While the Caribbean has long been established as one of the prime holiday destinations in the world, combining golf with the sea, sand, sun and partying most associated with the West Indian islands, is only really just taking off as an affordable and viable package.
Leif Brandel, the owner and chairman of the second largest hotel group in Barbados, the Palm Beach Hotel Group, is at the forefront of making golfing holidays in his part of the Caribbean a more attractive proposition.
The Barbados Golf Club, re-designed and re-opened in 2001, is the local's members club with a friendly and spacious terrace restaurant and bar area which is always convivial and frequently used by non-golfers.
Mr Brandel, a Swede who has run the Palm Beach Group for 20 years, is a keen golfer and particularly proud of the way his course has made golf far more accessible for Bajans and visitors for the past seven years.
The Palm Beach Group consists of the 150-room Amaryllis Beach Resort, a beautifully-situated apartment-style resort with a magnificent beach front, the 130-room Sandy Bay Beach Club, an all-inclusive beachside hotel near to the St Lawrence Gap, and the 50-room Allamanda Beach Hotel.
If you visit Barbados in early December, too, you could find yourself like me, entered into the annual Palm Beach Hotel Group golf tournament, played as a two-team better-ball stableford over 18 holes at the Barbados GC.
Included in the day’s celebrations are a complimentary continental breakfast, refreshments on the course, a goodie bag, golf cart, and a lavish buffet dinner and prize-giving drinks party in an open-sided marquee on the sand later that evening at the Amaryllis Beach Resort.
Players of all abilities will find the different tee-off areas equally rewarding, and both water hazards and the prevailing wind are used cleverly to increase the levels of difficulty. The par-3 16th, which can vary with club selection from 9-iron to 5-iron over a lake, depending on the strength of the breeze into your face, is a particular favourite.
Green fees are currently US$115 for 18 holes on the par 72 course re-designed by notable architect Ron Kirby and re-opened in 2000.
With more courses currently being planned in Barbados, including the spectacular members-only Apes Hill and reportedly a second course at Royal Westmoreland, it seems certain that golf will prove to be more of an added attraction to holidaymakers.
Whereas a decade or so ago you would struggle to find a decent golf course on the island, apart from the nine-hole Rockley Resort course and Sandy Lane’s original ‘Old Nine’ holes, now it is possible to organise dedicated golfing holidays of great variety both in Barbados and in the region generally.
The new Millennium Lakes golf course near the airport at Port-of-Spain, for example, could be included in an itinerary in cheaper Trinidad and Tobago, which would also take in the historic and spectacular St Andrew’s Golf Club in the northern hilly suburbs of Port-of-Spain and the small holiday island of Tobago’s own championship course.
Big city lights in Trinidad’s capital, the idyllic beaches of Tobago, and great golf in both places: if you wanted to plan a very affordable golfing holiday in the Caribbean it would be difficult to beat.
TAKE A TIP FROM THE PRO
Matthew Gill, the head golf prof at the prestigious Royal Westmoreland golf complex in the St James parish of Barbados, offers some key golf tips for adapting to Caribbean conditions:
Bring a 60-degree lob wedge,
“The Bermuda grass which is used around the greens is very different to the grasses players will be used to in Britain and mainland Europe. It's spongy and can get very clingy, so it's important that you have the right club for the challenge of playing those little chip shots and the lobber is the perfect tool."
Reading the grain on the greens
Another area of their game which golfers from Europe will immediately notice is adapting to the grain you find on our greens out here. It can even make certain putts break uphill! The break of the grain tends to throw the ball towards the sea – no one knows why, but that’s what happens – and the amount the ball is affected by the grain can also change quite a bit during the day as the grass grows. In general, the grain does more to the roll of the ball than even a brisk wind.”
Caribbean winds can be very testing
“All the islands in the West Indies have ever-present breezes and sometimes the wind can be very strong. Even on a lovely day, of which there are plenty, of course, the breeze will be a factor on a lot of holes Conditions can change quite significantly during a round so club selection from day to day on certain courses can be radically different.”
Amaryllis Beach Resort (Tel:+1 246 438 8000); Sandy Bay Beach Club (+1 246 435 8000); Allamanda Beach Hotel (+1 246 438 1000); Brochure and more information: (0208 679 2508); Golf package information: email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trinidad Tourism: Tel +1 868 669 5196 or +1 868 675 7034; British Airways (UK callers) 0844 493 0787.
Have you played golf in Barbados or any of the Caribbean islands? What destinations and courses do you recommend? Can we afford it in these stringent times? Are you staying closer to home for your golf in 2009? Tell us on the forum.