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Caribbean's best of 2002 shows golf's popularity

By GolfPublisher Staff,
Staff Report

Since 9-11, Americans have changed their travel patterns, opting for destinations where they can vacation with their families and feel safe. This shift in thinking threw the spotlight on the Caribbean, always a popular destination for Americans, but now more than ever. All the fine old courses built in the 1960s and 1970s have been upgraded in recent years, and top architects give us new layouts every year.

With Caribbean golf and golf resorts getting better and more plentiful every year, it's not easy to single out "bests." However, here are the humble opinions of one who has devoted many hours to laborious research under the warm Caribbean sun.

Best Island for a Golf Vacation: Puerto Rico has more championship courses than any other island, wonderful golf resorts, and the convenience of being a U.S. territory. Jamaica is also a popular choice. It has a several fine courses at luxury resorts near Montego Bay, including Tryall, the White Witch, Half Moon and Three Palms. The Dominican Republic is coming on strong in this market, with 20 courses and some exciting new layouts.

Best Oceanside Course: Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog is the only Caribbean course in Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World. Pete Dye's Dominican Republic classic, with its seven stunning holes along the ocean, was ranked 35th in 2002.

Best Inland Course: Jamaica's White Witch Course at the Ritz Carlton Rose Hall in Montego Bay. Laced with ravines and rock outcroppings, the layout is rugged and beautiful, with ocean views on 16 holes. "Like the legendary 'White Witch of Rose Hall,' the course is alluringly dangerous and unpredictable," says designer Robert von Hagge. "Just as her personality might shift without warning, so do the winds, turning a six-iron shot in the morning into a five-wood late in the day."

Best New Island Course: Several courses were under construction during 2002, including the Greg Norman layout at Emerald Bay in Great Abaco, Bahamas, part of a new Four Seasons; and Pete Dye's long-awaited creation at the Dominican Republic's Casa de Campo Resort. In Puerto Rico, a half dozen new courses are still taking shape, many attached to major new resorts, promising more great choices in the region's most popular golf destination.

But the course closest to launch at the end of 2002 was the Green Monkey at Sandy Lane Resort in Barbados, which overshot its December opening date by a few weeks. In 1998, when the owners razed the famous old hotel and began a three-year rebuilding project, they charged Tom Fazio with build 54 holes of golf. Part of the original 1961 layout became the Old Nine. Other sections were woven into the 18-hole Country Club Course. But the Green Monkey was built on virgin territory -- a former coral quarry with elevation changes, sheer stone walls and views of the ocean. Fazio modestly predicts that it will become one of the world's great courses. Time will tell.

Best Redesign: Tom Weiskopf worked magic on the Dick Wilson-designed Ocean Club Course on Paradise Island, Bahamas, and the course is maturing into a real gem. In Puerto Rico, Ray Floyd's careful upgrading of the four courses at the Hyatt Dorado Beach and Cerromar Beach resorts shows great respect for the work of the late Robert Trent Jones Sr. However, his tweaking of the courses is raising the challenge and visual impact to levels expected by today's golfers.

Best Golf Resort: Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Teeth of the Dog is spectacular, and the resort's inland Links Course is a fine complementary layout. In the spring of 2003 a third Dye creation will be available to guests. The 7,000-acre resort also has world-class tennis, sporting clays and polo; a vast new marina; outstanding restaurants; and an extraordinary Mediterranean-style village/artists colony.

Best Clubhouse: Puerto Rico's Palmas del Mar (a runner-up for best resort) has a dazzling 38,000-square-foot clubhouse that is a focal point of one of the Caribbean's largest and finest residential/resort developments. High ceilings, swirling fans, mahogany woodwork and lots of mirrors and glass create a cool haven throughout the pro shop, well-appointed locker rooms, gourmet restaurant, bar and meeting rooms. The low-slung stucco building is surrounded by lush gardens and palms. On the doorstep are the Gary Player Palms Course and the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Flamboyan Course.

Best Par 3s: This is a tough category, because the Caribbean lends itself to dramatic par 3s on the shore or with ocean views. But here are some of the most memorable. Holes five, seven and 16 (signature hole) on Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog play over roiling inlets along the coast. Hole five on Curacao's Blue Bay drops from an elevated tee over crashing waves to a cliffside green. On Barbados' Royal Westmoreland and Puerto Rico's Palmas del Mar (Flamboyan Course), Robert Trent Jones, Jr. makes excellent use of changes in elevation and spectacular ocean views. On Jamaica's White Witch Robert von Hagge gives us two great par 3s -- hole 14, dropping across a pond to a green 164 yards away; and the signature 17th hole, which crosses a windswept gully to a green set against an ocean tableau.

Best Par 4: The 18th hole at Blue Bay Golf Club in Curacao. Surf pounds against the cliffs on the left, dashing spray over the fairway as you make your way 470 (420, 355, 290) yards to a scrap of cliffside green. This Rocky Roquefort course is the island's first championship layout and a hard act to follow.

Best Par 5: The opening hole of Jamaica's White Witch is a 550-yard test that drops from the tee to a canted fairway, then climbs steeply past a succession of huge bunkers to a small tabletop green tucked out of sight off to the right. Honorable mention goes to the 15th hole at Four Seasons Nevis, a 663-yarder perched 450 feet above sea level on the flank of a dormant volcano and separated from the fairway by 240 yards of jungle-choked chasm.

Best Course for Women: Alice Dye had a hand in the design of Casa de Campo's par-71 Links Course, which plays only 4,410 yards from the forward tees, but twists and turns over and around inland water. Another women-friendly layout is the Buccaneer Resort course on St. Croix -- a hilly, par-70 track with lots of variety and ocean views.

Best Restaurant: Dune, a restaurant managed by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the posh Ocean Club on Paradise Island, Bahamas. The oceanfront setting is comfortable rather than formal, and every dish, from salad to dessert, is extraordinary.

Best Steak Place: Across the road from the Cable Beach Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, is the Nassau Marriott Hotel and Casino. The Black Angus Steak House in the Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino (formerly the Marriott) has incredible steaks -- and lobster tails, too.

Many memorable island holes did not make this short list, but the message about Caribbean golf should be clear -- great weather, great settings, great architects, great resorts. Choose an island -- any island -- and go see for yourself. For more general Caribbean information, click here. For a Jamaica overview, click here. For a Puerto Rico overview, click here.

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