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The Windward Fairways of Barbados

Writer’s Note: I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Barbados three times. The first time was in December, 2001, on a trip to see the golf courses on the island. We stayed at the fantastic Colony Club on the west side of the island, a cool boutique-style hotel not far from Royal Westmoreland. It was a great experience — and I’d suggest it to anyone. The second time was on a trip to write an article about Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. It was a whirlwind, but the third time I went down I had the opportunity to play Barbados GC with Melnyk again, as well as try the Green Monkey and the Country Club at Sandy Lane, all the while staying at the Crane, on the east side of the island. For those that are interested, the ocean on the west side of the island is as smooth as glass, while the east side is much rougher.

This story appeared in 2002. Not much has changed since then, with the exception of the Green Monkey opening to the occasional visitor. More courses have been discussed, but as far as I can tell, they’ve never opened. Too bad — Barbados is safe, friendly and offers a great warm weather getaway.

Here’s the story:

Royal Westmoreland: With holes set in a quarry and green monkeys running throughout the property, Robert Trent Jones II's Royal Westmoreland is a treat.

Hidden in the southern-most part of the Caribbean is a golf destination more than 20 years in the making. With three golf courses sitting on hills overlooking the ocean and several more in the works, Barbados is fast becoming one of the top warm-weather getaways for snow-bound golfers.

But it has not always been that way. The first course set up on this small island (it is only 34 kilometres long), called Barbados Golf Club, was built in 1974 as an ambitious golf and real estate project. Unfortunately, the facility ran into financial problems and by the mid-1980s, it was an overgrown field between houses. In a country where cricket is the principal sporting interest, golf simply fell by the wayside, though Rockley Golf Course, a sporty nine-hole layout, remained opened for locals wanting a challenge on the links.

With the golfing boom of the late 1990s, several Barbadian entrepreneurs decided it was worth giving golf a second chance and hired Ron Kirby to give the course another try. Kirby had previously worked on projects with PGA Tour great Gary Player and was one of three designers who created Ireland’s famed Old Head course.

He designed a wonderful 6,905-yard layout, not far outside Bridgetown, and minutes from the airport. He used little of the initial course. Rather, he crafted a course that takes in elements of links and parkland golf. Featuring medium-sized greens and fairways swept by Barbados’ east-flowing winds, the course is a challenge for strong players, while still offering wide landing areas for high-handicappers.

The Barbados Golf Club is not the only ambitious golf project to spring up on the island in the last year. It was

Barbados Golf Club: Fun and inexpensive

Barbados Golf Club: Fun and inexpensive

followed by the $350-million investment at Sandy Lane, perhaps the best-known resort on the island. Catering to those that can afford US$1,900 rooms (the peak season rate at Sandy Lane), the project is breathtaking. The hotel sits a stone’s throw from the ocean and features a world-class spa. Elegance is the theme, and the resort has become a favourite retreat of Hollywood stars who come to Barbados.

Given that ritzy hotels and golf fit like a hand in glove, Sandy Lane has also set to work at creating two world-class courses.

Eighteen holes had previously existed at Sandy Lane, but the resort’s new owners brought in Tom Fazio, arguably the world’s best course designer, to create a new work that used much of the land from the original course. It is Fazio’s first project outside continental North America.

Fazio has sculpted a links-style course that utilizes the prevailing winds in Barbados to great effect. While Barbados Golf Club is generally flat, Fazio moved a lot of earth at Sandy Lane to create great shifts in elevation. Players will notice it from the first hole, a 474-yard, downhill par-4. With a spectacular view of the island, Sandy Lane offers up a starting hole that is tough to top. Featuring five par-5s, the course offers generous fairways and large greens that are protected by equally large bunkers. While the front nine meanders without tremendous difficulty for eight holes, the course shows its teeth on the 9th, a 195-yard par-3. The elevated tee shot plays into the prevailing wind, forcing players to hit long irons to a green over a pond. Thankfully, Fazio allowed ample room to bail out for those that are not feeling quite up to the challenge.

A new clubhouse, done in a style expected for a project of the scope of Sandy Lane, has just opened — in preparation for the second Fazio-designed course, called the Green Monkey. The name is a reference to the green monkeys that abound throughout the island, often leaping across fairways. Built around a quarry, the Green Monkey will be the most exclusive course on the island, open only to members and guests staying at Sandy Lane. Golfers are expected to grace its fairways by December.

Less pricey accommodations on the island are mainly on the west side, where the ocean is calm. Among the best places to stay are properties belonging to the Elegant Hotels chain, the single largest employer in Barbados, running five hotels. Top hotels in the chain, such as the upscale Colony Club with its recent US$7-million facelift, offer fine rooms, beach-front access, pools and five-star dining. The chain’s Turtle Beach Resort offers all-inclusive packages. All of the properties are within a short distance of the golf courses and most offer packages aimed at golfers.

The most established course in Barbados is Royal Westmoreland, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation that has hosted the Senior European PGA Tour Championship. Perhaps the most visually dramatic course in the Bar, Royal Westmoreland’s 6,870-yard layout is golf at its finest.

Featuring large rock chasms throughout the course, shot selection, not distance, is the main aim at the course. While Royal Westmoreland features several outstanding four-shot holes, such as the 327-yard dogleg par-4, it is the par-3s that set it apart. Each has its own characteristics, from the third hole, called Monkey’s Table, with its elevated tee blocks and greens, through to 15th, a 209-yard hole with an intimidating tee shot in which players must hit over a large ravine.

If players have survived the par-3s, they will finish at the 451-yard, par-4 18th hole. Near the tees is an inscription from Jones Jr. that reads: “May the wind be at your back and your shotmaking skills tested when you play this challenging hole.” It would sound so corny if it wasn’t so true.

IF YOU GO:

– While the island has three outstanding courses and a fourth on the way, Barbados golf is likely to expand further. There are rumours of a new course near Royal Westmoreland and former Masters champion Ian Woosnam has also been linked to a course development.

– Golf in Barbados is first-rate and priced accordingly. Barbados Golf Club is the least expensive, with green fees going for US$79 in the off-season between April 16 and Dec. 14 and US$119 for peak season. Packages are also available. The rate at Sandy Lane is US$225, while Royal Westmoreland is US$195 in peak season.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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