Lucia banking heavily on new Greg Norman golf course

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ST. LUCIA, West Indies - The little, Caribbean island of St. Lucia is betting a lot on one little par-3 golf hole.

The par-3 in question is No. 14 on a planned Greg Norman course to be built on the rugged, undeveloped southeast coast of the island, as partof a massive development underway there, called "Le Paradis."

At a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month, developer Kierron Dolby said: "I believe people will come from all over the world to play this one hole."

Andy Anderson of Troon Golf, which will manage the course, said:"We're sure the 14th hole will be one of the most photographed holes in the world."

Hype? Overstatement? Certainly, at least on the developer's part -it's difficult to imagine anyone coming from the far corners of the earth top lay one golf hole - but there's no doubt it will be a spectacular hole on what appears to be a very promising golf course.

No. 14 is a 175-yard one-shotter to a green that juts out over Galet Bay, at the end of the Galet peninsula. On three sides, it's a 100-foot drop into the bay, down past the rugged cliffs and into the churning Atlantic Ocean. It will be a very scenic, dramatic hole, as will most of the rest of the course.

There will be an inland park lands section, rising to the ridge line holes at 600 feet of elevation, then descending to four holes wrapping around the bay, perched atop rocky cliffs. The views on this part of the island, overlooking the broader Prasl in Bay, are something to behold, so different than the calm, serene Caribbean side.

"There aren't many sites like this left in the world," said Brian Stevens of Norman's design firm. "I really think this will be unrivaled in the region."

The course is scheduled to be completed in 2007, around the time when the rest of the $132-million first phase is expected to be nearly completed.Eventually, the builders, Design Construction Group of the United Kingdom, plan a major resort here, with a health spa, conference facilities and the golf course.

There will also be condominiums and private residences on the three-mile stretch of coastline. The second phase will include a marina, a related village with a boutique hotel, a commercial center and more private residences.

The project, started in 1998, has had its fits and starts, with various delays and financial problems, but appears to be on track now. The government is banking on it, literally and figuratively. With the Caribbean banana industry in decline, due to its protected status in England being abolished, St. Lucia is becoming more dependent on tourism, like so many other islands.

Still, the decision to locate the development in the southeast, away from the established tourist infrastructure in the north, is a bit of a gamble.

"It's a brave decision," St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony said."It is a very important, and special investment for St. Lucia. We have great expectations in that area."

St. Lucia hopes the project will be a boost to tourism and enable the island to market itself as a golf destination. The latter ambition may be difficult, as there is only one other 18-hole course on the island, the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club. Compared to Jamaica , Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, that's scant few holes for golfers.

But, the developers are hoping if they build it, golfers will come.They are banking on the breathtaking scenery, the Caribbean lifestyle and the"branding," meaning the well-known names of Norman, Troon and Westin,the Starwood hotel which will ostensibly take over the lodging aspect,though a final contract has yet to be signed.

They are also banking on the people of St. Lucia, with their "gentle spirit and stable currency."

Said Anderson: "Now, I believe it is this island's time to shine."

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.

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