Royal Westmoreland: Transformation in Barbados
BARBADOS - To fully appreciate the beauty of Barbados' Royal Westmoreland course, play it late in the day. That's when Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Caribbean creation looks as if the designer worked with oils on canvas rather than stone, grasses and water on an old sugar plantation and rock quarry.
The course, which opened in 1995, occupies a canyon-riddled plateau 200 to 300 feet above sea level on the island's west coast. Come afternoon, shadows deepen in the ravines, then edge into cloverleaf bunkers and bring mounds and swales into sharp definition. In contrast to smooth green fairways, tall brown feather grass ripples in the prevailing trade wind. Flowering shrubs and trees provide bright spots of orange, red and yellow.
Like make-up artfully applied, Jones' work has brought out the land's best features. Nature does the rest, closing each sunny day with a sunset show of oranges, purples and magentas behind luminous clouds. Chance adds one more artistic touch, a white triangle of sail on the smooth blue of the Caribbean.
Breathtaking, yes, but beneath the beauty of Royal Westmoreland lies a beast of a golfing challenge. There are many long carries over inhospitable terrain and that pretty feather grass gobbles errant shots. There's not an abundance of water, but where it is, it counts. Wind is a constant, invisible hazard, and of whimsical velocity. Fortunately, the designer placed four or more tee boxes on each hole to allow players to adjust the challenge to their pleasure.
Time it right and you'll finish your round in time to catch the last of the sunset on the clubhouse terrace over a bottle of locally brewed Banks beer. There, conversation often turns to signature holes. There isn't one - but there could be half a dozen.
The par threes, for instance, are four of the best short holes in the Caribbean. The third hole plays toward the ocean, dropping 171 yards to a greased-lightning green perched on the edge of a cliff and fronted by rock outcroppings and sand bunkers. It's the "Monkey Table" hole, taking its name from the gallery of monkeys who gather to watch humans at play.
After the first five holes, the route turns away from the ocean, and quarry pits provide challenge and visual impact. One of these is the sixth, a likely signature hole. The "Hermit Hole" takes its name from a recluse who was discovered living in an abandoned cement mixer during the course construction. The 327-yard par four doglegs to an elevated, sloping green surrounded on three sides by high quarry walls. It's the shortest par four on the course, but by no means a pushover.
The seventh hole, another devilish par three, calls for a 161-yard carry across a water-filled quarry pit to a shallow green sloping right to left, with the wind. It cost $50,000 to seal the porous bottom so that water would stay in the quarry, and, as one Brit said, "it's worth every cent."
The winsome front nine leads to a daunting back nine. Positioned high on a ridge, the second act opens with a par four doglegging from a high tee along a deep ravine. This insidious gully comes into play on three more holes. On the par-three, 198-yard twelfth hole, a direct shot to the pin means braving the void.
The par-three fifteenth hole is the most scenic shot on the back nine. The tee is cut into the slope of the ridge, with a 209-yard carry across jungle-like rough to a green protected on the front and side by the omnipresent ravine. This gorge flanks the par-four, 451-yard eighteenth hole, then cuts across the fairway 20 or 30 yards from a paltry green. The fourth-ranked finishing hole drops like a ski slope toward the white, sail-like roof of the clubhouse. Ocean fills the horizon.
There can be no doubt that Jones is as at home in the Caribbean as his father, who designed many island classics. With big bucks and modern technology at his command, the son has created four terrific island courses in recent years - Four Seasons Nevis, Aruba's Tierra del Sol, the Reef Course on Grand Bahama Island, and Royal Westmoreland.
But only Royal Westmoreland has the unique British/Bajan flavor of Barbados, an island strongly loyal to the Crown since the 1600s, yet softened by sea and sun. The golf club, too, is impeccably British, but with island warmth. The open-air restaurant is hospitable, with excellent food and service.
Like Barbados, Royal Westmoreland targets a decidedly upscale, predominately British market (though Americans such as Kevin Costner, Phil Donahue, Whitney Houston, former Vice-President Dan Quayle and former President Ronald Reagan have had no trouble finding the island).
Stay and Play
• Royal Westmoreland villas can be rented by the week (completely furnished). The low season rate is $1,750 USD (2003) for a two-bedroom unit. Renters get discounted golf rates.
• Two nearby Fairmont hotels (www.fairmont,com) offer golf packages. Royal Pavilion and Glitter Bay sit side-by-side on the west coast, five minutes from the golf club. Both hotels are comfortable, with beautiful beaches, and share all water sports. The atmosphere at Glitter Bay is more refined (think afternoon tea), with landscaped gardens with fountains. It also has a fine spa/health club. Either resort can be reached at (246) 422-5555.
• Sandy Lane Resort (www.sandylane.com) is a luxurious Barbados fixture which opened in 2001 after a massive rebuilding. It has 27 holes of golf by Tom Fazio and another 18-hole course opening in spring 2003.
Where to Dine
• Chinese - Guang Dong
• French - Ile de France, Jenner, Carambola
• Italian - Luigi's Restaurant, Bellini's Trattoria
• International - Bambas Beach Bar & Restaurant, Café Sol, Champers, Royal Pavilion's Piperade Restaurant, Glitter Bay's Palm Terrace
• Caribbean - Angry Annie's, Atlantis Hotel Restaurant, Boucan
• Seafood - Crane Seafood Restaurant, Lone Star Garage Restaurant, Pices, Round House Inn
• For lunch - Bonito Beach Bar & Restaurant, Captain's Carvery
Recreation and Sightseeing
• Shopping. There are numerous high quality, tax-free stores (duty-free prices typically are 30-50% less than in Europe or America). The main shopping is on Broad Street in the capital city of Bridgetown. It has large department stores and duty free shops. There are smaller malls outside of town. Smaller towns (Holetown, Speightstown) have fine craft and gift shops. Chattel Village shopping areas throughout the island offer souvenirs, gifts, clothing, and local arts and crafts.
• Water sports. Every resort and many private outfitters offer diving, windsurfing, sailing and snorkeling.
• Attractions. Andromeda Botanical Gardens, Animal Flower Cave, Coral Caves & Underground Lakes, the Flower Forest, Harrison's Cave, Holetown, St. James Parish Church, Welchman Hally Gully, Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, and the Wildlife Reserve. Guests can also enjoy horseback riding, as well as watching polo, cricket and horse-racing. Throughout the year there are also many small town festivals and celebrations. Check when you arrive to see what is going on.
How to Get There
• American Airlines, BWIA, and Air Jamaica offer service to Barbados, the Caribbean's easternmost island, through Miami and San Juan.
Course Reviews & Features
March 19, 2003