Spyglass." Shots must carry across an inlet to a forward sloping, well bunkered green.
Hole 17, "Pintail Crossing" is ranked the second hardest hole on the course for men, but that depends entirely on the wind. On a good day, the green is drivable. What makes it special is that a beautiful beach borders its entire length.
The Ocean Club golf course provides a good, fair test of Caribbean golf - dealing with wind that can change from moment to moment. The setting is somewhat marred by house construction along its perimeter, but it will only get better with time. Play it now, while it's still open to Atlantis guests. A time will probably come only members and Ocean Club guests will have playing privileges on what is one of the finest golf courses in the Bahamas.
October 10, 2002
Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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