Nov 22nd, 2016
Emerald Reef Golf Course
The Jewel in the Crown
Words: John Dean
Emerald Reef Golf Course, Great Exuma, The Bahamas: that’s how I would like to start every sentence I write, but this is the one time I get to use it for real, as I’ve just had the massive good fortune of experiencing this great Greg Norman designed course, whilst staying at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis and Spa Resort.
The course is already recognised as one of the most scenic ocean-side courses in the whole Caribbean, and it has six holes, which hug the coastline of a beautiful peninsula. There are six standout holes on a course that will always keep you on your toes, and will punish you severely for any waywardness on your part.
"We first walked here in 1997," says Greg. "It was a pretty tough walk because of the coral beating up your feet and ankles pretty bad. My responsibility was to make all 18 holes signature holes. We were lucky because the developers allowed us to put the golf course on the water. Most developers want the houses on the water and the golf course on the interior."
This may be a golf course on a resort, but Mr. Norman has created something altogether more challenging than you would expect from a normal resort course. In fairness to Greg, there are five different tee positions, so you can choose how much of a beating you want to have. But bring plenty of balls with you; you’ll need them all.
"It's the little subtle touches that make this course unique," says Greg. "The green complexes and the movement and the contour off the fairways, that's what really sets this place off. I integrated what was there before into what the fairways are now so it's kind of a seamless flow."
Whilst it is the back nine that draws your breath, don’t underestimate the front nine, either from a playing or a viewing perspective. Unlike normal resort courses, Emerald Reef starts asking difficult questions from the first hole, which is a tricky 532-yard off the blacks par five with water to the left.
The second is no better – a tough par three, with more water to deal with. It’s 228 off the blacks, and a right pig. Chances are you’ll find the water.
The fourth is Greg’s favourite hole. It’s right in the mangrove swamps, and is a classic risk and reward hole. It demands you to get the driver out, and go for it. Anything else is a cop out. 291 yards off the blacks, you are going to be tempted. But beware the water.
The back nine is where the action is though, as this is where the course meets the sea and the trade winds, which can blow you right off course.
The action properly kicks off on the 10th, which is a tricky par four, playing 460 yards off the blacks. The fairway is generous by Greg’s standards – it is going to get tougher from here.
The 11th is a short par three, but there is no room for error here. A punch shot is probably your best option, especially when the wind gets up.
The 12th was the most difficult hole for Greg to design, as he had to raise the green to keep it clear from the pounding waves that can trouble the normally calm seas of the Caribbean. At least you have some space on this hole, so it’s a bit of a relief after the tightness of what has gone on before.
The 13th is another fantastic par three. It’s hard to see the green from the tee, but you can find the two tiered green with a wedge or even a sand wedge if the wind isn’t blowing too hard.
The 14th is a totally spectacular hole. Par four, 303 off the blacks, but you need to be ever mindful of the ball magnet that is the sea. Go right, or that’s another ball lost.
The 16th is a right bastard. Greg asks you to hit a monster drive to make the fairway. This is as tight as you like.
The final two holes break away from the peninsula, but are no easier. The 17th has a massive bunker running alongside the hole, so there’s nothing doing left. It reminded me of Greg’s White Monster at Doral. So go right, and you should be OK.
With the 18th water comes into play again on the right. But there’s a load of trouble on the left as well, so a straight drive is you only option. It’s a long par 5 measuring 637 yards off the blacks. A monster. And the green is tiny!
Good luck out there. Greg has created a 7,001-yard beast.
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