Caribbean golf: take your clubs, wallet and bodyguard

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Raffles ResortThere aren't many come-ons more alluring than those from packagers who offergolf in the Caribbean: rum punches under swaying palms after a round onaworld-class course.

Especially to the winter-weary or just those who yearn for an exoticbreakfrom the mundane, golf vacations in the Caribbean may at first appear tobethe ideal, tropical balm for what ails you.

But buyer beware: sometimes the Caribbean isn't always what it's crackedupto be. Here are some factors the travel agents may conveniently forgettotell you about.

First of all, crime - including violent crime - is on the increase virtually everywhere in the Caribbean. The islands are a transnational shipping point for illegal drugs going from Columbia and elsewhere in South America to the U.S. and Europe.

Paradise: hard to find

Add declining economies and high unemployment in many Caribbean states, and you have a problem of considerable proportions. As one who has lived for years in the Caribbean, and was the victim of two robberies and several other near-misses, I can testify that paradise may not be exactly be lost, but sometimes it seems hard to find.

Of course, most golf resorts have good security and most of the crimeoccursin run-down, urban areas away from the tourist hot-spots. But, even theCaribbean's dumbest criminals are starting to catch on, particularly inJamaica and the Virgin Islands.

There are more potential pitfalls than just crime. Consider that most oftheislands are in the middle of the hurricane belt and the fact that theAIDSrate in the Caribbean is higher than any place on earth except forsub-Saharan Africa.

Throw in chronic water shortages, power outages, bad roads, insanedrivers,maddening bureaucracy and the fact that the Caribbean is thedemonstration,protest and violent riot capital of the world.

Watch the VAT

Guavaberry Country ClubOn a more prosaic note, watch out for that VAT (value added tax) some islands charge. The name changes from island to island, but many have hidden fees you don't know about until you're ready to leave.

This isn't to say that a Caribbean golf vacation can't be a wonderful,once-in-a-lifetime experience, if you're careful.

Great golf resorts are mushrooming in the islands. Here are some of the top resorts in places where dangers may lurk amidst the herons and pink flamingoes, and ways to help avoid those problems.

• The Dominican Republic has a course, Teeth of the Dog, that is always on top-10 lists for the Caribbean. It also has Punta Cana, Guavaberry and Caso de Campo.

But, the island also has had an upswing in violent crime and thecriminalsare becoming more violent. Home invasions are becoming more prevalent.

If you venture off the resort grounds, watch for public taxi drivers,whosometimes turn robbers themselves. Make sure you get a reputable driver,andhis name.

Be aware that outside of the tourist areas, little English isspoken.

Also, be sure you carry a passport; you can get into the country withoutone, but sometimes it's more difficult getting out.

Stay close to your Angel

• Puerto Rico, which has been described as the golf mecca of theCaribbean,is totally out of hand.

The U.S. territory is one of the deadliest places in the country. Thehomicide rate is skyrocketing - three times the national average. About80percent of the murders are attributable to gangs and international drugtraffickers.

The island has 10 or 11 great courses, including the Bahia BeachPlantation,El Conquistador, Dorado Del Mar and the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort, justtoname a few.

Nice place to golf, but think twice when you leave the course. Or staycloseto the Guardian Angels, the semi-vigilante group from New York, alast-ditcheffort to fight the bad guys.

• Jamaica is unimaginably beautiful in parts, and home to the White Witch, Negril Hills, Manchester and the Three Palms Ocean Course, among others.

It's also a crime armpit once you get away from the fancy tourist areas.Gang violence and shootings go off like clockwork in the capital ofKingston, but crime is spreading to resort areas, particularly againstwell-heeled tourists.

The government is trying bike and foot patrols, but the understaffedpoliceare overwhelmed and largely ineffective. Be aware, medical care islimited.

Lock up everything, including yourself in your hotel room at night if you sense trouble. Stay away from unlighted areas, including the beach at night, and ignore any offers to buy drugs.

Steer clear of St. Croix

Carambola Golf Club• St. Croix, home to the Carambola and Buccaneer golf courses, is myleastfavorite island in the Caribbean.

One of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix once had a brightfuture as a cruise ship destination. But, lethargic government officialsrefused to do anything about increasing complaints involving crimeagainstcruise ship passengers and their crews.

So the cruise ships finally left, the economy went south and now thereismore crime than ever. Most airlines steer clear as well. You should,too,unless you absolutely have to play Carambola, a very nice course.Considerhiring a bodyguard.

St. Thomas, the other island in the chain along with St. John, hasMahoganyRun. It's another nice course, but be prepared for rude and sometimesevenhostile treatment from many island residents once you leave the courseandventure into the outside world. It's a common occurrence, so don't feelasthough it's just you.

• The Bahamas, closest Caribbean destination to the U.S. mainland, hasnineor 10 top-notch courses, including Fortune Hills and the new Ocean ClubonParadise Island.

Crime is up here as well, and moving into tourist areas. Date rape drugsarereportedly becoming popular. Medical care is good in Nassau andFreeport,but lousy elsewhere.

Also, beware if you ride jet skis; the industry is unregulated and deaths occur every year.

Sing, dance, pay a ransom

Costa Caribe Coral by Hilton• Trinidad and Tobago, birth place of steel pan music, has the best music and Carnival in the Caribbean, not to mention St. Andrews Golf Club in the middle of the country. But, its criminals also have a tendency to kidnap people.

Kidnappings have shot up in the country in the last few years, and there is no telling if the kidnappers will hold you for ransom - which is what kidnappers are supposed to do - kill you, or just let you go on a whim. They 've been known to do all three.

• Even in the Turks and Caicos, sleepy little islands just south of theBahamas, there have been increased reports of sexual assault and othercrimes in tourists resorts.

Home to Provo Golf and Country club, and Waterloo, make sure you don'tgetcaught with illegal drugs. No fancy lawyers here; possession of evensmallamounts of marijuana can land you heavy fines and long prison terms.

As in other islands, foreigners are sometimes charged as international drug traffickers even if they were caught with a small amount of dope.

Barbados, Aruba relatively safe

Barbados Golf Club• Barbados has the Royal Westmoreland, and is relatively safe. The island has its share of petty theft and street crime, though violent crime does occur. Stay off the beaches alone at night.

• Aruba is also relatively safe. Home to Tierra del Sol, Oranjestad, andSant Nicolaas, incidents of hotel rooms being broken into have beenreported. But, simply taking ordinary precautions should keep you safehere.

Make sure you're fully insured if you rent a car, however. Teens like tosteal them to joyride in or strip them for parts.

There are exceptions to these increasingly violent Caribbean islands,mostnotably Cuba.

The PGA and Cuban tourism officials have an agreement to build morecourseson the sprawling island, and Cuba now has a national golf developmentstrategy.

Despite a crime surge a few years back, both recent anecdotal evidenceandofficial numbers indicate Cuba is one of the safer places in theregion.

Just remember not to bad-mouth Fidel or you could be arriving home viaraft.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Safety in Caribbean

    Tony Nichols wrote on: Oct 1, 2014

    What a terrible message you are sending. Crime is everywhere, and people just need to be smart. As for what happens on the golf course, bet Doral in Miami has more crime than any island course you mentioned. Your article has too many personal bias in it for me. I've played over half the courses you have mentioned, and I've never felt unsafe. As for going off the Resorts, go down the wrong street in NY, Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, LA, Dallas, or Orlando at the wrong time of day and see what happens. I don't know the reason you had to write such B.S. but if adults are just smart and aware of their surroundings...all of these islands are terrific.


  • Virgin Islands

    john jones wrote on: Aug 3, 2010

    Do you ever update your info? I live in St. Thomas, visit St. Croix. I also live in Chicago. I feel as safe here as anywhere, except here, in the Carribean, the people are more polite and down to earth. Sure there are problems, but not the ones he complains of.


    • RE: Virgin Islands

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      You feel as safe in the Caribbean as Chicago? Boy, there's a compliment.



    BRUCE wrote on: Dec 23, 2009



  • Report truth, not frabicated lies

    Islander wrote on: Feb 9, 2006

    Obviously this person or thing has never lived in the Caribbean for a long period of time. If he/she/it did, would not have written such untrue statements. How can any one compare % wise crime rate in the Caribbean to that of the USA or any other developed countries? Of couse the population size on the islands are smaller, and hence a high % rate of reported crimes, but he/she/it did not discussed the type of crimes that were reported- which will probably be petty theft, which I think is good when comparing other countries. Please, do your homework more efficiently before writing such garbage! If the Caribbean is such a bad place to visit, why did you claimed to have visited so many. I would think after one bad experience, that would be it. Also, why are you advertising Caribbean vacations/destinations on your site???


  • Crime in Caribbean

    John L. Thompson wrote on: Apr 26, 2005

    This guy has not done his homework. There is more crime in the state of Florida than in St.Croix as a percentage of population. Is this guy going to recommend you not play golf in this state also? We need another place off the planet for this writer to live.


    • RE: Crime in Caribbean

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      I've always been partial to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.


    • RE: Crime in Caribbean

      Steve wrote on: Jul 23, 2005

      He has done his homework. Jamaica is scary, really scary. Florida has pockets, like everywhere, but isn't really scary....


      • RE: RE: Crime in Caribbean

        Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

        Agreed. Most tourists never step foot off their resorts in Jamaica. Nowadays, even that is not safe.


        • RE: RE: RE: Crime in Caribbean

          troy wrote on: Aug 22, 2012

          Some interesting web browsing on violence in Jamaica. While the violence and current issues in Kingston are unsettling the real problem is that the news of it further gives Jamaica a bad rap that is not entirely accurate. Kingston is not where tourist go in Jamaica and is very removed from the North shore area. You have to travel basically on a 2 lane road half way around the island to get there from Montego Bay or Ochoa Rios (From the Avis car rental site…. Kingston is 119 miles from Montego Bay but is 3.5 - 4 hours drive time).
          80% of Jamaica’s murders are in Kingston population approximately 500,000
          The Murder rate on the rest of the island is not that high 16.8/100,000 by comparison Indianapolis rate is 14.1/100,000, St Louis 46.9/100,000, Cincinnati 21.9/100,000, Washington DC 31.4/100,000, and New Orleans 63.6/100,000 Rates are based on cases per 100,000 for all of calendar 2008. It is sorted by population as reported on the FBI statistics
          In world crime statistics has Jamaica ranked 37th. Denmark, USA, Italy, and Switzerland all have higher total crimes per capita. SOURCE: Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems,(United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention) via NationMaster
          Forbes ranks the following US cities in the 15 highest violent crimes per capita:
          Miami #4 988/100,000
          Orlando #9 845/100,000
          West Palm Beach #13 726/100,000
          Is Disney World really safer than a resort in Jamaica? Actually many other cities in Florida are very highly ranked on the violent crimes per capita list……is Florida really safer than Jamaica?


      • RE: RE: Crime in Caribbean

        Clemdane wrote on: May 19, 2011

        Thank you for writing such a thorough review of the islands. I have heard these same reports EVERYWHERE about the increasing crimes rates in the Caribbean and especially the targeting of tourists for violent crime. The lying apologists writing their bull$it criticism of you have zero credibility.
        I kind of wish you had included the Caymans and Bermuda (though not the same region, it's a similar destination). I had heard they were two of the safest islands to visit, but I'd love to know what you think.


        • RE: RE: RE: Crime in Caribbean

          Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

          Hi, thanks for the compliment.
          Bermuda is relatively safe because it has a comparatively high standard of living. But, it's expensive.
          Same with the Caymans, though not as safe as Bermuda.


  • Bigoted s***t

    J Gittens wrote on: Mar 22, 2005

    You son******ch. Your smear is so clearly bigoted and heaps together so many generalisations, half-truths and downright lies it's obvious that you clearly did not live in the Caribbean for very long, if at all. You probably walked the streets clutching your wallet with so many non-grinning black people about. Scared, huh? Having actually lived in the United States, I would be equally incensed if I read such a blanket write-off of the ENTIRE United States given the murder, hatred and greed capitalS of the urban America. If you ever show your face at a golf course in the Caribbean you should be taken out... J Gittens BARBADOS


    • RE: Bigoted s***t

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      First of all, generalizations is spelled with a "z" nitwit.
      Secondly, I lived in the Caribbean for many years.
      Thirdly, you're right, I did not see many "non-grinning black people." They were mostly scowling from the drugs they had ingested and concentrating on how they could rob me.
      Lastly, interesting how you defend crime in the Caribbean and in the same breath talk about how I should be "taken out."
      Sounds to me like you're just another Caribbean third-rate thug.


    • RE: Bigoted s***t

      steve wrote on: Jul 23, 2005

      Gee, if there were ever vindication for described scariness, it was this guys post. Makes you want to fly to Barbados right now, doesn't it?


      • RE: RE: Bigoted s***t

        Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

        This just doesn't make sense.


  • Sadky misinformed.

    Patrick Grey wrote on: Nov 8, 2004

    Was this supposed to be an objective look at golf in the islands. Has the writer ever been to a golf course on any island? Pure garbage.


    • RE: Sadky misinformed.

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      Most of the info on crime was taken from objective sources, like the CIA factbook, dumb-ass. Oh, and what language is "Sadky?"


  • Crime in the Caribbean

    anne wrote on: Nov 8, 2004

    I have never read such a biased article on the Caribbean. The authur clearly has some agenda other than advising tourists.


    • RE: Crime in the Caribbean

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      Please learn English, then try again.


  • Misinformed...

    Nancy in NC wrote on: Nov 8, 2004

    I doubt the writer of this story has ever stepped foot off of a plane onto a Caribbean island.
    This is the most alarmist, underinformed, hysterical, downright irresponsible piece of drivel I've ever read.
    Good Lord, get a grip!


    • RE: Misinformed...

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      It's true. Every time I land on a Caribbean airport, I stay on the plane because of all the gunfire you can hear from the tarmac.


  • From Cedar Rapids

    Mark Sellergren wrote on: Oct 18, 2004

    The writer is hysterical about crime in the Caribbean, particulary St. Croix. I have a home in St. Croix, and I cannot understand why you write such a highly critical comment about Carambola or St. Croix in general. There is crime...sure...but so is there in Cedar Rapids. The crime tends to be local against local. Normal precautions, as in NYC, Chicago, or other areas where the have and have-nots interact is all that is necessary. I have always felt safe and secure in St. Croix and at Carambola, of which I am a member. I think the writer has a race phobia and guilt complex, for I doubt this is his or her own experience. Don't miss the wonderful Caribbean courses!


    • RE: From Cedar Rapids

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jun 6, 2012

      I guess you're one of the "haves," huh?


      • RE: Goofing in the Carribean

        Molly wrote on: Nov 24, 2012

        I have a home in St Croix and have spent time here every year, sometimes several times in the year, for the last 15 years. There is no more crime here than anywhere else where I have lived and that includes St Louis and Philly and New York. One bizarre and out-of-the-ordinary crime by a a few idiots several years ago gave St Croix a terrible reputation that has lingered. But the author of this piece has clearly not spent any time at all in St Croix. The island is a friendly low key place and the choices on golfing are aplenty. St Croix is a safe Caribbean island with plenty to do.


        • RE: RE: Goofing in the Carribean

          sewbtc wrote on: Feb 5, 2014

          Molly - I am with you. I've lived on St. Croix twice and visit at least twice per year. Although not an avid golfer, I am completely aware of the crime rate on island - but the author has such a negative vibe about everything and anything Caribbean - so, I guess we're lucky he doesn't live on our island. Some people have WAY too much time - sounds like he's looking for a fight, that's all - and he got one.


  • Tim McDonald golf story...

    Anita Davis wrote on: Aug 27, 2004

    Geesh, so you've discovered that where ever there are human beings, there is a possibility of criminal activity.
    Thanks for the wake-up call, dude.


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