Grand Bahama Island is Still There

We just spent 10 days on Grand Bahama Island. It’s probably our home away from home, having lived there in the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and most recently, 2006. I guess you could say we like it !

Not everyone enjoys Grand Bahama or Freeport. In the 1960’s it was going to be be the next really big residential and resort place. Actually, in the 60’s there weren’t that many destinations, Doral in Miami was booming and Freeport seemed to get the same people, one week in Miami, one week in Freeport was a popular golf trip. Freeport also was easy to get to, with daily flights from Montreal and Toronto as well as Boston, New York and Miami. Now most flights are from Miami which means one has to go through the ordeal of Homeland “Security” before getting to the Bahamas. Leaving is easier as the island has US Pre-clearance in place so you avoid some of the MIA lines.

This “service” of US Customs and Immigration being in the Freeport Airport has it’s drawbacks. Uncle Sam will not allow other non-US carriers to use the airport, so Air Canada, Westjet and others avoid the island.

A course update: contrary to what we had heard both Our Lucayan courses were open, the wonderful Dick Wilson and Craig Wood designed Lucayan Country Club and the newer, Robert Trent Jones Jr’s Reef Club. Both are on the upswing with new Golf Director Danny Barrett (Florida) gradually implementing good maintenance procedures, which hopefully the resort will continue to fund. Interestingly the batteries and equipment that I had ordered in 2006 “will soon” arrive!

We also got to enjoy an old favourite, the Ruby Course is mostly open. I had reopened it once in the late 70’s, then it closed for a spell after a hurricane, and now is being operated by an Irish company that had really big plans before the recession took their bankroll last year. The Ruby has the most interesting greens of all the courses, faster and rollier. I wasn’t in complete agreement about their condition – I thought they were on the way out while Lucaya and the Reef appeared to be on the way in. The hotel (King’s Inn then Bahamas Princess then Royal Oasis) is still not open, and the Emerald Course is completely overgrown. Sad, both courses were redone by Tommy Fazio and Total Golf just before they closed.

Speaking of closed, the GINN Sur la Merde project in West End is in chapter 11. Their plans of building an Atlantis Resort with luxury housing have gone south with the US economic downturn doing what hurricanes would have done later (the whole site averages four feet above sea level). When we went for lunch at Bahama Bay, a really nice resort recently in the news when John Travolta’s son had a fatal accicent there (he owns four units), I asked a gent who was carrying rolls of plans, about the project. “Nicklaus Course, Palmer Course, Norman Course, all finished now. Another dream gone”. Where did all the deposits go? One of the courses looked ready to be seeded, hopefully sometime in the future. This area boomed in the 1920’s when the Kennedys and the Seagrams were running rum and whiskey into the US during prohibition. It also boomed for awhile running ganja into the same states during the 60’s, 70s and 80s. Amazing how Bootleggers are accepted better than Drug Dealers.

Getting back to golf in Freeport, the 3 mentioned 18 hole tracts are good value, as is the 9-hole Fortune Hills. My recommendation is to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at one of the local haunts (Roberto’s or Underwater Explorer’s Club are my favourites) followed by a three hour round at mid day. All the courses have specials later in the day although the morning tarrif is not too high (and they need the money). Ask for the “best white guy rate”. Don’t expect lush striped fairway conditions, just pure island golf as it was played in the 70s.

Although every village now has it’s own casino and Freeport has one at Our Lucaya. Strange red-neck type operation still drawing some regulars back to GBI every year. I met one group that I knew, they were playing at Lucayan Country Club, originally 32 strong they have atrophied to 12 faithful over 30 years. They can go anywhere, but still prefer to go back to Freeport.

Restaurants are still pretty good too. Luciano’s is number one, with the same menu and staff (Lonnie) as when they were operating from Lucayan Clubhouse in the 1970s. There are several others, including a new Mexican bistro, and Carolyn’s choice is still strong, the Dolce Vita. Spring Break 2009 starts next week when almost every room on the island will be filled with at least 4 coeds. As I said, it’s 1970 every year in Freeport.

I forgot to mention our wonderful hosts, Linda and Jay Lilge! even let me drive my old car! and Jay beat me every round, that Donalda handicap should be checked although he did not need any shots in our matches.

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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.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great to have an update on the situation in Freeport. Great memories with The Old Pro and his bride there. Too bad the place has not taken off, most potential in the world.Excellent Transportation is the most important element missing. Glad you had a good holiday.

  • Slatts I was talking to Jay last nite and was wondering how you are doing. He told me about this site so I thought I would hop on and say Hi.

  • Another excellent place for dinner in Lucaya area is a little Italian eatery called “Cappucino”, the best food outside Italy.

    Also I heard that Westjet has started direct flights twice a week from Toronto.

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