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Golfing around The Bahamas

Sun and sea vistas are a golf-lover's dream


Golf and The Bahamas have been sporadic bedmates since near the end of the 18th century. Sometimes the relationship has been dynamic; sometimes restrained.

If you count all the existing, planned and potential public, private and resort golf clubs the list stretches to 22, but there are about 12 that you can play today.

Grand Bahama has five public or resort courses and two under development. The Out Islands have a few including one mature 18-hole layout, another half completed and a third on the way.

New Providence and Paradise Island boast four courses, but one is private and another is available only to members and guests at Atlantis and One&Only Ocean Club.

Lucayan course

On Grand Bahama the Lucayan Golf Club, which triggered the island's golfing era four decades ago, is matriarch of the island's golfing family. It retains much of the Dick Wilson imprint, with tight dog-legs and elevated greens protected by craftily placed sand traps.

The grand dame of the island's courses has been altered over the past few years with several new ladies' tees making a par-72 layout, the same as from the men's tees. The Lucayan, with a completely new watering system, remains one of the classiest courses in the Caribbean area.

The Reef

The Reef is maturing verdantly following a complete makeover under the direction of Robert Trent Jones Jr and Ty Butler. Lakes and hills have been incorporated into the formerly flat layout. The Reef today is a challenging 6,930-yard playing field with lakes or water on a dozen holes and nearly 120 bunkers.

Over at the Crowne Plaza, the Ruby and Emerald courses have been rebuilt by Jim Fazio and his design team. Imaginatively placed sand traps and new watering systems have been added to the layouts originally designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee.

Ruby and Emerald

The Ruby has been opened up and, from the front tees, the course is straightforward and relatively easy to play, according to golf director Scott Coetzee.

"It's grown in now and the ball runs a little better than on the Emerald, which has deeper soil." There are 87 bunkers on The Ruby.

Fazio completely overhauled The Emerald course without detracting from the original Dick Wilson design. He added new greens and tees, making it "much tougher than The Ruby," says Coetzee.

"Although it's about the same yardage, it seems to play longer. It has more topsoil than The Ruby. The greens also are smaller and the fairways tighter. The tree line defines the fairways much more than the other course.

"We keep the fairways and roughs cut tournament-style," he adds.

Fortune Hills

Fortune Hills Golf and Country Club, also designed by Wilson and Lee around the same time they were putting the Lucayan together, is a nine-hole layout. Owner Walter Kitchen has been operating it as a membership club for about 30 years. Wilson and Lee incorporated their trademark large, well-trapped elevated greens and raised tees. It has matured into a busy club with an active local and transient membership of about 350.

Fortune Hills has enough land for another nine holes, but Kitchen has no immediate plans to expand.

Abaco courses

Abaco boasts a mature and well-maintained course at Treasure Cay, north of Marsh Harbour, and another fledgling layout to the south at Cherokee Sound. Treasure Cay is an 18-hole, par-72, 6,985-yard, Dick Wilson layout, 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 is relatively straightforward with two par fives of 555 and 500 yards from the white tees. The back nine is tighter, requiring more precision and thought with slightly more water in play. A couple of ponds (with interesting wildlife) represent minor hazards, particularly on number 11, a 515-yard par 5. Despite its length, Treasure Cay can be played in less than three hours.

Cherokee Sound

Just off the drawing boards and scheduled to be playable by Thanksgiving 2004 is a unique 18-hole championship Scottish-style tropical links golf course. The course is the centrepiece of a $160-million sporting estate now under development at Winding Bay, Abaco, by British entrepreneur, Peter de Savary.

Situated on a peninsula of more than 500 acres, surrounded by 2.5 miles of pink sand beach and highlighted by bluffs, the course has been designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, pre-eminent Scottish links-style architects.

The 7,183-yard, par-72 links opens with a challenging 547-yard par 5 - third longest hole - as the course plays for seven holes out along the beach. Shots will be assisted by prevailing winds for most of the winter.

The 8th marks the start of the return towards home. This is the classic out-and-back configuration of the great seaside courses of Britain and Ireland, with 14 of the holes traversing dunes alongside the beach and the waters of Winding Bay.

The final four holes are a change of scene. The 15th is high above the first 14 holes with spectacular views along the length of the bay.

On the 17th tee, a panoramic view opens up of the picturesque short 17th and down the length of the 553-yard 18th hole. There are few finishing holes where both the tee and green are right on the ocean's edge, according to Steel.

Emerald Bay

Nestled among the lush native vegetation of Great Exuma is Four Seasons Golf Club Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, where the fairways of six straight holes lie along the ocean. The 7,001-yard, par-72, 18-hole course was designed by Australian pro Greg Norman.

The course winds through a mix of seaside dunes and mangrove preserves, finishing on a rocky peninsula with majestic ocean views. Sea grapes, silver buttonwoods and cabbage palms are some of the trees and bushes that line the fairways.

Emerald Bay also features a driving range, pro shop, private lessons and twice-weekly clinics.


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