By MARK LAMPORT-STOKES
Hanover, Jamaica – When the 56th Jamaica Open Golf Championship is held at picturesque Tryall Club just outside Montego Bay from October 29-31, the tournament will once again shine a spotlight on what makes this island nation such a unique golf destination.
Jamaica has a lush topography of mountains, rainforests, and reef-lined beaches and if you are a tourist looking for spectacular golf, a range of other outdoor activities, wonderful weather, and a high-energy night life, then this is the place for you.
Many of Jamaica’s all-inclusive resorts are centered in or around Montego Bay, with its British-colonial architecture, while nearby Negril is known for its beautiful diving and snorkeling sites.
The stunning 18-hole, 6,836-yard layout at Tryall Club, designed in 1958 by the renowned Texan golf course architect Ralph Plummer, has long been regarded as the best course in Jamaica and Ewan Peebles, Director of Golf at Tryall, has his own theory about what makes Jamaica such a special destination for golfers.
“There’s an atmosphere, there’s a vibe, there’s an electricity on this island that I don’t think you will find anywhere else in the region, and maybe nowhere else full stop,” said Ewan Peebles, a Scot who has lived in Jamaica for more than two decades. “There is an energy to being on this island and that is mirrored when you go and play one of our golf courses. The authentic Jamaican hospitality and the smiles and the laughter and the way the Jamaican people find entertainment and find comedy in things that people from other places in the world might not. And it’s infectious.
“Add that to the fact that we’ve got four excellent golf courses in and around Montego Bay. You can go and play good golf courses just about anywhere on the planet. So, to say we’ve got good golf courses … okay, okay, okay. The whole world can say that. But can the whole world say that you are going to have a real authentic Jamaican experience? There is a good chance you are going to develop a relationship with a caddie that will make a lasting impression on you. Things like a caddie chopping the top off of a coconut and pouring some rum into it, I don’t think you get that in Phoenix, Arizona or Doral in Miami.”
For Peebles, the ultra-friendly service that guests at Tryall will receive from villa staff and caddies is perhaps the number one reason for Jamaica being such an unforgettable golf destination.
“Tryall Club generally is renowned for warm Jamaican hospitality,” he said. “We don’t have a hotel here; we have 91 privately-owned villas, all of which are staffed with extremely warm, friendly customer service-oriented Jamaican people. And out on the golf course it’s no different. Caddies are a big part of the golf experience here in Jamaica, and all golf courses have a caddy program.”
Tryall Club combines the island’s hilly terrain with other natural elements for a unique golfing experience. The course has a storied history having hosted numerous international tournaments, including the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship between 1991-1995. In 2005, Tryall Club was voted the Best Golf Course in the Caribbean-by-Caribbean World Magazine.
Just a few kilometers east of Montego Bay are three more top-quality golf courses: White Witch, Cinnamon Hill, and Half Moon.
Opened in 2000, the White Witch course was crafted on 600 acres of lush countryside, including mountainous terrain. Golfers are afforded panoramic views of the Caribbean Ocean from 16 holes and are best advised to be on guard against shifting winds.
Cinnamon Hill, revamped by designer Robert von Hagge, features a front nine that makes its way close to a windblown beach while the back nine, which is overlooked by the massive Rose Hall plantation house, snakes up into the mountains.
Half Moon, which like Tryall has also hosted the Jamaica Open, is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design known for its challenging green complexes and a daunting set of bunkers. The 18-hole course is located at the Half Moon Resort, which was named by Today’s Golfer as one of the Best Golf Resorts in the World in 2021.
“With those four courses, Montego Bay is the golfing capital of Jamaica,” said Peebles. “There are a couple of other good golf courses elsewhere on the island but, in terms of a golf vacation, if you are flying to Jamaica specifically to come and play golf, you would come to Montego Bay because that’s where the highest number of courses are and that’s where the best courses are.”
Jodi Munn-Barrow, President of the Jamaica Golf Association, has been playing golf since the age of 14 and she believes the preponderance of all-inclusive hotels with direct links to golf courses on the island is another bonus for tourists in Jamaica.
“Most of the hotels on the North Coast are all-inclusive hotels – you pay just one fee, and everything is taken care of,” said Munn-Barrow. “So, you wake up in the morning, you have your Blue Mountain coffee and sit on the balcony, you enjoy the view, you go down to the breakfast room and you have your buffet breakfast, which is huge. You can deposit your wife – if she doesn’t play golf – at the pool or the beach or the spa, and you and your buddies can then head over to the golf course for your tee time. You enjoy your four hours of golf, your Red Stripe beer, for those who are beer drinkers, because we do have one of the best beers in the world, and we also have the best rum in the world in Appleton.
Asked if there were any other activities away from the golf course that she would especially recommend to tourists on the island, Munn-Barrow replied: “Well, we have rafting on the Martha Brae River in Trelawny, and I would definitely recommend that. We also have waterfalls, so I would suggest going to either Dunn’s River or YS Falls, which is on the Negril side. If you go up into the hills, we have eco-tourism so you can go birdwatching, etc. And if you are in Montego Bay, I would recommend doing our Rose Hall Great House night tour, which is a little bit scary because it is supposedly a haunted house, but it’s also worth doing.”
Aqua Bay Resort returns as presenting sponsor of the Jamaica Open Golf Championship for the fourth consecutive year. The tournament serves to showcase its vast potential and the beauty of Jamaica and is also sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Tourism Enhancement Fund, Digicel Business, and the Grand Palladium Hotel. Entries have come from from the United States, Canada, Australia, the Caribbean, and of course, the host country.