Best of the Bahamas? It just might be the private Abaco Club at Winding Bay
Located off the beaten path in the Bahamas, the Abaco Club at Winding Bay is a dazzling course that's earned the top spot on "Best of the Bahamas" lists by both Golf Digest and Golfweek.
The Abaco Club's members list, which numbers just 150, reads like a who's who of the international golfing community, including Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Thomas Aiken and Lee Westwood,
After flying to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, you take a 25-minute drive to this tropical gem that lies completely secluded inside its own private community of Winding Bay. Once you travel through the guard gate, you are treated royally by the staff of this rental and privately owned community.
There are two different restaurants and a clubhouse and spa that cater to members' every needs. The club's private-access beach features pristine white powdery sand and rounds out a truly exclusive, luxurious resort experience at Abaco Club.
Abaco Club: The course
Created in 2004, this Tom Mackenzie design was the first Scottish-links golf course in the tropics, "only with palm trees lining the layout," said Mark Aitken, director of facilities at Abaco Club.
"This course is unique in so many ways," Aitken said. "It provides a tremendous challenge to every level of golfer."
The track has five sets of tees allowing the course to play from 5,395 to 7,123 yards, which provides various shot options. It plays from a 69.9 rating and a 126 slope at its easiest to a diabolical 75.5 rating and a slope of 137 from the tips.
The fairways tend to look generous from the tee boxes on most holes, but placement is critical to avoid fairway bunkers that line the course. For the first-time player at the Abaco Club the course can be frustrating, as many shots that look to be down the middle of the fairway end up rolling down or bouncing off hills into the traps that line most of the holes.
If you stray from the short grass, beware of the lush, natural vegetation that surround this layout.
The true test at the Abaco Club comes around the greens, which are well contoured and roll very true but are difficult to read.
"I have seen scratch golfers six-putt on certain holes if they place pins in difficult locations," Aitken said. "We are extremely proud of the greens and all the challenges that they present our golfers."
The most decisive factor in your trek around the layout tends to be the wind, which can create a mental and physical challenge of its own.
"The wind plays a huge factor at the Abaco Club," Aitken said. "If you play this course four straight days, you might have four different wind directions in those four days that can dramatically alter the shots that you play on each and every hole."
Still, the layout provides unparalleled aqua-blue ocean views well worth the wind, as the front nine plays mostly on the coast. The fifth hole is breathtaking, as the 199-yard par 3 is played from a slightly elevated tee towards a well-guarded green that is backed by the beach of Winding Bay.
Most of the back nine progresses inland until you make the turn for home beginning with the 15th hole. Between the par-4 15th and the par-4 16th hole sits a rock quarry that forces a thoughtful approach.
The 17th hole is another elevated par 3 (204 yards) to a green that is guarded by the Atlantic Ocean on the right and sand traps surrounding the rest of the green. A quality tee shot is integral to hit a larger green in a swirling wind. The waves crashing into the cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop.
The finishing stretch is challenging but gorgeous at the same time, providing a stunning close to a memorable course.
Abaco Club: The verdict
"This course is so much fun, and while tough, the beautiful scenery brings you back time and time again," member Kristi Hull said. "I have played a lot of golf recently, and this course is as good as it gets."
For resort visitors, state-of-the-art two-, three- and four-bedroom homes are available to rent through Abaco Club Homes (abacoclubhomes.com, Tel. 561-202-8342, or 242-577-3822). These allow you access to all the amenities of the club.
The 534-acre retreat offers a clubhouse, dining, spa, tennis courts and fitness center. Snorkeling, diving, deep-sea fishing and flats bonefishing are also part of the club's available activities.
For eager golfers not staying on-site, a one-time only rate of $300 is available and includes golf cart rental and range balls.
July 11, 2013