Between the perfect half-moon beaches and the romantic star-filled night skies, it used to be easy to overlook the many worthy golf courses clinging to the volcanic islands of the Caribbean.
But Caribbean golf can no longer be ignored. In the past decade, high-end resorts have descended on these isles with the swiftness and certainty of a category-five hurricane, as Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons and assorted billionaires have erected five-star shrines to luxury. And flanking each property is at least one superb course from the likes of Fazio, Weiskopf, Dye or Norman. Spectacular new layouts such as the Green Monkey in Barbados and the White Witch in Jamaica are giving the local-golf standard, Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog, a run for its money. That resort, not one to sleep or lie down, responded with a $100 million makeover and a brand-new links of its own, called Dye Fore.
Simply put, Caribbean golf has been transformed from decent to utterly decadent. Butler service in the rooms, concierge service on the courses and (most astonishing of all) quality dining in the restaurants is now, at these properties, par for the course.
South African entrepreneur Sol Kerzner, who created the megalithic Atlantis resort and casino on Paradise Island, does nothing halfway, and his new superluxurious Ocean Club is a sparkling case in point. The $100 million that he lavished on this gem two years ago resulted in a new level of luxury that the highest of high rollers will appreciate.
OCEAN CLUB GOLF COURSE, The Ocean Club, Paradise Island, Nassau; 800-321-3000. Yardage: 7,159. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architect: Tom Weiskopf, 2001. Greens Fees: $185-$245. T&L Golf Rating: ****
When time came to renovate the Paradise Island Golf Club, a somewhat exhausted 1960s track, Kerzner wiped the canvas clean and started over. Bulldozers came in and removed all eighteen holes, and Tom Weiskopf was brought in to design a brand-new golf course.
Excellent idea. The new layout is easily one of the top five in the Caribbean—even if purists will sniff that the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea. Whatever body of water it is, there's a view of it on almost every hole. And Weiskopf's routing—two opposing loops—also means the wind is different on every hole. A trifling matter?Not when you're lofting an approach over an inlet to reach the fourth or trying to avoid the pink-sand beach to the left of sixteen and seventeen.
For a beachside course, the Ocean Club has a surprising variety of uphill and downhill terrain. The greens are as wavy as the nearby sea, and the scattered freshwater lakes add even more drama. It's no wonder Kerzner himself bought an oceanfront lot. So did Ernie Els. Michael Jordan, who stages his celebrity invitational here, bought two.
ALSO PLAY: Nestled away on Grand Bahama Island, Dick Wilson's tree-lined Lucayan Course ($65-$120, 242-373-1066) isn't overly long, but his trademark elevated greens make for a shot-maker's delight. Thanks to a sleek makeover by Jim Fazio, the Ruby Course ($65-$90; 242-350-7005) in Grand Bahama has been reborn. Its fairway bunkers are now pristine—and so steep-lipped you'll want to admire them only from afar.
THE OCEAN CLUB, Paradise Island; 800-321-3000. Rooms: $450- $975. Suites: $750-$1,750. Cottages: $900-$1,390.
The antidote to the Atlantis resort, this intimate (106 rooms) hotel oozes class and personal service. Rooms are sublime: furnished in mahogany and teak, with strawberries and champagne delivered every afternoon. The Ocean Club (or, as the marketing folks would prefer you call it, the "One&Only Ocean Club") also offers an excellent choice of restaurants, a Balinese spa and a pool nestled in a garden "inspired by Versailles."
COMPASS POINT (Caribbean), south of Nassau; 242-327-4500. $$$
Owned by Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records, this delightful inn is downright jazzy and painted in fanciful Caribbean colors. Its fare is mostly light and features nifty selections such as agnolotti filled with conch, and mango and cucumbers served with wasabi and pickled ginger.
DUNE (French/Asian), The Ocean Club; 242-363-2501. $$$$
Kerzner gets what Kerzner wants, and in 2000 he wanted Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the legendary New York chef, to open a truly haute cuisine eatery in his Ocean Club. What he got was an elegant beachfront restaurant with a menu featuring a mélange of Jean-Georges's acclaimed dishes—such as lobster daikon roll with rosemary-ginger dip—infused with distinctly Bahamian herbs. It's not to be missed.
GRAYCLIFF (Continental), Nassau; 242-322-2796. $$$$
This 250-year-old mansion was reportedly once a hangout for pirates. Nowadays, the clientele is more likely to run to visiting celebrities and politicians. Some come to see and be seen, but most opt for the succulent food, such as Bahamian deep sea spiny lobster morsels or grilled hand-cut lamb chops with smoked bacon.