Jamaica, a golfer’s paradise

The signature hole at the White Witch, the par-3 17th. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
The signature hole at the White Witch, the par-3 17th. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
The Caribbean’s largest English-speaking island Jamaica is a feast of flavours.

The familiar fare of rum, reggae, jerk chicken, sugary sand beaches, aquamarine waters, towering palms, and cheek-caressing trade winds are merely the appetizers.

For the avid golfer there’s top-shelf golf sunny-side up.

This is the scene. My brother Paul and I are at one of the Caribbean’s most stunning golf courses, carved out of 200 acres of lush greenery and rolling countryside, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea from 16 of its 18 holes.

Golf clubs, balls, scorecard, tees, chilled beverages, and snacks are neatly arranged in our cart as we survey the surrounding landscape.

"Yeah man. The line is the large tree on the horizon, just swing nice and smooth", said our caddy at the White Witch’s stunning 550-yard, par-5 opening hole. For two pale English golfers who had not touched a golf club throughout the winter months, this is golfing heaven.

The par-71, 6748-yard course was so named by its creators, golf course architects Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, in reference to Annee Palmer, the notorious "White Witch", the mistress of Rose Hall Plantation in the early 19th century on which the course was built.

She was purported to be beautiful and beguiling and to have murdered three unsuspecting husbands.

The course certainly cast a spell on us, as it spilt up and down the hills high above the sea. Many holes demanded long and scary carries over chasms filled with rocks and two of the par-3 holes feature stomach-dropping shots from elevated tees to water-fronted greens far below.

"The White Witch is a course that will give you a different experience each time you play, and we have done that by creating multiple tees throughout. Whereas the low handicapper might have had to carry a yawning ravine to reach the green, there were also tees allowing the shorter hitter to get there as well. The topography was unique, making each hole memorable and distinctive in its own right", said the head golf professional.

Three caddies head for the green at Half Moon golf course. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
Three caddies head for the green at Half Moon golf course. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
From pewter golf bag tags inscribed with each player’s name and a driving range to die for, to luxurious changing rooms and well-trained, white-suited caddies known as golf concierges, everything about the White Witch was top-end.

At every course the caddies added their own local flavour — the White Witch, was no exception.

The golf concierges were a unique service that provided traditional caddy services in addition to other services such as restaurant reservations, ordering flowers for loved ones or making spa appointments.

"Their knowledge of the golf course includes everything needed to negotiate the gusty winds, drastic elevation changes and deceptive greens", the head golf professional said.

As we enjoy some frosty beers after our round, the elegant dining veranda of the clubhouse provided a superb and fitting 19th hole, with views of the first tee and the sparkling turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea beyond.

The White Witch, situated on Jamaica’s north coast, was one member of a quartet of premier courses that included Half Moon, the Tryall Club and Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, all clustered around the elite enclave of Rose Hall near Montego Bay.

Although there were several other courses on the island, including the historic nine-hole Manchester Club, founded in 1865 and the oldest golf course in the western hemisphere, these four were the most varied and distinctive, they provided a good focus for a Jamaican golf trip.

Half Moon Resort. PHOTO: HALF MOON
Half Moon Resort. PHOTO: HALF MOON
The following morning, we had a tee time at Half Moon — a tropical parkland layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr and located in the luxury resort of the same name.

Half Moon’s signature fourth hole was a relatively short 362-yard par-4, which offered a choice of going for the green in one or hitting an iron down the open side to the green.

It was guarded by a water hazard to the right. My caddy, Orville Christie, known locally as the Jamaican John Daly, decided to tee one up and have a crack, but alas he pushed it to the right.

"The stretch of holes from 6 to 9, which are three long par-4s and a long par-3 into the prevailing wind, is the most difficult section of the golf course", said the golf course professional.

Villa with private pool at Half Moon. PHOTO: HALF MOON
Villa with private pool at Half Moon. PHOTO: HALF MOON
"Get through this section without a disaster and you have the chance of making a reasonable score."

Despite expert caddy advice on reading the nuances of the confusing Bermuda grass greens and a few three-putts, we managed to hold it all together until holed out at the last.

We tipped the excellent caddies and enjoyed a beverage at the 19th hole, before we headed back to Half Moon to enjoy the facilities.

In addition to 210 elegantly appointed rooms, also on offer were private multi-bedroom villas which come with their own butler, cook and housekeeper, which would provide the perfect luxury home base for families, groups, and golfers. Besides the golf, there was tennis, water sports, a fitness centre, horseback riding and the award-winning Fern Tree Spa. Of particular interest to golfers is the "Muscle Memory Massage", designed for the physically active, focusing on deep tissue work and a full range of stretches, an excellent finish to a day of golf.

Jamaican jerk

A local woman sells a patty that is a popular local snack (similar to a pasty with various...
A local woman sells a patty that is a popular local snack (similar to a pasty with various fillings such as beef and chicken). PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
Eating and drinking, an important part of any golfing trip, was made incredible by the Jamaican specialties, from mouth-watering curried goat and mutton to delightful national dishes such as salt fish, ackee, peanut porridge and chicken or beef patties (around one million of these Cornish pasty-like snacks are eaten by Jamaicans every day). While Half Moon’s collection of restaurants offered excellent dining, we discovered that you were just as likely to have a great culinary experience by eating local — here that meant one thing, Jamaica’s trademark dish of jerk chicken or pork. Although there were thousands of "jerk centres" — as they were known — in every village and town and at almost every crossroads or street corner, there was only one place to go ...

Time to place your order for jerk chicken or pork at Scotchies. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
Time to place your order for jerk chicken or pork at Scotchies. PHOTO: PAUL MARSHALL
When we visited the original Scotchies on the outskirts of Montego Bay, the queue inside was already a dozen long. A reggae soundtrack combined with delicious aromas that wafted on the tropical breeze.

A cool mix of locals and visitors rubbed shoulders at rustic tables, opened tin foil parcels of tasty jerk chicken and pork accompanied by roasted breadfruit or sweet potato and washed down with a Red Stripe beer, the island’s tipple of choice.

Scotchies was started several years ago by Tony Rerrie from the back of his pick-up truck and has since become an institution.

"Everyone knows about Scotchies and there’s no doubt it’s the best jerk centre in Jamaica", said manager Kim Cooper.

Kim showed us round the back, where rows of chickens were splayed flat and whole backs of pig sizzled in jerk marinade over a pimento wood fire which imparted a strong, distinctive smoky flavour.

Jerk chicken was believed to have been conceived when the Maroons introduced African meat cooking techniques to Jamaica. These were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Arawak. The method of smoking meat served two practical purposes — keeping insects away from the raw meat and preserving it for longer once it had been cooked. Like most places, the jerk sauce recipe at Scotchies was a closely guarded secret, but usually sauces contained peppers, onions, pimento, ginger, and chilli.

Jamaican Greens

Cinnamon Hill golf course with the magnificently restored 1760 plantation house Rose Hall Great...
Cinnamon Hill golf course with the magnificently restored 1760 plantation house Rose Hall Great House in the background. PHOTO: ROSE HALL RESORT
After the Jamaican jerk, it was back to the Jamaican greens as we tackle the final two courses of our north-coast quartet — the Tryall Club and Cinnamon Hill Golf Course. Located 12 miles from Montego Bay, the Tryall Club was a 6772-yard Ralph Plummer beauty built in 1960 and featured spectacular ocean panoramas and exotic tree-lined fairways, with nine level holes by the sea and nine rolling holes in the hills. It had hosted many international events including the prestigious Johnnie Walker World Championship and Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.

Look out for the tee shot through the stone pillars of a historic aqueduct, part of a former sugar plantation and the par-3 4th, with a shot over Flint River to a devilish putt.

By contrast to Half Moon and the Tryall Club, Cinnamon Hill offered a real variety of terrain. The gently rolling front nine of the 6798-yard par 71, Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril layout opens under the gaze of the 18th-century Rose Hall Great House, then rambles past the walled graveyard of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's family and down to the ocean. Holes 5 and 6 were so close to the water that a cranky sea breeze could easily whip your ball into the deep. Number 5 was a standout hole.

Aptly named Majestic Blue, you teed off facing the ocean on a downhill par-4, which played anything from 453 to 420 yards. Watch out though: the ocean bordered the last 250 yards of narrow fairway on the right and the green was alongside the beach. In contrast, the back nine in the remote hills of the plantation, made its way through narrow canyons and across deep chasms with a handful of elevated tee shots.

The late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the final green of Cinnamon Hill, defining every undulation, bump and hollow. After our memorable final round, it was time to head back to Scotchies to round off a great Jamaican golfing trip with some jerk chicken and a cold Red Stripe beer.

Off-course attractions & activities

—  No trip to Jamaica is complete without visiting one of Jamaica’s main attractions — stunning Dunn’s River Falls. Climb the cascading waterfall and relax in the crystal-clear pools at the base of the falls and come away feeling relaxed and refreshed. 

—  The rich, black soil of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains (rising some 7500 feet above sea level), coupled with mist and cool temperatures, make for an environment that produces some of the most sought-after coffee in the world. Sample the famous brew, buy some to take back home and visit the region where it’s produced.

An excellent off-course activity is taking a tranquil and relaxing 90-minute trip on a bamboo...
An excellent off-course activity is taking a tranquil and relaxing 90-minute trip on a bamboo raft down the Martha Brae River. PHOTO: JAMAICA TOURISM

—  The Legend of Bob Marley comes alive as you walk through the village of Nine Miles, his birth and final resting place. On a tour you are expertly guided through the very house that Marley lived in as a boy. Watch a film on his life and work and learn more about the life and times of this influential musician — his culture, his passion, and the unique religion of Rastafarianism.  

—  Take a tranquil and relaxing 90-minute trip on a bamboo raft down the Martha Brae River. 

—  Relax in Negril, the "Capital of Casual" with seven miles of stunningly beautiful white sand beach. This is Jamaica’s water sports centre where you can dive, snorkel, sail, water-ski, windsurf kayak or glide along the coastline by catamaran. Or do nothing but quietly work on your tan in a secluded cove. 

—  Rum has been distilled on the Appleton Estate nestled in the fertile Nassau Valley in the parish of St Elizabeth since 1749. Take a tour to learn more about how rum is made and sample the portfolio of award-winning rums. 

Need to know

Where to stay 

Half Moon: www.halfmoon.com

Where to play

Half Moon Golf Course: www.halfmoon.com/golf/overview

White Witch: www.rosehall.com

Cinnamon Hill Golf Course: www.rosehall.com

The Tryall Club: www.tryallclub.com

Useful contacts & web sites

Visit Jamaica: www.visitjamaica.com