Golf in Barbados
At the time, it seemed like a good
idea. A casual Wednesday afternoon game with a lively bunch
of club members. Down by
the putting green, we were
organised into three
groups of four and told
that the 'usual' rules
applied: this was an
aggregate and individual stableford
tourney, with various bits and pieces on the side. You name it, the bets
were flying faster than the local fish.
Four hours later things didn't look too clever.
content with selling his racquet and leisure business
to Whitbread for some £30 million, the ringleader
(and a suspiciously useful nine-handicapper) David
Lloyd, held court at the bar, demonstrating the skills
that have made him one of Britain's most innovative
businessmen. After totting up the damage all round,
a wad of colourful local currency was stacked neatly
beside his beer. The bad news was that a good wedge
of it was mine. One hundred and fifty dollars down!
It was not so much my luggage that got lost on the way to Barbados as my whole game. Barely a day on the island and already I had a major problem on my hands. How on earth would I get this lot through on expenses?
Languishing in over 500 acres in the hills above the platinum west coast of Barbados, with uninterrupted views towards the Caribbean, the luxury resort community of ROYAL WESTMORELAND is a select haven for golf and relaxation. And its lofty status is not only geographical; as the island's first inspired 'golf-led' project, the on-going development of Westmoreland has been closely scrutinised and meticulously planned.
As it turns out, the quality of the design and the management of the community has not only been the catalyst for other developments on the island but stands as the benchmark by which they will be subsequently judged. And how.
View of the 161 yard Par 3, 7th at Royal Westmoreland
At the heart of the property is perhaps the Caribbean's premier course, and yet, as memorable as Robert Trent Jones's design undoubtedly is, it is the natural beauty of the setting and the sympathetic way the community has been allowed to grow within it that makes this place special.
Every single hole has a view of the ocean, every balcony a view of the ocean, but the real attraction is the atmosphere. Littered with gorgeous homes and populated by the rich and (often) famous, the casual visitor could be forgiven for anticipating a brusque reception. Quite the opposite, as it turns out. This is classy without that tedious air of snobbery. Guests are encouraged to mix and make the most of the facilities. Businessmen rub shoulders with sports stars and entertainers. Virginia Wade, Mike Gatting and Jasper Carrott holiday here. Ian Woosnam has a home overlooking the 18th. Prince Andrew, who officially opened the course, is a regular visitor.
The laid-back nature of the club and the staff has a lot to do with the fact that (a) well, this is Barbados, and (b) the community is the brainchild of Bill Rooney, a typically down-to-earth Yorkshireman who made his fortune selling kitchens. Frustrated with the process of building himself a home on the island, he dreamed up the idea of a 'one-stop' property service: after selecting a plot of land, the client has a house designed and custom-built to include all the furnishings and fittings - what you might call luxury off the tee-peg.
With prices starting at around $600,000 for a two-bedroom villa, and soaring to over $10 million for something resembling Buckingham Palace, you need more than five numbers and the bonus ball to be of any real interest to the sales team, but the rental
gramme at least enables you to live like a millionaire, and that's important. Because it's the reason I was there in the first place.
More on the golf later. First, a little geography. A coral and limestone island, Barbados lies partially in the Atlantic Ocean and partially in the Caribbean Sea, 100 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Chain that arcs from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad. The island is just 21 miles long, 14 miles across, and, for the most part, it's relatively flat. Much of the interior is swarmed in sugar cane (for 350 years the island's chief agriculture), while the coast offers dramatic cliff scenery courtesy of the rugged Atlantic seaboard, to contrast with palm-fringed sand beaches on the sparkling Caribbean side.
A car is essential if you want to get a feel for the place, and once behind the wheel a drive around the island's eleven parishes opens your eyes to a country that takes every opportunity to remind you of its colonial heritage (they even drive on the left), while at the same time boasting a colour so distinctly home grown. There are bright red pillar boxes and telephone boxes, and an endless succession of parish churches. Along leafy roads stand candy-coloured houses with banana trees decorating the yard. On village greens, cricketers turn out all bedecked in whites, while locals gather at the rum shop to watch TV. Grand old plantation houses are monuments to the boom era of the sugar trade, while the refurbished beach-front resorts tip a wink to the latest cash crop.
Exploring the island - all 166 square miles of it - reveals a mixed topography of flat table land, intensely cultivated in neat patchwork patterns, tropical woodlands, undulating hills and steep cliffs. You can do the loop in a day. Taking the road north from St James, you hug palm-fringed beaches, through Speightstown, and on to the northern tip of the island at St Lucy, where, as the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, the scenery changes dramatically, with sweeping hills and expansive bays.
Bajans refer to this surf-beaten coastal stretch as the 'Scottish District'. (It reminded me of the coast of Queensland, complete with world-class rollers at the 'Soup Bowl'). To the southeast, the mood again changes, with rugged cliff-scenery that could be Cornwall (but without the drizzle) and one of the island's most popular beaches - the idyllic Crane Bay, with its uniquely tinged pink sand.
At the southern tip, the coast road funnels you irresistibly to Oistins, the island's fishing capital and carnival town every Friday and Saturday night, when the 'Fish Fry' tempts you with freshly caught delicacies of Flying Fish, King Fish, Swordfish and Tuna.
As you round off your safari on this clockwise loop, you enter Bridgetown, the island's resonant capital city and home to the majority of its population. A deepwater dock services the many cruise ships that stop here and the harbour-side is littered with bars and restaurants. The Barbadians (Bajans) are a warm and confident people, a vibe that is infectious. There is much to be happy about. The economy of Barbados is thriving, and the signs of investment are everywhere. Which brings us back to Royal Westmoreland.
Opened in 1994, the course promises 6,800 yards of thrilling, rolling golf. Although the fairways are generous, driving the ball for position is the key, and the Bermuda-grass greens, quick and full of grain, make putting even more of a mystery than normal. The front nine is the more naturally dramatic, the back nine possibly tougher. After a solid par-four opener, the 2nd is a testing par-five, uphill to a green guarded both short and to the sides by sand. Then comes the first of the outstanding short holes.
Played over a rock quarry to an angled green, the 171-yard 3rd - known as 'Monkey's Table', after the Green Monkeys that live here - poses one of those testing downhill shots where you are never sure of distance, especially with a tail wind. The 4th (455 yards) is probably the best driving hole on the course, while at the 5th, 6th and 7th, Jones has made good use of an old coral-stone quarry to site the greens and provide natural protection. At the 7th, another of Westmoreland's tempting and testing one-shotters, a water-filled ravine stands between you and the green, which again is sited several feet below the tee.
The 8th, at 365 yards, was built in recognition of the then Test cricket world record of 365 not out made by honorary member and cricket legend, Sir Garfield Sobers, against Pakistan in 1959. (He's another regular here, by the way.)
Then, around the turn, the course begins to turn the screw, with three tough par-fours back-to-back. If you can match par at the 9th (434 yards), the 10th (413) and 11th (407 yards) holes, you should be on for a run at a good score. The closing stretch is notable for the 600-yard par-five 13th, and two extremely tough par-threes: the 198-yard 12th and the 209-yard 15th, the latter being the toughest of the four par- threes, characterised by a hefty carry across a plunging valley.
The key to playing this course well is to take your chances at the easier holes and hang on for the rest of the round. Easier said than done. Concentration is the problem. If the captivating view on all sides weren't enough to take your mind off the game, the fact that the happy hour at Mullin's Beach Bar starts early and finishes late certainly will. You can almost taste the rum punch in the salt air.
It's just too easy here to fritter away your score. Ask Woosie. Two days after finishing seventh at Augusta this year, he turned out in a nine-hole medal and shot 40 for the front nine - off the yellows!
While Royal Westmoreland has been dubbed the finest course in the Caribbean, serious competition is taking shape down the road at Sandy Lane, the best-known of all Barbados' luxury bolt-holes, where millions are being lavished on the hotel, and where master-architect Tom Fazio is busy building two new 18-hole courses. The first of these to open, which will incorporate nine of the original holes, will be known as Sandy Lane Hotel Golf and Country Club, while the second, due to be completed towards the end of 2000, will be known simply as the 'Green Monkey' course. With a reputation for outstanding creativity - witness courses like the exclusive playgrounds of Shadow Creek in Las Vegas and Black Diamond in Florida - Fazio's work is certain to create great interest, and it adds another valuable dimension to this exclusive corner of the island. With a further 18 holes planned at Westmoreland, all told there will be 81 holes of golf here within two years.
Bars. Beaches. Great food. Great people. All that
sunshine. Bars. Beaches. The odd
game of golf. You will not want to go
home. One man who didn't is Iain
Mclnally, the director of golf at Royal
Westmoreland. After training under
Jim Christine at Worplesdon, followed
by a spell at The Wisley, Mclnally hit
the jackpot when he was offered the
job of organising the members and
visitors at Westmoreland.
Notwithstanding his obvious predilection for clubs beginning with the letter W I doubt if even Wentworth could tempt him back to Blighty.
Golftoday Golf Course directory - Barbados