Golf at Nevis Four Seasons resort: Where green monkeys lurk and putts break 'uphill'

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

NEVIS, West Indies, Caribbean - The people who live so quietly on this small, unspoiled Caribbean island swear the mountain that towers over and shadows their land is a "she."

Nevis Peak, a 3,232-foot-high dormant volcano wrapped in tropical vegetation, always seems to be shrouded by mysterious, swirling clouds. Only occasionally do the clouds part, allowing a peak at the rim.

"Sometimes she lets you see her, sometimes she doesn't," said Sylvia Thomas, who's lived on the island all her life.

The Nevis Four Seasons Resort golf course that lies at the base of the mountain may not have a gender, but it definitely has teeth.

The golf course isn't particularly long at 6,682 yards, but it is full of island mysteries, like the Green Vervet monkeys that can sometimes be seen scuttling around in the deep foliage.

Nevis Four Seasons Resort golf course climbs, dips and dives around the base of the mountain, giving you relief from the tough course with distant, misty vistas of the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring sister island of St. Kitts - views that no post card can capture.

When you turn your attention back to the golf at hand, you'll continue your battle with the 72 bunkers, rattling elevation changes - 400 feet total - and ravines so deep you'll swear you can hear Chinese golfers cursing.

"This isn't a golf course where, just because you have a low handicap, you can come and think you're going to shoot well," said staff member and local resident Robert Byron, a five-handicapper who taught himself to play on the course. "The good thing is, because I learned to play here, other courses usually seem easy by comparison."

It's a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, which means that you will find yourself on the tee box often, tempted to drive there, but knowing Jones wants you to hit it here.

It's the classic struggle of wanting it all, with your dark, imaginary caddie telling you at the same time you could also lose it all.

"Although some holes out here say 'take the driver,' you shouldn't," said head pro Bruce Wilson. "A lot of his landing areas are very wide. If you hit to the area he wants you to, you'll do well. If you don't, you could be in trouble, and have a much more difficult approach.

"For long hitters, he's really forcing you to think about it. That's not to say you can't use driver all day long if you want. But, be prepared to be penalized if you miss a little bit."

No. 15 is the perfect example; this is the hole where the Nevis Four Seasons Resort golf course reaches its zenith, literally and figuratively. It's the highest point on the resort, with a commanding view. It's also a 663-yard, downhill par-5 from the back tees, which includes a 240-yard carry over a 150-foot deep ravine.

For those teeing off from the forward tees, you can let it fly over the trees, to cut off some length on the dogleg right, but if you do that, you cut down the size of the landing area considerably, and could be in the heavy trees that line both sides.

The smarter play is to use an iron off the tee, hit the fat landing area and then work hand in hand with the terrain.

"You're better off letting the slope negotiate the hole," Wilson said. "With two mediocre shots, you can be at the 150-yard marker. It's a holethat requires more thought than strength. I've been within 180 yards off the tee, but that's few and far between."

Because of the mountain, the greens are full of subtle breaks hard toread; some locals say they have seen putts break uphill.

It's an optical illusion, of course.

"You're going up a mountain, with the grain facing the other way," Wilson said. "It pushes everything down toward the water, and the setting sun. It could be flat or downhill; that's the deceiving part of some of these holes. That grain will hold up a ball. Once you understand the grain, its easier to start reading the greens."

Nevis Four Seasons Resort golf course: The verdict

Nevis Four Seasons Resort golf course is one of those you won't mind playing again and again. You'll find yourself after a round thinking about the choices you made, saying next time will be different.

No. 15 isn't the only strategic hole. The back nine in particular has its share of risk/reward and other strategic decisions to make, and is also much more dramatic in terms of scenery. The front nine is relatively flat and open, as you climb slowly toward the mountain.

If you go, be sure to compete in the weekly scramble, or any other organized events club officials come up with. They do a great job of getting just the right balance of competition and camaraderie.

Stay and play at Nevis Four Seasons Resort

The Four Seasons is definitely worth the price of admission - rates start at $295 a night and go up to $635.

The resort offers a "Caribbean Golf Vacation" a seven-day package that includes: accommodations, unlimited golf with cart, breakfast and dinner for two each evening, practice range and golf clinic privileges and unlimited, non-motorized water sports. Rates start at $525 and go to $1,819 depending on the season.

The resort's rooms are spacious and open to the sea, with private patios. Luxury villas are also available. Thankfully, there is a "quiet" pool for adults. The resort grounds are lush and well-manicured and the service is unrelentingly friendly and efficient.

The resort has won more than its share of hospitality awards, and is rated highly by the Zagat's Survey.

There are other accommodations on the island, including the Nisbet Plantation, which dates back to 1778, and, for a cheaper alternative, the Oualie Beach Hotel.

Dining out on Nevis

The Four Seasons dining room is a 140-seat, open air restaurant with a view of the sea. It offers Caribbean dishes, with "French and Asian influences." The food is excellent; try the lamb chops - made from Australian lambs. Don't ask my why they're Australian.

Neve is the more informal restaurant on the grounds, serving breakfast - including a remarkable buffet - and dinner. For dinner, it's a mix of Italian and local food.

At the pool cabana, the Cobb salad with chicken is a great, light meal.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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