Want the real deal on Caribbean golf? Don't ask the PR writers

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

An earlier column on problems golfers traveling to the Caribbean might face, titled "Take your clubs, wallet and bodyguard,"brought a significant response from readers, responses which, in turn,deserve attention.

Here are some of their comments.

Brian McCallen writes: "As one who served as Travel Editor at GOLF Magazine for 16+ years, I cannot ever remember reading a more vindictive hatchet job on a destination such as the one written by Mr. McDonald."

Hmmm, GOLF Magazine. The same publication that has never seen a golf course it didn't slobber over. Its writers love words like "nestled"and "brilliant." New courses are always "exciting," and "destined for greatness."

McCallen goes on to write: "(The article) was filled with half-truths,outright lies and gross generalizations that are completely unfair totheislands he purports to cover. Baseless, negative reporting has no placeinyour publication. I prefer facts to misguided opinions."

Check out Mr. McCallen's "facts" when he wrote on the Caribbean.

This is the same guy who fawned over the game's "hottest new designers," and "far-sighted developers."

Stupendous, fantastic, unbelievable

According to McCallen, the Caribbean is a place where there are always "cooling sea breezes, "sandy beaches," and swaying "cocoanut palms." The greens are always "undulating" and the courses are always "delightful," "stunning" "superb" "majestic" "dramatic," inspiring," and "irresistible." They are either "engineering extravaganzas" or "engineering marvels."

One course was, of course, the "Pebble Beach of the Caribbean."

I'm not making any of this up; these are his words: (www.golfonline.com/golfonline/travel/international/article/0,177 42,4 69914,00.html)

After a while, my head began to spin. I began to think this guy was theworld's leading, walking thesaurus of superlative blather, but try as Imight, I never found him use the word "awesome."

Here's another example of bad PR writing, backed up by "facts:" McCallenmarvels at how the Ocean Club Gold Course on Paradise Island has "oceanviews on every hole."

That's true. You know why? Because owner Sol Kerzner ordered architect Tom Weiskopf, who re-designed the course from a Dick Wilson design, to cut down all the trees! Talk about environmentally-unfriendly. I remember asking Kerzner about that. He said he "loved the color of the water." When I asked Weiskopf about the complete razing of the trees, I've never seen an architect look so abashed.

Where no golfer has been

McCallen writes: "My guess is that your writer has not been to many of the islands to experience what they have to offer."

Actually, I lived in the Caribbean for years, and have traveled it extensively, as a tourist in some cases, but mostly as a journalist.

Granted, my experience hasn't always been as a golfer. As a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and a reporter for other Caribbean publications, I had to venture into places that no Caribbean golfer has gone or will probably ever go.

That includes Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica; Belmont in Port-of-Spain,Trinidad; ramshackle Haitian villages in the Bahamas, and the"over-the-hill" area south of downtown Nassau, just to name a few.

I can promise you, most were not "delightful" or "inspiring."

All the observations in the story were backed up by the CIA Fact Book. McCallen should check it out: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/

How to not buy drugs

Back to the letters:

Linda, of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, writes: "Apparently Tim McDonald has the inside on the how to not buy drugs or get arrested in the Caribbean."

Forget the split infinitive, Linda makes a good point. It is hard NOT to buy drugs in the Virgin Islands. Every time I went to Coki Beach on StThomas,where I lived for too long a time, I got a minimum of three aggressive offers to buy dope.

This came despite the fact that the cops were not 20 feet away - most of whom were lounging around at one of the rum bars, drinking on-duty, incidents that were captured on film by the Virgin Islands Daily News, by the way.

Not welcome

Linda continues: "Speaking for most of the people who are so blessed to live in Caribbean communities, individuals like Mr. McDonald are not welcomed here and I am happy that the drug dealers and the police made his experiences such that he does not want to return."

Not welcome? Gee, are you one of the dozens of rude waitresses and cashiers I was constantly running into? Coincidentally, this is the same sort of attitude I've heard so many people complain about when they go to theV.I.Like me, they're not welcome.

John Mcgonigal of Aston, Pennsylvania, writes: "I go (to the Caribbean)annually and have never encountered any such incidents as you describe.One thing you mention, poor roads, does inhibit playing different courses,however it is much less expensive to pay a little more (money) up front, and purchase an all-inclusive vacation where you pay only for cart or caddy, along with food, drink and tips."

Hey, you wouldn't happen to be shilling for your travel agency, Chesdel Vacations, would you, John?

Watch out for careening tour buses

Mcgonigal continues: "It's a hell of a lot more dangerous driving through any American city."

Most American cities I've driven through, and I've driven the length and breadth of the country, don't have potholes that could double as Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Also, in the U.S., you'll occasionally see street signs, you know those man-made devices that TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE.

Tell me how safe you feel when you encounter, head-on, a 12-foot-wide tourist bus careening around a blind, mountain corner at top speed, on a pot-holed road that's 10-feet wide?

Is Hell friendlier?

Dana, also of St. Croix, writes: "I am a resident of St. Croix, USVI and the comments that were made of my island was (sic) absurd. St. Croix is no different from any other island in the Caribbean when it comes to crimes."

Yes it is. It's worse.

Dana continues: "This so-called journalist makes it seem like St. Croixisyour trip to hell."

I think hell would have friendlier people and less thieves.

She adds: "The journalist claimed to have resided in the Caribbean for years. Well, if he did he would know that St. Croix is an island paradise filled with beauty. Like every other location, there are ups and downs and the economy may have problems at times."

"Problems at times?"

Government inaction

Go to Christiansted and see the empty downtown. Go to the airport, look at all the planes that aren't there. Go to the cruise ship complex - tell me how many cruise ships you see? You know why they left? Because their passengers and crew kept getting robbed and beaten and the government refused to do anything about it.

The intention of the story was not to break bad on a region or a people for the fun of it. The Caribbean is home to many wonderful islands and people, some of whom remain close friends of mine. The intention was to point out that golfers traveling to the Caribbean may not get all the information they need from marketers and public relations people. There are problems Caribbean golfers need to be aware of.

But, we'll let Dana have the last word. Almost.

"Despite it all, St. Croix will continue to shine so please direct your comments elsewhere. This article is an excellent example of bad journalism."

I guess that's better than being a bad example of excellent journalism.

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
  • Why?

    Lorena Jortiz wrote on: Mar 26, 2007

    I admire that you stand behind your column - I do. I also happen to agree with much of what you said. So, why the defensiveness? Why the sarcasm in your responses to those to wrote to disagree? You should be in a confident place where you can simply agree to disagree with the commentaries. Instead you come across as a petulant child that must always win - and when he doesn't win, he doesn't lose either; he's at the very least even.


    • RE: Why?

      Tim McDonald wrote on: Jan 8, 2012

      Because sarcasm, when wielded by an artist such as myself, is funny.


  • Tim McDonald & St. Croix

    Jeanne Johnston wrote on: Jan 3, 2007

    As a twelve year resident of St. Croix, I would like to point out some truths that Mr. McDonald has failed to mention.
    First, the cruise ships left St. Croix ostensibly due to crime. The truth is that the crime was certainly no higher than they experienced at any other Caribbean port, and probably less than at many. The pull-out was in part retaliatory, as the VI government refused to make some concessions that the cruise ships wanted in St. Thomas, another of the US Virgin Islands. But the bottom line really was that St. Croix, which is a lovely island that isn't as laid back as St. John or some of the BVI, but is also no where near as commercial as islands like St. Thomas and St. Maarten, two popular cruise ship destinations, did not have sufficient on-shore activities to accommodate the large population carried on a ship. Since cruise ships make a ridiculous amount of money "organizing" on-shore excursions for their passengers, St. Croix was not as financially attractive a destination for the cruise ship lines as some other islands. The "crime problem" was the cruise ship lines' excuse for making a decision that improved their bottom line without looking greedy.
    During my twelve years on St. Croix (and my husband has been here for thirty-two years), neither of us has been robbed, nor have our homes been burglarized. Yes, we know some people who have been victims of crimes. But I also knew such people when I lived in New York City and the suburbs of New Jersey. Why Mr. McDonald feels that a Caribbean island should be held to a higher standard and be completely free of crime when wherever he now resides in the US is undoubtedly not free from crime is beyond me.
    He is on the mark when he says that most crime occurs in run-down, urban areas away from the tourist hot-spots. It also tends to happen at hours like 3:00 in the morning. Anyone who goes out at 3:00 in the morning anywhere is vulnerable to attack, and I would hope that everyone exercises a little common sense in this regard, no matter where they live.
    The fact that most Caribbean islands are in the hurricane belt should probably give people pause before travelling during hurricane season, but is hardly a reason to avoid us outside of September and October.
    AIDS is indeed a problem here, as it is in most places. But since it is transmitted by intimate contact, a tourist can readily avoid this problem by avoiding intimate contact with people whose medical history they don't know. These days, that precaution should be exercised anywhere. It's not like breathing our air will give you AIDS. I'd like to think that Mr. McDonald is just a wee bit smarter than that, but perhaps I am giving him too much credit.
    Chronic water shortages? I don't know what he's talking about. Perhaps on non-US islands. Power outages occur occasionally here, but not frequently, and most hotels and restaurants have generators, so tourists aren't really affected. Bad roads? A few are, but most are in pretty good shape. Federal funds have been very helpful in keeping our roads driveable. Insane drivers? Sure we have a few, but I was far more scared driving when I was in Atlanta last year.
    If airlines "steer clear", as he says, it has more to do with a small number of hotel rooms, which is one of the things that makes living and visiting here so pleasant. Airlines will only put on as many flights as they can fill seats, and that is determined by hotel reservation rates. Take a bodyguard anywhere on St. Croix? You've got to be joking!
    I simply don't recognize the island that Mr. McDonald talks about. St. Croix is a special island, and I hear that comment from most of our tourists with whom I speak.
    Get your facts straight and get the chip off your shoulder, Mr. McDonald.
    Jeanne Johnston


  • Safe / not safe... ?

    Anita Davis wrote on: Aug 27, 2004

    I was born in New York; I know a little something about living with crime.
    I also know how even "safe" neighborhoods like the one little Jon Benet lived in are NOT.