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Golfing in Jamaica

In Jamaica, Where Courses Are Quirky, Windy and Lush, the Best Advice Is: Listen to Your Caddie
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 2)

Half Moon is a mega-resort that isn't all-inclusive but includes everything: plenty of tennis courts, an equestrian center, a spa and lovely beaches. Recently, golf guru David Leadbetter opened a teaching center at Half Moon, which sports a fairly large practice range for an island golf course.

Near Half Moon is the Ironshore Golf and Country Club. Ironshore is an attempt at a golf-course-driven housing and commercial development. Plenty of large homes dot the north side of the course, projecting a certain standard of luxury that the golf course itself fails to achieve. The fairways are a bit scraggly, the greens slow and bumpy. The upside of Ironshore is that it does not get much play. If you are looking for a quick round of golf, this could be the place. Be prepared to walk, since the course has few carts. In all, be prepared to play a course with a more than adequate layout but one that needs an infusion of cash and enthusiasm.

Cash and enthusiasm have definitely found their way into the three other clubs of the north coast. The Wyndham Rose Hall Golf and Beach Resort course, the Breezes Golf and Beach Resort course and the Sandals Golf and Country Club have each benefited from corporate cash flow, and each course is seeing an upswing in play.

The Rose Hall course, like Tryall, runs from the Caribbean into the hills. The 18th hole is among the toughest finishers anywhere, demanding a long drive followed by a long approach over a gorge to the green. Overlooking the 14th hole is a large villa that Johnny Cash owns.

You should play Rose Hall just to play the eighth hole. It's a dogleg of only 322 yards from the back tees, with the Caribbean lapping vigorously at the rocks along the left side of the fairway. It's a classic cape hole, with the green stuck out on the peninsula (which happens to be the northern tip of Jamaica). The hole plays into the prevailing wind and would be a testy little devil even without the steel tower that sits 50 yards short and to the right of the green.

Ah, yes, the tower. It's a navigational beacon, an elfin Eiffel Tower that keeps ships from imperiling themselves while imperiling the approach shots of land-locked golfers. Because the wind blows from the golfer's right on the approach (the Caribbean being to the left of the green), it's necessary to increase your margin of safety by aiming to the right of the green and letting the wind redirect the ball to the left. If your drive is too far to the right of the fairway, the tower becomes a formidable obstacle. In high winds, it's possible to hit the ball to the right of the tower and let it drift back to the left. At other times it's possible to hit over it. In any event, it may be the first time you ever thought of yourself as playing golf in an Erector Set.

The Breezes Golf and Beach Resort Course is also known as the SuperClubs Golf Club Runaway Bay. Longtime tourists and locals know it simply at Runaway Bay. Seymour Rose, the three-time Jamaican Open champion, is the superintendent of greens here. Runaway Bay is fairly wide open, but not without a subtle sense of style. From the forward tees it's the ideal course for getting rusty tourists around. From the back tees it gains teeth from its length, with several par 4s longer than 450 yards.

The biggest surprise among the north coast courses is the Sandals Golf and Country Club. Once the Upton Country Club, it had fallen into disrepair. Only two years ago, crabgrass was everywhere but on the greens, where there wasn't much grass of any kind. But with an infusion of Sandals money, the crabgrass blight has been furiously fought and it appears as if the grounds crew has won the battle.

The course is located in a mountain valley above teeming Ocho Rios. The old brick clubhouse is the most elegant of all of Jamaica's clubhouses, with a genuine air of country club about it. But when you stand on the practice tee, you know there's something different about this country club.

There, at precisely 135 yards, is the figure of Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley carved from an old tree trunk. The giant head could be the most unusual practice target in the game. Another sculptured tree trunk resembling a birdbath adorns the fourth tee. It gives a distinct Jamaican flavor to the course. And speaking of flavors, there are enough fruit trees on the course--mangos, guava, grapefruit--that you could skip breakfast at the hotel and eat on the fly.

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