Worth the Delay - Golf in Barbados
The Pace of life is delightfully slow in the Caribbean but at last they have done something serious about getting golf developed on Barbados.
Just what is it that the golfing holidaymaker demands of his destination? Sun, certainly, and this place has got that. Great beaches, warm, clear, safe sea, superb scenery, good hotels, reputable restaurants: this place has got all that. Then, of course, there is the golf. A few decent courses within easy reach of the chosen hotel are a minimum requirement and this place - which is Barbados - has, at long last, got that as well.
It has been one of the mysteries of golf tourism that the Caribbean in general and Barbados in particular have lagged so far behind other less suitable spots in the race for the golfing pound, dollar or euro. The island has had the ingredients for years but until recently it refused to stir the pot. Now, though, it is bubbling nicely.
Sandy Lane, which used to possess one ordinary course, mostly scratchily main- maintained, now has two 18-hole Tom Fazio creations on what was once a sugar-cane plantation, plus a revamped and renovated nine from the old course. Royal Westmoreland, home these last three years to the Barbados Seniors Open, has a superb 18-holer. At the other end of the island, there is the Barbados Golf Club, a public pay-and-play facility which has the potential to be one of the best of its kind in the world. There is enough already to keep a visiting golfer intrigued, but there are plans for two more courses on the island, and it is to be hoped that these happen. They say you can have too much of a good thing but that is not the experience of most of us. Why has it all taken so long? The growth in golf which so many countries have cashed into has, until now, passed Barbados by.
Barbados Golf Club In the opening ceremony of the Barbados Golf Club, the island's Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, offered an explanation. He said there were taboos which declared that certain sports were only for the rich, but he added: "I suppose that 100 years ago cricket was a rich man's sport also, but we as a nation and as a people have shown that we can rise above all the hindrances that would hold us back." There have been other, more physical, manifestations that have tended to prevent golf from taking its place among the island's pleasures.
Environmental concerns are very real in Barbados, given that it is one of the five most water-scarce countries in the world and that golf courses do tend to consume a lot of water. But architects have learned how to address such problems, and Ron Kirby, the American designer, has maximised the recycling of available water at the Barbados Golf Club. There they have created a 4.2-million gallon lake, and by building special wells around the course, combined with strategically placed run-off areas, no fewer than 104 of the 119 acres of golf course drain into the lake.
The stretch of water is used as a feature on three holes, the 7th, 15th and 16th, the latter being a short hole where there is nothing but blue between you and the green. Furthermore, to the left of the elevated putting surface there is a deep dip into which anything not on line will surely feed. Although it is only 140 yards long, this is a hole that really tests the nerves. The 487-yard, par-five, 15th is probably the club's signature hole. A good drive leaves the player with a big decision: whether to go left for the green or take the safe option and go straight along the fairway and lay up.
The problem is that the green looks tantalisingly close, well within a 5-wood's reach for the average player. But that is to ignore what happens if the shot is not perfectly struck. Be short and you will be in a 30-foot deep swale; be too far and you will be in a bunker and facing a treacherous recovery with the lake glinting evilly at you. Be too far left and you will go directly into the lake. The lay-up is no doddle, either. By going along the fairway you will be left with the need to turn 45 degrees for your shot to the green, and unless you have hit it far enough, you will find a huge banyan tree in the way. At round's end, the 18th green shares its surface with the 9th, both representing the finishing point for two sturdy three-shotters.
The first pleasure to be experienced at the new Sandy Lane complex is simply to walk into the clubhouse. Full of light, open to cooling breezes, with polished marble everywhere, it offers a magnificent golfing
panorama as the land in front slopes away down to the 18th, a short hole that is visible in its entirety. In the distance is the Caribbean; above, a vast expanse of sky. It makes for a fantastic spectacle.
As the bar is at the front of this opensided clubhouse, it would be tempting just to sit there and watch the golfers' endeavours to carry the lake between tee and green, and, if successful, combat the slope of the green itself. But that would be to deny yourself the very real pleasures of the preceding 17 holes.
On the course that is presently open (the next 18 comes on stream in
November), Tom Fazio has done a good job of creating a resort course that could, in a matter of weeks, be tightened sufficiently for a professional tournament. It is, inevitably, a cart course and every cart has GPS, that system which automatically computes how far you have to the hole. In Barbados, however, this is useful only in providing the basic fact that it is, say, 164 yards to the pin. If the hole in question is either up or down of the trade winds, choosing a club involves a serious calculation, and then usually a serious revision of that calculation before you can come to any worthwhile conclusion.
You will be asked to take a caddie with your cart, and while this may seem like overkill, it is both good fun and beneficial. The caddies go through a 12-month training programme to become certified, they can read the grain on the greens, and they offer encouragement and enthusiasm when sometimes it is desperately needed.
Two businessmen, Dermot Desmond and J.P McManus, are rumoured to be spending $350 million on this development, which, at first sight, seems to be mad mathematics. But if you are also offering home sites for 100 houses, at $3.5 million per site, then it can all become a little clearer.
Royal Westmoreland was recently voted Caribbean 'Resort of the Year' for its combination of first-class golf and some exceedingly luxurious villas. It was not, at first, easy to get on to the golf course and the tale is told of lan Woosnam, who wanted to play a few holes, being refused entry because he did not own a house. He soon solved that one. He bought a villa, which he still has, looking down on to the Caribbean.
A palatial-looking clubhouse leads you out to a pretty grand courseIt is still not simple to get on to Royal Westmoreland and it is definitely not cheap. But it is possible, and the best way is to buy a package from a travel agent. Whichever route you choose, it is well worth it. The course, built on rugged country that once featured a quarry, has some spectacular holes and is a layout that will test every club in your bag.
Take lots of balls. There are plenty of what the late Alister Mackenzie would describe as "heroic carries", and thus plenty of chances to find the jungle. The 18th offers one such opportunity, so much so that the course's designer, Robert Trent Jones Jnr, has caused a plaque to be placed by the tee, which reads: "May the wind be at your back and your shot-making skills tested when you play this challenging hole."
The short 3rd offers no less of a challenge, a carry to a green known as the Monkey's Table, because of the many green monkeys that live in the area. The par-threes are, in fact, a delight. The 7th is played all across water, there are more monkeys in the jungle between tee and green at the 12th, and the 15th is all downhill, but with perdition to the right of the green. The club seem to be quite proud of the fact that, in an exhibition match, Nick Faldo took six and Tom Lehman a five on this hole.
The 6th is a quarry hole, where the green is surrounded by rock faces up to 80 feet high. It is called the Hermit's Hole because, so they say, a man made his home in an old cement mixer in the quarry.
Despite a few serious carries, this is an eminently playable course and it offers, at the long 13th, the opportunity to hit a golf ball farther than you have ever done. It is downwind, downhill and has a firm fairway. Although it measures 600 yards, during the recent Barbados Seniors Open, it was commonplace for the professionals to be hitting mid-irons to the green.
Barbados, then, is open and available to the touring golfer. It may have taken its time, but the wait has been worth it