Jamaica: Caribbean's Top Golf Destination

By Dale Leatherman, Contributor

MONTEGO BAY - New courses and refurbished classics make this island one of the Caribbean's top destinations for golf vacations.

Like the lazy rhythm of island music, Jamaican vacations are meant to be easy-going and worry-free. You have to look for trouble. However, if your idea of trouble is bunkers as big as beaches, water hazards stretching to the horizon, and wind blowing fresh off the sea - no problem, mon. Jamaica has plenty of trouble for you, including two new courses in Montego Bay and old classics that have been upgraded. And getting to the island, less than a two-hour flight from Miami, is no trouble at all.

Here's what's Jamaica has in store for the vacationing golfer:

The White Witch Course at the Ritz Carlton Rose Hall, Montego Bay

One of Jamaica's most famous legends is the White Witch of Rose Hall, the wicked 19th-century mistress of a 4,000-acre sugar plantation who abused her slaves and killed three husbands. Locals are quick to say that Annee Palmer still haunts the Rose Hall Great House and the estate grounds - including the two new golf courses built there. And maybe she does. Golfers are already blaming her for lost balls and wayward putts.

The White Witch Course, designed by the international architectural team of Robert Von Hagge, Rick Baril and Mike Smelek, opened in August 2000 as the centerpiece of the new Ritz Carlton Rose Hall Resort. Instead of traditional tropical terrain, the layout is mountainous and rugged. The 6,718-yard course sticks to the high ground where there are cool breezes and ocean views on 16 holes. This elevated route can be intimidating, with its carries over jungle-like terrain.

The signature par three seventeenth hole is 161 yards downhill to a lush green surrounded by white sand bunkers against a blue ocean backdrop. Behind the green stands a lone windswept tree, silhouetted against the sky.

The golf experience is decidedly top drawer, from the attentive white-suited golf "concierges" (caddies) to the pewter bag tags inscribed with your name to the elegant dining on the verandah of the White Witch Clubhouse. The hotel itself, a shoo-in for five-star status, contains 428 guest rooms (each with a balcony) wrapped around a precisely landscaped courtyard. The property fronts on a 1,500-foot beach, a large free-form swimming pool, and an open-air bar and restaurant. Dining in the hotel is a delightful mix of international cuisines in a variety of comfortable settings.

For more information, call 876-518-0100, or visit www.rcrosehall.com.

Cinnamon Hill Course at Wyndham Rose Hall, Montego Bay

"Cinnamon Hill is unlike any other seaside course we've designed," says designer Robert Von Hagge. "There's no question that its holes are among the most varied in the Caribbean."

What the architect refers to is the split personality of the 6,798-yard, par 71 layout. The gently rolling front nine opens under the gaze of the 18th-century Rose Hall Great House, then rambles past the walled graveyard of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's family and down to the ocean. Holes seven and eight are so near the water that a cranky sea breeze can easily whip your ball into the deep.

In contrast, the back nine (which follows the route of an old Wyndham layout) takes to the remote hills of the plantation, making its way through narrow canyons and across deep chasms. The par-three fifteenth hole drops dramatically to a green next to a waterfall (James Bond was here in the movie Goldeneye). At seventeen, the route opens with an ocean panorama, then descends to the eerie ruins of an 18th century aqueduct.

Designed with the resort player in mind, Cinnamon Hill nevertheless has enough character and variety to keep any player beguiled.

The Wyndham Rose Hall is a comfortable resort with a family-friendly atmosphere, several good restaurants, and a great new water park just off the beach.

For more information, call 876-953-2650, or visit www.wyndham.com

SuperClubs Golf Club, Montego Bay

The former Iron Shore Golf and Country Club has been referred to as Jamaica's gem in the rough. Since January 2000, SuperClubs, the Caribbean's all-inclusive resort giant, has been polishing that gem, now the SuperClubs Golf Club Montego Bay. A beautifully decorated new clubhouse is in place, and a massive course renovation has been completed. The greens are in their best condition in 20 years, locals say.

Keeping in mind that this is a 30-year-old resort course, the 6,570-yard layout delivers what is expected - an entertaining golf experience, with several water encounters and a number of interesting blind shots. Fairways are separated by tall, frilly Australian pines, as well as flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea.

Greens fees are waived for guests at SuperClubs resorts, including nearby Grand Lido Braco, a charming luxury property with an "old Jamaica" village design and gingerbread architecture.

For more information, call 876-953-3681, 800-GO-SUPER, or visit www.superclubs.com

The Tryall Course at the Tryall Club, Montego Bay

The two new Von Hagge courses in Montego Bay have created a dynamic triumvirate with the historic Tryall Course, considered one of the finest tournament venues in the Caribbean. The three resorts offer a "Golf A Round" package (800-241-3333) which allows their guests to play all three courses.

Over the past two years, diligent management has brought the Tryall course back to world-class form, with a second driving range and other practice facilities.

Tryall stretches 6,772 yards from the ocean-side up into forested hills, past coconut groves, and back down to the sea along a route lined with flowering plants and magnificent trees. Just off the seventh tee is a working 18th century water wheel that once powered the estate's sugar mills. From the back tee of this hole, players hit through a stone rectangle formed by the overhead aqueduct and its supports.

The hillside ninth tee offers a panorama of ocean, mountains and the Tryall Great House, which dates back to 1834 and is the centerpiece of the 2,200-acre resort. Guests stay in luxurious one- and two-bedroom Great House villas or two- to six-bedroom villas, all with personal staffs.

The resort is owned and managed by 50 homeowners, many associated with the resort for generations. They have preserved the atmosphere of charming gentility that has been "modernized" out of many other historic properties. Yet the resort has kept pace with the times, developing into a popular family destination with a wide range of diversions, including a unique opportunity to ride horses in the ocean at Chukka Blue, a riding establishment nearby.

Dining at Tryall (if not prepared by your villa cook) is at the Beach Café Terrace near the golf club, in the Great House dining room, or on the romantic Terrace, with the lights of Montego Bay glimmering in the distance.

For more information, call 876-956-5660, 800-361-9949, or visit www.tryallclub.com.

Half Moon, Montego Bay

Like Tryall, the historic Half Moon layout has an international tournament reputation. The 1961 Robert Trent Jones design is relatively flat, but long (7,115 yards) and subject to constant, sweeping winds. Nine holes play into the wind, nine against. A caddy is a must, since his advice can mean a difference of two or three clubs to compensate for the wind.

Half Moon's fairways are generally wide and unobstructed, but the course's length takes its toll, as do the deep bunkers around the greens. The course's toughest test comes on the third hole, a 570-yard par five with a double dogleg. The second shot must carry a group of bunkers or leave an over-the-bunker pitch shot to a fast green.

Since its opening in 1954, Half Moon has expanded throughout its 400 acres into a stunning resort serving every possible vacation desire. Guests stay in a variety of elegant rooms, suites and villas, many with private pools. At the heart of the resort is the Seagrape Terrace, a shady oceanside dining area serving nouvelle Caribbean dishes. Next to the golf club is the highly regarded Sugar Mill Restaurant, which serves great Jamaican and international fare under the stars.

For more information call 800-626-0592 or visit www.halfmoon.com.jm

SuperClubs Golf Club, Runaway Bay

Nowhere is the evolution of the all-inclusive resort concept more apparent than at SuperClubs Breezes Runaway Bay, which began more than 20 years ago as Jamaica Jamaica, a magnet for party-happy college students. While it's still a bargain, Breezes Runaway Bay now appeals to all ages and is decidedly upscale in accommodations, facilities, dining, and activities. Situated 42 miles from Montego Bay on one of the North Shore's best beaches, the resort has a PGA-quality golf course that hosts international tournaments, but is still a pleasure for resort players.

Designed by British commander John Harris in 1960, the 6,870-yard layout has been periodically upgraded to meet modern demands, and is well-maintained, with mature trees and flowering plants, lending color to lush fairways. There is a first-class golf school on the grounds, overseen by personable course professional Seymour Rose, a former international tour player.

Runaway Bay's first hole is a long par three with an elevated, undulating green ringed by deep bunkers. This opener sets the tone for a succession of windswept fairways with cleverly placed bunkers. The greens are all mounded and well guarded.

The back nine climbs into the foothills, and finishes with some unique, challenging holes. The signature fifteenth hole, a 355-yard par four, follows a ridge so narrow that only a precise shot will avoid pitching down to impenetrable rough. The plateau green overlooks the course and distant ocean. Sixteen, a par three, drops through a tricky chute lined with dense vegetation. Eighteen is the longest par five on the course.

Guests at Breezes Runaway Bay and other SuperClubs resorts along the North Shore enjoy free greens fees.

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For more information call 800-GO-SUPER, 876-973-7319, or visit www.superclubs.com

Dale LeathermanDale Leatherman, Contributor

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.


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