St. Lucia Golf and Country Club brings great golf to the Caribbean while lacking an ocean view
ST. LUCIA, West Indies - There's little doubt when you step out of the hot tradewinds into the cool of the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club golf shop that you've entered the different world of Caribbean golf.
First, there's the coffee and rum truffles for sale. Don't see that in many stateside golf shops.
Then you step on the first tee and note the coconut tee markers, painted blue, white and red. You hear the call of strange beasts and see frigate birds wheeling in the sky. As if that weren't down island enough,there's the sparkling blue and green Caribbean Sea and the darker, more menacing Atlantic Ocean below.
Actually, that's one of the few features that disappoints at the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club golf course, which for now is the only 18-hole course on the island. The place is an island, surrounded by two of the world's great bodies of water, and despite the fact the course plays up high, around and through the rolling hills of Cap Estates, there are precious few panoramic views of the poster-perfect water.
It's there off in the distance and it teases you with occasional glimpses, but you're never hit full in the face with that turquoise, Caribbean Sea "wow" factor.
But, it's the only thing that disappoints. St. Lucia Golf and Country Club is a rolling, tumbling gem that plays through the shadowing green hills that rise around you. There are enough elevation changes and sloping fairways and greens to make you wish you hadn't had that last rum punch at closing time last night.
The golf course is set in the northeast part of the island, a good ways from the capital of Castries, a short, white-knuckled drive from Rodney Bay.
"This is a beautiful golf course which incorporates a lot of nature," Superintendent Paul Sheppard, who worked at St. Andrews Golf Club in Trinidad for 16 years, told Birdie magazine. "There are lots of ponds which attract wild fowls and birds. I'm very interested in the environment and want to get this golf course involved in some kind of sanctuary program for golf courses."
At 6,829 yards and with a slope rating of 138, it isn't a typical country club course, geared for the cocktail set who wants birdies to go with their gin and tonics. The course has twisting, rolling fairways, some very narrow landing areas and quite a few blind shots.
"I think it's quite interesting," said Simon Medley, a mid-handicapper Brit living in New Jersey. "They've made quite good use of all the natural contours, without bringing in a bunch of bulldozers."
The semi-private course starts you off with a bang on the 546-yard par-5 first hole, with the first of many downhill tee shots off an elevated tee. The fairway narrows considerably at the landing area and the fairway slopes to the right, into an elevated green. Like many of the holes, hit it far enough and you'll be rewarded with 20-30 yards more of good roll.
No. 5 is another tough one, with a tumbling fairway that twists likea sea snake and you can't see the flag, like man of the holes, from thetee. The landing area is typically narrow and you come into the green at anodd angle.
St. Lucia Golf and Country Club: The verdict
There are a few Caribbean-style homes scattered around St. Lucia Golf and Country Club, but they're set back nicely and never intrude, though that could change. The golf course is also involved in real-estate ventures and Cap Estates is one of the prime real estate areas that will almost certainly boom in coming years.
Despite the relative lack of sea and ocean views, there's almost always something interesting to look as you travel up and down at the St. Lucia Country Club course. From the thick, Caribbean vegetation to the green, shadowed hills, you're eyes will be kept busy.
The conditioning is excellent as well - a new irrigation system drawn from ponds on the course keeps the Bermuda fairways as lush as its surroundings and the greens are in excellent shape, not always the case on Caribbean golf courses.
"The greens are actually very good," Medley said. "The greens are the best part of it. I guess it's fairly difficult with these conditions - all this rain - but it's in fine shape."
The course isn't that long and the par 4s that do have length are mitigated by the fact they're mostly downhill, the closing hole being one of the exceptions. The 446-yard par 4 is uphill and plays into the prevailing winds; you'll be straining to reach it in two.
Another disappointment are the green fees. They're too high at $95 -- $70 for nine holes -- though prices are generally higher in the Caribbean for tourists in many areas. An equivalent course in the U.S. would be in the $50-$70 range.
The price may be mitigated somewhat by the fact the club will provide transportation for three or more from cruise ships and hotels - save yourself an expensive and frightening cab ride or rental car.
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.
September 21, 2005