GRAND CAYMAN, West Indies - The Blue Tip golf course at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is named after the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman - and if that's a little confusing, the course itself is not.
"The golf course is pretty straightforward, there aren't too many tricks to it," said Assistant Professional Adam Beange. "You can see what you've got to do. You can see around the doglegs and where the pin is."
The Blue Tip is a private course designed by Greg Norman, aka the Great White Shark, available only to guests of the Ritz-Carlton here on sunny Grand Cayman, an increasingly popular golf tourist destination in the eastern Caribbean, north of Jamaica, south of Cuba and east of Eden.
Since it's private, the Blue Tip remains untrammeled by the tourist hordes that pour out of the cruise ships that call on the island. You can scarcely find a ball mark on the pristine greens, and the course has the superb conditioning and excellent, little flourishes for which the Ritz-Carlton is known.
It only averages around 15-20 rounds a day, unless a large group takes up residence, and so it's easy for the Blue Tip to keep its shine. The ultra-green paspalum grass is a beautiful contrast to the blue sky and white-sand bunkers, all framed artistically by swaying coconut palms.
The only problem: It's a nine-hole course. It is a superb nine-hole course, but a nine-hole course just the same. There is talk, officials say, of adding another nine, which would go a long way toward making this a more legitimate golf destination.
Still, there is a certain attraction nine-hole courses have. If the holes are memorable, you can look forward to playing them again. The Blue Tip is such a course.
A natural canal winds through the property, right behind the hotel, and somehow manages to border every fairway except No. 8. Therefore, it is a constant hazard, either to the left or right of the fairway, as you wind your way around with the fresh sea breezes in your face.
It is also a very open course, which under other circumstances would allow the owners to market it as a "links" course. The Ritz-Carlton people don't try for that sleight of hand.
"No," said Beange. "Paspalum is short and sticky, and the ball doesn't bounce like a classic links course."
Its openness gives the wind an invitation to carry out its will, and it does so, making up to a three-club difference on some holes when it really starts to howl, which it often does, especially in the winter.
There are some false fronts and closely mown surrounds around the well-bunkered greens, which are large and sport only moderate slope and undulation, with the exception of No. 8, which slopes rather harshly back to front.
Norman countered the prevailing winds with some fairly ample fairways and landing areas, so if you can keep it out of the water, and use the wind to your advantage, you'll walk off the island green at No. 9 with a happy scorecard.
Especially if you didn't self-destruct after the first three holes, which play directly into the prevailing winds coming off the North Sound.
"If you can get through the first three holes with a little confidence left, you'll be okay," Beanges said.
Green fees at the Blue Tip are in the $100-$150 range, depending on the season, for 18 holes, and in the $65-$95 range for nine holes. Americans might balk at those prices, but here on Grand Cayman, where gas is well over $4 a gallon, it is fairly normal.
For that, you get an outstanding Caribbean course that is as playable as it is scenic.
There are some excellent risk/reward opportunities and chances at birdies on some of the shorter par 4s, and the same can be said of the par 5s. All of the par 3s are entertaining, and all over water.
The course is gleefully free of the sort of development that has sprouted up on the nearby Seven-Mile Beach, but there are plans for more development.
November 7, 2007
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