Fairways to heaven

With several historic hotels, a brace of brand-new international hostelries, and three (soon to be four) outstanding golf courses, St Kitts and Nevis is a destination fast gaining a reputation for both sporting excellence and lavish hospitality. At 93sq km, Nevis is the smaller of the two islands, with visitors staying either in the soigné Four Seasons or one of the stylish plantation inns. The Robert Trent Jones II golf course at the Four Seasons is consistently rated one of the best courses in the Caribbean. The undulating design is demanding, its condition pristine and the views of the forested 985m Peak above, and the cerulean ocean below, truly dramatic.

Opened in 1991, the mountainous course winds up steep slopes and across jungle-engorged ravines before plunging back down to finish within a few metres of the beach. I found the standout challenge to be the monster 550m par-5 15th hole. Downhill all the way, it plays nearer 460m, but the tee shot requires a 165m carry over a forested ghaut (ravine), so demands respect.

The scenic range and short-game area are perfect for practice, the pro shop well stocked and helpful. There isn’t a clubhouse, but players can enjoy a post-game choice of 101 rums at Mango next to the 18th green. Non-golfers appreciate the hotel’s lavish spa, several chic eateries, watersports on Pinney’s beach and the 10-court floodlit tennis complex.

Of the other five-star hotels, Montpelier Plantation is probably the pick, with the suites much in demand by honeymooners, and the French chef adding a dash of Gallic panache to the preparation of local fish such as wahoo and mahi mahi.

Also ‘up the Peak’ at Golden Rock Inn, American artists Brice and Helen Marden have transformed a former sugar mill into a botanical fantasy/hotel, with a dramatic outlook towards Montserrat. The rooms are a riot of colour and the rum punch perhaps a contender for the most potent on the island.

About 3.5km across The Narrows, the larger St. Kitts currently has two golf courses, with a third under construction. On Frigate Bay, opposite the Marriott, Royal St. Kitts was established in the mid-1970s, then revamped by Thomas McBroom in 2004. Ideal for the first day of a trip, it plays close to 6,309m, with the opening holes inland followed by a spectacular closing stretch along the ocean, reminiscent of California’s Pebble Beach.

Inventive design ensures good variation between holes, with water frequently in play, but the real selling point is the exceptional USGA-spec greens. The main defence is the wind, which can blow mightily at times. Rates are reasonable, good Taylor Made rentals are available, and the clubhouse restaurant is friendly and fast. The Marriott runs the golf club, so a variety of competitively priced packages are on offer.

Part of the new Kittitian Hill development at the north-west end of St. Kitts, Irie Fields is a recently established, Ian Woosnam-designed 18-holer. It is built high on a breezy hillside, featuring ocean vistas on every hole and I found it the toughest of the three current courses.

Not especially long at 5,944m, and par-71, this is a strategic, second-shot course. If you stay out of the myriad traps, the fairways are relatively generous, but I found approaches to the demanding green complexes challenging. On such an exposed site, the wind is again the joker in the playing pack. It’s also a difficult set-up to visualise first time out, so really benefits from playing several times.

The establishment is still evolving, with a new clubhouse being built and the landscaping growing in, but in time Irie Fields should become one of the Caribbean’s must-play venues. Because the fairways are lined by mango, banana, pineapple and avocado trees, it’s also described as an ‘edible course’. The fruit actually goes to the chic, on-site five-star hotel Belle Mont Farm, but respecting the local environment to create an ecologically sympathetic set-up is a laudable approach.

Increasing the choice of luxe hotels on island, 2016 sees the opening of an Embassy Suites by Hilton and a brand new Park Hyatt close to the superyacht marina at Christophe Harbour. On the hill overlooking the dock, legendary designer Tom Fazio has shaped 18 holes, with the course due for completion in 2017. When finished it could be the best course on the island, maybe even in the Caribbean.

So, there are three great courses and a fourth on the way, plus a choice of hotels and restaurants to suit every taste. But what really sets St. Kitts and Nevis apart as a luxury destination is the friendly, laid-back vibe of the locals. In their quest for upscale modernity, some islands in the region have become almost indistinguishable from resort destinations in Mexico or Thailand. But these two islands have maintained an authentic Caribbean identity while delivering all the 21st-century service trappings. For me, that’s a hole in one.

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