Royal St. Kitts Golf Club offers sea spray-in-your-face Caribbean golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ST. KITTS, West Indies, Caribbean - The Royal St. Kitts Golf Club will add another nine holes in November to its existing nine. One might think that would put it in direct competition with the 18-hole Four Seasons golf course, a 30-minute ferry ride away on St. Kitts' sister island of Nevis.

Only the Royal St. Kitts people don't see it that way.

"We're happy to have them as a partner," said golf director Kurt Greve. "It's in the customers' best interests. It gives them another course to play, a totally different perspective."

Truer words were never spoken. The two tracks are both Caribbean golf courses, with both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean as backdrops, but they could not be more dissimilar, both in layout and character.

The Four Seasons course is framed by Nevis Peak, traveling up, down and around the base of the dormant volcano; it employs 400 feet of elevation changes and wide scenes of two of the world's great bodies of water.

Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, laid out on a sandy peninsula, tries for a links-style feel; it's much flatter and the experience with the sea and ocean is much more intimate: you can hear the roar of the surf in your ears and you're likely to deposit one, two or several of your golf balls in salt water.

The golf course originally opened in 1976, the design brainchild of Peter Thompson. But, the course on the grounds of the Marriott began earnest renovations in 2002, with well-known Canadian architect Thomas McBroom doing the re-design.

McBroom is best known for his work at Rocky Crest in Ontario and Bell Bay in Nova Scotia. Here in the Lesser Antilles, he obviously had completely different images on his sketch pad.

"The biggest thing he had in mind was the use of the beach and the use of the golf holes along the ocean to maximize the customers' view of water," Greve said. "And his incorporation of the sand bunkers to make it feel like beach all along the course. I think the bunkers he has in there, their shape and the way they're positioned, makes you feel like you're in close to the beach, without the water."

Royal St. Kitts Golf Club does have water and plenty of it already - unlike the Four Seasons. There are water hazards on six holes on the existing nine,which measures 3,624 yards from the back tees, to go with its 85 bunkers.

When completed, the course will have two full holes along the Caribbean and three lining the Atlantic. That's to go with its 12 lakes. It will measure about 6,900 yards from the back tees.

Put all that together with the coconut palms dotting the course, and you have a Caribbean version of links-style golf.

Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, for the most part, is in excellent shape. That is largely the result of the $3 million desalination plant, part of the overall $20 million renovation. The plan went on line January of this year, and produces a million gallons of fresh water a day.

"That's the key to making a great golf course in the Caribbean," Greve said. "That's why so many golf courses in the Caribbean fail, in my opinion - they don't have enough water."

The course is still rounding into shape - in some fairways there are bare and dry patches, the result of the maintenance crew allowing saltwater to kill weeds, instead of chemicals. When the weeds die, crews will plant the saltwater-tolerant paspalum grass that is used on the rest of the course.

The verdict on Royal St. Kitts Golf Club

Aesthetically, whether you like this course or the Four Seasons more will depend on how you prefer your Caribbean scenery: While the Four Seasons winds through lush rain forest, looking out and down on the sparkling water for the most part, the Royal St. Kitts places you at water's edge. You can feel the sea spray in your face. It's much more open, and with the graceful, coconut palms placed sporadically along the holes, it simply offers another version of that post-card Caribbean look.

In terms of challenge, the Four Seasons is more difficult, with narrower fairways, forced carries and more unforgiving rough.

Royal St. Kitts Golf Club has wider fairways and bigger greens - helping todeal with the stronger breezes that come sweeping in off the ocean and sea - but it also has more water to deal with. In addition, much of the water on the existing nine holes is to the right - not so good news for right-handers with a slice.

Stay and play

The Marriott - (869) 466-1200 - has 648 guest rooms and suites, as well as the Royal Beach Casino and the Emerald Mist Spa. The resort, located at 858 Frigate Bay Road, also has restaurants, lounges, swimming pools and a fitness center.

If the Marriott is a bit expensive for your tastes, try Ottley's Plantation Inn, (800) 772-3039, or the Rawlins Plantation, (869) 465-6221. For even more moderate prices, try the Frigate Bay Resort, (869) 465-2472, or Rock Haven Bed and Breakfast, (869) 465-5503.

Dining out

The Marriot has several restaurants, including the Royal Grill Steakhouse, BLU Seafood, Café Calypso, Bohemia Beach Bar and Grill, the clubhouse restaurant and the Keys Cigar and Rum Bar.

For more local flavor, try Bobsy's Bar and Restaurant for Caribbean atmosphere, or the La Caribe Restaurant and Moon Dance Beach Bar.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Royal St. Kitts golf course

    Luther Higginson II wrote on: Aug 5, 2009

    This remains my all-time favorite golf course. Sure, there are more pedigree golf courses in the Caribbean, but this one has that island soul. Don't miss it.


  • royal st kitts golf course

    kenneth singer wrote on: Feb 6, 2008

    this is third year in a row to this island and one of the main reasons is this breathtaking course! the views of the ocean (and mountains) on the back nine are as good as i have ever seen - including peeble beech. There is not one hole where you are not surrounded by the atlantic, caribbean or mountains! The price is reasonable for a resport couse and the course is never crowded. (except when cruises arrive) you must play this couse and marriott hotel is right next to it.