It may not offer quite the variety of, say, Myrtle Beach, with its more than one hundred courses, but Jamaica has long been a favorite winter destination of discriminating golfers drawn to its fine collection of eighteen-holers. The opening of Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall and its spellbinding White Witch course has only added to the island's lustre.
THE WHITE WITCH, Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, St. James; 876-518-0174. Yardage: 6,748. Par: 71. Slope: 139. Architects: Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, 2000. Greens Fee: $159. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
Despite Jamaica's notable golf riches, the new White Witch is clearly the best of the bunch. Named for Annie Palmer, the enchanting mistress of the adjacent Rose Hall Plantation who was reputed to have eliminated three of her husbands before she herself was done in by her lover, the course certainly casts a spell as it spills up and down the hills high above the sea. Many holes demand long and scary carries over chasms filled with rocks, thick vegetation and dark places where the wild things live. Outcroppings of limestone thrust out of the fairways to create visual, if not actual, hazards. Two of the par-three holes feature stomach-dropping shots from elevated tees to water-fronted greens far below.
It's all a bewitching experience, made more fun by the services of the "golf concierges" assigned to every group. These young, white-coveralled Jamaicans help with club selection, point out trouble, recover errant shots, clean balls and clubs, and run, run, run between shots. They are exhausting to watch, but an asset to the golf experience.
ALSO PLAY: You can no longer see local Johnny Cash roaming the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort & Country Club's refurbished Cinnamon Hill Ocean Course ($80-$125; 876-953-2650), but you'll still have to walk the line to avoid the chasms of this Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril layout. Perennial favorite Half Moon Golf Club ($130; 876-953-2211) is a long stroll courtesy of Robert Trent Jones Sr.; and, just down the road, the Tryall Club ($40-$115; 876-956-5681) has completed a thorough renovation, restoring this famed oceanfront gem to the shape it deserves.
RITZ-CARLTON ROSE HALL, St. James; 876-953-2800. Rooms: $195- $695. Suites: $325-$850.
There is no denying the creature comforts and white-glove-friendly Ritz service at this new resort hotel. It boasts a wonderful Jamaican-Asian fusion restaurant, a terrific spa (the his-and-hers sugarcane rubdown has been known to halt divorce actions) and frequent shuttles up the hill to the golf club (which might get them started up again).
Pete Dye helped put Caribbean golf on the map with his legendary course at this beloved resort. The resort has been splendidly upgraded, and Dye's Dog still barks every bit as loudly—but now there's a new creature to tame as well. At almost 7,800 yards, Dye Fore is a sizable beast. That's only fitting for an island that now boasts twenty-one courses . . . and counting.
TEETH OF THE DOG, Casa de Campo, La Romana; 800-877-3643. Yardage: 6,888. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architect: Pete Dye, 1971. Greens Fee: $175. T&L Golf Rating: *****
Pete Dye's seaside classic, Teeth of the Dog, has been the top puppy in the Caribbean since it opened in 1971. Named fittingly for a local rock that digs painfully into skin, this course has all the master's familiar elements: visual intimidation, huge waste bunkers, an "island" green (the 180-yard thirteenth, surrounded by sand instead of water) and seven holes running alongside the sparkling blue Caribbean. A stretch of three holes on the back nine—fifteen, sixteen and seventeen—is aptly named "Reload Alley." Still, like most Dye designs, this one has more bark than bite.
Those oceanfront holes, alas, are the first to take a beating whenever a hurricane churns its way over the Dominican Republic. But they're also the holes that give Teeth of the Dog its notoriety, with those knee-knocking, all-or-nothing shots across sand and water, the ball buffeted by the gusty ocean winds, sparkling in the tropical sun as it heads for the tiny green targets. Even if one must reload frequently, it's a pleasure to pull the trigger a second time.
DYE FORE, Casa de Campo, La Romana; 800-877-3643. Yardage: 7,770. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architect: Pete Dye, 2003. Greens Fee: $175. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
Dye also designed Casa de Campo's sporty Links course, open to resort guests, and the private La Romana Country Club course. But the big news this past April was the debut of Dye Fore, a 7,770-yard monster that stomps along the three-hundred-foot-deep gorge of the Chavon River and past Altos de Chavon, a Mediterranean-village-style collection of cafes, restaurants and shops.
With a slew of forced carries over yawning chasms and fairways that tilt toward the river gorge, Dye Fore is essentially a bad influence on your golf game: It beckons you to do something very wrong with the golf ball. But its spacious fairways (and a saner length of 6,420 from the middle tees) make doing the right thing much easier than it seems. Keep your eye from wandering to the trouble all around—and keep your ball in the fairway—and every hole offers the opportunity for a run-up to the green with your approach shot.
With time to mature, Dye Fore may one day challenge Teeth of the Dog for alpha-course superiority in the Dominican Republic. On top of all that, the layout's tees and fairways have been planted with paspalum, a new strain of grass that actually thrives in saltwater irrigation. Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
ALSO PLAY: A lot of ink has been spilled over the mammoth tourist factory under development in the Punta Cana region of the Dominican Republic's scenic eastern coast. But while Punta Cana may have all the glamour, the unheralded Playa Grande ($60-$90; 809-582-1170) deserves it own acclaim. Robert Trent Jones Sr. recognized this as an unusually striking site for golf, playing along an open bluff on a series of small bays and inlets high above the crashing north-coast Atlantic waves. The course is a brute of 7,042 yards from the tips, and the wind is often swirling madly, driven by the pounding surf on one side and bouncing off the hills on the other. With twelve holes on the oceanfront, the setting evokes California's Monterey Peninsula—only without all the fog.