Here are my top picks at islands whose palm-fringed fairways more than meet the challenge.
Good golfers struggle to pick a favourite here as Bermuda is home to more courses per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world.
Until recently, the obvious top draw was Mid Ocean Club, a 6,547-yard course that has symbolized Bermuda golf since the 1920s. Remodelled by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1953, Mid Ocean offers risk-and-reward golf at its best as it winds through rolling countryside before ending dramatically with a par 4 on bluffs overlooking the sea. ( www.themidoceanclubbermuda.com)
Another long-time standout is Tucker's Point Club, a hilly and stunningly beautiful Roger Rulewich redesign that is the centrepiece of a posh resort community featuring the new Tucker's Point Hotel and Spa. ( www.tuckerspoint.com)
But the buzz these days is about the rejuvenated Port Royal Golf Course, which last month hosted major winners Ernie Els, David Toms, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Built in the 1960s by Trent Jones Sr. along oceanside cliffs on the south shore, the government-owned course has completed a brilliant $15-million remodelling by Rulewich, who worked with the legendary Jones during the original construction. Especially memorable is Port Royal's signature 16th, a wind-blown par 3 clinging to a cliff high above Whale Bay that Rulewich has cruelly stretched to a length of 235 yards from the back tee. ( www.portroyalgolf.bm)
Abundantly blessed with waterfalls, jungles, mountains and white-sand coves, Jamaica's dramatic northwest coast also offers golfers the rare opportunity to play the showpiece courses of three luxury resorts, all just minutes apart near bustling Montego Bay.
The venerable flagship of the trio is Half Moon Golf Club, a classic design by Trent Jones Sr. at the Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club, one of the Caribbean's plushest resorts. Opened in 1961 and recently renovated by (the much in-demand) Rulewich, the lushly tropical layout flows seamlessly through gentle foothills just beyond the craggy coastline. ( www.halfmoongolf.com)
A quick shuttle ride away is Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, a Robert von Hagge-Rick Baril design owned by Wyndham Rose Hall Resort that weaves through the 19th-century ruins of Rose Hall plantation. It was in the stately Georgian great house looming above the course's dramatic back nine that Annee Palmer, Jamaica's infamous “white witch,” allegedly killed three husbands and several slaves. ( www.cinnamonhilljamaica.com)
The plantation's former mistress lends her name to the undisputed star of Jamaican golf, White Witch Golf Club, an evilly difficult von Hagge-Baril design owned by the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall Resort. Launched to wild acclaim in 2000, White Witch offers panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea from no fewer than 16 holes. ( www.whitewitchgolf.com)
Though the Dominican Republic has enjoyed a two-decade-long string of high-profile course openings, the popular choice for one-stop golfing is still famous Casa de Campo resort, featuring three championship layouts by Pete Dye, perhaps the greatest of modern golf architects.
Since its unveiling on the island's southeast coast in 1971, Dye's 7,471-yard Teeth of the Dog has ranked as the Caribbean's marquee course. On both nines, Dye starts his routing inland and then breaks out toward the ocean, saving the best for last. Golfers are awed by seven spectacular oceanside holes, including the namesake 16th, a long and treacherous par 3 in a rock cove shaped like a dog's snapping jaws.
Just inland at the luxury resort is The Links, a shorter yet still stern test of golf that wends around ponds filled with wading birds and through tall roughs of bahia and guinea grass.
And dramatically rambling across steep cliffs high above the ocean and the Chavon River is Dye Fore, a 7,714-yard behemoth that launched to rave reviews in 2003. Dye's largely treeless fairways pitch and roll through indigenous grasses and tumble down hillsides affording panoramic views of the Casa de Campo marina and the Altos de Chavon artist village. ( www.casadecampo.com.do)
Once reliant on a traditional sun, sand and sea tourism strategy, Barbados ignited a local golf boom with the 1994 launch of the Royal Westmoreland Golf and Country Club, a gorgeous Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on the popular west coast.
Officially opened by Prince Andrew – who wowed onlookers by splitting the fairway with his first drive – the 7,045-yard parkland-style layout offers breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea with almost every shot. ( www.royalwestmoreland.com)
Royal Westmoreland reigned supreme until 2004 when the celebrity-packed wedding of Tiger Woods at nearby Sandy Lane resort focused international attention on the ultra-exclusive property's new $25-million Green Monkey course. Designed by Tom Fazio, Pete Dye's leading rival among contemporary architects, the 7,389-yard layout slowly builds drama through the first eight holes before startling golfers with a rapid descent into an abandoned quarry. So spectacular is the design and seaside setting that the Green Monkey instantly became one of the world's must-play courses. The only hitch is that access is restricted to guests of Sandy Lane, one of the Caribbean's priciest resorts. Sandy Lane does, however, offer public play on its other Fazio championship layout, the Country Club Course, a lush parkland-style jewel that offers tantalizing glimpses of the Green Monkey through the swaying palms. ( www.sandylane.com)
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