By Tim Cotroneo
Is it possible that a golf course’s beauty can hurt your game? Emerald Bay Head Professional Richard Gibson believes this could be the case with his Greg Norman-designed 18-hole layout, which hugs the turquoise waters of Great Exuma in The Bahamas.
“Whenever I speak with our golfers at Sandals Resort, they almost always say the front nine is harder than the back. When I see their scorecard, the opposite is true. What happens is that golfers get so caught up in the beauty of the back nine, they do more looking than golfing,” Gibson said.
Looking could be declared a national pastime on 37-mile long Great Exuma. The island’s turquoise water created an international buzz when it served as a backdrop to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. Now imagine this same extraordinary water lapping at your heels when teeing off on holes 11 through 17. If you also happened to sample one of the island’s legendary rum cocktails at the turn, your golf concentration levels are tested like nowhere else on earth.
Just Warming Up
Emerald Bay’s front nine is located inland, or at least a three-wood from the back nine ocean holes that beckon like a siren song. The front nine tests your golfing mettle with lake holes, a multitude of sand traps, and more mangrove vegetation than the best chapters in the children’s’ story, “Jungle Book.”
Gibson especially likes the petite and reachable 260-yard Par 4, 4th hole. A 5-iron is more than enough club to provide a safe 100-yard second shot. The problem is, the driver distance from tee to green is so enticingly close that it’s easy to throw caution to the wind.
“Most golfers will pull out their driver and go for it. Keep in mind there is ocean running the whole length of the left side. This is a birdie or bogey hole, with a little creativity in between,” Gibson said.
A Shark Story
Greg Norman has carved quite a name for himself in the field of Caribbean golf course design. Of his over 100 golf courses throughout the globe, Norman includes four Caribbean courses in his portfolio. An avid outdoorsman, this part of the world suits Norman the yachtsman and Norman the fisherman just fine.
Emerald Bay’s back nine receives all the glory, but it was the Par 4, 499-yard, 5th hole that really challenged Norman’s back and budget. “We call the 5th the million-dollar hole. There is a huge expanse of limestone behind the 5th green. Trying to remove the that rock became too much of a construction challenge. Norman’s crew finally relented, and golfers can now see a natural stone creation behind the green,” Gibson said.
Short but Sweet but What a Treat
The two par threes on the back nine could be termed short, but sweet, and a visual treat. The 11th hole is just 148-yards from the back tees. The 13th hole is a miniscule 122-yards from the back. The length is where the sweetness ends.
The 11th hole features the Atlantic Ocean on the right side. Flip the mirror on the 13th and the Atlantic is now on the left. If the trade winds are blowing, you have a lot to think about. The beauty of these two short iron tests is jaw-dropping. A golfer’s goal is to commit to the shot.
Par Fours that Soar
The 14th, 15th, and 16th holes compare with any in the universe for beauty. All three par fours buttress the ocean. Keep in mind that the two resorts flanking the golf course are havens for sailors. On top of the raw natural beauty that Sandals Emerald Bay delivers, you must also contend with the sight of sailboats caressing the ocean just a nine iron away.
As you head down the homestretch toward the clubhouse, you can’t help but savor what you’ve just experienced. Emerald Bay takes Caribbean golf to a whole new level. Prior to your round you anticipated the palm trees, the world class beach, and the laid-back lifestyle. What you didn’t imagine was a golf course so beautiful that your handicap may take on a wee bit of saltwater.
As your golf cart pulls up to the pro shop after the round, Gibson smiles and asks his two favorite questions. “What did you think of Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course, and which nine did you think was harder?”
No Wrong Answers
The good news is that you’re on vacation, so there are no wrong answers. Upon quenching your thirst with one of Sandals’ legendary rum cocktails, you may have a question of your own.
How many times in life do you play island golf on a course that could be described as too beautiful?
In the Caribbean game called life, who is keeping score?