Golf For Everyone
If golf is now accepted as the largest growing sport in the world then it is largely because the sport has reached out to a wider player base than its traditional roots. The big growth areas in golf over the last two decades have been in attracting more female players and in promoting participation across the whole spectrum of age groups. Long gone are the days when young players were restricted in playing at clubs and long gone are the days when the older players bowed to ageing limbs and ailments and packed away their clubs in their twilight years. We live in an era where more emphasis is placed on health and fitness and that means golfers don’t age as quickly as they used to do. This has created a huge resurgence in participation amongst the seniors in our society and also opened new horizons as cheaper travel and more accessibility to golf resorts has brought a new dimension to holiday golf. Also, many more couples now play golf and they involve their nearest and dearest.
Golf is now a recognized family sport and thrown away the old culture where Dad used to head off for five hours to play with his mates. These days golf clubs are much more family-oriented and receptive to everyone, young and old, male and female, and of great significance-visitors!
Many golf clubs are facing challenging times due to world recession and green fees from visitors forms a big part of revenue on the Annual Balance Sheet. And for golf resorts they are the lifeblood of the business model.
The global explosion in golf development has produced magnificent golf resorts all over the world and marketing destinations for golf holidays or holidays with golf attached has been a major growth area in international sports tourism promotions. The importance of the niche has not been lost on Caribbean business people and all over the region excellent golf resorts have been added to the local tourism inventory. Barbados is no exception, but many hotels have been slow to seize the business opportunity and tend to be reactive rather than proactive in marketing golf packages. There’s business out there, but you can’t sit back and expect it to fall on your lap and if the marketing personnel don’t know about it then they aren’t doing their job. Thankfully the golf resorts haven’t missed the opportunity and the big Barbados golf players at Apes Hill, Royal Westmoreland and Sandy Lane all offer accommodation packages with their golf product.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
Barbados has five 18-hole courses and two 9-hole courses and everyone has its own attraction. Playing golf on the island is relatively straightforward and although some restrictions apply to tee times, it’s not too difficult to play any of the courses if you are prepared to be flexible and pay the tariff required. And therein lies the dilemma as playing at the exclusive resorts is not cheap. But this is not a cheap holiday destination and like everything else in Barbados the costs are high in comparison to budget destinations. If price is a consideration then the magnificent Green Monkey Course at Sandy Lane is unlikely to be in most people’s budget, but for those who can afford to play anywhere it is a wonderful golf experience. At the other end of the scale both the Barbados Golf Club and Rockley Golf Club offer budget packages that are within the financial reach of every golfer. It pays to shop around these days and although Apes Hill is a superb high-end golf resort the club has excellent offers to both guests at their villas and visitors outside the peak Christmas period. At the end of the day it’s different strokes for different folks and that’s not just related to cost. Other considerations such as location, length of course, difficulty of course, Pro Shop and clubhouse facilities are just as important to some golfers.
All of the high-end golf resorts are on the West Coast and within easy access to all the major hotels and rented villas. Driving to them from the South Coast takes around 30-40 minutes depending on traffic, and getting to them from most West Coast hotels takes 5-10 minutes.
WHO’S WHO IN BARBADOS GOLF
In the league of opulence the Sandy Lane Resort offers just about everything for the discerning golfer. You can stay at the magnificent Sandy Lane Hotel and be treated like royalty on and off the course. The golf resort is a few minutes drive inland from the hotel and offers two fine 18-hole championship courses and the Old Nine, a charming remnant of the former course close to the hotel and a big favourite with long-term returning visitors. Everything about Sandy Lane is at the top end of the market. The course is superbly manicured, it has first rate practice facilities, golf lessons are available, the carts are High-Tec and can accommodate food orders, the drinks cart is regular, the changing rooms would match any 1st Class hotel, the Pro Shop is well stocked with quality merchandise, the clubhouse is spacious and relaxing with a wonderful panoramic view of the West Coast, the staff are intelligent and friendly and the bar/restaurant is excellent. It may come at a price, but it’s the complete package.
The Royal Westmoreland Resort is a gated community with restricted tee times for visitors, but excellent packages for guests at their rented villas. The golf facilities are excellent with a challenging 18-hole course and a fine driving range, practice green and bunker practice facility. The views down the West Coast are stunning, especially from the airy spacious clubhouse which houses the Pro Shop, retail shops, real estate sales, bar and restaurant.
Apes Hill is the coming resort as every year something more is added and the golf experience is enhanced. The clubhouse is temporary, but it would satisfy most mortals although the changing facilities, Pro Shop, bar and restaurant are small. Some people like it that way, but a magnificent new clubhouse is under construction and this will transform the Apes Hill experience and add another amenity to their superb golf course and various other sporting amenities.
The Barbados Golf Club is located a few minutes drive from the Grantley Adams International Airport and within easy reach of all locations because it is situated close to the ABC Highway. The club doesn’t offer high-end facilities, but it doesn’t charge high-end prices either and as a result it is more akin to a traditional golf club than a golf resort. The course is a good standard and the clubhouse facilities are more than adequate with Pro-Shop, changing accommodation, bar and restaurant. Golf lessons are available and there is an excellent driving range on the course to fine-tune or improve skills. The club is a hive of activity on Saturdays, which is the main competition day, although a number of groups play during the week in regular “Pot” competitions with a few hours socializing to follow.
The minnow in Barbados golf is the Rockley Golf Club, which is a few minutes drive from the main South Coast Road and within easy reach of all the popular hotels. Rockley is a charming 9-hole parkland course nestled amongst a few hundred condominiums, but flat, testing and enjoyable. The club’s reputation has been built on having the best 19th hole in Barbados golf and it is run along traditional golf lines with Men’s’ and Ladies Captains, Club Committee, weekly competitions and clubhouse presentations after every event. Birdies on the Green Bar/Restaurant offers good cuisine and drinks at reasonable prices and the clubhouse also has a small Pro Shop, changing accommodation, sports shop, real estate office and excellent hairdresser. Golf lessons are also available. Many of the sponsored competitions on Saturday are followed by entertainment and the membership doubles in the tourist season when the Snowbirds return from overseas. Some have been coming to Rockley for years and stay as long as six months and take a leading role in the club’s activities. Visitors are always made welcome at Rockley and can compete in the weekly competitions.
THE GOLF TEST
For the golf connoisseur the only thing that matters is the quality of the course and in that respect the high-end courses are the jewels in the Barbados golf crown. It would take a genius to define which course is best, as each individual will have there own preference and the only way to compare is to play them all.
Apes Hill is the most recent addition to the Barbados golf product and it is very special. Set in the hills above Westmoreland it offers panoramic views of both the West and the East Coasts at its highest point and its design makes maximum use of the natural terrain without damaging it. Conservation is a big part of the Apes Hill culture and why the course has received international awards for its preservation of wildlife, water and environment.
The course is over 7,000 yards long at it stiffest and when the wind blows it can be a daunting challenge. Set amongst spacious lots, most of the properties have yet to be built so the landscape will change dramatically over time. The skill in playing Apes Hill is positioning the tee shot to make access to the green straightforward as wayward tee shots can be swallowed up off by the heavy vegetation or make it impossible to see the green from an obscure angle. The greens are also a severe test as they undulating, large and difficult to read with many breaks and twists. Several holes at the top of the course are particularly difficult off the back tees and although the views are breathtaking, accuracy off the tee and with the approach shot is a must. The par-three 12th into the heart of a gully is a magnificent golf amphitheatre, but both the 13th and 14th are just as spectacular as they require precision shots from tee to green though gullies, towering palms trees and rock faces. The fun hole is the last, which usually has the support of a backing wind and allows the big hitters the opportunity to flex their muscles and blast the ball down a generously wide fairway, something of a luxury on the rest of the course.
Renowned golf architect Tom Fazio designed the two 18-hole Sandy Lane courses, which have different characteristics, but similar resort golf features. They are both excellent courses and can be set up for maximum difficulty or user friendly for all standards of golfer. The Country Club Course hosted the 2006 World Championship Matchplay Tournament won by Germans Bernard Langer and Marcel Siem. It’s a pleasant parkland course with spacious well-manicured fairways and fast testing greens. The biggest variable is the wind, especially at the top of the course where shots with the wind can be just as challenging as those against it. Fazio utilized nine holes of the old Sandy Lane course in his design and as a result had the benefit of mature trees and established fairways, but he blended his new design beautifully and there are some spectacular holes including the par-three finishing hole across an idyllic little lake in front of the elevated clubhouse.
The Green Monkey Course is a quarry design and lightly used so everything is pristine, squeaky clean and picturesque. The signature holes around the lake are particularly enjoyable, not least because the view down to the West Coast is a magnificent vista and a huge distraction to the casual golfer.
The rolling hills of Royal Westmoreland have been skilfully sculptured by American golf Architect Robert Trent Jones (Jnr) to produce a superb 18-hole championship course that has tested such golf luminaries as Sir Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Tom Leeman, plus a host of seniors when they held annual tournaments on the elevated site several years ago. The course can be set up tough or user-friendly, but at its stiffest it can be daunting, especially if the wind blows. The complex has matured over the years and the adjoining luxury villas are not a golf factor although they add to the ambience of a lovely setting. The par-thee holes are gems and make maximum use of the gullies, lakes and rock faces that put Royal Westmoreland amongst the best courses in the Caribbean. The par-four finishing hole is a great finale with the elevated tee-box affording a spectacular view. The final tee shot needs to be carefully threaded down a narrow descending fairway lined and protected by gully and thick vegetation. The approach shot to the narrow green has to be accurate with danger all around, but a par four on the card is the ultimate reward.
The Barbados Golf Club course at Durants is spacious and generous for the wayward hitters. The strong wind makes the holes back to the clubhouse challenging, but downwind the par-five opening hole is a great birdie opportunity and an accurate tee shot down the par-four 3rd can get the ball close to the green. Overall the course is fair and a good test of golf with some tricky shots around the man-made lake, which borders the 5th, 15th and 16th holes. The beauty about this course is that it suits all standards of golfer and it is comfortable to play because it is flat and open. The par-five 18th to the clubhouse is a great finishing hole and tempting for big hitters trying to close with a birdie. Many people have done it and eagles too, but the protective little picturesque lake in front of the green is full of golf balls belonging to many players who didn’t quite make it.
The tight little Rockley 9-hole course is vastly different to the old Nine at Sandy Lane. Playing Rockley requires a lot of accuracy off the tee and excellent golf management skills. There is out-of-bounds on every hole and although the course is relatively small at just under 3,000 yards each nine, the tight fairways and well-protected greens ensure nobody takes it apart. Rockley is a parkland course with condominiums, towering mahogany trees, bamboos and monkeys lining the fairways. The 7th hole has a huge tree in the centre of the fairway and the 8th hole has a large tree in front of the green making approach shots to both very daunting. Several holes are short par-fours, but more often than not the temptation to hit big rather than strategically manage the approach shot will prove the downfall for the over aggressive golfer. Rockley is a pleasant little course where you can get round quickly and enjoy either nine or 18 holes in a relaxed and peaceful setting.
The Old Nine at Sandy Lane is long and challenging, but a superb design and a great favourite with many local and visiting golfers. The par-five 3rd is a long grind where three good shots are needed to reach the green and the signature par-three 7th from an elevated tee box is an easy shot, but an exhilarating hole because of the setting. The 9th hole par-five requires accuracy, not distance, and the opportunity to finish with an easy par or birdie before reaching the clubhouse or starting another nine.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BARBADOS GOLF
The Barbados Golf Association is the central body for golf on the island and is largely responsible for organizing local tournaments, championship tournaments, youth development and representative teams. Many members of clubs are also BGA members and golfers who have no official handicaps at a club can get one through the BGA, which is affiliated to the USPGA.
There are a number of major sponsored golf tournaments and national events held throughout the year and many overseas visitors travel to compete. The Sir Garry Sobers Tournament is the biggest event and an open tournament played over four days at different courses and involving almost 300 players. The entry package offers great value, excellent prizes and hospitality, but it is heavily subscribed and as a result play can be slow. Some players also have the bonus of playing with the great man, still an avid golfer and popular figure in local sport.
Look for the deals in Barbados golf and contact the clubs direct to see what offers are available as there are many promotions to attract players, especially outside the busy winter tourist season.