Heaven, according to an old Talking Heads song, is a place where nothing ever happens, and the island of Anguilla has banked on that particular vision of paradise for the last twenty years. Known for having some of the most beautiful and least crowded beaches in the Caribbean, Anguilla’s attention has always seemed focused outward, on the ocean. You could be excused for thinking it’s easier to find things to do in and on the water (swimming, snorkeling, sailing) than on the island’s scant thirty-five square miles of land. Even the high-end resorts and spas that have made Anguilla’s reputation—Malliouhana Hotel & Spa, CuisinArt Resort & Spa (which recently announced an expansion that should be completed in 2008), the Cap Juluca—are really all about perfecting the art of relaxation. Outside their gates, there’s no real town to speak of, no place to do any shopping, a few excellent restaurants but no real nightlife. The weather forecast reads like a joke: mostly sunny, high eighty-four, repeat until eternity. And there’s no question that this low-key approach has struck a chord with tourists: Over the past decade or so, Anguilla has risen above its neighbors in the Caribbean archipelago to become one of the hottest luxury destinations in the world.
That’s all well and good for some, but I am among those who have always secretly balked at that idea of heaven. Two or three days on a perfect beach, staring across the perfect water at the perfect horizon, and I start to go a little nuts. Scenery and tranquility are nice for a while, but at some point I need to get up from the beach chair and do something—like, say, hit a golf ball. And for years, Anguilla’s only outlet for that particular desire was a scrubby pitch-and-putt course on the east end of the salt pond right behind the rum factory in Sandy Ground. Not exactly a strong incentive to pack your clubs.
But a trip to the new Temenos Golf Club—a gorgeous, seven-thousand-plus-yard Greg Norman design that’s part of an in-progress St. Regis Resort at the island’s southwestern end—has left me a whole lot more sympathetic to Anguilla’s claim to nirvana. The resort itself won’t be fully operational until the end of next year (although three multiple-bedroom villas recently opened), but the course and clubhouse are open and, for a while at least, guests from anywhere on the island can play there for a daily fee. A deal for a second, Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the other end of the island is on the drawing board. With the savvy that’s come to characterize it, Anguilla is finally reaching out to the last holdout group of big spenders it hasn’t been able to woo: golfers.
That savvy is partly a product of the comparatively late start Anguilla got in developing its tourism industry. Its status as an island overshadowed by its better-known neighbors is centuries old. Long before tourism became the Leeward Islands’ principal industry, Anguilla—with its sandy soil and scant freshwater supply—was deemed so unprofitable by the various colonial powers that owned it (Spain, France and ultimately England) that its sparse population of subsistence farmers, fishermen and smugglers was largely left to its own devices.
For nearly a hundred and fifty years, though, the real thorn in Anguilla’s side was not England but the nearby island of St. Kitts. In 1824 the British government, for its own convenience, lumped the two islands and neighboring Nevis into a kind of paper confederation. But because St. Kitts was the largest and richest of the three and because the seat of the government was there, that island got all the royal benefits and Anguilla got scraps.