Turks and Caicos Islands

By Dale Leatherman, Contributor

The Provo Golf Club is the only course on the island of Providenciales - in fact, the only course in the Turks and Caicos. The builders called the site Alcatraz. Golfers call it a slice of paradise. The exotic birds and animals that have flocked to this man-made oasis aren't saying, but they have obviously made it their home. All in all, it is a stunning tribute to island ingenuity.

At the southeastern tip of the Bahamas, just 575 miles from Miami, is the British Crown Colony of Turks and Caicos, a group of 40 flat, dry islands and cays. Only nine of them are inhabited, and those sparsely so. It is a place where you can bicycle along a sandy road and see more bicycles than cars and exchange more friendly greetings than you probably would at home in your own neighborhood. You can walk for a mile on several postcard-perfect beaches and not see another person. Or slip on a snorkel, fins and mask and share the clear waters offshore with a host of colorful, curious fish.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are the stuff of Caribbean dreams - the Caribbean as it was 50 years ago, before the tourists came demanding casinos, air conditioning and jetskis. It is one of the most overlooked destinations in the region, despite the fact that it is close to the U.S. mainland, the Bahamas (30 miles to the northwest), and the Dominican Republic (100 miles to the southeast).

In addition to ease of access, this obscure group of islands has five ingredients for an idyllic island vacation - friendly natives, comfortable resorts, pristine beaches, outstanding scuba diving - and golf.

The Provo Golf Club, which opened in 1992 on the water-poor island of Providenciales - "Provo" to the natives and savvy divers who flock to its offshore reefs - is an oasis carved from terrain as unforgiving as a rock quarry. Even the builders called the site "Alcatraz." Not surprisingly, the course was built by the owners of the Turks and Caicos Water Company, who regarded it as an investment in the island's future as a tourist destination.

Florida's Karl Litton designed the par-72, 6,641-yard layout (slope 136, rating 74), sculpting bare rock, covering it with topsoil, and nurturing it with a $600,000 irrigation system using desalinated water from the owners' water plant. A supply of fresh or brackish water makes every day a growing day in the tropics, so in no time the desert-style target course course had lush green lozenges of turf set in amid expanse of stark white waste areas. On 12 acres of inland lakes (15 total) and marshes, a flamingo flock (native to the region) took up residence, followed by herons and other tropical birds and small animals. Hibiscus and oleander flourished and bloomed, in startling contrast to the sun-bleached white limestone walls and aprons around tees and water hazards. More than 4,500 palms trees provide shade, wind breaks and hazards.

Holes twelve, thirteen and fourteen are particularly picturesque. Fields of stone border the narrow landing areas of the par-5, 545-yard twelfth hole, ranked the hardest. From the tee, it takes a big hit to clear the rocks, but the percentage shot must stay low to avoid the head-on trade winds.

On the par-4, 397-yard thirteenth hole, the four tee boxes are raised green dollops, a pretty beginning to what can be a nasty trip. The fairway slopes left to a marshy area, giving the big hitter pause. The green, a tricky read, is protected by mounds on the left and a huge sand bunker on the right.

On a small rise overlooking the finishing holes is an airy, comfortable clubhouse combining Colonial Georgian and West Indian designs. The upper level contains the pro shop and the Fairway Bar and Grill, an informal dining area overlooking the putting and chipping greens, tenth tee, and the eighteenth fairway and green.

At the Provo Airport (which has direct flights from Miami via American Airlines and Turks and Caicos Airways), the natives are accustomed to seeing golf bags and dive gear bags - often owned by the same passengers. Why not? This is a place where you can bring - and make good use of - all your toys.

Stay and Play

Provo Golf Club (649) 946-5991, www.provogolfclub.com - The club has a variety of one- to four-bedroom rental townhomes and villas.

Grace Bay Club (649) 946-5050, (800) 946-5757, www.gracebayclub.com - This upscale property near the golf club offers golf packages and shuttle service, a spa, and an exciting Mediterranean/Caribbean restaurant with an inventive French chef.

Ocean Club Resorts, (649) 946-5880, www.oceanclubresorts.com - a family friendly resort with a small shopping arcade, restaurant, beach grill and two bars. The public areas are beautifully landscaped and the atmosphere is laidback - meander down to the breakfast buffet in your robe and slippers and pick up goodies to take back to your screened verandah. The new Ocean Club West will have 90 condos and a freeform pool with swim-up bar. The Ocean Club's Gecko Grill has an international menu and great grilled items such as Provo grouper and Caribbean lobster.

Club Med Turkoise (649) 946-5500, www.clubmed.com - the ultimate in a high-activity, all-inclusive resort.

The Mansions on Grace Bay (649) 946-5863 - For something a bit more exclusive, this is the place - 24 luxury condos and a penthouse on a beautiful stretch of beach.

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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