Trinidad & Tobago: A winning formula in the Caribbean

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

When you consider premier vacation destinations in the continental United States such as Las Vegas, New York City and Orlando, you don't find many attractions geared to showcasing the nature of the land itself.

Instead, the attractions are man-made creations. Green grass and water is artificially abundant in a colorful city in the middle of the dry, sun-soaked Nevada desert. Orlando makes a name for itself with massive amusement parks and endless gimmicky attractions. The only place you find anything resembling nature in the hustle and bustle of NYC is Central Park and the Hudson River waterway that is home to droves of commercial and industrial freight traffic.

Consider Trinidad & Tobago's stunning landscape and tropical climate, and it is clear why the country prides itself on showcasing the land, sea and climate itself instead of structures and attractions built upon it.

The two islands are the farthest south in the Caribbean, just 10 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela. Trinidad is the bigger of the two islands and is home to the country's capital, Port of Spain. It is also home to most of the country's economic activity, rich in petroleum and natural gas.

While Trinidad has its natural treasures, visitors usually gravitate to its tiny sister island, Tobago. Though it needs a few more tracks to qualify as a golf destination, Tobago's two championship courses serve as a perfect compliment to its other tropical sights and attractions. And, perhaps, a forecast of more golf to come.

Tobago Plantations Golf and Country Club

Tobago Plantations Golf and Country Club is the newest course on the island. The course is located on the southern tip of Tobago and prides itself on a PGA championship design as well as reflecting the Tobago land and atmosphere. Unlike some modern courses that wipe out any necessary land geography to provide the "perfect" par-5, the environmentally friendly layout was constructed around existing wildlife habitats and vegetation.

Designed by British architects Bob Hunt and Marcus Blackburn, the course has some "links" characteristics. Deep pot bunkers are scattered throughout the course and many holes stretch along the Caribbean coast, a far more inviting view than the rocky, windy shores of the North Sea. The track plays out to a peninsula with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, and delves inland for several holes that weave throughout mature palm trees and mangroves.

Plantations is plenty long, stretching out to 7,005 yards. The nine-hole Sugar Mill course, designed for beginners, opened in 2002, along with a six-hole children's course.

Mt. Irvine Bay Golf Club

On the northwest side of Tobago is the island's classic golf club, Mt. Irvine Bay, situated in the Mt. Irvine Bay Hotel and Golf Club. Built in 1968 on an old coconut plantation, the 6,793-yard course has five par-5's and par-3's, leaving just eight par-4's.

Mt. Irvine has more rolling terrain than its southern neighbor. While most holes are inland, they all provide views of the Caribbean. Mt. Irvine Bay is nearly half the price of Plantations if you plan to walk. If you rent a golf cart, which is included in the fee at Plantations, the two courses are close in price.

Shortly after it opened, Mt. Irvine Bay hosted Shell's 1969 Wonderful World of Golf and went on to become the venue for the Johnnie Walker Cup. Twenty-five years later, the old track had not lost its appeal. It was voted the best golf resort in the Caribbean in 1994 by Caribbean World and Travel Weekly magazines.

St. Andrew's Golf Club

Should your visit to Trinidad & Tobago only consist of Trinidad, there's an interesting semi-private course that welcomes visitors. St. Andrew's Golf Club was founded more than a century ago, in 1892. Contrary to the coastal, flat terrain found on Tobago, the inland course is rugged and mountainous.

Located north of Port of Spain, it is the shortest of all the championship courses in the country, but is still 6,555 yards long, with a course rating of 72.8. The backside is especially daunting. Most of the holes are heavily wooded and finding flat lies on your approach is no easy task.

Traveling Between Islands

Trinidad and Tobago, while close neighbors, are by no means just a jump of a puddle from each other. Tobago is 21 miles northeast of Trinidad. Travel between islands is usually done by way of ferry or plane. The five-hour ferry ride is around $60, while by plane the journey is $300 round trip. Both islands are serviced by international airports. Once on either island, the most popular source of transportation is government-regulated taxis.

Off the Course

Trinidad and Tobago, while close neighbors, are by no means just a jump of a puddle from each other. Tobago is 21 miles northeast of Trinidad. Travel between islands is usually done by way of ferry or plane. The five-hour ferry ride is around $60, while by plane the journey is $300 round trip. Both islands are serviced by international airports. Once on either island, the most popular source of transportation is government-regulated taxis.

Trinidad and Tobago has no ethnic majority. The largest group is East Indian at 40 percent, with Africans at 39 percent. European and Chinese are also among prevalent ethnicities on the island. English is the official language but with a strong native dialect and many words borrowed from other lands. This rich mix of cultures also makes for a delightful array of cuisines and some food combinations you won't find anywhere else.

Surrounded by waters teeming with kingfish, crab, lobster and other native Caribbean fish, Tobago can satisfy any seafood lover. If you have made the trip from the wintry north to Tobago, chances are you aren't looking to sit in a dark, air-conditioned restaurant for a meal. You won't have to. Open-air restaurants are the norm here, and ocean breezes provide just the right amount of natural cooling.

Jemma's Seaview Kitchen is one of the most popular open-air restaurants on Tobago. Propped up on stilts and located right next to the clear blue sea, the native atmosphere rivals the food. Jemma's serves Cajun dishes and seafood in a casual atmosphere and at a reasonable price.

Where to Stay

Le Grand Courlan Resort & Spa is located near the Plantations course in Scarborough. There are four, two and three story buildings that hide out in the hillside overlooking Stone Haven bay. Among the highlights of this resort are two specialty restaurants. The Pinnacle restaurant prides itself on its setting. It has a 36-foot high ceiling and a stunning view of the water. There is also an outdoor restaurant with a terrace and garden setting, serving Mediterranean dishes.

The Mount Irvine Bay Hotel and Golf Club is located on the northwest coast of Tobago and is a convenient five-mile drive from Crown Point International airport. Among their three types of rooms are their Garden Cottage rooms which are scattered throughout 16 acres of tropical gardens. Guests can choose either an open or closed patio along with Caribbean-style furniture and a sun lounge. Of course, all guests have their own balconies to bask in the tropical air.

Adjacent to the new Plantations Golf Course on Tobago is the brand new Hilton Tobago. The location is prime. All guestrooms have their own balconies on the oceanfront and the property's 20 acres of beach. In addition to golf, the hotel has two tennis courts, three outdoor pools and a fitness center. Should you be jealous of all the water your golf ball is finding on the course, you can take scuba diving lessons at the hotel as well.

The Caribbean is known for all-inclusive resorts, and Coco Reef in Scarborough is one of the finest. The 10-acre resort won "Best Caribbean Hotel" at the 2002 Caribbean World Travel Awards. Among the resort's good deals is a golf package, which includes three rounds at the nearby Plantations course, a sleeve of inscribed Coco Reef golf balls and a one-hour massage. The resort has a full complement of amenities -- water and beach sports, restaurants varying from casual to elegant, nightly entertainment, and a spa and exercise facility.

With so many different islands in the Caribbean vying for sun-starved visitors, the winner is the traveler. With increased competition comes increased quality. Trinidad & Tobago sticks to its winning formula of letting two breathtaking islands do all the work.

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Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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