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Golfing in Tobago
Charles Briscoe-Knight

The Caribbean islands have over recent years become very aware of the fiscal benefits to their tourist industry of the wonderful Royal & Ancient game. Most of the bigger islands have courses, some better than others.

Tobago has long had Mount Irvine Bay but now it also has the Tobago Plantations Golf & Country Club, with its associated Hilton Hotel. Situated on the south-facing Atlantic coast, on the western side of Tobago, the property is merely a 10-minute ride from the airport.

Brought on stream over the early months of 2001 by its director of golf, Chris Patey, a Scot from North Berwick, the layout could be described as being a trifle schizophrenic in nature. Billed as a links course, it is true that there are a few holes which have that feel, but equally one could often be playing a Florida swampland course.

Swaying palms will help you to gauge the wind at the 14th, as you must at this 164-yard par-three.

Billed as a ‘links-style' course, many of the holes at Tobago Plantations feature links-like mounding, like here at the 3rd, where the sea is your constant companion.

The links-like feel kicks in around the middle of the front nine and again on the middle of the back. The wind is definitely a factor: as Tiger Woods could tell you, a helpful shot in your armoury will be the knock-down driver! Of course, it doesn't blow all the time, and when it is calm, the tranquillity of the course and its wildlife (ducks – the kind that don’t leave calling cards – egrets, humming birds, butterflies and fish) make one feel that the 21st century is but a distant happening.

At the 2nd hole , you need to make a carry of 200 yards in order to clear the water.The owners have been thoughtful here, and kept the properties well back from the holes. None impinge on even your most errant tee shots. Unlike with many new developments, there are no weakest links here.

There are, however, a few stupendous tests. As early as the 2nd hole (left), if you are a low-handicapper and the wind is in your face, the 200-yard carry off the tee might see you in the burn (yes, the burn). Immediately, your next encounter will be with the elements and memories of Scotland via Pebble Beach. The 3rd hole is 416 yards of undulating fairway, cunningly placed bunkers and a green raised slightly to overlook the ocean.

While this writer was fortunate to win a nice bottle of the local rum for his well struck 5-iron to five feet at the 5th (183 yards from the blue tees), the 6th is a hero’s hole. A 586-yard dogleg, your drive has to be immaculately struck into the middle left of the fairway so that you can see the next lay-up shot in front of another burn. A short iron in to another testing green and one putt make for an outrageous birdie.

The next three holes are inland, all enclosed by high trees and the mangrove area, but when you reach the 10th, you’re in need of a genuinely looooong drive and a carefully placed second shot in order to avoid the quarry lake before it’s a mid-iron to a green in front of an old sugar mill.

It's handy to have length on the 10th holeThe 14th is what the Americans would call the course’s ‘Signature Hole’. I'm not sure about that, but the reasoning is that it is sited snug by the beach and has the hotel as a backcloth. It’s only a small flick with an 8- or 9-iron. And while it’s a pretty enough hole, it’s not too tough.

Finishing your round are first a trip to the TPC stadium-style 17th, while the 18th measures 535 yards from the tips with yet another heroic second shot needed to get close in two. Water is left and in front of the green, but there are acres of space on the right to bale out.
Choose the tee markers that best correspond to your ability and you’ll surely enjoy what I think is one of the best resort courses in the Caribbean. The word is that the European Tour is planning to bring a seniors event here.

While the men play for their pot of gold, their wives and/or girlfriends will have a ball, delighting in the facilities that the Tobago Hilton can offer. The green-roofed Hilton Hotel brings those luxuries into focus once you’re off the course, with great food in the Coral Reef and Plantation restaurants, wet poolside bars, a workout area, evening dancing to live bands in the Robinson Crusoe Pub, and rooms with balconies that overlook Little Rockly Bay and the beach. In fact, there are scores of sandy white coves on this 26-mile wide island – just another on a long list of reasons to make the trip.

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