NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Royal Blue Golf Club Baha Mar is unlike any course you’ve played before – the second time you play it.
If that sounds illogical, or at least confusing, we’ll explain. But first, a bit of background.
Situated partially on the former Cable Beach Golf Club in Nassau, Royal Blue is a brand new 18-hole, par-72, Jack Nicklaus Signature design that was originally slated to open in May 2015 as the TPC Baha Mar. But with the 1,000-acre, multi-hotel project nearly completed, the resort declared bankruptcy, leaving both the hotels and the golf course in limbo. Over the next 18 months, a skeleton crew was kept on hand at Royal Blue in order to preserve the greens.
With the resort under new ownership and the golf course under new management (OB Sports), an additional $500,000 was invested last year to redo every bunker on the property and remove disease that had crept into the fairways during the bankruptcy. After a road longer and more winding than the cart path that now leads to the driving range, Royal Blue finally opened for play in April of this year.
What now exists at $4.2 billion Baha Mar is a meticulously manicured layout that serves as one of the more unique resort offerings you’re likely to come across for three key reasons: its radically different nines, its "freeform" teeing concept, and its "better than your own clubs" rental program.
Baha Mar's Jack Nicklaus design
The front side at Royal Blue is a fairly traditional Bahamanian design, a mostly flat layout spruced up with mounding, water on eight of nine holes and plenty of sandy waste areas.
But the view from the 10th tee makes it immediately clear that the architecture of the back nine bears zero resemblance to that of the front. Royal Blue's second nine is characterized by dramatic elevation changes and the extensive use of what Nicklaus refers to as "moonscaping," or the liberal incorporation of the limestone rock he found on the grounds. Six of the course's final nine holes feature full tee-to-green views of the hole, and the 10th represents Nicklaus’ most extensive use of the limestone, with the green complex framed by large rock walls.
Nos. 10-12 play in a loop beside the clubhouse and exist almost in a world of their own before players cross the street to the closing stretch of Nos. 13-18, which in spots looks more like the Monterrey Peninsula or even the Carolinas than the Bahamas. A blind, uphill tee shot at the par-5 13th eventually gives way to a wide valley that offers views of holes 13, 14, 15 and 17, with hundreds of yards of interconnected fairway.
The signature hole is the downhill, par-3 16th, played to a peninsula that cuts into the blue-green waters of Lake Cunningham. (Ask head pro Andy Deiro about the bat cave in the trees right of this hole, and he may take you on a tour.)
Baha Mar's 'Freeform teeing'
Unlike most modern designs that can feature five different yardages for players of all skill levels, Royal Blue offers just one set of tees, albeit with a catch – those tees change every day.
Each day, Deiro and Director of Golf Sean Cracraft come up with a custom design, moving tee markers forwards, backwards and even off to the sides, mixing up yardages and altering angles. Perhaps the greatest example of the difference between the front and back teeing areas can be found at the par-4 fourth, which can play either from driveable 270 or from a monstrous 472 with a lengthy carry over water. Likewise, on a given day, you might be able to get home in two at Nos. 9 or 13, or they might play as full three-shot par 5s.
Regardless of where the markers are on each hole, the staff will end up with a total yardage somewhere between 6,250 and 6,500 yards each day, creating a mix of shorter and longer holes. The club also keeps a close eye on repeat players on the tee sheet, so that it can offer a new experience each day.
"I've been setting up golf courses for 35 years, and this is the most fun I've ever had doing it,” says Cracraft. “Other resorts have multiple courses. We have one, but we can make it feel like you're playing different courses."
Juniors – or anyone looking to play a shorter yardage – can utilize the conch tees set up in the fairways.
Rentals better than your own clubs
If you don’t want to drag your own clubs to the Bahamas – and in this case, maybe you shouldn’t – Royal Blue offers a rental program that features the latest equipment from TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, and (believe it or not) PXG and Japanese manufacturer Itobori. The latter company, whose clubs should arrive later this summer, is even crafting a limited-edition Royal Blue driver just for the club. Considering PXG clubs sell for $300 per iron, this is a rare opportunity to play one or more rounds with the pricey equipment.
Golf rates and fees
Morning greens fees for hotel guests at Baha Mar are $250 during the week and $275 on the weekend with an “all-in” rate of $325 any day. The "all-in" package includes green fee, club rental, six Pro-V1 golf balls, a personalized, engraved bag tag, and a take-home thermos served with your choice of drink and delivered to you on the 12th tee. Afternoon rates for resort guests are $150 during the week, $175 on the weekends, and $250 each day all-in. Each group is required to take a forecaddie.
After the round, be sure to stop by the clubhouse for a game of cornhole and lunch at the Royal Blue Tavern. (The steakhouse burger is advised.)
Stay and play at Baha Mar
As for the resort itself, Baha Mar features three hotels: the currently open Grand Hyatt, and the coming SLS and Rosewood, opening this fall and next spring, respectively.
Baha Mar is currently operating under a limited, soft opening, but at full capacity will boast 2,300 total rooms, the largest casino in the Caribbean (100,000-square feet), a collection of high-end retail shops, and an expected 42 bars and restaurants.
Must-visit spots already open at the Hyatt include the Swimming Pig, a gastropub owned by three Greek brothers and managed by two Italian brothers, Churchill’s, an indoor-outdoor rum bar, Dean’s Blue Hole pool, an homage to the actual Dean’s Blue Hole with a rock wall designed for guests leap off, and the H20 swim-up bar.
In addition to the golf course, Baha Mar offers water sports (kayaking, standup paddle boarding, snorkeling, eventually jet skiing), tennis (nine courts – six HarTru, two clay, one Bermuda grass), and the Sanctuary, an outdoor aquarium with sting rays, nurse sharks and sea turtles that you can visit properly or check out from inside one of the hotel’s pools.
Room rates at the Hyatt are currently going for $250 per night with an expected cost of $500 per night this winter.