Golfing in Jamaica

I didn’t think it was possible. How could you go on a golfing vacation and have golf not be in your thought process most of the time?

It happened last month when my bride and I visited Jamaica to find out about the golf on this tropical Caribbean island that sits 100 miles south of Cuba.

Probably a great deal had to do with where we stayed. The Grand Lido Braco, an all-inclusive SuperClub Resort, was our residence for our (too short) four-day stay. Braco is located on the northern coast of Jamaica thirty miles east of Montego Bay. It is designed as a Jamaican town, complete with traditional Caribbean architecture, a town square, art gallery, restaurants, spa, beauty salon and cafes. Spectacular was the word for me to describe it; paradise was the term my wife used.

All-inclusive means just that. Included were luxury accommodations (steps from the ocean), all meals (exquisite), all drinks (top shelf), 24-hour room service serving champagne, shrimp cocktail, or anything you would want, water sports including snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving, tennis, complimentary manicures and pedicures, and yes, free golf. Oscar Brown, a Jamaican PGA member, is on staff providing free golf lessons for three hours each morning, and well as instructors for tennis and the water sports.

Before getting to the golf lets talk about the restaurants. On the premises is Piacere, a French restaurant serving wonderful Nouvelle cuisine. Another restaurant not to be missed is Munahana, a Japanese restaurant with tableside cooking. Both require reservations and Piacere requires that men where a jacket. If you didn’t bring one, they will loan you one for the evening.

Now to the golf. Braco has The Village Green, its own nine-hole par 28 course right on the property that measures 1,357 yards from the blue tees. The holes range from 117 yards to 252 yards for the only par 4. The par 4 fourth hole is the most intriguing to play. It is a dogleg right with water from the front of the tee until almost the green. The more you bite off on your drive, the shorter the second shot, but you can’t go too far left because you will be out of bounds. It’s a fun, strategic hole. Many of the tee shots have forced carries over water and the third, eight and ninth holes have ponds just to the right of the greens

The course has large Bermuda grass greens that average about 6,000 square feet. They are soft but fast, a good combination. You can get around the course in a little over an hour. I played 18 holes one morning while my wife was getting her manicure and pedicure. It’s a great place to work on your irons. There is also a full-length driving range next to the course. Yes, the balls are free (to hit, not to keep!)

As part of your package you get free golf at Runaway Bay, located 25 minutes east of the resort, and Ironshores, located in Montego Bay. Free shuttle busses leave from Braco at 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to take guests to Runaway Bay. The golf and cart are free, but you must take a walking caddy ($14) on the course. My caddy was very helpful reading greens and even found one of my errant shots when I was sure it was lost.

Runaway Bay measures 6,814 from the tips (6,487-white) and 5,533 from the red tees. There are many long par 4’s that require good distance off the tee to reach the greens. The par 5’s are where you can score and the par 3’s are the most scenic. The course is across the main road from the Caribbean and water views abound, but there is only one small pond on the course. The course has Bermuda grass everywhere and the greens are relatively flat and fast. Bunkers are located near every green and in many fairways to catch the errant shot. Native palms and deciduous trees line and separate the fairways.

My favorite hole was the 148 yard par 3 16th. It plays downhill to a postage stamp green with out of bounds to the right and a severe dropoff to the left of the green. Hit the green or make double bogey, or maybe a bogey if you are short or in the left traps that prevent balls from falling another 50 feet. Many guests said that the played the course every day during their vacation.

I did not play the other free course, Ironshores. Oscar Brown said that it had an excellent layout, but a few of the guests who played it said that the conditions were not the best. Steve Ford, a vice president at SuperClubs, said that the company had recently purchased the course and that much work was planned. There are many other courses in the area that you could pay to play. The trendiest course on this part of the island is White Witch, a new von Hagge design that winds up a mountain and offers spectacular views of the Caribbean. The Ocean Course at Rose Hall hosts the Jamaica Open each year, and minutes away is the Half Moon Club, a Robert Trent Jones design that looked spectacular as we rode past it on the way to the airport. Tryall Golf Club is 12 miles west of Montego Bay and the former home of the Johnnie Walker World Championship.

Back to the resort. Braco is divided into two main sections, clothing and au naturel. “We are actually one of the largest nude resorts in the Caribbean,” said Garfield Collins, director of sales. We never saw any nude people (darn), because the nude section is away from the main area and there certainly weren’t any people playing with the short putter on the Village Green course, and all people must be dressed to eat in the dining rooms. The disco and piano bar also require clothing, although one night there is a toga party.

The turquoise Caribbean water is warm and crystal clear. I went for a swim everyday before breakfast. The ocean was forty feet from our room. Thatched huts and palm trees provide shade on the beach for those who don’t want to burn before playing golf.

Christina DeFalco was the SuperClubs representative who first suggested this trek and Lucille Carr at Air-Sea Travel, Ltd. in Coventry put the package together. Lucille can be reached at 401-826-2040. You can also call SuperClubs at 1-800-GO-SUPER.

It’s a great place for couples or a group. You will have a great time, and don’t be surprised if golf doesn’t take a back seat for a few days.

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