On Top of Barbados
Even though it’s the furthest island to the southeast in the Caribbean, which means a lengthy haul from Toronto, Barbados has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations for winter-weary Canadians. With a climate that almost guarantees sun-filled days, 27-32 degree temperatures, beautiful sand beaches on three coastlines, and outstanding restaurants, there’s little if anything not to like about this island.
Because of the hot days, however, there was never much demand for golf on Barbados. For many years, while Bermuda and Nassau and the Dominican Republic were luring golfers as well as sun-worshippers, Barbados was quite content to offer one uninspired 18 near the airport and another rather mediocre 9 for the posh guests at Sandy Lane Hotel.
But then things changed in the late 90s. Sandy Lane built two new 18-hole layouts, both designed by Tom Fazio. A terrific and equally scenic course was carved out of an old limestone quarry by Robert Trent Jones Jr. at Royal Westmoreland. The older and rather pedestrian Barbados Golf Club, near the airport, undertook a major remodeling in 2000.
And now there’s Apes Hill, perhaps the crown jewel of them all, opened in 2009. (For the less serious, there’s also a 9-hole course called Rockley Golf Club, with two sets of tees to make it 18.) This all adds up to a pretty significant golf destination for the sun-seeking, pin-seeking traveler.
If you’re a polo player, you’d be quite likely to know the Apes Hill Polo Club, which has been around for just a little longer than the golf club. You won’t be surprised to know that when it was conceived, pre-08, the intention was for Apes Hill to be a very rich, very exclusive polo-golf-residence community, situated almost at the highest point of the island, with breathtaking views of both the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts outside your windows, beyond your patios and unfolding off the tees. The appearance of Princes Will and Harry at Apes Hill polo events gave instant pedigree to the development.
Well, of course, financial fate intervened, and even though they built the polo pitch and the golf course, the building of houses has taken a bit longer. (They’ll build to your specs, by the way, but also have semi-detached units and holiday rentals available.)
In the meantime, the Golf Club has succeeded in attracting many island residents and regular visitors as members, if not quite yet a full quota. And while they don’t advertise the fact, they do leave a few tee times open each day for visitors like me, who ask nicely and don’t arrive wearing a basketball shirt and flipflops. As the economy improves, and more memberships get taken up, the plan is to close this window. So if you’re a golfer who likes to put notches in your belt, this is one I urge you to play while you can, if you ever find yourself on this wonderful island.
The course is very hilly, very challenging, and if you expect to shoot the lights out here the first time, don’t. If your ball escapes the fairway on many holes, just reload. The greens are fair but the grain is confounding, and the many bunkers are usually high-walled, not giving you much chance to reach the green unless you’re beside it. But frankly, you really won’t mind, because you’ll be in awe of both the design of the hole you’re playing, and the constant views of the ocean or the sea in the distance. Even though I tripled bogeyed one of them, and doubled two more, I was particularly struck with the par 3’s at Apes Hill. Club selection required some serious thinking, as you’d face a 150 yard shot downhill and downwind, and think maybe a nine iron might be too much… and then three holes later, 160 yards downhill again and into the wind, and wonder if a three hybrid would carry the front bunker. But what an enjoyable experience!
The green fees at Apes Hill are what you might expect a high-end, primarily private course to demand – around $250 depending on the season – but let me assure you… if you’re only going to play one round of golf in Barbados, this is the one course you must play, and it’s worth every penny. In time, I expect Apes Hill will become as well known and revered as its neighbours, Sandy Lane and Royal Westmoreland. Once it’s been played by more people, I’m sure it’ll join the list of most prominent Atlantic courses, alongside such stalwarts as Mid Ocean, Port Royal and Casa de Campo.
And so it should.