Nevis remains a classic, rural Caribbean island

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

NEVIS, West Indies, Caribbean - You cannot help but appreciate the irony when a big resort lures you to its "undiscovered" Caribbean paradise.

How can a place be "undiscovered" when thousands of tourists are coming and going? Obviously, it's been discovered by someone other than Christopher Columbus, namely a chain resort and its accountants.

That isn't to say the Four Seasons Resort hasn't been a positive force for the tiny, Caribbean island of Nevis in most ways. A sprawling complex on Pinney Beach, the resort grounds are immaculately groomed, taking the lush, tropical foliage of the island and showing it off in a well-mannered and garden-like display, so different from the natural and unruly growth elsewhere on the five-by-seven mile island.

"When I'm here, it makes me forget I'm on Nevis," said Nevis nativeSylviaThomas.

Before the Canadian-owned resort arrived, unemployment hovered at around20-25 percent on the island, a short ferry ride away from its sister island of St. Kitts. Nevisians were leaving the island in droves, in search of work. The sugar industry was kaput.

The Four Seasons arrived in 1991 and now there is work for virtually everyone who wants it. Of the approximately 11,000 people on the island,the resort employs a whopping 700.

The boost has sent out ripples affecting the entire island. Small businesses are flourishing. Expatriate Nevisians are returning to their nativeisle, assured of employment. The economy, in almost every way, has improved.The small but clean bustling waterfront of Charlestown, the island capital,is home to thriving shops, restaurants, bars and vendors selling theirwares.Even the sociology of the island has improved; with more males returning home, two-parent households are becoming the norm once again.

But, not all of the island's residents are happy about the changes,which are expected to become even more acute. Growth always brings concomitant problems and Nevis is no different: increased traffic and crime, to name two negative impacts."I used to leave my key on a hook outside my door," said Jim Johnson,who arrived on the island in the 1960s with the Peace Corps and stayed."That meant I wasn't home, and you could come in if you needed anything. Ican't do that any more."Other Nevisians tell similar stories. "There wasn't any crime when we first came here," said Hamilton Estates resident A dell Howell, who has also lived on the island for years. "We never locked our doors. Now, we have to."

Of course, that is probably true of most places on earth nowadays, especially those that have gone through the sort of changes Nevis has. And even though some crime has increased, Nevis is still one of the safest islands in the Caribbean. If you took a poll, the majority or Nevisians would most likely tell you the Four Seasons has been a life-saver for the island.

The resort tries hard to blend in, and it appears as though it has succeeded for the most part. Johnson, a biologist, has even credited the resort's strict policies for helping with the island's environment. Guests are asked to respect that.

And it isn't as though Nevis has turned into a commercial,tourist-loaded Carib isle, like St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nevis is still a classic, rural Caribbean island, where the cab drivers know many of the wandering goats by name.

The friendliness, both from the locals working on the resort staff and those who don't, is genuine - not the forced pleasantries you sometimes find in Caribbean tourist destinations. And of course, the resort's security staff keeps even the petty crimes at bay.

Island politics are typically Caribbean: one party always accusing theother of various shenanigans, the other countering the accuser of trying toincite violence. Nothing usually comes of it, but more talk. Like mostmulti-island states in the Caribbean, there has been talk of secession - in thiscase from St. Kitts - but neither has anything come of that.

Most of this is good news for traveling golfers, who have their choiceof several options, including one great 18-hole course at the Four Seasons.On St. Kitts, there is a very good nine-holer and a very bad nine-holer youwouldn't want to take a donkey to.

Must plays

The course at the Four Seasons was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.,and it's a classic Jones Jr. layout: options galore. Backed by theimplacable Nevis Peak, the course takes you up the mountain's base and back down,and there are wide and distant views of the Caribbean Sea and neighboringSt. Kitts along the way.

This isn't a course built just for the scenery, although many people useit for that. Nor is it built for the timid: Elevation changes, tightfairways, forced carries - try the back tee at No. 15 for a 240-yard carry over a mammoth ravine that seems to drop off to the center of the earth - andother hazards make this a course to be reckoned with. Wait until after theround for your rum punch; this course will sober you up.

Solid seconds

The Royal St. Kitts Golf Club on nearby St. Kitts, at Frigate Bay, is dramatically different than the Four Seasons course. It's flat, for one thing, and the views of the ocean are more intimate here, so close youcan hear the roar of the pounding surf on the reef. So close, you will most likely lose one of two of your golf balls in saltwater.

And, unlike the Four Seasons, there is plenty of water here at the Marriott course. Most of the water is on the right - bad news for right-handers with a slice.

The nine holes underwent an extensive renovation recently, and another nine is scheduled to open in November, hopefully in time for the busy December schedule, putting the course in more direct competition with the Four Seasons.

No plays

The nine-hole Golden Rock Golf Club lays adjacent to the airport on St. Kitts. Although heavy rains made the course actually look green on a recent visit, locals say ordinarily it's so bad that after you hit your tee shot, the rule here is to hunt for a patch of grass to drop for your second shot.

Off course

St. Kitts is clearly the more cosmopolitan of the two islands, with a casino and nightlife in Basseterre, capital of the two-island independent state.

Nevis is where you want to go to unwind, particularly if you're into water sports. The Caves is an intricate series of coral grottoes 40 feet deep for scuba divers and there are plenty of opportunities for snorkelers. For surfers, try Windward beach on the Atlantic side. There is also sailing,windsurfing, horseback riding and guided nature hikes up the mountain.

For the more sedate, there is the Museum of Nevis History, the Alexander Hamilton House (Hamilton, the U.S. politician who shot Aaron Burr, was born on Nevis), and the Fig Tree Church, which has a record of the marriage between Admiral Horatio Nelson and Fanny Nisbet on Nevis.

For the truly adventurous, a stop on Nevis is not complete until you visit Sunshine's Bar - with its potent Killer Bees - next to the Four Seasons,on the beach.

Dining out

The Four Seasons dining room is a 140-seat, open air restaurant with a view of the sea. It offers Caribbean dishes, with "French and Asian influences." The food is excellent; try the lamb chops - made from Australian lambs.Don't ask my why they're Australian.

Neve is the more informal restaurant on the grounds, serving breakfast -including a remarkable buffet - and dinner. For dinner, it's a mix of Italian and local food.

At the pool cabana, the Cobb salad with chicken is a great, light meal.

Stay and play

The Four Seasons is definitely worth the price of admission - rates start at $295 a night and go up to $635.

The resort offers a "Caribbean Golf Vacation" a seven-day package that includes: accommodations, unlimited golf with cart, breakfast and dinner for two each evening, practice range and golf clinic privileges and unlimited, non-motorized water sports. Rates start at $525 and go to $1,819depending on the season.

The resort's rooms are spacious and open to the sea, with private patios. Luxury villas are also available. Thankfully, there is a "quiet" pool for adults. The resort grounds are lush and well-manicured and the service is unrelentingly friendly and efficient.The resort has won more than its share of hospitality awards, and is rated highly by the Zagat's Survey.

There are other accommodations on the island, including the Nisbet Plantation, which dates back to 1778, and, for a cheaper alternative, the Oualie Beach Hotel.

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
  • Dining on Nevis

    Mike wrote on: Jan 15, 2007

    While the author points out many things about Nevis, I would hardly describe a trip to Sunshine's Beach Bar as adventurous. It is mainly for the tourists, hence the location next door to the Four Seasons. While it is somewhat fun, there are a lot more places to explore on Nevis. Also there are numerous restaurants on Nevis that are better than Four Seasons at half the price.
    I suggest that after playing a few rounds, that you get out and explore the "real" Nevis. Now you can erase this post if you consider it spam, but I am really trying to help the people who visit Nevis, to enjoy Nevis. With that in mind I suggest my Nevis website. The "Non-Tourist-Trap" Guide to Nevis. By the way I also have more of the course deatils on my site.