Here Oliver Horovitz travels to The Bahamas to sample what it has to offer.
The Bahamas: Teeing Up While Helping Out
The 2019 edition of Tiger’s Hero World Challenge focused the golfing world’s attention on a deserving subject: the tournament’s host country of the Bahamas. An archipelago paradise of blue and turquoise, with 700 islands and cays (pronounced ‘keys’) dancing 55 miles off the coast of Florida––the Bahamas emits a sight that astronaut Scott Kelly called “the most beautiful place from space.”
That place has had a tough end to 2019. On August 24th, 2019, category 5 Hurricane Dorian slammed into two of the Bahamas’ northern islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama. The damage has been estimated at £2.58 billion. 67 people lost their lives, 282 are still missing, and over 29,000 people lost homes, jobs, or both.
Beyond the damage on the ground, an equally large misperception arose around the world––that all of the Bahamas had been affected. In reality, only a small part of the Bahamas was impacted––with fourteen island destinations in the Bahamas completely open for business, including popular Exuma, New Providence…and five championship golf courses.
The message coming from the Bahamas is loud and clear––the best way to help out the country is to visit. And so, dear reader, here is your inside scoop for planning a Bahamas golf trip––sun, sand, and Bahamian smiles included.
Royal Blue Golf Club –– Baha Mar Resort
Royal Blue Golf Club, in the Bahamian capital of Nassau (New Providence) is an ideal starting point for Bahamas golf trips. A Jack Nicklaus signature design that opened in 2017, Royal Blue will host the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Grand Abaco Classic from January 19-22.
It’s also a ton of fun to play. 15 species of native trees hug the fairways at Royal Blue, conches (pronounced ‘conks’) serve as tee-markers on every box, and the 16thhole, a 165-yard par-3 to an island green in a sea of turquoise, will knock your proverbial conches off. Their “Better Than Your Own” club rental program is a nice bonus (PXGs for 50 quid? Yes, please).
Royal Blue Golf Club (with green-fees from £164) is attached to the Baha Mar Resort––an excellent Base Camp for Bahamas golf trips. Set on Cable Beach, the resort has six swimming pools, 40 restaurants and bars, plus the largest casino in the Caribbean. High rollers can even rent out their own private island––Long Cay––for a Richard Branson-esque experience.
The Ocean Club Golf Course –– Atlantis Resort
A 30-minute drive from Royal Blue Golf Club is the Ocean Club Golf Course at Atlantis Resort––the next stop on all Bahamas Golf expeditions. A 7,159 yard par-72 Tom Weiskopf design, this super-scenic course offers its own aquatic-arena, with several holes running along the ocean, plus a greenside beach on#4 that is very much in-play. (You may also recognize the attached Ocean Club Four Seasons from the James Bond film, Casino Royale).
Green-fees start at £168, and the Ocean Club has hosted a slew of tournaments, including the Michael Jordan Celebrity Golf Tournament, Golf Channel’s Big Break Atlantis, and the LPGA Pure Silk Invitational. If you’ve had a long night in their casino, fear not: the Ocean Club’s fairways are as wide as Scotland’s Kingsbarns.
A Day’s Excursion to Emerald Bay –– Sandals Resort Exuma
And here, fellow golf-lovers, is where the going gets extra fun. For this next golf excursion, hop aboard a Bahamasair Flight for a 25-minute jump across the sea to Great Exuma. Your flight will depart from Nassau’s domestic terminal (alongside the gloriously-named airlines Pineapple Air and Flamingo Air).
Island-hopping via plane for Bahamians is commonplace, and round-trips to Exuma are £150, with no bag fees for golf clubs. If possible, sit on the right-hand side of the plane––this flight into Exuma has some of the prettiest views (over the bluest water) imaginable. If you don’t let out an audible “Wow” during the flight, your window blinds are probably down.
The reward for this 8:50am flight is the Greg Norman-designed Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course (green-fees start at £93 inclusive of cart). What a reward it is. After ten handsome ‘inland’ holes, the course suddenly opens up on the par-3 11thin an explosion of turquoise.
From holes 11-16, you are playing out onto a postcard-perfect peninsular. It is Pebble Beach in the Bahamas, and if this sounds like hyperbole, wait for the par-5 15th, which conjures 18 at Pebble. Be warned: when your photos of this round are posted, your friends back in Slough will summarily hate you.
Once finished with the golf (assuming you don’t immediately turn around and replay the course), complete your day on Great Exuma by heading for next-door Grand Isle Resort, and its 23° North Beach Club. A $50 (£38) day pass grants visitors access to a newly-constructed 30,000 square foot beach club with heated pool, dining, and one of the prettiest beaches from which to watch the sun set. Plus, you can snorkel right alongside the holes you just played. After enjoying the views, hop the 7 p.m. flight back to Nassau…or just stay in Exuma for another day (whether or not you visit the famous swimming pigs on nearby Big Major Cay is up to you and your Influencer-proclivities).
The two other golf courses on New Providence––Albany (which requires a £2,133-per night resort stay) and Lyford Cay (which requires a sponsor letter)––are effectively private. However, attending Tiger’s Hero World Challenge (next held in December, 2020) is a glorious way to see Albany––as well as 18 of the world’s best golfers. Tickets are roughly £40 a day, and provide what might just be the best spectator access to top players. Crowds? It’s as if they’ve gone to a different course. The intimacy with which you can wander over to the practice green and see Tiger Woods stroking putts beside Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, and Jordan Spieth is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. For tournament viewing, you basically can’t beat the Hero World Challenge.
After your last bogie putt of the day lips out back in Nassau, head to seafood restaurant Poop Deckfor nighttime nourishment via grilled Mahi Mahi, plus the delicious Bahamian dessert Guava Duff. After fortifying your stomach, leg it over to Bon Vivants, the Ernest Hemingway-inspired cocktail bar co-founded by a Savannah College of Art and Design graduate, with a cocktail menu as stately as 18 holes at Sunningdale (“High tea” and “The Smurfette” are highlights). Want a pre-sunset activity? John Watling’s Distilleryoffers free tours and tastings in their charming estate, which dates back to 1789.
You can also help out while you’re here. Many local resorts have created programs for guests to aid the Hurricane Dorian relief effort. Baha Mar’s “Pack with Love” program allows for guests to bring an extra suitcase of donated items, marked for those displaced after the hurricane. Sandals Emerald Bay has a similar program––and concierges at both resorts can arrange volunteering opportunities with Red Cross Bahamas. The very act of visiting, however, is immeasurably helpful for the country, and visitors will receive genuine gratitude from locals wherever they go.
Getting to the Bahamas from the UK isn’t as tough as you’d think either. British Airways offers direct service from London Heathrow to Nassau’s International Airport from about £715. (Nassau is also reachable from the UK with one stop via 18 US cities). Once in Nassau, centrally-located Baha Mar Resort is the perfect place to rest weary heads, with rooms at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar starting at about £180 a night. While in Nassau, forgo the rental car, and have local legend Romeo Farrington chauffeur your mates around in style (Romeo’s Executive Limousine & Taxi Service on Facebook).
The Bahamas is more than just great golf. It’s a country of the nicest people you can meet, and a lifestyle that will put a smile on your face. Plus, let’s face it, that 3-putt from 10 feet stings a little less when you’re standing beside a coral reef.
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