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Year-Round Golf in Jamaica

Not surprisingly, in recent years, Europeans--of all the world's populations the most beset by overcrowding and course traffic--have started coming to Tryall in summer, but not in such numbers as to make play there problematic. They rent the villas that in high season house the winter crowd of "regulars," although even in summer many of these villas will be occupied by their owners. For about $4,000 a week plus out-of-pocket extras like food, but including laundry and everything else, one can rent a four-bedroom, four-bath villa with full staff (usually four to five people: cook, maids, houseman, gardener), get meals prepared to order when wanted and have most of the comforts of an upper-tier second home.

Best of all, the golf course is right there, as is the beach, the beach club, the pool, the tennis courts and, on the hill, the Great House (currently being converted into condominium apartments). One travels around the club property by golf cart or shuttle bus. I know of no better, well-organized golf deal anywhere for families or small groups. (Tryall is also doing increasing business with corporate gatherings, in and out of season.) Golfers who prefer hotel amenities to the villa setup can stay ten minutes away at Round Hill, which has treaty access toTryall golf (and a regular shuttle) and offers incomparably elegant accommodations.

Although the course beckons every day at Tryall, there will be times when a change of scene or activity is felt desirable, and here it's hard to beat Jamaica, topographically the most complete and varied of all the Caribbean islands. Along with golf, there's the swinging scene at Negril (where a new eighteen-hole course, which is hilly and tight, has just opened), mountains to climb, old plantation houses to explore, waterfalls to splash in, rivers to raft down, wildlife to observe. It is the best place to kick back, to read, to think long, deep thoughts, to plan for eternity, that I have ever known.

As for golfing alternatives, these are plentiful. One bright morning, I set out with Nelson Long, director of golf at Tryall (as well as head professional at the prestigious Century Country Club in Purchase, New York), for a representative sampling of the other courses on the stretch of Jamaica's north coast between Tryall and Ocho Rios, a driving radius of roughly two hours. Before we were through we had checked out five other courses, a couple of which offer real pleasure, in the opinion of someone who likes his golf with a Scottish flavor (wind as a factor, a chance to play the ball on the ground, contoured greens, the sea in sight and preferably in play).

Of these, Half Moon--a few miles east of Montego Bay and the airport--is the best known, both as a golf destination and as an all-around resort, offering villas, suites and rooms; golf packages; its own beach; and a shopping arcade with Madison Avenue names. The course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the 1960s, is long and--in my view--rather boring, a layout that runs along a rather narrow tract and somehow never allows you to forget the presence of the hotel and the other guests.

This is less true of Wyndham Rose Hall, a few miles farther along the coast, whose eighteen holes flank the main Montego Bay-Ocho Rios highway. In contrast to Half Moon, and like Tryall, Rose Hall offers a real variety of terrain: The inland holes are hilly and well contoured, the holes along the sea are open to the full force of the wind and very challenging (although the best of these, the short par-four eighth, a true "cape" hole, has been ruined by a signal tower set smack in front of the green).

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