Without a doubt, Grand Bahama will soon be stepping up to the plate as a superb island golf destination. (Courtesy photo) Many consider the Reef Course one of the toughest plays in all of the Bahamas. (Courtesy photo)

Golf is what's happenin' on Grand Bahama

Riding in the cab to the airport, I settled back into the seat as the car's radio spilled out a running chatter from a local talk show host. "Hey, wot's happin,' baby?" the guy asked a caller.

If he'd asked me, having just spent a few days on Grand Bahama Island, I'd have to say, "It's golf. Big time."

With balmy weather year-round, and air-services making it possible for you to leave the States in the morning and be on the first tee in early afternoon, Grand Bahama is ideal for those who want a quick golf fix. Or a longer one with time to savor the laid-back lifestyle the island offers.

There are currently a handful of 18-hole golf courses and a nice nine-hole track, Fortune Hills, designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee in 1971. All are located on the western part of the island.

In the port town of Freeport, The Westin and Sheraton Our Lucaya Resort's Lucayan and Reef golf courses provide two very different golf experiences.

The Lucayan Course is a classic jewel, the grand dame of the game on the island and the one which set the golf ball rolling here when it opened in 1962. Retaining much of its original imprint by Dick Wilson who created championship layouts such as the Blue Monster at Doral in Miami and Inverness, the Lucayan has aged well since its opening and course conditioning got even better when a new water system was installed.

With elevated, often small greens, dog legs, lush landscaping, thick groves of tall pines and palms, gargantuan bunkers and several dog-legs with well-placed fairway bunkers, here accuracy counts. Hit an errant ball into the tropical thickets and it's not likely to pop out.

Playing 6,824 yards from the tips the course plays long especially when you factor in the wind which you have to do when you play any island courses. Women especially have to pull out their best drives on holes like on the second hole, a par-3 hole playing 162 yards.

This is not a golf course with a lot of water: there are just two rather small ponds. Still on the eighth hole, water threatens on the left and on the ninth, the signature hole and a dog-leg left, water protects the entire left side of the two-tiered green.

That's it for water, but on the back nine, you'll find plenty of bunkers and partially-crowned greens like the tenth hole where the green is not only about the size of a hot tub, but slopes towards the back and on the 11th hole the green runs hard to the left.

At the end of the day, this is after all, not only a challenging course, but a very pretty one as well with views of the sea from several holes.

In contrast to its sibling, the Reef Course is a longer (6,930 yards) sprawling links-style layout which has been described by the course architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr. as, "a bit like a Scottish course, but a lot warmer."

It may have wide open fairways, but with lots of water and about 120 bunkers, some gargantuan, you can get into plenty of trouble. Though you may look forward to more landing space, it won't take long to realize that this course is no piece of cake. And thanks to some modification of its original layout, its not as flat as it was when it first opened.

Water comes into play on all but five holes and approaches to lightning-fast greens, some narrow, require precise club selection. And let's not forget the ever present fickle, often brisk sea breezes that harass and conspire to rattle the best of players. These winds can require a two-to-three club adjustment.

With three sets of tees, playing 6,920 from the tips, 6,460 from the whites and 5,375 from the reds, the course is a good play for all handicap levels.

On the horizon are two new signature courses by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, part of a huge new $4.5 billion resort community, Ginn sur Me, a Ginn Resorts development. In the plan is a luxurious clubhouse, restaurants, spa services and extensive training facilities.

With all the upgrades in the old courses and the new ones soon to come, there is no doubt about it: Grand Bahama will soon be stepping up to the plate as yet another superb island golf destination.

May 20, 2008

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Katharine Dyson

Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.