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The back nine of Augusta… in Bangkok?

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I had heard of a Bangkok course that had replicated some of the great holes of the world on the front nine, and for the back they had just lifted the most famous stretch of holes in golf: the back nine of Augusta. So when my wife and I had to go to Bangkok, I had to play these holes.

Some quick searching came up with “The Dream Arena at Royal Gems Golf City.” The website didn’t offer much more, but there was an email address so I got in contact. Their director of sales quickly replied that while it was a members’ course, they’d be happy to give me a tee time on a “special trial rate” for 4000 baht (about $125) which included green fee, buggy and caddy fee. Renting clubs would be another $45 and a pair of shoes would cost me $15. I took my own shoes, but used their clubs: Nike Machspeed forged in an R flex. Maybe I could have asked for S-flex when I booked, but they really only made a difference with driver and 3 wood. It was too hard to explain once the caddy had arrived with them.

The course was in great condition: All the fairways had a very even coverage of Platinum Paspalum, although there was rarely a flat lie. The greens had been cored a fortnight prior, but still ran pretty true (only one putt was noticeably affected) and fairly quick — but obviously not Sunday-at-the-Masters quick. I should also commend RGGC for letting me know in its first email reply of the coring. How frustrating is it to turn up at a course to find you are playing sand greens? The course is still young: The trees are not the hazards of the original, but watch out in 10 years. I was asked to play the back nine first, so no easing into it — straight to what I was here for!

I have never been to Augusta, but apart from the blue dye in Rae’s Creek and greens that stimp at 14, it seemed to be pretty much all there. In fact, it’s more than all there, because the Eisenhower pine remains on No. 17. Knowing the standard first reaction to Augusta, I was prepared for some big elevation changes and that is also there at Royal Gems. It’s particularly downhill on Nos. 10 and 11 and uphill on No. 18. The finishing hole was also into the wind and had a back pin location, making it a driver and a 3 wood for me.

Now, I know you are a golf junkie if you’re on GolfWRX, but I’m not going through all 40 shots (do you like how I snuck that in there? Pretty happy with that for a once-a-month golfer), but allow me to take you through a couple of my favorite experiences: Nos. 12 and 15. Even in replica, I think I would be happy playing these two holes the rest of my life.

SONY DSC

No. 12 (pictured above) was all it’s cracked up to be. Downhill. A fair bit downhill. A fluctuating breeze from right to left, slightly into players. Length: 155 yards. Ten percent off is 140 meters, which is right between an 8 and 9 iron. It was downhill enough to be a 9 iron, but I didn’t want to be in the creek like so many I had seen in 30 years of watching the Masters. But I didn’t want to be in the back bunker, splashing out downhill, downwind to the pin and the creek when the breeze dropped. Definite 9 iron now.

Quick, get up there. No, the breeze is back. Ok, wait for it to drop again (fortunately, I had no one with a stopwatch on me, so not only did I avoid a penalty, I got the caddy to take a photo of me at the top of a dummy swing). Right, the breeze dropped off again. The pin was right, but I aimed for the middle of the green. Middle of the green. Hit. Oh yes, please be the right club. Bang. Middle of the green, right where I was aiming. Piece of cake this hole.

But my caddy was having none of this percentage golf: “Second ball, go for pin!” as she tossed me another pill. “Ok, Toohey, same deal. Hit it straight where you’re aiming.”

Again I made good contact, but there was just a tiny bit of pull/fade, it was just a tiny bit higher, there was just more headwind. “Nooo, in the wat-terr.” She could have at least waited for the splash. Or for the Titleist to reach its apex. But before it had crossed the red tees, she knew. And I kind of did, too. But it started just left of the pin and was sliding gently right, gently right, right at the pin…

We golfers live in hope: “C’mon, be the stick!”

[splash]

Hey, who really wants to make a hole-in-one with a second ball?

My birdie putt? Not enough borrow (I gave it a foot left on a 12-foot putt) and 3-feet past, but I rapped in the comebacker for a pretty satisfying par.

I had a similar amount of fun on No. 15. I managed to leak my drive just into the rough (or should that be “first cut?”) 200 yards out. Like No. 12, again it was downhill, into the wind and with water at the front. I was hitting off a downhill lie, out of the rough (but sitting OK) and with clubs I didn’t know. I would have loved to hit a 3 iron, but my choices were hybrid 3 or 4 iron. I suspected the hybrid was too much (and I didn’t really like them), but that the 4 would be flirting with the pond. So gripping down the hybrid a little, I ripped it. Straight at the pin. It took one hop on the green, popped up on the fringe and rolled over the back… about 20 yards. Oh man. I’m not Phil so I was not going to try hitting some massive flop into the 10 feet between the pin and collar. But I couldn’t run it too far past because that green runs and runs into the front pond. Anywhere but the pond is good.

Of course I chickened out and bunted it too cautiously into the bank, so it stayed on the top. I very nearly holed the next, but no one cares about nearly so I tap it in and walked off another victim of the intricacies of Dr. Mackenzie. With a big grin, bring on No. 16!

The front nine was nearly as much fun, playing spot the hole: there was the church pews (Oakmont No. 3), a big par-5 around the water (Bay Hill’s par-5 No. 6), Sawgrass No. 17 (pictured below. It doesn’t look quite right because it’s a mirror image!), the Road Hole (sans Hotel), the Postage Stamp and No. 18 at the Blue Monster. It was fun identifying them, and then trying to navigate them.

3 - Sawgrass 17th

At the finish of the round, I found a typically elaborate clubhouse for this part of the world with big, soft, fluffy towels, a “press here for service” button in the shower (I didn’t press it, and I didn’t ask) and very reasonable prices for food and drinks in the restaurant while the Masters Par 3 tournament played on multiple TV screens. Since I got home, it has been fun to see the pros play Augusta from similar spots as I had — and I am very glad that the Royal Gems greens are a lot slower!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. I will definitely be coming back — next time with a mate or two, my own clubs and we might even try to get a two-day booking!

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Brendan Toohey is a sports nut who wasn't good enough at golf, cricket, (Australian Rules) football or athletics so turned his fascination with the history of these sports into a career as a history teacher and occasional writer. He currently lives in Singapore where the cost of golf is a long way from the $1.40 he used to pay as a kid at Waverley Public in Melbourne, Australia. Brendan's fascination with the history of the game extends to still enjoying the occasional outing with persimmon but is too much of a gorilla to put one in permanent play even though he would hit more fairways.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Harry

    Apr 23, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Did you find it be oppressively hot. I played there about this time last year. It is quite a distance away from Bangkok proper, but worth the travel. I was with a friend who is a member and I’m sure I paid less than $100 US.

    Have you played any other courses in Thailand? My list is growing and it’s up to 8 different courses including Thai CC and Siam CC.

    • Zra

      Apr 25, 2014 at 2:54 am

      Dude, April is like the hottest month of the year in Thailand, we even have a new year festival called Songkran in April, where we splash water because it is too hot! ; )

      Siam and Thai, I heard, are great courses. Also try Amata, Burapha, Chiangmai Highland and Blue Canyon, great courses outside of Bangkok.

      • Harry

        Apr 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm

        Oh, I know. We went up to ChianMai for the weekend during Songkran. What a blast!

    • Brendan

      May 1, 2014 at 4:58 am

      Hi Harry. Yeah, it was hot. If you check out my shirt in the first picture, there are already some pretty good sweat marks. This was after two holes in a buggy! That is a very good reason why there are no other pictures of me later in the day. Unfortunately, we left just before Songkran cranked up.
      Zra, thanks for the tips for other places to play – I normally have the kids in tow as well, so don’t always get to play on holidays.
      And I agree, Ryu, 4000 baht is pretty pricey for Thailand but for what I figured was probably a one-off was worth it. And given I live in Singapore, there is not much cheap golf unless I pack a passport and use up a whole day going to Malaysia or Indonesia.
      Thanks for the comments, everyone, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
      BT

  2. Ryu K.

    Apr 21, 2014 at 12:12 am

    I am a native Thai amateur who has been a member at the Royal Gems golf city for a few years, I have always liked it. The reason not many people know about it is because the course is a new course and it has been closed to the public for quite some time. Although the course says it’s in Bangkok(It’s in a region called Rangsit) , it’s a pretty long journey from the center of town (about an hour). For the average rates of fees in Thailand, 4000 baht is pretty expensive (with buggies and a caddy). I would love to show you around the course, mail me when you are planning to come to the Royal Gems city 🙂

  3. Tony Lynam

    Apr 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Every hole at Renditions: Golf’s Grand Slam Experience in Davidsonville, MD is a exact replica from courses that have hosted a major championship. Amen Corner is there (awesome!!! bogey-par-birdie for me)as is the Church Pews from Oakmont (double bogey) and No.17 at Sawgrass (par). Just a great fun course to play and each hole has a placard with major championship historical notes about that hole.

    • Shawn

      Apr 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      International World Tour in Myrtle Beach is the same way. 27 holes, all replicas. Great course, layout, and customer service!

  4. Zra

    Apr 15, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Very cool. I’m thai living in Bangkok, and didn’t know about RGGC having Augusta’s back nine.
    It sure is expensive though, the membership going rate i believe is Baht 1.2 million ($40,000)- higher end of any golf club membership you can find in this country.

    Your rate of $125 was it on weekend or weekday, Brendan? I am temped. Especially the Road Hole.

    • Brendan

      Apr 15, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks, Zra. Played on a Thursday, so I don’t know weekend rate or availability.
      I misread the membership rate – i had only a very quick look and thought it was 12 million baht! Crazy price. 1.2m sounds reasonable in comparison 🙂

  5. Sharkhark

    Apr 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Very cool story. Thanks!

  6. Rich

    Apr 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    That’s pretty cool. There is a course here in MD, that replicates lots of holes from Championship golf. They have Amen Corner and its always a fun place to take friends that are in town to knock it around.

    • Brendan

      Apr 15, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Thanks, Rich. I kind of expected it to be a bit kitschy, or for the design to be there but the fairways to be cow grass or terrible bunkers, but the conditioning was amongst the best I’ve come across in Asia. After 30 years of watching the drama every year, it was great to (attempt to) replicate some of the shots. It was most definitely fun.

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Courses

PGA Frisco: A GolfWRX first look with Gil Hanse and Beau Welling

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PGA Frisco in Frisco, Texas, is the new home of PGA of America. The two courses on-site, Fields Ranch East and West, are original designs by Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, respectfully, but they aren’t set to open for public play until the Spring of 2023. However, GolfWRX was given an opportunity to take an early look, play both courses, tour the facilities, and meet with the course architects ahead of the much-anticipated unveiling for the golf world.

The PGA Frisco location, which also shares the property with a brand new Omni Resort, a short course called The Swing, and a 75,000 square-foot putting course named The Dance Floor, appears to be joining the conversation as one of the country’s best buddy trip and family trip golf destinations.

The Omni resort is going to be complete with 500 luxury guest rooms and suites, 10 private ranch house residences, 13 different dining options, four pools, including an adult-only rooftop infinity pool, and a full-service salon and spa. They are going big with this place. All the facilities are currently under construction, but the plan is for them to be open by the Spring of 2023 as well.

The Swing is a ten-hole, lighted short course that provides a nice nightlife compliment to the larger courses, Fields Ranch East and West. Collaboratively designed by Hanse and Welling, The Swing is just steps from the Omni hotel, The Dance Floor putting courseboth championship courses, and a sports bar with bays for hitting into the driving range. The golf isn’t going to stop when the sun goes down. And no shuttle is needed at PGA Frisco.

“With The Swing, we started off by saying you do five holes and we will do five holes but it turned into a true collaboration,” Hanse said when discussing designing the short course alongside Welling. “When you start to think about designing a golf course with the shot values and how is it going to be perceived, what are the players going to think…then that creeps into your design. But when you are designing something just for unbridled joy, you don’t think about those things and that just makes something super fun.”

As good as the atmosphere and vibes are going to be, people are going to come for the golf. And major championships are coming too.

Fields Ranch East is already set to host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2023, as well as 26 additional championships through 2034, including two PGA Championship events, and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Fields Ranch West Architect Beau Welling, who is probably best known for his work alongside Tiger Woods on the TGR Design projects, was excited about this property and opportunity right from the very beginning. “The original vision of this idea of multiple golf courses and a short course and practice course and all this fun stuff immediately resonated with me,” Welling said. “I remember thinking that this could be the coolest thing ever. It’s the PGA brand around this super accessible thing where people could not only visit to learn the game but also be the place where major championships are to contend.”

The East Course

The East course is the Gil Hanse design that is set to host all these majors. The course itself could either play incredibly long or as short as you’d like it, with huge flowing tee boxes being a feature that stands out immediately. Big fairways also immediately reveal themselves as the scale of this course is big. Very big.

“You have to think about how you are going to design for a major championship but also make it approachable and playable,” Hanse said.  “We worked really hard to create a playing ground where you can accomplish both. The level of precision required to go out and play the golf course should be pretty low. Wide fairways, hit your ball, find your ball, and hit it again. But the level of precision required to score should be off the charts if we are trying to challenge the best players in the world. There are opportunities to tuck pins and lengthen the East course to 7,800 yards. We feel like we have the setup for a major championship course in place.”

After working on the renovation at Southern Hills, Hanse drew from his experience on the Perry Maxwell design to utilize the site’s meandering Pather Creek and natural dry outs throughout the par 72 track. The course features smallish greens to contrast with the large fairways, making it a second-shot course to put a premium on accurate approaches. The fairways and rough use the same grass type to allow for flexible widening and narrowing of hole corridors to adjust for championship play.

The course maintains a prairie-like feel throughout the routing, but the back nine really shines with Texas character. The creek comes into play on many of the closing holes, including a gorgeously long par three thirteenth hole, and an 18th-hole par five that will hopefully provide some incredible major finishes.

“When the stage is set, we would rather see positive outcomes to determine champions as opposed to negative ones,” Hanse said.  “We really enjoy watching golfers make birdies and eagles to win as opposed to some guy making double bogey and the guy who made a bogey barely hangs on to win. So we set up our finishing holes with some tough stretch of holes to start the back nine and then the driveable 15. Then 17 is the shortest par three on the golf course. And then 18 is a reachable par five. So they will have to make decisions and then hopefully positive outcomes will determine how it unfolds.”

There are also rumors of a Ryder Cup coming to PGA Frisco.

“If we ultimately get the Ryder Cup,” Hanse said, “we thought about most matches not making it to 18. So what can we do with holes 14-16, where generally most matches end. So we wanted to set those up for interesting golf and put it in an amphitheater that is set up really nicely for viewers. So whether it is a PGA championship, LPGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, or Ryder Cup, we feel like that stretch is going to provide a really interesting way to finish a golf course as opposed to just a long slog to the finish.”

The West Course

The West Course, which is the Welling design, is a playable compliment to the East course, providing another glimpse into big golf in Texas. The expansive fairways average 75 yards in width but the green complexes on Fields Ranch West tend to be much larger than its sister course. The size and scale were both something that Welling wanted to provide as a hat tip to its host state.

“Everything is big in Texas,” Welling said. “There are big weather events and big wind. But there is also incredible passion around the game here in Texas. Frisco is going to get famous because of the major championships on the East golf course, but long term it is going to have such an impact on the game as 28,000 members of the PGA come here to Omni and see golf presented in such a fun and modern way.”

The West Course also plays about 500 yards shorter than the East, tipping out at 7319 yards. The greens are larger but much more complex, with lots of undulation and hills to navigate. While the fairways and greens are big, you need to be in the right spot of each if you want to score. Nearly every green has a false front or false side waiting to shoot an errant approach back down the hillside.

Still, the scale allows for any handicapped golfer to play this course with enjoyment.

The course also uses the local terrain and elevation changes to both challenge and support each hole. The shorter par 4’s are often uphill, adding length where it isn’t otherwise there. The marshland and Panther Creek are more prevalent on the West course as well, utilizing the hazard to create more necessary carries.

The end result for Fields Ranch West is an approachable compliment to its companion course. There is an obvious feeling of connection between the two courses, but the style of play required for each is unique.

With the partnership and resources of the PGA of America and Omni Hotels and the design leadership of Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, the PGA Frisco campus is primed to rival the best in the world as a premier golf destination.

 

 

 

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Inside Pebble Beach’s “The Hay” Short Course (designed by Tiger Woods/TGR)

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This is my first trip to Pebble Beach since Tiger Woods’ new “The Hay” short course opened up in 2021, so I had to see the new setup for myself. Preferably, I would have actually played it, but the course was closed for maintenance ahead of the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am festivities.

Luckily, though, I had my camera handy as the fine folks at Pebble Beach’s short course allowed me to walk around and check it out. Below, I’ll take you along my walking tour, but first, some brief backstory and information.

The short course, formerly known as the Peter Hay Golf Course, sits just across the road from Pebble Beach’s driving range, and it’s been a fixture at the resort since 1957. The course was originally named after Peter Hay, the head professional at Pebble Beach and Del Monte. He created the short course to provide a way for junior golfers and families to more easily access the game, regardless of their abilities.

In 2021, Pebble Beach teamed up with Tiger Woods and the TGR Design team to give the course a redesign (without moving any trees or dirt, according to a Pebble Beach representative).

The new 9-hole short course is open to the general public for $65, and juniors under 12 years old play for free. The putting course, which sprawls about 100 yards in length, is open to the public at no cost, as well.

“We know not everyone who comes to Pebble Beach will have a chance to play the U.S. Open course, so we wanted to create the opportunity for all visitors to experience one of its most famous holes,” said Tiger Woods, according to The Hay’s website.

There’s also a restaurant/bar – called “Hay’s Place” – that has views of the entire course, and of Stillwater Cove. It’s not a bad spot to grab a drink before or after the round, and I hear the fish tacos are phenomenal. Just saying.

Enjoy the photos below from Tiger’s new-and-improved Pebble Beach Short Course, called “The Hay.”

The 100-yard putting green course

Hole No. 1: “Hay”

Hole No. 2: “Seven”

Hole No. 3: “Watson”

Hole No. 4: “Bing”

Hole No. 5: “Grace”

Hole No. 6: “Lanny”

Hole No. 7: “Jack”

Hole No. 8: “Kite”

Hole No. 9: “Tiger”

Hay’s Place

Check out more photos from the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am here.

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The Jamaica Golf Experience

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I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.

The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.

The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.

The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.

While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.

Day One: Half Moon Golf Club 

Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.

Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.

The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.

Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.

Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.

Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.

Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.

The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.

Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill 

Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.

Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.

Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.

I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.

Donnie Dawson and one of his stories

As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.

Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.

Hole Four Green, site of the vanishing ball

Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.

Hole five fairway

Keith Stein, yours truly and Jason Deegan

Par three sixth hole

The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.

The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.

Cinnamon Hill Great House

The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.

Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.

Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.

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