Golf on St. Lucia: Sandals Regency La Toc resort course is tighter than Uncle Harry's hat band
ST. LUCIA, West Indies - So let's say you've been lying on that broad, sandy-white St. Lucia beach for about a week now, relieving work-stress and fighting off melanoma with a variety of rum punches.
Your muscles are in an advanced state of atrophy, as is your brain. What you need is to get off the beach and try a little physical exercise - nothing too strenuous. You think: golf. The perfect vacation game.
If you're staying at one of the three Sandals resorts on the island, you pick up the phone, or have someone do it for you, and dial. They'll come pick you up for free and you won't even have to pay green fees. You didn't bring clubs or shoes? No penalty for sloth here: you can rent them at the clubhouse.
So now, you're well into the round, say at No. 5, and you've already lost those three sleeves of golf balls you bought, hitting it way out of bounds surrounding the tight, narrow fairways. You start thinking of that broad, sandy beach.
The Sandals Regency La Toc golf course was designed by Richard Colon, from Barbados, a man who apparently never met a tight fairway he didn't like. Of course, he didn't have much room to work with, and it shows - the Sandals golf course is tighter than Uncle Harry's hat band, a tortuous, claustrophobic little track that keeps your driver in the bag, or should.
"Your first time around, play safe," caddie Shannon Auguste said. "If you're wild, you'll be in trouble."
Actually, you don't even have to be wild. If you're only a little off the mark, say on the par-3 No. 5 where you hit through a narrow chute of trees to the green, you'll end up way off the mark. Accuracy isn't a premium here, it's mandatory.
The Sandals golf course could be described as an executive course, with five of the nine holes par-3s, but it's unlike any executive course I've ever played. Did I mention how narrow it is?
Apparently, though, the little resort course doesn't scare off too many people. It hosts from 30,000-35,000 rounds a year, most of them resort guests, according to Superintendent Andrew Felicien. A significant percentage of them are new to golf - what a place to start.
Being on hilly St. Lucia, the golf course has some enticing elevation changes, like the 476-yard, par-5 seventh. It's a straight uphill fairway hemmed in by mango trees, to a two-tiered green.
No. 4, a 132-yard par 3 is sharply downhill, with bunkers left and right and water behind. No. 8 is a longer par 3 (175 yards) that is, again, sharply downhill. Those not used to playing such sharp elevation changes could have problems judging distance; you often find yourself using too much club.
Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa: The verdict
The course obviously doesn't compare to the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club course, but then neither do the green fees. As mentioned earlier, Sandals guests play free, and anyone else can play for $30 for nine holes or $40 for 18.
Caddies are mandatory and expect tips of $5-$10. For that money, this can be a pleasant day of golf, even though you can never really cut loose with big wood on the 2,475-yard layout. Practice your long irons.
The course is in fair shape, though the greens in August were brown and patchy because of a recent verti-cut; Felicien said it would take two weeks for them to grow in.
You get a little variety when you play 18 because the course has 11 greens, and you're hitting to two different greens on two holes.
It opened in 1973 and Felicien has been tinkering with it for years; his latest wish is to enlarge the ninth green.
Stay and play
St. Lucia has a wide range of lodging for tourists, from all-inclusives like Sandals - which has three properties on the island - to shaky, local tourist hotels.
Bay Gardens is a clean, moderate size hotel in Rodney Bay that businessmen like to use - though Internet connections are not always reliable. The food is excellent. It's not on the beach, nor are there great ocean views, but the hotel does provide a beach shuttle.
Try Capone's and The Lime in Rodney Bay, the Coal Pot and Green Parrot in Castries, Dasheene Restaurant and Bar in Soufriere and the Great House in Cap Estate.
September 5, 2005