In the deep winter months, when the mere thought of swinging a driver while bundled in fleece and Gore-Tex seems as pleasurable as shoveling snow, it’s hard not to dream of escape. Close your eyes and you can almost feel the warm Caribbean sun and its soft, grassy fairways.
Hear that loud, screeching noise? It’s birds, not kids. That staccato patter that sounds like rain? Salt spray on a beach umbrella. That beverage in your hand? It’s rum, not hot chocolate.
Sending your mind on vacation is easy. Getting to the tropics? That’s another story. If your favorite escape is to the Caribbean, your trip is usually an all-day affair, often involving a flight to Miami or Puerto Rico, a layover, then a hop to the island of your choice. An entire day is swallowed whole.
Last month, jetting down to the equator for a long weekend got easier, thanks to American Airlines’ new nonstop service from DFW to Barbados. The midday flight turns an all-day travel strain into an afternoon jaunt.
Which is a really good thing, considering the quality of the golf courses on this small, avocado-shaped island just 21 miles long by 14 miles wide near the bottom tip of the Caribbean. Here, there’s no need to consult the weather forecast; it’s mostly sunny with a chance of scattered showers, regardless of the time of year.
If you know anything about Barbados, you probably know it as the birthplace of rum and the site of Tiger Woods’ ill-fated wedding, which was held at the exclusive, Mahogany-lined resort called Sandy Lane. Their Tom Fazio-designed Green Monkey golf course is often cited as the island’s top golf draw. I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t get a tee time, though I’d swear the tee sheet was wide open.
“I’ve never played it either,” admitted local golfer Christopher Pitt, a native Bajan, which is what Barbados residents call themselves. “In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s played there.”
I drove alongside the tony Sandy Lane resort, creeping along a public road that runs beside the golf course. It was a bright, sunny day, but the fairways I could see were empty.
I phoned the golf pro to see if I could get on, a tactic that usually works all over the world. No luck; play during my visit was tightly restricted to resort guests and members.
So I ambled up the road a couple miles and joined Pitt for a round on his home course, the splendid Royal Westmoreland golf course, an equally well-regarded track by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The 27-hole facility opened in 1994 on a parcel of land that had been part limestone quarry and part sugarcane plantation. RTJ II says Masters champion Ian Woosnam, who owns a home nearby, thinks Royal Westmoreland’s par 3s are some of the best he’s ever played.
The first few holes of Royal Westmoreland unspool over hills and ridges, their wide fairways mirroring the expanse of ocean that peeks through the trees. Jones mixed in some classic design elements – the par-3 third, for example, is a Redan hole – with some creative license. On another hole, your tee shot has to clear a ravine, while the approach shot has to thread a narrow chute between tall coral walls. If you clip the edge of the coral, there’s no predicting where your shot will land. On yet another, the 600-yard 13th, two well-struck shots played with the trade winds can set you up for an eagle.
The terrain of the new Apes Hill Club golf course, which lies in a residential development a few miles north of Royal Westmoreland, is similar to that of Royal Westmoreland: deep ravines, old quarries, coral walls, jungly forest and distant ocean views. Dozens of luxury homes are popping up on the edges of the golf course and polo grounds, both of which have proven popular with UK visitors.
“We have a lot of upper class visitors from the UK who like to play polo,” my taxi driver told me. “When they’re not playing polo, they play golf.”
Indeed, Barbados’s economy doesn’t seem to be struggling like others in the Caribbean.
Apes Hill is going to build another 18 holes. A new Four Seasons Resort is under construction a few paces away from Sandy Lane. Most of the island’s streets – including those coursing through the busy shopping districts – are smoothly paved and easy to navigate. You can live large by living like a Bajan: hop on a bus to nearly anywhere for a dollar.
Spend weekend nights dining beachside at the fishing town of Oistins, where you can order a lobster as big as your arm or buy impeccably fresh grilled fish and a cold Banks beer for only a few dollars.
Be sure to tour at least one of the three rum distilleries, all of which utilize island-grown sugarcane as the source of their molasses. Then stick around for free samples and some terrific rum punch.
Rum, the lifeblood of the Caribbean, has been distilled on Barbados for 300 years. There’s certainly no sign that’s going to end anytime soon, despite fears that the younger crowd prefers beer and other spirits to rum. That’s something I learned over a game of dominoes at one of the hundreds of rum shops on the island, the local gathering spots where Bajans pass the time and catch up on the gossip.
No yo-ho-ho necessary.
Remember that old saw, “You can’t get there from here”?
Now you can.
This story also appears in the February issue of AvidGolfer Magazine