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Year-Round Golf in Jamaica

One of Jamaica's older courses, Runaway Bay, now known as Breezes Golf & Beach Resort, is part of the first-class SuperClubs chain that operates a number of package-scheme hotels and resorts on the island. Presided over by Seymour Rose, three-time winner of the Jamaica Open, Breezes is what you might call a "fun" course--not a backbreaker but plenty long enough to call for the head covers to come off--with tricky greens.

The best came last, and quite unexpectedly: Sandals Golf & Country Club, deep in the hills a few miles beyond Ocho Rios. Ocho Rios itself teems with large chain hotels, all the familiar fast-food brands, giant cruise ships docked in the harbor, tourist throngs seeking duty-free buys. But the homegrown Sandals is one of the best package operators in Jamaica, with several locations around the island. A few years ago, they took over the old Upton course--eighteen holes laid out along and in a bowl-like declivity--and invested heavily in updating, clubhouse construction and rehabilitation. The result is a course that is fair, varied, with beautiful plantings and a fresh hill breeze even at the heart of the day--and an agreeable clubhouse with all the amenities. A good day's outing from Tryall or Round Hill that avoids the clatter of Ocho Rios could comprise a round at Sandals and a visit to Dunn's River Falls, one of the island's natural wonders--definitely worth the visit.

Summer golfers crave sun and sky, a breeze sometimes to their backs, sometimes in their faces, but what they desire most of all are uncrowded vistas and unhurried play, and these are what you get in Jamaica in summer. I can't speak for other golfing venues in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Nevis and Barbados all have their fans), but it's certain that other islands set in the sunlit sea also offer the same kind of escape that I have found in Jamaica.

One last tip: It may have been the opinion of Noël Coward, who adored Jamaica (his house "Firefly" is a national monument), that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. But had he been a golfer he would have known differently. We Americans typically like to tee it up around 8 a.m. in order to get in for lunch, but the experienced tropical golfer knows that morning is the hot time, that the game is best enjoyed at the--excuse my language--shank of noon.

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