Miami and St Kitts
By Scott Kramer
Long story short, I take the red-eye from Los Angeles to Miami. After all, I have a starting time at the famed Blue Monster, the marquee course at Doral Golf Resort and Spa, at 1 p.m. the next afternoon. And I certainly don't want to miss that. So I hop on the airplane and wind up sitting next to a very overweight man whose blubber is creeping over into my seat. Oh, and he snored loudly from the moment the aisle lights went dim until the plane arrived at the gate. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep in the airplane -- maybe a half hour.
So when I arrive at Doral - exhausted -- I beeline sluggishly over to the spa for the signature Doral massage. My masseuse Carol has magical hands. She offers me a choice of oils for the task at hand, and I choose eucalyptus. The hour-long massage more than makes up for my lack of sleep, in terms of relaxation. It's the perfect antidote to a sleepless night.
Now I'm ready to take on the Blue Monster. The round starts out with ease, as the first two holes are fairly welcoming. But from there I quickly see what the Blue Monster is all about. Water hazards are plentiful, white traps abundant, and the rough incredibly penal. If the wind picks up, which it's known to do over the course of a round here, it makes the round even tougher. Oftentimes, the wind bypasses one-club status and goes directly for the two-club breeze. And then there's the moisture factor to anticipate: When it rains here, I understand that the course gets exponentially tougher. Being this is Florida in November, it's bound to rain at some point during the round. But while I evade the rain this day, I can't escape the rough and hazards. Too many times my drives veer just a yard or so into the rough. And when I can't see the ball from the tee box, I just know that there's trouble in store. The Bermuda rough tends to swallow many a drive. Mind you, it's not long and deep -- it's simply a sponge. The ball often comes to rest in it buried. Three times the ball actually sunk even deeper while I was at the top of my backswing. I quickly learned that top priority from the rough is to first wedge the ball back into the fairway. If that's not challenging enough, the greens have plenty of subtle breaks to push your game to the brink. In California, the ball breaks toward the ocean. At Doral, there is no golden rule. Every green has its own standards. The Blue Monster is well maintained, challenging and fun. It's pricey to play -$210 to $325, depending on time of year -- perhaps because it's a PGA Tour venue for the WGC Cadillac and a longtime icon in the world of golf. So it's a must-play when you're in the area. But it's also humbling. I had my share of pars, but I also rode the double-bogey train for a few holes. I thought I hit the ball decently and still wound up shooting a 90 from the blue tees. That ballooned my 5.1 index by 0.2, I discovered a few days later.
I eat supper that night in Bossa Nova - the bar in Doral's lobby - and discover some of the best flat-bread pizza I've ever had. On the side, I try some Argentine sausage that comes on a skewer with potatoes. Amazingly good! I get a good night's sleep and a gym workout in the morning. Then it's off to play the Great White Course - also right on property adjacent to the hotel. This was an older course that was redesigned by Greg Norman in 2005, and then had sand traps renovated by Norman since. It's much more of a resort course than the Blue Monster in that it's infinitely more player friendly. The holes seem to be more straightforward, and tree-lined by gorgeous towering palms. You need to hit the ball straight, and thankfully I was en route to a more palatable 79. If only I could negotiate the thicker Florida sand as well as I can the more sifted California sand back home.
After golf, I grab a leisurely lunch on the terrace at Champions Sports Bar & Grill in the hotel and then venture out to the Jim McLean Signature Course. It's on property, but at the far end. So I need to hop into one of Doral's shuttle buses to take a 10-minute ride to the clubhouse. I'm actually surprised at how far the drive is. Turns out that this very flat course is one of the area's tougher layouts. It's not maintained as well as Doral's other immaculate courses, and I find the holes to be quite challenging. Wind is a perpetual factor on this course. And every hole has water on it, but it doesn't always come into play. Playing the back tees here is a challenge, however, as there are some tee shot carries that I swear only Tour pro will be able to master. All in all, though, it's a fun round with birdie opportunities throughout.
Dinner that night is in the hotel's Mesazul Steakhouse, known for its steaks and lobster pot pie. I find that the filet mignon complements the delicious house mac and cheese pretty perfectly. And the key lime crisp tops it off well. The next morning I take the 10-minute ride to Miami airport and board a plane for the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, which is part of the West Indies. I have never been to the Caribbean before, so it's a new experience. The flight takes two and half hours, and as it lands, I realize we're coming into a beautiful island that has remote areas in the distant that remind me of the TV show Lost. There's a beautiful hillside filled with lush green foliage. And plenty of ocean water, as you would expect.
The drive to the 320-room, 73-suite St. Kitts Marriott takes maybe five minutes from the airport. I'm greeted in the lobby by an employee holding a platter-full of a local fruit punch drink. It instantly provides that relaxing island getaway feel. Some musicians are off to the side of the lobby, playing soft Calypso music. The hotel is beautiful, reminding me of some of the grand, larger JW Marriott properties around the U.S. After checking in, I walk across the complex, past two stunning pools to my room that cozies up to the ocean. The room is actually an apartment, replete with living room, full kitchen, bedroom, and a pair of flat screen televisions. The place is easily over 1,000 square feet. Absolutely beautiful. But the best part is that right outside the sliding door is the gorgeous beach.
I head to the Royal Grille Steakhouse below the lobby, for a steak and lobster feast. Good as it is - and trust me, it is - the molten chocolate lava dessert is even better. As a side note, I quickly discover that the hotel staff is very friendly and helpful. Not just in the restaurant, but around the entire complex. When my international calling card wouldn't work from the lobby pay phones after dinner, I asked a staff member for help. Apparently - and this is the hotel's one drawback - you need to buy a prepaid calling card in the hotel gift shop that coincidentally is sold by the company that owns the hotel's only payphones. A concierge tells me that the phones will not allow competing calling cards to be used - a classic monopoly-style rip-off. So I had to buy the calling card for $10, which allows you roughly 35 minutes of calls. A small price to pay, but it still makes me warn potential visitors because of the inconvenience. Eventually, I figured out how to use the hotel's complementary wifi, to make free video calls from my cell phone. Take that, phone company!
The next morning, I take the two-minute shuttle down to the Royal St. Kitts golf course, which is on hotel property. This Thomas McBroom design could be one of the most underrated courses I've ever played. The front nine is a nice resort-style challenge. The trade winds and warm breezes pick up every now and then, and the course has some nice rolling terrain to it, but the entire experience is absolutely pleasant. The layout is playable and player-friendly, yet challenging. The real beauty comes on the back nine, when the holes begin to zero down to the ocean. That's when you need to start really thinking about shot distances downhill and into the wind, while visually negotiating incredible ocean views behind the pins. Even though the sky is mostly deep blue, a few clouds roll in. Out of nowhere, rain starts pouring from the heavens. The sudden cooling down feels refreshing. "Liquid sunshine," my playing partner avers. But it's over in two minutes and back to trying to reel off some birdies. It all leads to No. 18, a par-5 that bends away from the ocean lining its left side. The nice thing is that with my draw - and this is true of several back-nine holes - the ocean breeze tends to dramatically minimize any propensity you may have to veer left, and the ball lands nicely in the fairway. The course is in great shape, the greens are blemish-free and roll true. Best of all, the facility runs specials all week long. In fact, after 2 p.m., golfers can play all they want and use rental clubs and shoes (and cart) for $120 U.S. Believe me, if this course were in Southern California, green fees would be in the $300-to-$400 range.
The bad news is that this is the only golf course on St. Kitts. One other is slated to open in late 2012. A third is underway, but has stalled due to the struggling economy. So please don't think of St. Kitts as a golf destination but rather as a Caribbean destination that happens to have a great golf course on it. And that is why you might well consider not bringing your clubs, but rather just renting a set of the course's new TaylorMade rental clubs once you arrive. Besides, traveling internationally can be a schlep with golf clubs.
That night, I join a group of people for a catamaran ride that veers toward neighboring Nevis before settling in at a local restaurant along a beach. The next morning, I head downstairs to the hotel's Café Calypso restaurant. I opt to try the coffee counter, which has drink and pastry choices that rival any Starbucks in the States. Then it's off for a bus tour around the island. Driving through some really bad poverty areas and then out to more remote areas of the island, the bus meanders its way up a steep hillside to an old lookout fort and some of the most amazing ocean vistas I've ever seen. It's a nice way to end a short, luxurious weekend on the island before heading back to the airport. It's a long journey back to Southern California, but I'm in island mode at this point. And that level of relaxation and patience will be enough to get me through the hours of air travel ahead of me, without going nuts.
Revised: 11/28/2011 - Article Viewed 2,581 Times
Written By: Scott Kramer
Scott Kramer, former senior editor of Golf Magazine, is a freelance golf equipment writer based in Carlsbad, Calif. - the unofficial capitol of the golf equipment industry. His work can be found on a regular basis in publications, such as T&L Golf, PGA Magazine, Met Golfer, Golf Tips and Private Clubs.