An Unforgettable Day On The Fairways Barbados
Serious golfers travel the world to play their favourite sport and serious holidaymakers who enjoy the game combine the sporting experience with a holiday experience and get the best of both worlds. Thankfully Barbados has plenty to offer both types of visitor and provide an unforgettable experience on the fairways.
The island has a glitzy image in the international tourist brochures and websites as a favourite haunt of the rich and famous, so it should come as no surprise that the same culture is prevalent in golf. In much the same way that your choice of hotels, restaurants and class of air travel is determined by what you are prepared to pay, golf is as much a question of price as choice for many people. The well-worn cliché of “different strokes for different folks” has never been so appropriate as used when describing the Barbados golf product.
The island boasts four magnificent golf courses that come at a price, and two enjoyable golf experiences on good courses that are within the financial reach of any golfer. That’s not to say anyone who comes to holiday in Barbados can’t afford to pay the green fees at Sandy Lane, Apes Hill or Royal Westmoreland, but they may feel the tariff too high in comparison to other locations. But that’s comparing apples and oranges because all four of the premier golf courses in Barbados are top quality and offer different experiences in unique settings. Like all the great golf courses over the world no two courses are the same, and when it comes to assessing the attributes of Caribbean courses there are many features that set them apart. These include idyllic settings, beautiful weather, quality design, pristine fairways, fast challenging greens, excellent clubhouses, well-stocked pro-shops, golf tuition, modern carts, and friendly and efficient staff to enhance the golf experience. But above everything else, golf in the Caribbean is what it is and that’s what makes it unique. It is different, it is exciting, and it is an experience you carry back home. OK it comes at a price, but Barbados is not a cheap destination for anything so when the experience is worth it then the cost is almost irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter what your standard you can play golf anywhere, but many golfers have individual preferences that help determine which golf resort best suits them. Irrespective of cost this may eliminate the longer and more challenging courses for older and less energetic players and make shorter and flatter courses more enjoyable and amenable. In general terms the four main courses on the West Coast will test any standard of golfer and when set up for competitions they can be awesome to play. In contrast, Barbados Golf Club on the South Coast close to the airport offers a flat, but challenging links and parkland style golf course, while Rockley’s tight 9-hole parkland course a few miles closer to Bridgetown offers a shorter version amongst towering mahogany trees and a mature condo community. For the golfing purist it’s once again horses for courses and a question of preference.
Apes Hill golf course is the most recent addition to the Barbados golf family and is a golfing gem. Set amongst residential lots in the most striking environs of rural Barbados the St. James location offers stunning views to both the East and West coastlines at its highest point. The 12th/13th/14th holes are played through some of the most spectacular natural settings in the Caribbean and the design makes the best use of natural terrain that is unique. The signature 16th hole across a small lake looks daunting, but the large receptive green provides a comfort zone for the safety shot. Apes Hill continues to grow its product with its new clubhouse under construction and its villa rental programme offering golf, polo and tennis packages, but for a challenging golf experience in a unique Caribbean setting it is second to none.
For over 40 years Sandy Lane Golf Club was a Mecca for rich and famous golf patrons from all over the world. The landscape changed when the old hotel was knocked down and rebuilt in 2001 and renowned golf designer Tom Fazio designed two new golf courses. The Old Nine was retained and it remains a big favourite with returning hotel guests and former visitors, and the Country Club was added followed by the visionary Green Monkey Course. A magnificent new clubhouse enhanced the facilities with panoramic views over the West Coast and a restaurant, Pro Shop and locker room to match the most famous hotel in the Caribbean.
The Sandy Lane Resort offers a complete golf experience embracing three high quality courses, golf tuition, practice facilities and hospitality. The Country Club course is the most used of the three courses and is a pleasant meandering journey through rolling hills, man-made lakes and parkland. Nine of the holes were retained from the original course and overall it is a very enjoyable challenge especially when the wind blows on the higher ground. The Green Monkey course is one of Tom Fazio’s quarry designs with a picturesque signature setting around an idyllic small lake. The 16th hole Par-three is particularly beautiful driving down into the quarry with the lake in the background and a Green Monkey-designed bunker waiting to capture an errant shot.
The Green Monkey is a private club for hotel guests and with green fees over US$400 and hotel rates amongst the highest in the region the cost to play may be outside the range of most mortals.
The Old Nine is a mature design though some of the most expensive properties on the island. The course has been expertly maintained and the towering trees add to its popularity and enjoyment. The signature Par-three 8th from an elevated tee box is just a wedge for most players while the winding 9th is a short Par-five, but one that can easily snare a shot that errs offline.
In 2006 Germans Bernard Langer and Marcel Siem won the World Championship of Golf on the Country Club course and two years earlier Tiger and Elen Woods exchanged nuptials on their ill-fated marriage to add further fame of mixed merit to the resort’s image, but throughout the year many international sporting and showbiz personalities pass through the famous clubhouse.
The Royal Westmoreland golf course is set on rolling hills descending towards the West Coast. Robert Trent Jones III designed the course within a gated community of beautiful Caribbean villas and townhouses some of which are owned by leading UK sportspeople like former Masters Champion Ian Woosnam. State of the Art drainage, a beautifully-manicured course and impressive clubhouse facilities are the hallmarks of Royal Westmoreland’s status as a world-class golfing destination. The design is creative and superbly laid-out making the most of an idyllic natural terrain that includes, gullies, rock-faces and lakes. Four very different and challenging Par-threes are big favourites on a course where Tom Lehman once defeated Sir Nick Faldo in a special Challenge Match.
Royal Westmoreland is a private club with limited tee times for visitors, but outside the busy Christmas season there are slots at reasonable rates. It is one course that never disappoints and can be very different depending on how difficult it is set up for competitions and if the wind blows.
Moving to the South Coast the Barbados Golf Club and Rockley Golf Club offer excellent golf packages at reasonable prices on courses that may not match the excellence of the three premier golf resorts, but have much livelier club cultures and involve more local members.
The Barbados Golf Club was rejuvenated by former Irish professional golfer Roddy Carr 15 years ago and has become the backbone of local golf and the base for the development of the younger players. An 18-hole parkland courses with links features Carr made the most of the old design with a few improvements and it remains a good test of golf on a relatively flat area with consistent wind coming back towards the clubhouse. The long Par-five 5th hole against the wind is a challenging par, but the other four Par-fives are all birdie opportunities. The Par-three 16th across a lake to a narrow green is tough against the wind and the 18th is a great match-play hole where conservative play should be rewarded with par, but birdies and even eagles are possible for the adventurous shot-maker.
Barbados Golf Club has a bubby clubhouse and a driving range with golf tutors to hone and develop skills of young and old.
Rockley Golf Club is located close to the South Coast Road and is an idyllic oasis set amongst residential properties. The Rockley estate is comprised of 400 condo units and the golf course meanders through the development under towering mahogany and flamboyant trees. Rockley is tight, flat and challenging, but ideal for older players, ladies and rookies because you don’t need to hit long to score. The secret of playing Rockley well is course management and keeping the ball in play, as there is Out of Bounds at every hole. Perhaps the greatest attribute of Rockley is its 19th hole and the fun and camaraderie in the clubhouse. Rockley has a traditional golf club structure with Club Captains and committees and a sponsored competition every week. The ladies play against the men in competitions and visitors are welcome to participate as long as they travel with their club handicaps. The presentation of prizes takes place after each competition and the fun and revelry can continue long and late in Birdies on the Green Restaurant with good music, food and company. Rockley may not compete with the other courses on golf facilities, but it has a unique culture that embraces a large overseas winter membership affectionately called the Snowbirds.
Throughout the year there are many important golf tournaments. The Sir Garfield Sobers Invitational is now one of the most popular in the region and attracts hundreds of players from overseas. Played over several curses it is excellent value for money. And therein lies the secret to Barbados golf-getting excellent value for money. You can pay the big bucks and be perfectly happy or you can fit your budget to a time in the year when golf is not expensive or a time of the day when cheaper rates apply or a course where the rates are not that expensive. Nothing is cheap, but good value exists and you have plenty of opportunity to enjoy an unforgettable day on the golf course.