Treasure Cay in Abaco: The nearest faraway place
ABACO, Bahamas - Capt. Leonard Thompson, a commercial and charter pilot almost half a century ago, often looked wistfully down on a beautiful beach at a place known on the map as Sand Banks Cay on the island of Abaco in the northeast Bahamas. The beach formed a pristine crescent that arced southeast from the Abaco mainland on a wide peninsula.
Capt. Thompson, a native of Abaco, dreamed of building a resort there someday. By the late 1950s, in partnership with U.S. investors, the dream became a reality - a 40-room hotel on 460 acres that he renamed Treasure Cay.
It had all the ingredients of a world-class sun and sea vacation spot. The expansive beach, covered with powdery white sand, stretched along miles of sheltered and clear aquamarine water that beckoned shellers and swimmers. The surrounding waters offered superlative fishing grounds, and watery inlets to the west were ideal for canals and channels leading into a well-protected marina.
Forty years after the first hotel was built there, the Treasure Cay Resort Hotel and Marina has resort facilities covering more than 1,500 acres. The marina has 150 slips and there are accommodations for more than 200 guests, including 95 marina units, a number of villas, condominiums, time shares, and apartments. But even more importantly, for those who like island links, the resort's 18-hole championship golf course is now considered by many as the best in the Bahamas.
Dick Wilson's design
Today Treasure Cay, located just 180 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, capitalizes on its proximity as "the nearest faraway place in the western hemisphere." The fact that National Geographic once designated its shores as "one of the 10 best beaches in the world" is rarely overlooked by promoters of the area's resort accommodations. These include the separately owned Banyon Beach Club and the new, luxury 44-unit Bahama Beach Club condominium, now expanding with 44 more units for both sales and rentals.
Golf Digest consistently ranks Treasure Cay's golf course among the top 100 in the world, and number one among the 12 courses in the Bahamas. It was the last course designed by renowned architect Dick Wilson, whose courses include the "Blue Monster" at Doral Country Club of Miami, and the original course on Paradise Island in Nassau. He died shortly before the 186-acre course at Treasure Cay was opened in 1968, but his now well-known assistant, Joe Lee, finished the job.
The course plays 6,985 yards from the blue tees, and includes three par-5s more than 500 yards long. Using the right club is always a challenge, but because the course is never crowded, golfers can usually take their time selecting them. While the course hosts tournaments organized by the Bahamas Golf Association, and holds bi-weekly tournaments for residents and guests during the winter season, tee times are never required. Usually, you can play the course alone after 10:30 a.m., or golf pro Ronnie Bootle can assist in finding you a partner. Recent celebrity players have included such notables as Michael Jordan.
A demanding layout
With tight fairways, ocean winds and 66 strategically placed sand bunkers, the course presents a challenge to golfers of all levels. The front nine runs parallel to the ocean at the north end of the resort and is relatively straightforward, with two par-5s of 555 and 500 yards from the white tees. The back nine is tighter, requiring more precision and thought. A couple of ponds occupied by interesting tropical birds present only minor hazards - with one exception. On hole 11, a 515-yard par-5, players must contend with both a sharp dogleg right around the pond and numerous trees. While it's handicapped at only seven, most find it the toughest hole.
The rest of the course is characterized by narrow fairways demanding accuracy. The thick and gnarly growth of island vegetation on both sides can swallow a ball with no discrimination for a golfer's status. After Michael Jordan played the course, local kids who routinely scour the tangled bush for lost balls were delighted when they found one monogrammed with Jordan's legendary number 23 from his Chicago Bulls days.
An excellent irrigation system, something lacking in many older Caribbean courses, draws water from the two fresh water ponds. Golf director Steve Pedican, working with the head greens keepers of a top private course in Florida, does a terrific job keeping the course in shape year round. Golf-playing home owners at Treasure Cay - which has approximately 600 private homes - also add enthusiasm for maintenance, although a small number of regular and guest players ensures a wide open course any time of year.
Just as important as golf for visitors to Treasure Cay is the availability of other recreational options. "The beach," says resort general manager Jos Konsten, "is definitely our best single asset." But boat rentals, charter fishing boats, diving and snorkeling trips, golf carts and rental cars can be also be acquired for excursions off the property. Golf and fishing have always complimented one another, and Treasure Cay has been successful at providing venues for both sports.
The resort hosts a leg of the Bahamas Billfish Tournament every spring, and this past year marked the 20th anniversary of the Treasure Cay International Billfish Tournament, an event started in 1983 with half a dozen boats. Excursions to Abaco's largest settlement of Marsh Harbour, about 28 miles south, are easily accomplished via rental car, and the quaint and charming village of New Plymouth on nearby Green Turtle Cay can be visited by a combination of land and water taxi.
Most guests will spend quality time enjoying the sea and sun on Treasure Cay's notable beach. When Capt. Thompson flew over it 40 years ago, there was no one at all here. There are now sunbathers and swimmers dotting the white sand and bobbing in the surf, but it's still possible to count them. And that makes all the difference in the world.
Where to stay
Treasure Cay Hotel & Villas - There are 95 marina front accommodations along with several beach villas, plus a large pool of rental condos, time-shares and private homes for rent. For reservations call (800) 327-1584, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit treasurecay.com
Banyan Beach Club - This small resort is located on the north end of Treasure Cay's sweeping, four-mile beach. Accommodations include one and two-bedroom suites, plus luxury two- and three-bedroom oceanfront rentals. Call (242) 365-8111; e-mail: email@example.com or visit banyanbeach.com.
Bahama Beach Club - This condo development with its pool, pool snack bar and beachfront setting has two-, three- and four-bedroom condos for rent. For reservations call (800) 563-0014 or visit bahamabeachclub.com.
Where to dine
1. Spinaker Restaurant - Chef Elliott Sawyer knows his clients like the seasons. Summer diners at this 200-seat marina-front restaurant, primarily boaters and fishermen, like 26- to 30-ounce steaks, and the prime rib is almost always ordered rare. Winter customers, who include more golfers, are seafood folks. There are 24 entrees on the dinner menu as well as a seafood special, like coconut grouper, marinated in coconut rum and sauteed in butter. Duck a l'orange is nevertheless the most popular dish.
2. Bahama Beach Club Poolside Bar & Grill - The burgers are the best when served up with frosty Bahama Mamas at this open air resort grill, where your order can be taken either from a land-side bar stool or the swim-up bar. The view combines beautiful landscaping with the magnificent white sand beach and blue ocean beyond.
3. Coconuts - A change of pace, locally owned and operated restaurant out on the Abaco highway offers tasty Bahamian seafood and chicken dishes along with more traditional steaks and chops.
America, Continental Connection (Gulfstream), Bahamasair, US Airways, Island Express and Air Sunshine make the one-hour flight to Treasure Cay Airport on Abaco from South Florida airports, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Vintage Airways flies from Daytona, Melbourne and Orlando. The resort is a nine-mile, $20 taxi ride from the Treasure Cay airport.
For more general information about Abaco, visit abacolife.com
October 5, 2003