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Barbados is becoming an ideal winter escape for golfers

While I’m in Cuba this week, I thought I’d re-up this story I wrote a couple of years back on the emergence of golf in Barbados. It sits well along side my review of the Green Monkey (http://www.pgatour.com/story/7267154) that I wrote for the PGATour.com in 2004….This is all interesting, considering there will be a PGA Tour event in Barbados later this year. I suspect Les Furber’s Varadero Golf Course in Cuba won’t rival Fazio’s work in Barbados, but I could be proven wrong….�

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

But it hasn’t always been that way. The first course created on this small island (it is only 21 miles 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 had turned into a wild 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 tight 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 was well prepared for the challenge. He had previously worked on projects with Gary Player and was one of three designers who created Ireland’s famed Old Head course.

Kirby created a wonderful 6,905-yard layout that used little of the initial course routing. 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 course opens easily enough with a straight 505-yard par-5 that sports an elevated green. The course isn’t visually imposing, but it is subtle and can easily catch players who let their concentration lapse for even an instant.

That’s the case with the terrific and dastardly 459-yards par-4 ninth hole. With a green protected on the left by a pond, and with spectators looming near the clubhouse in the background, two splendid shots are needed to even have a shot at par. If you’ve managed to bring a good score into the final three holes at Barbados Golf Club, you’ll still be left with plenty of work.

The final three — the 142-yard par-3 16th, the short par-4 17th and the wonderful par-5 finisher — offer specific challenges. The 16th plays over a large pond to a small green that slopes from right to left; the 17th, which is only 383 yards, has a treacherous tiered green. The 18th plays only 487 yards from the tips, but a pond guards the front of the green, making it a very tough two-shot hole.

The Barbados Golf Club isn’t the only ambitious golf project to spring up on the island in the last year. It was followed by the Tom Fazio-designed course at Sandy Lane. Eighteen holes had previously existed at Sandy Lane, but the resort’s new owners brought in Fazio to create a design that used much of the land from the original course. It is Fazio’s first project outside continental North America.

As part of a $350 million recreation of the resort at Sandy Lane, Fazio has sculpted a links-style course that uses 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 shifts in elevation.

You’ll notice it from the first hole, a 474-yard, downhill par-4. With a spectacular view of the island, Sandy Lane offers 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 ninth, 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 who are not feeling quite up to the challenge.

The back nine features three par 5s that allow you to score well, but the wind makes club selection extremely difficult. Nowhere is the wind more present than on the 500-yard par-4 16th. It sounds difficult, but the hole plays downwind, allowing even poor drives to travel more than 250 yards.

A new clubhouse has just opened at Sandy Lane in preparation for the second Fazio-designed course, called the Green Monkey. The name is a reference to the green monkeys that abound throughout island and often leap across fairways. The Green Monkey, which is being built around a quarry, will be the most exclusive course on the island, open only to members and guests staying at Sandy Lane.

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

The course features large rock chasms throughout the course, and shot selection, rather than distance, is most important. 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, to No. 15, a 209-yard hole with an intimidating tee shot on which you must carry a large ravine.

If you survive the par 3s, you’ll 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 shot-making skills tested when you play this challenging hole.” It would sound corny if it were not so true.

While the island currently has three outstanding courses in play and a fourth on the way, Barbados golf is likely to expand further. Rumors of a new course near Royal Westmoreland have been spreading over the past year, and former Masters champion Ian Woosnam, who has a house near Royal Westmoreland, has been linked to a course development.

What it costs: The golf in Barbados is first-rate, but it is expensive. Barbados Golf Club is the least expensive, with green fees going for $79 in the offseason of April 16th through Dec. 14, and $119 for peak season. Packages are also available. Sandy Lane and Royal Westmoreland are more expensive. The rate at Sandy Lane is $225; Royal Westmoreland is $195 in peak season.

Where to stay: At $1,800 per night in peak season, Sandy Lane might be out of most people’s price range. If you’ve got the bucks to stay there, take advantage of it. If not, you’ll be looking for alternatives. Almost all of the accommodations on the island are on the west side, where the ocean is calm. Among the best places to stay is the Elegant Hotels chain, Barbados’ single largest employer, running five terrific hotels. From the upscale Colony Club, which recently underwent a $7 million facelift, to all-inclusive packages at the Turtle Beach Resort, all of the properties are within a short distance of the golf courses and most offer packages aimed at golfers.

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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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