Jamaica Golf Courses Article

Tackling the Wicked White Witch & Jamaica golf courses around Montego Bay

Jamaica golf courses article written by Travel Writer Linda Jackson, Editor Active Caribbean

Generally it’s either the Bob Marley connection or some negative incident that draws media attention to Jamaica, an occurrence that might go practically unnoticed in Europe or America. Never are Jamaica golf courses being headlined as some of the best in the Caribbean but, after four visits to the island, I am in no doubt that it should be at the top of every golfer’s ‘must play’ destinations list. In reality, Jamaica is a captivating lush mountainous island where you’ll find some of the friendliest and laid-back people in the Caribbean, elegant accommodation, myriad activities, and a cluster of top-notch Jamaica golf courses that are a pleasure and challenge to play – positively wicked at times.

Jamaica golf courses

There are many golf courses in Jamaica, but the joy of playing the surprising little cluster of impressive golf courses located in a classy area of Montego Bay is that all three of them are within about 10-15 minutes’ drive from each other. And they, together with a selection of luxury hotels, are all just a short drive from Donald Sangster International Airport – so no long distance airport-hotel transfers involved. Arriving at the airport in Jamaica, checking in at the dedicated reception area for Half Moon, A RockResort, and being transferred (15 minutes) to that luxury resort proves speedy and smooth.

Montego Bay luxury hotel

Arriving at the resort late afternoon/early evening makes the Caribbean setting – and I hope this doesn’t sound too corny – quite magical. The spreading branches of almond trees are twisted with fairy lights and the tables are candlelit, making the outside terrace restaurant a relaxing and romantic place to eat, and the Cedar Bar a friendly place to enjoy a cocktail or two before dinner. A couple of the barman’s cocktails, the ‘Island Ambassador’ and ‘Half Moon’s Magic’, ensure this is a place to frequent during my stay in Jamaica, during which I’m planning to play three of the courses that are members of the Rose Hall Golf Association which offers guests exclusive access to 54 holes of great golf – at Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and the White Witch… a cluster of Jamaican championship golf courses worth playing twice each on any golf holiday.

Half Moon Golf Course

There’s a frequent shuttle bus that runs from the resort to the Half Moon Golf Course, minutes away, where I discover good practice facilities – grassed practice bays as well as bunker practice, putting, chipping and pitching greens, and an inviting 19th hole. My first glimpse of the Half Moon tropical golf scene – a mass of towering palm trees lining the level fairways, big Persil-white clouds, an electric blue sky and distant foothills backdrop – makes me impatient to get shoes on and caddied-up. The resident British golf pro, Spencer Edwards – a really nice guy – joins me for a round. Spencer loves living in Jamaica, “It’s a dream golf destination” he says “but not enough golfers know it”. He’s coached Ryder Cup and European Tour players so I had better take note of the remarks he makes about my putting stance and swing, and work on them. It seems my swing has deteriorated lately and now resembles a pancake most of the time – somewhat flat.

As for the golf course, it’s a good one to walk (it’s nice to have the choice) – it’s a par 72 designed by legendary Robert Trent Jones Snr in 1964, was renovated by designer Roger Rulewich during 2004-2005 and, just a couple of years ago, the two nines were switched around which, according to the majority of golfers surveyed, is an improvement. It isn’t windy when we play but there are eight hole,s my caddy tells me, that can be really tough when the wind does blow. The course is pretty level, so no tricky lies, large bunkers guard the rolling greens, good shots are rewarded, holes are varied and the course is in great condition. The course measures from 5,030 yards to 7,141 yards depending on which of the four tees you play off. Attractive fairways, lined with towering palm trees, are forgiving but greens are tricky with the Bermuda grass proving challenging. The Signature hole, the Par 4 13th, is where a well-placed drive is essential as your second shot has to carry a wide ditch to reach the elevated green guarded by bunkers and practically surrounded by palm trees.

The White Witch Golf Course – the most wicked of Jamaica golf courses

The journey to the White Witch golf course is not far from Half Moon but it’s all uphill. All the way the road is flanked by thick rainforest and I begin to think the course should have been named after Indiana Jones rather than a Wicked Witch. Suddenly we get to a clearing on the top of the hill, there’s a smart clubhouse adjacent to what I would call an ‘infinity’ driving range, and what must be one of the best panoramic views in Jamaica. The first hole, a Par 5 down dale and uphill, is a stunner. The first tee is high up the hill, the fairway far below, the dark blue sea is the backdrop and, before we even tee off, I can see at least ten very large bunkers strategically placed along the fairway and guarding the approach to an unsighted table-top green. What a wicked course… but breathtaking.

It is more wicked here than you realise at first glance – not because of the challenging holes, the mountainous terrain, the vultures circling above, the shifting winds from dawn to dusk, or the fact that playing 18 holes will cost you mega bucks in golf balls – but because of the legend attached to it. The golf course winds through the dense rainforest of historic Rose Hall Plantation where, legend has it, in the 18th century a beautiful woman called Annie Palmer lived and who today still haunts the Great House and grounds. Supposedly she dabbled in black magic and murdered no less than three husbands and several male slaves over the years, finally being murdered herself by a slave called Takoo.

This course, despite the fact that even with mandatory caddies and a golf cart, can take around 5½ hours to play but it is a definite MUST play – it’s hard, distinct, misleading, changeable, precipitous, rocky and temptingly risky. It is intimidating, has long carries but risk equals reward. The course is carved out of 600 acres of mountainous terrain, winds through lush rainforest, and features awesome vistas of the sea from no less 16 holes. Most memorable is the downhill dogleg 10th, a Par 5 that edges a gorge; the 14th, a Par 3 across water to a shallow green, and the 17th – a picturesque Par 3 featuring a green fronted by a stone wall and a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. The White Witch is a great Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril design masterpiece.

Cinnamon Hill Golf Course

Cinnamon Hill is less challenging than the White Witch, but with holes named ‘Witch’s Reef’, ‘Caribbean Ghost’ and ‘Takoo’s Revenge’, don’t get too complacent. Designed by Hank Smedley in 1969 but redesigned in 2001 by Von Hagge and Baril, the course enjoys an open front nine where the wind can play havoc with clubbing, and a hilly back nine that winds through dense rainforest where fairways get tighter. Created on land that was once a large sugar plantation, and with an ancient aqueduct used to grind sugarcane still in evidence, Cinnamon Hill is a beautiful course to play – the Signature hole is one you won’t forget, it’s the 5th, a Par 4 that heads down towards the sea and which boasts an amazing aquamarine backdrop to the green. This hole is aptly named ‘Majestic Blue’, and followed a tantalising little hole called the ‘Witch’s Reef’, a Par 3 that runs alongside the sea.

Memorable is the 14th hole named ‘Cinnamon Hill’ – Cinnamon Hill Great House is tucked away to the left of the fairway, once home of country mega stars Johnny and June Cash, and then four great finishing holes follow, particularly challenging is the Par 5 17th – ‘The Ruins’ – named because of the ancient ruins that frame the green, they date back to 1761. A long carry and well placed tee shot is essential on this hole as there’s a wide ravine to cross, then a second good shot is a must to carry a second wide gully.

What a delight and surprise golf in the Montego Bay area has been with it’s excellent courses, spectacular views, and superb hotels. Talking of which, golf is just one of many activities at Half Moon – the resort also has an Equestrian Centre, dolphin lagoon, a range of water sports, state-of-the-art fitness centre, thirteen lit tennis courts, four squash courts, and a tranquil Spa complex. The Spa serene gardens are too tempting to resist after a day on the golf course, so each day I sit there and ponder… how to sort out my pancake-shaped golf swing.

Even before I check out of the hotel, I’m already planning my return visit with golf clubs in tow. In fact, wild horses couldn’t keep me away, let alone any old White Witch – no matter how wicked.

[September 2014]

Jamaica golf courses article - Active Caribbean articles & features
Jamaica golf courses article - Active Caribbean articles & features
Jamaica golf courses article - Active Caribbean articles & features
Jamaica golf courses article - Active Caribbean articles & features
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