Laying Low in Abaco – Laid-Back Bahamas Luxury by Dave Finn
As a golfer, you may not have heard of the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas before since it is best known for its’ boating, scuba diving and fishing. My wife, Jane and I have vacationed in the Abaco Islands six times now and we both agree it is one of our favorite destinations on earth to kick back and relax. However, in all the times that we have been coming, I have never once played golf there. That all changed when the Abaco Club on Winding Bay opened for play in December of 2004.
Because of the great accolades from golf writers around the world and the fact that Marc Atchison from The Toronto Star ranked the Abaco Club #6 in The Star’s 2006 Top 18 International Golf Courses, I knew I had to play this course. So when I was invited me to stay and play, I could not pass up on the opportunity.
Although you can only play this course once without buying an equity membership, it is an experience you can not afford to miss if your goal is to play all the top courses in the world. To date, the Members Plaque is emblazoned with professional tour players like Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam and Len Mattice. I’m told Darren Clarke & Lee Westwood co-own a cottage off the 18th green and usually fly there to play golf the week before The Masters and Nick Faldo supposedly vacations here quite often. With credentials like these, I knew I was in for a special treat.
The Abaco Club is the brainchild of British entrepreneur, Peter de Savary who decided to build an exclusive retreat for affluent people who want both privacy and relaxation. He spent 4 years searching the Caribbean for the ideal place to build his dream resort until he discovered Winding Bay. What he found was 500 acres of jungle and bush bordered by 2 miles of white sandy beach on the west, majestic 65 foot cliffs on the east and a range of elevation changes that are not typical in the Bahamas.
de Savary had the foresight to hire the tandem of Tom Mackenzie and Donald Steel to design this gem because they have worked together on many courses in the UK including Carnegie Links, Monk’s Walk and Stapleford Park. The duo was able to use the contours of the land and the proximately to the ocean to create the world’s first true Scottish style tropical links golf course utilizing the local white sand and seashore paspalum, a salt and drought-tolerant grass.
The day that we played, the temperature was a pleasant 72 degrees, blue skies and calm breezes. Thank goodness because when the wind kicks up here this course takes on a whole new challenge. Sean Connery (of James Bond fame) reportedly said the reason why he joined this club is “I played it four times in three days and in every round the conditions changed so I knew I would never tire of playing this course.”
The Abaco Club plays to 7123 yards from the tips and as with most links courses there are not too many flat lies. The secret here is keep it on or near the fairway as the tropical foliage will eat up your golf ball faster then me eating conge chowder. The advantages are the fairways that are generous and some are banked so your ball has a tendency to funnel back to the fairway.
The greens are huge and very dramatic but are firm and true. Your approach shot is so critical here because not only do you have to be on the right plateau but everything falls away to the greenside swales.
The course starts out rather sublime but it doesn’t take long before its teeth begin to show. Hole #4 is your first opportunity to appreciate the tremendous vista of Winding Bay’s sandy beach and all the dramatic colors of the Caribbean – a great par 3, towards the ocean, where the wind will certainly be a factor.
5 through 8 are challenging holes that continue to offer you magnificent views of the ocean before you wrap back behind the outward holes to views of the Yellow Wood Creek, famous for it’s bone-fishing.
Once you climb up the steep slope to the tee on 15, you quickly realize that Mackenzie and Steele have saved their best till last with a magnificent panoramic view of the entire property.
Holes 15 and 16 have intimating tee shots carved around a daunting stone quarry and the downhill par 3, 17th will remind you of Pebble Beach where you can hit anything from a wedge to a three wood depending on the wind direction.
My favorite however would have to the par 5, 18th. When I stood on the tee I swore I was playing Ballybunion in Ireland. The wind had started to kick up and the waves were crashing onto the cliffs sending a spray of mist across the fairway illuminating a rainbow in our path. Now I know I have truly been blessed.
After a memorable round you have to make sure take the time to visit their Clubhouse for a cold Kalik (local Bahamian beer) and enjoy one of the best views of the entire Caribbean with a panoramic view of Winding Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Life does not get any better then this.
The Abaco Islands are located some 170 miles east of Florida with many daily flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale & West Palm Beach. For more information on the Abaco Club on Winding Bay visit their website at www.myabacoclub.com.
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