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Changing courses

Golf choices keep improving


Although golf and Grand Bahama have enjoyed a friendly marriage since Dick Wilson and Joe Lee performed the wedding starting in the 1960s, recent infusions of money and enthusiasm have cemented the relationship. Here's a look at what's available whether you're a pro, scratch golfer or complete beginner.

At the Royal Oasis, The Ruby and The Emerald, originally laid out by legendary golf course designers Wilson and Lee, have been redesigned and rebuilt by the Jim Fazio team, with new irrigation systems and bunker placements. The courses offer two different experiences for golfers, according to Scott Coetzee, acting golf director for Royal Oasis hotel.

New tees and greens
At the Emerald, Wilson had recreated replicas of some of his career holes. It was the site of the first Bahamas Open, the final stop on the 1970 PGA tour, won by veteran touring pro Doug Sanders.

Fazio has inserted new tees and greens in refurbishing The Emerald, making it a much more challenging test than The Ruby, according to Coetzee.

Wilson's protegee and successor, Lee, had initially designed The Ruby on the north side of West Sunrise Highway. Fazio's team has opened it up, enlarged the greens and added some imaginatively located traps. The course is relatively easy from the front tees, according to Coetzee, but a serious challenge from the championship blue tees.

Turtles and birds
The rebirth of the old, relatively flat, Bahama Reef now includes hills, about 120 bunkers and a dozen or so ponds and lakes. It also includes a resident family of turtles and plenty of assorted waterfowl.

Architects Robert Trent Jones Jr and Ty Butler have created a whole new layout in The Reef, a verdant playing field that is far from level.

Lucayan Country Club, which hosted the second (and last) Bahamas Open in 1971, won by Bob Goalby, remains the classiest and most mature course in The Bahamas. It still retains much of the Dick Wilson imprint with elevated greens protected by craftily placed bunkers and tight
dog-leg fairways.

Irrigation and drainage systems have been upgraded, and the Lucayan remains one of the top courses in the Caribbean area.

The Lucayan is also the site of the Butch Harmon School of Golf, one of the premier and most effective state-of-the-art instruction facilities in the Americas. The ex-PGA touring pro is credited with refining Tiger Woods' game, enabling Woods to take charge of the tour.

Harmon uses video cameras to record and play back a swing motion. He and his instructors then analyze the swing and restructure it. The experience can be humbling, but is extremely effective in improving your swing and understanding of the game. Ask Tiger.

Harold Roland, acting golf director for both The Reef and Lucayan, has initiated a Bahamas Frequent Player programme, that allows golfers to play every fifth round free.

Course on the market
Fortune Hills Golf and Country Club's nine-holes were designed by Wilson and Lee around the same time they were laying out the nearby Lucayan course. Fortune Hills includes the pair's trademark raised tees and greens with strategically located traps. Most golfers play rounds from the white markers and then the blue tees for an 18-hole outing.

There is enough land at Fortune Hills for another nine holes, but owner Walter Kitchen, now in his late 70s, doesn't plan to expand, and has the club on the market. It comes with an active local and transient membership of about 350.

Abaco courses
Abaco boasts one mature and well-maintained course at Treasure Cay, north of Marsh Harbour, and a fledgling layout to the south at Cherokee Sound.

Treasure Cay is an 18-hole, 72-par, 6,985 yard Dick Wilson-designed golf course, the first course on Abaco. With 66 strategically placed sand bunkers, the Treasure Cay course presents a formidable challenge with ocean winds, tight fairways and a layout that makes you ponder every club selection.

The front nine runs parallel to the ocean at the north end of Treasure Cay Resort and plays straightforwardly with two par fives of 555 and 500 yds from the white tees. The back nine is tighter, requiring more precision and thought with slightly more water in play. A couple of duck ponds (with interesting wildlife) represent minor hazards, particularly on number 11, a 515-yd par 5. Despite its length, the course at Treasure Cay can be played inside three hours.

Cherokee Sound
British entrepreneur Peter de Savary is putting together a spectacular development package on a 500-acre peninsula at Cherokee Sound/Winding Bay. An 18-hole Scottish-style links golf course is the centerpiece of a $160-million sporting estate surrounded by 2.5 miles of pink sand beach. The course, designed by Scottish architects Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, is currently under construction and scheduled to open by the end of November 2004.


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