By Bob Seligman
Most travelers book a cruise and then spend all their time planning what they’re going to do on the ship. But when there’s eight or 10 hours available at a port, that, too, is time that can be put to good use, and what better way to do that than with 18 holes with ocean views?
Many resort golf courses in the Caribbean, Virgin Islands, West Indies and associated areas are catering to the cruise business. Pull into a port, get off the boat, and enjoy a course that more than likely is nothing like what was left behind at home.
Here’s a nine-course primer.
Cap Cana (Punta Espada)
Golfweek rates Punta Espada the No. 1 golf course in the Caribbean and Mexico for 2011, and with good reason. The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course is designed for players of all levels, including those playing the full 7,000-plus yards. Punta Espada incorporates all the features of the topography, including the bluffs, the beach and lagoons. And let’s not forget the eight holes that play along and over the Caribbean. At $375, Punta Espada is pricey, but the views will be memorable.
Teeth of the Dog
Casa de Campo Resort, Dominican Republic
Teeth of the Dog is one of Pete Dye’s most acclaimed works. At more than 7,300 yards, and with a rating/slope of 75.9/145 from the back tees, this is a Dog with plenty of teeth to it. The par 3s are the strength of the course, led by the 176-yard fifth, where the green is tucked behind the Caribbean Sea on the left side and the tee shot has to almost entirely carry sand and water. Green fees: $230 plus 16 percent tax through April 24 and Nov. 1-Dec. 20; $155 plus 16 percent tax April 25-Oct. 31. A mandatory caddie runs $25 per group, paid in cash.
White Witch Golf Course
Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica
The White Witch, located on Jamaica’s historic Rose Hill Plantation, has been turned into 200 acres of lush greenery and rolling countryside. Like many Caribbean courses, ocean views are presented on a majority of holes. With a stout course rating of 74.0 and a Slope of 139, White Witch is hardly a walk in the park. Green fees: $175 through May 1, $130 May 2-Dec. 20, $185 the rest of the year.
Mahogany Run Golf Course
At just over 6,000 yards, the George and Tom Fazio’s layout may sound benign, but trouble lurks. For players who make it through the Devil’s Triangle, holes 13-15, without a penalty stroke, the reward is a Certificate of Completion and a poster of the awe-inspiring 14th, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The entire par-70 course was carved out of a mountain, creating several elevation changes and scenic vistas. Green fees: $165 to May 29, $125 May 30 to Sept. 25, $150 Sept. 26 to Dec. 11.
This is a private club, but public access is granted on a limited basis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (but not holidays). This is one of the best courses in the Caribbean, designed by C.B. Macdonald in 1921 and later modified in 1953 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. In 2007 and ’08 the course was the site of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an annual two-day event featuring the winners of that year’s four professional men’s majors. Green fee: $250 plus cart.
Port Royal Golf Club
Home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf since 2009, this Robert Trent Jones Sr. design has views of the Atlantic Ocean from almost every hole. One of the great views in golf is from the tee at the par-3 16th, where nothing but the Atlantic spans all 238 yards from tee to green. “It could be the toughest hole I’ve ever played in my life,” said Ernie Els. At 6,842 yards, Port Royal is Bermuda’s longest course. Green fee: $190.
Royal St. Kitts Golf Club
Canadian architect Thomas McBroom’s $16 million renovation in 2004 changed Royal St. Kitts from a weedy layout into an 18-hole championship course hard enough to challenge better players but fair enough to not overwhelm the average golfer. Royal St. Kitts has plenty of risk/ reward elements. Two holes are by the Caribbean Sea and three by the Atlantic Ocean. The scenic 163-yard, par-3 15th, with an elevated tee and a long, narrow green protected by nine bunkers, can be a beauty or a beast, depending if the wind is blowing off the Atlantic. Green fees: $180 November-May; $145 June-October.
Four Seasons Resort
It can be a little tricky getting here as cruise passengers have to dock in St. Kitts, Nevis’s sister island, and then take a 45-minute ferry to Nevis, so know your departure time. The par-71 layout features elevation changes of some 400 feet. Players make their way uphill for most of the first 14 holes before getting the 663- yard, par-5 15th signature hole that plays downhill. Most of the holes are scenic and run along the Caribbean Sea. The green fee is $205.
Black Pearl Golf Course at Pristine Bay
The secret is beginning to get out about Roatan, located about 35 miles off the Honduras coast, and Black Pearl Golf Course. Pete and Perry Dye have combined to create a par-72 beauty of nearly 7,200 yards that has 14 holes with views of the Caribbean Sea and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world. The Pearl’s best shining moment may be the 157-yard 11th hole with an elevated tee and an island green ringed by a narrow bunker. Green fee: $200.