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Views of the Caribbean, trade winds, tropical birds and iguanas are all part of the experience of playing golf in the islands. With two luxury golf courses on Grand Cayman and another premier course scheduled to open soon, golfers have more reasons to experience the game on a beautiful island.
THE RITZ-CARLTON GOLF CLUB
Designed by Australian golf legend Greg Norman, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club offers a challenging nine-hole championship course, but still manages to embrace the Island’s natural elements: water, mangroves and trade winds.
Whilst eight out of nine of the course’s tees have water, the forward tees are very playable for a beginner and there is only one forced carry over water. With its five long Par Fours into the Caribbean trade winds, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s course make a 470-yard-hole feel like 600. Golfers can really put themselves to the test if they decide to go for it and play all the nine holes twice for 18 holes.
“Greg Norman likes to design courses that are visually intimidating, but it’s actually very playable [for all golf levels],” says David Loomis, Director of Golf at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. “The first three holes play directly into the traditional trade winds and offer a tough start. But starting on the fourth hole, you have the wind at your back and some good birdie opportunities.”
When standing on the first tee, there doesn’t appear to be much of a landing area with water down the right side and a native area on the left side. However, once the golfer gets into the fairway, there is a lot of area to hit the ball. Most golfers don’t realise it, but the fairway is actually 50 yards wide. “The course never plays the same twice,” says Loomis.
The luxurious environment of the course includes a natural saltwater lagoon, clear blue ocean views and palm groves. With a massive, shared double-green requiring precision or an 80-foot putt some of the holes are reminiscent of the Scottish landscape. Then there is the abundant wildlife throughout the course like tarpon rolling in the canal or the iguanas sunning themselves — it just adds that little extra something special to the game.
Another exceptional amenity is the Trackman Golf Simulator, which measures a golfer’s full flight of shots from four feet up to 400 yards and uses the same technology of the PGA Tour players. The golf simulator helps players evaluate and perfect their swing and allow them to practice for extended periods of time. The Trackman also offers 80 virtual courses and terrain visuals from around the world, ranging from Pebble Beach to the Old Course at St. Andrews. Its also an exceptional piece of equipment to use for private lessons.
There is a private club feel to this golf course with membership available for local residents as well. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club hosts several events throughout the year that are open to both members and resort guests, which have been hugely popular.
The golf shop is just a short walk from the hotel’s rooms and, for those who want to get some exercise, this course is very walkable.
For that all-important refreshment after a round, the outdoor bar of Andiamo restaurant next to the golf shop draws players like a magnet.
NORTH SOUND GOLF CLUB
The extraordinary panoramic view of Rum Point, Sting Ray City and the crystal-clear water from the 18-hole course North Sound Golf Club provides a golfing experience like few other courses can.
An example of North Sound’s unique advantages is the combination of challenge and playability for both the seasoned and the novice golfer. The par 71, 6,605-yard course has a rating of 73.1 and slope of 139. The course includes several water hazards that challenge experienced golfers, but because there are not a lot of forced carries, even the beginner can enjoy a round on the North Sound.
For more than 20 years, a common theme attracting visitors is the relaxed atmosphere, excellent service and the wonderful staff.
North Sound’s full-practice driving range is hugely popular with both locals and visitors. For private golfing lessons, it is invaluable as it enables instructors to observe their students hit a full shot and watch the ball take flight. A highly desirable aspect to the driving range is the practice bunker — which gives golfers the ability to practice all areas of their game including the full swing and the short game.
A unique amenity at North Sound is the water driving range, where golfers hit practice balls that float into the water and then drift to the shore.
“Because this is an island, we have limited amounts of that resource, so hitting the ball into water helps us to capture our limited land use availability,” says Sauvage.
There is no doubt that golf can be a little frustrating. That’s why North Sound makes it a priority to offer top-quality professional instruction. With four professional instructors on staff, North Sound offers customised programmes geared towards the needs of the individuals, whether it is lowering a score or hitting the ball better.
The Next Generation
Cultivating the next generation of golfers has played a big part of North Sound Golf Club’s mission in offering an extensive program to over 100 children and teenagers with group lessons and clinics.
The multi-phased programme includes a stage that introduces young people to the sport, then a more advanced group where they are able to play on the greens. Once they develop enough skill, they can then enter a programme that helps them qualify for the Junior National Team. Since the junior programme started four years ago, about a half dozen students have qualified for the Junior National Team, many of which have received invitations to international competitions with some of the world’s best junior golfers.
North Sound has also recently started a community-based programme, teaching golf in the physical education classes in some of the public primary schools, as well as hosting an after school programme.
“The community grass roots programme helps introduce kids to golf, who would not otherwise have the means to take up the game. As professionals in the industry, it is up to us to try to grow the game and one of the ways to do that is introduce golf to kids,” says Sauvage.
Cayman is anticipating the opening of its next exciting golf course with the development of Ironwood, located in the overlapping regions of North Side and East End. With 498 acres, this PGA-certified championship 18-hole golf course was designed by Arnold Palmer, regarded as one of the greatest players in history.
Playing 18 holes at Ironwood will be much more than a game. It will be something special that members call the Arnold Palmer experience, and there will be nothing else quite like it in the world of golf.
On a recent trip to Cayman, Palmer’s daughter Amy, who has stepped into her father’s shoes as the head of his company, talked about her father’s love for the beauty and the people of the Cayman Islands.
“He was personally involved in the design of the championship course that will bear his name,” says Amy. “It is easy for me to see why he felt the way he did about Cayman. I am here to continue his dream.”
A hallmark of Arnold Palmer Design Company’s approach to environmental sustainability for its golf courses is the Audubon Society rating. To achieve this rating, the design team participates in an education and certification programme, which helps to protect the environment as well as preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf. Some of those efforts include relocating the endangered blue iguanas and rare orchids. And when they found a slave wall on the property, they immediately wanted to preserve the historic site.
Another intriguing element is the design of the nine-hole family course alongside the primary 18-hole course. The family course features a double design to make it adaptable for football golf, where the object of the game is to get the ball in the hole using only their feet in the fewest number of shots possible.
“FootGolf has taken the world by storm and combines two of the most popular sports in the world,” says Ironwood spokesperson Denise Gower. “It will be the first course of its kind on Island.”
Whether its the relaxed elegance of North Sound Golf Club or the Scottish feel of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, players will always feel inspired by the golfing experience on Grand Cayman. And with the exciting new Ironwood golf course coming into the mix, players will have another reason to expand their tee time.