This Way Out: Golf in the Caribbean’s Turks and Caicos
It’s hard to imagine a more stunning stretch of powdery white sand than the beaches of Grace Bay, on Providenciales, the largest island of Turks and Caicos. The ocean in this part of the world is colored a deep, luscious blue, a tone so rich and vivid, you’ll need to pull out the large box of Crayolas to name it.
Fifteen years ago, Providenciales and the rest of the 40 islands and cays comprising Turks and Caicos, were little known outside the scuba world. The island chain at the southern end of the Bahamas were often overlooked as a vacation destination except by adventurous divers who sought out the coral reefs and calm water, and by a handful of celebrities looking for seclusion.
A few years ago, though, a handful of developers swooped in to build condos, second homes, a few stout hotels, and a string of tony stores. Then the economy turned, development stopped, and the expected crowds never materialized.
Provo, as the locals call the island, seems no worse for the wear. In fact, in many ways, it’s better.
Despite the growth spurts, Provo somehow remains unspoiled and spectacularly uncrowded.
Roads are paved and well maintained. The airport is tidy and air-conditioned. You still won’t find any traffic lights, hotel towers or fast food restaurants, unless, of course, you count Da Conch Shack, a beachside hangout that just happens to turn out the islands best conch fritters. Provo’s 18-hole golf course, built in 1992, has also been transformed, thanks to a cash infusion from its owners that has added two new lakes and thousands of trees and plants to the course.
The Provo Golf Club wasn’t built as a field of dreams to sell real estate, the usual motivation for a Caribbean developer. In the late 1980s, back when the islands lacked much infrastructure, some local and international investors stepped in to construct the Caicos Water Company about a mile inland from the water’s edge. With acres of undeveloped land on their property and plenty of desalinated water, they decided to build a golf course. The team hired Florida’s Karl Litten to design and construct the par-72, 6,771-yard championship course, which hosted the Caribbean Amateur Championship last year. The Caicos Water Company still owns the course. Even now, the golf course is the water company’s biggest customer. Since Turks and Caicos sees relatively few golfers, the course remains in pristine condition.
Litten carved the track out of a deep limestone base, creating nearly 12 acres of inland lakes and marshes. Native grasses, birds and flowers readily populated the course, while hundreds of now-mature palm trees had to be planted to provide shade, wind breaks and directional routing. Oleander and topical hibiscus scent the air of nearly every hole. Lush, well-groomed Bermuda covers most of the course.
The front nine rewards players who choose finesse over force. Thirty-foot palms line many of the fairways. Tee shots often feed through narrow zones that require dead-straight drives to wider landing areas.
The par-5 third is one such hole. You have to thread your tee shot through a narrow, tree-lined chute, hoping it emerges a couple hundred yards out to land in a narrow safe zone. Hit it too far, and a steep bank on the left repels errant shots back to the fairway where they just might have enough momentum to roll into water on the right. Add in a strong headwind and you’ve got as much as you can eat.
On the back half, Litten clearly changed the pace to favor brute strength. The fairways are wide and long. Several holes have elevated tees. Shallow streams of brackish water course through creeks near the fairways. Limestone outcroppings, chopped rock retaining walls and caliche clay reminded me of parts of the Texas Hill Country.
The course is in excellent shape. Pace of play is never an issue, nor is getting a tee time. I’d rank Provo Golf Club as one of the top dogs in the Caribbean.
After a couple of recent trips to the islands, I’d also recommend Ocean Club Resort as a good place to base your visit. Tom Lewis, a transplant from Denver who loves to play golf and scuba dive, runs the resort. If your spouse doesn’t play golf, Lewis will happily join you if you ask. His staff attends to even the smallest details: shuttling guests across the street to the golf course, making restaurant recommendations, delivering cocktails to the beach. The resort is set up as a series of privately owned condominiums located directly across from the golf course on one side and dipping its toes in the white-sand Grace Bay on the other.
Provo Golf Club • Turks and Caicos, BWI
Ocean Club Resort • Turks and Caicos, BWI