The Best Course in the Caribbean: Raffles Canouan Island
There is a newly paved road that stretches from the small airport to the front entrance of the Raffles Resort on this tiny Caribbean island of Canouan. The road wraps along a lush tropical coastline, weaving through a clapboard town where many of the locals sport crisp polo shirts embroidered with a prominent Raffles logo.
A few short years ago, this path was rock and earth. The island had no electricity, running water or foreseeable future for its 300 inhabitants. They subsisted mostly on fishing and a bit of farming but had little else. When their children reached school age, the kids were shipped off to nearby St. Vincent or the Grenadines to live with relatives, but many never returned to Canouan.
That was before the Canouan Resorts Development Company set about transforming this once sleepy isle into what may become the see-and-be-seen place in the whole of the Caribbean.
Now, 1,100 people live on a more modern Canouan Island, a 3.5-mile by 4-mile speck of land in the heart of the Grenadines, about 100 miles west of Barbados and a few miles southwest of the Hollywood hangout of Mustique. To construct the resort, Canouan Resorts’ Italian owner first had to bring indoor plumbing, electricity, clean water and even the Internet to the island. With those came better access to education and employment. Once-skeptical locals now embrace the resort as an economic engine that may have saved their tiny island – and their futures.
Raffles occupies most of the land on this tiny chunk of paradise. Donald Trump is invested as a real estate partner. He has already constructed and branded the extraordinary golf course as one of his own Trump International Golf Clubs. Much of Canouan Island will eventually be developed, but in a master-planned fashion. In addition to the 156 spacious hotel rooms, suites and villas that sprawl across the resort’s 1,200 acres, Trump is constructing 135 multi-million dollar homes.
Unlike most of the Caribbean, though, Canouan Island is too small to attract the uncontrolled growth that has nearly destroyed the appeal of other islands. Canouan Island sat on the sidelines as the leisure market boomed everywhere else.
Now, buoyed by Trump’s involvement and a sturdy infrastructure, the owners of the Raffles Resort here are partnering to expand the airport, teach English and hotel hospitality, and preparing for the jet set that will fly in and out to visit their vacation villas.
As you’d expect of a Raffles property, the rooms are plush. There’s exceptional dining, coral reef diving and snorkeling. The weather stays a nearly perfect 75 to 85 degrees year round. But because Canouan Island remains relatively undiscovered – at least for now – Raffles averages fewer than 100 guests on most days. (The other, smaller hotel on the island, Tamarind Beach Hotel, has fewer rooms and even fewer guests.)
This, of course, means that no matter where you search on the island, you’ll still find pristine, half-moon beaches whose sand hasn’t seen anyone else’s footprint in days. The excellent open-air spa can accommodate you at nearly a moment’s notice, even if you request a Thai massage from the skilled hands (and feet) of Anna, a Thai native.
But the best part about an undiscovered resort of this caliber is that the tee sheet stays wide open.
And even if you think you’ve played all the Caribbean golf you need to play, the golf course here throws down the Trump card.
Talk about your feats of strength. Frank Costanza has nothing on golf course architect Jim Fazio, who sculpted 150 acres of unexplored land into a par-72, 6,500-yard course, which is nothing short of a Disney ride.
The island itself rises out of the ocean like a mountaintop, jutting nearly a thousand feet up to its highest point. Fazio placed his 13th hole at its razor-edge peak. While the opening nine holes play in a valley, the back nine rise and fall atop the mountain like a runaway mine train.
A series of switchbacks carry you up a steep slope to the 10th hole, where you’ll find a most unexpected sight: laid out in a panorama are most of the back holes, splayed across the wide bowl of a deep canyon lined with thick forest.
With a 360-degree view of the island from that 13th fairway, the canyon walls seem buttressed in place by the endless blue of the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. In the near distance, the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines lay under a gauzy fog.
It’s easy to get distracted on this course by the vistas, the sunning lizards lying nearly motionless on the tee boxes, the twisting vines of bougainvilleas and the spiked arms of fan palms that circumscribe the course. To keep you focused, Fazio scattered waterfalls, bunkers and lakes.
Hole Nos. 11-16 are worthy of a “signature” designation, but choosing the most memorable hole is tough.
“There isn’t so much a signature hole here; there’s more a signature series of holes,” said Simon Blanchard, director of golf.
The par-3 16th, which plays 199 yards from the tips, is being extended. “This will be the world’s only 300-yard par-3,” Blanchard boasted. “But since there’s also a 240-foot drop from tee to green, it’ll be playable with a well-struck 3-iron.”
Canouan Island has no native grasses. The salt-tolerant paspalum grasses carpeting the fairways and greens had to be shipped in, just like all the earth-moving equipment and the rest of the resort’s infrastructure. The course is irrigated with desalinated water – from the resort’s own treatment plant – and immaculately maintained. The near-constant trade winds and bright sun may wilt you, but sustenance remains constant; the beverage cart finds you every three or four holes, even when you are the only one on the course.
Fazio and his team have accomplished an extraordinary feat with the completion of this golf course. Without reservation, Canouan Island now has a world-class golf course, and it’s arguably the best golf course in the Caribbean.
Whether you have to beg, borrow or steal, get to Canouan Island before the rest of the world catches on.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines