Bermuda, Bahama, C’mon Pretty Mama
Nothing eradicates winter blues like golf in warm tropical breezes. While winter storm Cleon may interupt holiday travel, he can’t stop us from dreaming about lush courses in more temperate climates. Here’s a quick guide to some of the best you can find using GolfNow.
Old-Time Tropical Comfort
There’s a definite nostalgic feel to the Wailea’s Old Blue Course on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Maybe it’s the stand-alone palm trees that dot the edges of the fairways, or it’s the old-school cement block linings on some of the water hazards, but this course that harks back to a Palm Springs layout of yore like Thunderbird Country Club.
That is, until you take your gaze off the target line and see the azure Pacific and the island of Kahoalawe towering in the background. From the Bermuda-grass fairways to the Bauhaus-influence in the design of the clubhouse, Old Blue comes across as a place of old-time tropical comfort.
Mauna Oh My
Remodeled in 2008 by son Rees Jones, Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii forces all golfers to make strategic decisions from the tee and the fairway, a hallmark of designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. Whereas Wailea Old Blue is traditional resort, Mauna Kea is traditionally challenging with deft bunkering that’s more penal than most courses in the region. Elevation changes increase pressure on being correct on distances.
The par-3 third is an iconic golf hole which resort guests play at about 170 yards over the Pacific inlet. Those who wish to feel the brush of greatness can tee it up from 250. Watch out for the bridesmaids, however. Weddings are common, as are whale sightings.
El Tigre outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, gets the nod here because it’s a tough, demanding Robert Von Haage-design that can wear out the most avid golfer. Example: Back-tee yardages of Nos. 17 and 18, respectively: 250 and 621, both with lots of water.
So, why does it get the nod over more well-known courses in Los Cabos or Cancun? Puerto Vallarta has a feel of glamour and prestige that pre-dates those newer resorts. Among other notable milestones: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor started their long, tormented love affair in old PV. El Tigre resides in an area north of the city that is very popular with ex-pat Americans and has architecture reminiscent of a Mayan village.
Another plus: you can find El Tigre on the same latitude as Hawaii, but without having to take the five-hour flight from the West Coast.
Palmilla Golf Club is Jack Nicklaus’ first course in Latin America and its 27 holes seem to cover the most of the continent’s topography. The green on the par-3 third on the Ocean course is surrounded by beach sand. The 470-yard third on the Mountain climbs 470 yards up the mountains, a trail of pain bordered by steep slopes. The Arroyo course suggests a dry, cacti-laden but challenging experience. The contrast in their layouts is what creates the Palmilla experience – that, and the views of the Sea of Cortez.
Los Cabos and the surrounding area has become a favorite getaway spot for West Coast tourists, which at times can make it seem like Los Angeles South. But nothing in Los Angeles has the Ocean’s par-3 third.
Puerto Rico Peace
In talking with course designer Robert Trent Jones II about his work at Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club in Puerto Rico, I suggested he widen some of the fairways, since the rough consisted of, basically, jungle. Jones gave me a “What are you talking about” look.
Bahia is located about 35 kilometers east of the San Juan airport, making this tropical, beach-side resort very easy for northeasterners to escape winter. As for the course, Bahia Beach features the best of RTJII: “splash” bunkering, thought-provoking short par-4s and slopes on greens that divide the putting surfaces into distinct regions. The tight fairways can lower your golf-ball count, but then the white-sand beach adjacent to the 18th fairway is a perfect remedy.
The PGA Grand Slam has raised the stature of Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton, Bermuda, something the locals probably don’t appreciate. After all, who wouldn’t want a little tropical paradise all to themselves? The 235-yard 16th is one of the most photographed holes in the world, and it’s certainly a challenge (only mad golfers and pros play it that way).
But the New York Times didn’t call it Bermuda’s best course because of that hole. From the tips it measures just over 6,800 yards, which means the best pros can rip it up. But that just means a fun, visually stunning, memorable golf course for the rest of us – one that we’d like to make all our own as well.