The Bahamas is one of those unique vacation destinations that has to be experienced more than once. Not only because there is so much to do but more so because there are just so many captivating places to visit and explore. Comprised of 700 islands and 2500 cays, this semi-tropical archipelago stretches over 100,000 square miles, 200 miles off the southeast coast of Florida. There are 14 main islands that comprise The Bahamas whose meaning is derived from the Spanish words “baja mar” or “shallow sea”. Home to the world’s third longest barrier reef, The Bahamas is renowned for its turquoise waters, pristine white beaches and laid back, friendly people.
Formerly a British colony, the islands became the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in 1973 after 325 years of British rule. British influence can be seen throughout much of the islands, especially in Nassau, The Bahamas’ capital and largest city. With a population of over 170,000, Nassau, New Providence, is home to over half the people of The Bahamas and many of the world’s rich and famous. Across the bay from downtown Nassau is Paradise Island and the famous Atlantis Hotel and ultra-exclusive Ocean Club. It is on this sandy spit of land that you will encounter the Caribbean’s largest casino, 150-foot yachts and luxurious waterfront estates that attract the likes of Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey.
The Bahamas is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Whether it’s scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing or golfing there is something for everyone somewhere on one of the Bahamian islands. And if you’re looking for something a little less taxing there are plenty of powder white beaches to discover on such intriguing places as Rum Cay, Ragged Island, Abaco and Great Exuma just to mention a few. It is here on what are referred to as the “Out Islands” that one is able to truly capture the essence of The Bahamas.
In addition to its ideal climate, it was for the golf that I decided to visit The Bahamas. Although not your typical island golf destination, The Bahamas is working diligently to change how it’s perceived in golf circles around the world. Ten outstanding courses are scattered throughout several of the main islands with 10 more scheduled to open sometime over the next five years. From Toronto it’s a three-hour direct flight to Nassau from where many of the best golf courses in the Caribbean await.
On New Providence Island there are a few golf courses available depending on where you stay in Nassau. For guests of Atlantis and The One and Only resorts, the Tom Weiskoph-designed Ocean Club welcomes the privileged and fortunate few and is certainly worth playing. Down the road across from the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort is the Cable Beach Golf Club, a 6453-yard Fred Settle Jr. design open to the public. On the west end of the island is the private Lyford Cay Club and the Greg Norman-redesigned Blue Shark Golf Club (formerly South Ocean). Forget about playing at Lyford Cay unless you hobnob with the likes of Sean Connery. Getting a tee time at the latter is possible provided you’re prepared to pay the $300 + U.S. (approx.) green fee and are able to book well in advance.
As part of your Bahamian golf adventure I’d recommend visiting some of the other nearby islands. Freeport, Grand Bahama is a short 30-minute flight from Nassau via Bahamas Air and home to the 6909-yard, Robert Trent Jones-designed Reef Club and the 6824-yard, Dick Wilson-designed Lucayan Country Club. Both courses are a 3-iron’s distance away from the Westin’s Our Lucaya Resort, one of the finest hotels in The Bahamas and the hotel of choice for the nation’s president when he visits the island. After golf, be sure to check out the many eclectic shops and decadent restaurants across the street at Count Basie Square, named after the famous jazz musician who used to play here.
Perhaps the highlight of my trip to the Bahamas was our one-day excursion to the “out island” of Abaco. From Freeport, I boarded a Regional Air twin-engine Cessna aircraft that weaved its way through pillow-like clouds over crystal blue waters en route to the island community of Marsh Harbour 35 minutes away. Despite being The Bahamas’ third largest urban centre, to say that this is a laid-back island community would be an understatement as speed limits seem inappropriate and the time of day is nothing more than an approximation.
It was the lure of the famous Abaco Club on Winding Bay that brought me to this remote island paradise. Situated on over 500 acres on a peninsula surrounded by two miles of white sand beach, the billion dollar development is the brainchild of British entrepreneur Peter de Savary. At centre stage of the property is the world-class 7123-yard championship golf course designed by renowned golf course architect Donald Steel. “This is an outstanding piece of land for a seaside golf course. It is spectacularly tropical with its long sandy beach, reefs, bluffs and lush vegetation. It is everything that people would expect from The Bahamas and more,” says Steel who considers Abaco to be one of his finest designs.
It is the final four holes at Abaco that will leave the most indelible impression. From atop the highest point on the golf course, the terrain gradually drops to sea level before leaving you afoot on the 18th tee overlooking the adjacent sea and the pounding surf below. By the time I reached the final hole the sun was starting its descent in the horizon. For me, it was one of those precious moments in life when you just wished you could make time stand still.
At the Abaco Club guests are welcome – once. After your first visit you’ll have the opportunity to join where you may see the likes of PGA Tour professionals Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Billy Andrade who are all members of the club. I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to join the Abaco Club in my lifetime but it was certainly a memorable experience being a member for a day.
Although my inaugural trip to The Bahamas was short-lived I felt like I experienced what makes this collection of coral islands so special. More than anything it was the diversity of the places and people that I appreciated the most. With 700 other islands to discover, I’m sure my next visit to The Bahamas will be as unique and exciting as my first.
Direct flights from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport via Westjet and Air Canada to Nassau.
Places to Stay:
Sheraton Cable Beach, Nassau, New Providence
Westin, Our Lucaya Resort, Freeport, Grand Bahama Island
Great Places to Eat:
Le Dolce Vita, Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Luciano’s, Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama, Bahamas