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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Golfing in Jamaica

Tropical paradise has some of the best courses anywhere

Posted: 12/29/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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There are three things you need to know about golf in Jamaica.

Firstly, you must have a caddie with you for every round. It's the policy of most, if not all, golf courses in Jamaica.

Secondly, you may find that caddie giving you swing advice whether you think you need it or not. In most cases they can help those willing to listen.

And finally, when the putting line is given to you on the green, no matter what your eyesight tells you, you are best to believe the caddie. They are usually right on.

While most people who travel to Jamaica do so for the beaches and resorts, some of the best golf courses you can find anywhere are clustered along the northern side of the island, from the Montego Bay area to Ocho Rios.

My son Carey and I have undertaken a golf discovery tour each fall for the past several years.

With non-stop flights starting early from Winnipeg to Montego Bay, an excellent opportunity was presented to us to fly further afield than the U.S. based golf trails we have followed in the past.

In Jamaica, most of the golf resorts are tied into major resort properties. While open to the public, guests who stay at the properties have preferred access and lower priced or complimentary tee times.

The following are the top five courses we recommend for golf enthusiasts considering Jamaica, along with reviews of the resorts to which they are attached.

White Witch Golf Course

Reputed to have killed at least three of her husbands, Annie Palmer, who owned the Rose Hall plantation in the 19th century, became known as the white witch for her evil deeds. She was also supposed to have cast an evil spell on her slaves of the day.

The spell may have continued into present times as golfers can often be heard cursing the steep changes in elevation, frequent side hill lies and a mountainous terrain that can shake the confidence of the most skilled golfers.

Forward tee markers make it playable for the high handicapper, but it does require a good deal more accuracy than would be required in courses here.

Nevertheless, this is a must play course. Spectacular views of the golf course and surroundings make it a pleasure to navigate, and views of the Caribbean Sea from all but two holes create photo opportunities at every turn.

The Resort: The White Witch course is attached to The Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, Rose Hall Jamaica.

Find the brand on any property in North America, South America, the Caribbean, or around the world and you will be living in a lifestyle that shouts out service and comfort.

Upon checking in, we found we had somehow lost or misplaced one of our bags. On their own, the staff traced back our taxi driver, phoned the resort we had come from earlier, and informed us that the driver was going back to have it picked up immediately.

In most places, the Ritz-Carleton is known as a business hotel. As a result, guests in Jamaica can choose whether they wish the all-inclusive option. The property is situated close to the airport and only a few minutes from the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

Sandals Golf and Country Club

When I first played this Ocho Rios course many years ago, it was known as the Upton Golf Club. After many additions and improvements, it is now one of the most popular tracks in the country.

Gently rolling hills and occasional views of the ocean make it a pleasure to play on. The fairways are reasonable wide and the treed areas dividing holes are cleared, leaving a decent "out" shot for the wayward drive.

Views of the Mountains behind the course offer a beauty of their own.

The first day we were to golf this course, we were deluged with a monsoon-style rainfall so heavy that the golf cart could scarcely make it back to the clubhouse.

Upon returning the next day, we were astonished to see how the course had been completely drained of water and, other than in a few low-lying spots, the golf course was dry and completely playable.

The Resort: Sandals is the original all-inclusive resort, created by homegrown entrepreneur Butch Stewart. From his first property near the Montego Bay airport, he would build a resort empire that stretched throughout the Caribbean.

Sandals properties are all for couples only. Its sister resort brand, Beaches, was added more recently to accommodate the ever-expanding family-travel market.

The four-poster beds at the Sandals where we stayed are a pleasure to sleep on. I had excellent sleeps every night. But I had not slept with my son in the same bed since he was five years old, and expressed that I was not about to start now.

I don't think Carey slept quite as soundly on the small cot they provided.

Golf is complimentary for guests at the Sandals and Beaches properties in Ocho Rios, but there is an extra charge for both the caddie and cart. While walking is permitted, unless you are in very good condition, traversing the course in the hot humid temperatures of Jamaica can be a chore.

Half Moon Golf Club

While Half Moon may be the flattest of all the courses we played, its degree of difficulty is enhanced by greens that seem unreadable, plus a Robert Trent Jones design that throws different angles at the player with each turn.

Like the Sandals course, the treed areas are well kept and cut to create friendly escapes for hook or slice.

At 7,119 yards from the championship tees, the course plays longer than its length would indicate.

The Resort: Half Moon Rose Hill

This is the prime place to stay. With a guest list that includes the present queen and future monarch, frequent visitor Paul Simon, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and three Canadian prime ministers including our current one, it clearly comes highly recommended.

It is also the resort where the final episodes of the reality show America's Top Model was taped.

"We have the reputation and expectation that every single staff member at every level is committed to enhancing the guest experience," Diandra Shand, Half Moon's communications manager, underlined.

During our stay we can attest to the fact that those were not empty words.

It is the only resort in the Caribbean with its own dolphin pool. Other than almost losing my swim suit as the dolphins pushed me through the water, it was a highlight of the trip.

Half Moon's children's play area is substantive, and is widely known to have one of the finest spas on the island.

Accommodations range from single rooms to one-bedroom suites, all the way to the six-bedroom villas where the stars and royalty often choose to stay.

Its dining facilities are without parallel, and its sugar Mill Restaurant on the golf course itself should be experienced by every guest who visits the area.

We dined there on our last night before returning home and toasted our good fortune in deciding to choose Jamaica this year.

Tryall Golf Club

As you move past the seaside holes of the first nine, one gets the feeling of having moved to another golf course. Its back nine traverses though this massive property's more forested hillsides, changing the personality of the course completely.

With the sea at your feet and a mountain at your back, Tryall is another example of golfing in Jamaica where the beauty of the environment transcends the challenge of the course. But like most in Jamaica, this course throws in plenty of obstacles to demand that concentration and strategy are as important as ensuring consistent swing patterns.

The winds of the Caribbean Sea are a factor on every hole on the front nine, while water, sand traps and hillsides keep your attention on the back.

The Resort: The Tryall Club

Doting the hillsides overlooking the golf course and the ocean on 890 hectares of land, are more than 80 villas for guest rentals.

Each villa, from one to eight bedrooms, comes with a chef and maid. Most villas come with their own swimming pool, and the larger six-bedroom units we viewed had appropriately large swimming pools as well.

In June of 2010, Tryall was granted Green Globe Certification for its environmental initiatives and sustainable practices.

Cinnamon Hill Golf Club

Managed by Robert Ames, brother of successful PGA Tour championship winner Canadian Stephen Ames, Cinnamon Hill is the only recommended course not attached to a major resort.

The most recent top rated reviews on trip adviser read: "Very nice course! 3 holes along the Caribbean, Johnny Cash's estate, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's grave, and the James Bond waterfall. Beautiful views all over!"

These comments encapsulate the Cinnamon Hill experience. And while golf was our primary mission on this journey, there was an infectious enthusiasm in the Jamaican people whom we came in contact with.

They seem to have personalities that embrace visitors and make you want to take heed when they say: "Come bock soon, mon." And we very well may.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 D1

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