By Joe McLean – A media invitation to play in a Pro-Am golf tournament on the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies and the chance to explore a number of golf resorts is tough to pass up at the best of times.
To receive the invitation to play during one of the coldest winters on record in the Ottawa Valley was perfect.
Having never travelled to the Caribbean islands, my thoughts of the West Indies were entirely generated by stories about pirates, tall ships and buried treasure from books I had read in my youth.
A hint of what was to come could be seen from my window seat on the airplane flying over numerous islands dotting the blue Caribbean waters. As we were landing at Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport in St. Kitts, two cruise ships could be seen waiting to proceed to their docking areas. Stepping off of the plane onto the tarmac, I was pleasantly welcomed to St. Kitts by a refreshingly warm, gentle Caribbean breeze.
The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are located in the Caribbean southeast of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and north of the islands of Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia. The island’s stunning variety of tourism attractions include hiking through the tropical rainforest, riding the scenic railway that connects the island’s former sugar plantations, visiting the Caribelle Batik factory, and touring Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, the only man-made UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean. Among the more traditional vacation pastimes available are water sports, golf, shopping, tennis, dining, gaming at St. Kitts’ exclusive casino or simply relaxing on a sandy beach. Accommodations range from intimate plantation inns to larger hotels and resorts.
My focus on this trip was to play and review the tournament golf courses of the Admirals Cup Pro-Am as well as get a first-hand look at two new golf resorts in various stages of construction. My home base was the delightful St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino.
“The Admirals Cup Pro-Am tournament is our premier event to help build awareness for our twin-island nation within the lucrative golf travel niche market,” said Racquel Brown, CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority. “Apart from our St. Kitts and Four Seasons Golf Clubs, we have two new championship courses – Irie Hills at Kittitian Hill and Christophe Harbour.” Irii Hills is expected to open this Fall while the Tom Fazio course at Christophe Harbour is still a couple years from opening.
The five-day St. Kitts-Nevis Admiral’s Cup Pro-Am is held in early February each year and features PGA Club Professionals teamed with three amateur golfers in a team best-ball competition against teams from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
The host golf courses for the 2015 Admirals Cup Pro-Am were the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club on the island of St. Kitts and the Four Seasons Golf Club on the island of Nevis.
The Admiral’s Cup Pro-Am is managed by The Golf Connection LLC for the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, the St. Kitts Marriott Resort, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis and American Airlines.
From beginning to end, Tom Jaronski and his team from The Golf Connection LLC took care of the participants with their hosted parties, dinners and on-course refreshments.
Our team of Club Professional Jess Jattan from the Caribbean island of Tobago, Charlie Biggs and John Huffman from the Commonwealth National Golf Club in Horsham, Pennsylvania and me did not fare out as well as we should have but that’s golf. I certainly enjoyed the experience and the company of new friends.
The Host Golf Courses
Royal St. Kitts Golf Club
A brisk five minute walk from St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino brings you to the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, managed by the Marriott Resort The 18-hole links style, sea-side course is a treat to play, and, well conditioned with magnificent views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. A warm-up session on the full length driving range, short game practice area and undulating practice green is a must to get the feel of what you are about to experience during your game of golf.
Originally designed by Peter Thompson in 1975, the course underwent a redesign by Canadian designer Thomas McBroom in 2003. The Royal St. Kitts Golf Course was also the first Caribbean golf course to earn Audubon Certification for its environmental practices and is a natural haven for both native and migratory birds.
The magnificent layout has 125 irrigated acres of lush grass and allows golfers to play two full holes on the Caribbean Sea and three complete holes on the Atlantic Ocean. Measuring 5049-6851 yards from four sets of tees, the par 71 layout offers a challenge to all levels of golfers with elevated tees and greens, generous fairways, water hazards on 10 holes, 80 bunkers and the abundant coconut palm trees.
Depending on the prevailing breezes, which bring occasional outbursts of liquid sunshine, golfers may have to hit an extra club or two to stay out of trouble. The Royal St. Kitts is an interesting layout with its crowning glory being its finishing five holes. I hope that you have scored well on the first 13 holes as the difficult portion of the course begins at the 14th hole.
The final five holes are a treat to play with ocean views abounding. Depending on the elements, they each require careful club selection on each shot but matter how well you play them you will leave with the gift of the experience.
After your round, a drink is in order on the outside balcony not only to take another look at the ocean views and the multi-colored homes set on the hills lining the fairways but also to take the time to reflect on a well-conditioned and challenging layout that is the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club,
Four Seasons Resort Golf Course
There’s no walking to the Four Seasons Resort Golf Club unless you are staying at the Four Seasons Resort on the island of Nevis. “the Narrows”, a strip of ocean separating St. Kitts and Nevis prevents that. . So our journey to play golf included a half hour ferry ride to the pier at the Four Seasons Golf Resort.
A picturesque dormant volcano named Nevis Peak and the Caribbean Sea dominate the scenery on the Four Seasons Golf Course where Robert Trent Jones II used the available hillside landscape to weave a wonderful 18-hole golf course through the resort community. Reminiscent of mountain courses in Canada, the twists and turns of the uphill, side hill and downhill fairways require that thought-provoking decisions are being made on each shot.
My game in the shotgun event began on the par-5, 15th-hole measures between 558 and 663 yards playing downhill with a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea. As we were soon to find out, any shot that didn’t hit the correct position on the fairways was often destined to roll out into the surrounding brush and trees. I was fortunate to find the right line and ended up with my second shot on the back of the green. In my excitement, I proceeded to three-putt, forgetting the cardinal rule at the Four Seasons Nevis Course – Putt away from the volcano.
I can’t remember a bad hole design throughout our play on the course and the par three’s were strong and a pleasure to play requiring concentration and near-perfect club selection.
A favourite hole of mine apart from the 15th was the par-4 finishing hole with a tight fairway and penalizing rough on both sides and a green not visible from back on the fairway. Your target is a flag that looks like it is sitting in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Mr. Trent Jones II has created a truly Championship golf course on Nevis Island and I can’t imagine anything better in the Caribbean. It is a must play should you have the chance
I was told by fellow golf-writers and players who had experienced golf in the Caribbean area that the Royal St. Kitts and Four Seasons Resort golf clubs are two of the most scenic and challenging courses in the Caribbean. It was a joy to play both of them.
Kittitian Hill & Christophe Harbour Golf Resort Communities
Another part of my familiarization trip to St. Kitts-Nevis was to check out two developing resort communities with golf courses designed by Ian Woosnam and Tom Fazio. Both Kittitian Hill and Christophe Harbour when completed will be on the upscale list of golf travel destinations.
Kittitian Hill is a resort destination like no other I have experienced. When I visited in February, 2015, the various forms of accommodation were in place and the golf course was a work in progress. Kittitian Hill’s 400 acres of fertile farmland is set between Mount Liamuiga and the Caribbean Sea in St. Kitts, West Indies. The extraordinary site affords views of the rugged coastline and neighbouring islands.
“My vision is to bring together community and culture, along with mindful conservation of natural resources,” says founder Val Kempadoo.” This means we can offer our guests an unforgettable experience, while bringing lasting, life-changing benefits to the local people and economy. While the vision of Kittitian Hill is an evolving one, at its heart is the spirit of sustainability, community and culture. Our vision is brought to life through a restorative spa journey, a round on the world’s most edible golf course, the design of our private luxury villas and boutique hotels, and the fresh, flavorful food, harvested from our organic farms before being served in our intimate restaurants.”
The first chapter of Kittitian Hill’s luxury sustainable development, Belle Mont Farm (“Beautiful Mountain”) is a collection of 84 Guesthouses and seven four-bedroom Farmhouses set within an organic farm. Accommodations are thoughtfully sowed into the “edible landscape” as designed by world-renowned architect Bill Bensley. Structures are built using Caribbean techniques, local materials and sustainable sources that mirror the architecture of traditional chattel houses. Guesthouses feature open verandas and private infinity pools, sweeping views, and al fresco bathrooms with rainwater showers and freestanding roll-top bathtubs. The four-bedroom Farmhouses provide ample room for up to eight people with a central living area and professional kitchen.
Even the golf course at Kittitian Hill is true to their vision. Irie Fields will make you think differently about your game. ‘Irie’ means to be at peace and harmony with yourself and where you are and with every hole offering spectacular views of the rain forest, near-by communities, the Caribbean Sea and neighbouring islands this definition is certainly validated. Veteran Welsh golfer Ian Woosnam has partnered with golf course architect Gary Johnston to design a championship par 71, 18-hole golf course on a spectacular piece of farm property.
The course weaves through lush tropical farmland, making the most of the natural obstacles in its way. The difference here is that the boundaries blur between the course and the farm: instead of the usual shrubs and plants you’d expect, you’ll find organic crops and fruit trees. Smart water management and the abundant crops reduce the impact on the environment while making for an enchanting experience. Caddies from the local golf academy in the Village will share their tips on the course – including where the ripest, juiciest fruit is ready to pick and eat in the shade of a wild mango tree. No wonder it’s described as the world’s most edible golf course. Being an organic golf course, only natural pesticides are allowed at Irie Fields and staff weed the course by hand.
A return visit upon completion of the vision that is Kittitian Hill is a must.
On the southeast peninsula of St. Kitts, a 2,500-acre resort community is under construction. Many homes have already been built and are now occupied along with a comfortable beach club in Sandy Bank’s Bay. On my February, 2015 visit, the sheltered Christophe Harbour marina capable of docking 300 yachts was nearing completion. Soon to come to complement the resort community are the Park Hyatt St. Kitts Hotel, the marina village and the Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course set more than 500 feet above the sea complete with clubhouse and practice facilities. The views from the proposed 17-th tee only a third of the way up the mountain of both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea as well as the marina and the resort community were spectacular and only accessible at the time of our visit by a four-wheel drive vehicle. I can just imagine the views that will be forthcoming when the golf course and clubhouse are finished further up on the mountain.
All too soon it was time to head back to the winter cold in Canada. It was a nice visit to an area of the world that I had not previously encountered where the weather was perfect, the hospitality was superb and people were friendly and accommodating.
St. Kitts-Nevis has been referred to in the past as a tourist destination with golf.
After playing the Royal St. Kitts and Four Seasons Resort Golf Courses and visiting the Irie Fields Golf Course and seeing the layout for the Tom Fazio Course in Christophe Harbour, I would hazard a guess that in the future St. Kitts-Nevis will become known as a premiere golf destination.
The Golf Connection LLC
St. Kitts Tourism Authority