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Barbados: The Legend of the Green Monkey

Writer’s Note: In 2004 I took a quick trip to Barbados to see the Green Monkey, designer Tom Fazio’s foray into golf in the Caribbean. The course was clearly the result of a remarkable budget and some of it was incredible. Other elements were not quite as impressive. Interestingly, though I was taken down to Barbados by their tourism department, they couldn’t initially get me on Green Monkey. In the end they head to ante up for a room — only those staying at the ultra-post Sandy Lane Resort, where Tiger Woods was married get access to the course. It wasn’t worth the $1300 that was spent, but it was a unique experience.

This story initially appeared in 2004.

The Green Monkey: Notice the quarry in the background.

The Green Monkey: Notice the quarry in the background.

The Green Monkey is like a ghost — often spoken of, rarely seen.

But the profile of the Green Monkey, the latest step toward making Barbados a genuine golf destination, won’t remain unseen for long.

The course, the creation of Tom Fazio, is part of a reported $300-million facelift to owners JP McManus and Dermot Desmond gave to Barbados’ famed Sandy Lane Resort. The resort is the discreet destination of choice for many of Hollywood’s famed and fabulous, and has been the haunt of the likes of Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger in the past.

While the beach-front spa and hotel will always be the main draw for Sandy Lane, golf is not fair behind. Desmond and McManus have always been actively involved in the sport as players, but with the relaunched Sandy Lane and its two new courses, they emerged as major players in the international golf business. Though a course had previously existed at Sandy Lane, the pair had a new vision for golf on the property. Considering the luxurious nature of the resort, it seemed only sensible to hire Fazio, who is at home working with monster-size budgets that the likes of McManus and Desmond could offer.

The first course, The Country Club, opened in 2001. Accessible to all that visit Barbados (with rates between $110 to $200, depending on whether you are staying at Sandy Lane), the course has a resort feel to it, with wide fairways that subtly shift elevation over its 18 holes. The Country Club is solid, if unspectacular golf, though it does feature some strong holes, including the dramatic par-3 11th. Wind is also a factor throughout.

But it is the Green Monkey, which has been in construction for several years, which should garner some international attention.

Named for the monkeys that came to Barbados on ships from Africa in the 18th century, the expectation was the course would be the most dramatic in the Caribbean since Pete Dye created the Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic.

Why the hype around a course that hardly anyone has seen? The interest has largely been generated due to the site with which Fazio had to work. Ocean views abound, though the Green Monkey never dips toward the sea.

The opening hole, a mid-length par 4 is fairly benign, but the second hole, a long 4 that features a green perched on a greenmonkey7rocky outcropping, gives players a sense of what is forthcoming. The following five holes provide players with a sense that Fazio is building toward a climax. Golfers are given a glimpse of this on the par-3 eighth hole, which sports a green that sits along the ledge of a deep quarry or “bench” as Fazio calls it.

But it is the ninth hole where the Green Monkey shows its teeth. A remarkable 635-yard hole, players hit their tee shot with the prevailing wind to a fairway which plays alongside the quarry wall and that sits well below the tee. The subtle green is dramatically situated to provide a remarkable view of the ocean. It is an remarkable hole and an indication of the drama that follows.

With the exception of the 10th and 18th holes (which features an unusual, semi-blind tee shot), the quarry is part of play for all of the Green Monkey’s remaining holes.

While the quarry holes may appear as if they were developed through some long-lost mining operation, Fazio says he actually created the look by guiding an excavation crew to remove rock through the course.

“The contours you see on the course were cut into the ground,” Fazio said in an interview. “Our job is to create the best golf possible and make it look natural. I guess we have accomplished some of that because it doesn’t look like a lot of ground was moved.”

Unlike some natural sites, Fazio says he simply had to shift a lot of earth to create the experience of the Green Monkey.

“The cliche of minimalism would not have worked on this site,” he explains. “It was a major earthworks project, but it doesn’t look like it.”

greenmonkey8That’s very true on the 568-yard par-5 14th, which forces players to flirt with a deep ravine, or the following hole, another par-5 where players play back into the depths of the quarry. The rock, which has a randomness about it, appears like it was once part of a mining operation and not created under the direction of a golf architect. The 16th, a 226-yard downhill par 3, will likely be one of the most discussed holes on the course. But contrary to the prior to holes, it does have a slightly manufactured look. However, most players will overlook that fact when faced with one of the most interesting — and daunting — tee shots of their round.

Open only to those that stay at Sandy Lane, few have ventured onto the Green Monkey to date. It is expected that even when it is fully open, only 3,000 to 4,000 rounds will ever be played on the course on an annual basis.

“The vision of the owners at Sandy Lane is to create place as dramatic as there is in the world,” Fazio says. “Everything is about detail. It is about grandeur.”

The resort’s owners continue to work on the course’s details, adding flowers and other nuances. That doesn’t mean the Green Monkey is a work in progress; much to the contrary, it appears like it has been finished for some time.

All that remains is the critical reaction to what could become one of Fazio’s highest profile courses. Let the accolades flow.

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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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