If you thought Tiger Woods’s reentry into the competitive orbit is the best reason for sun-starved golf-lovers to visit the Bahamas — well, this week you’d be right. (In case you’ve been living in a conch shell, Tiger’s appearance at the Hero World Challenge in Nassau, inside the plush confines of the Albany club, will mark his first professional start in 10 months. It’s kind of a big deal.)
But for golfers seeking sweet ocean breezes there’s another high-wattage draw in this corner of the Caribbean, one that will continue accepting visitors long after Woods and the boys skip town. It’s the newly opened — well, still opening — Baha Mar, less than a 30-minute drive northeast of Albany, on the north coast of Nassau. The Baha Mar bills itself as a resort but it’s more of a resortopolis, in the same mold as its cross-island rival, a sprawling, water-slide Mecca called the Atlantis. When the property is fully completed next year, it will include three full-service hotels (with 2,300 rooms); 40 restaurants and bars (ranging from a trendy sushi den that serves up $60 Waguya fried rice to a beachside trailer that hawks killer $4 tacos); pools everywhere you look; the Caribbean’s largest casino; and a lush Jack Nicklaus golf course across the street at Royal Blue Golf Club. (More on that in a moment.)
If building a property of this scale sounds like a herculean undertaking, it has been. It took 10 years (or about two and half years longer than originally promised), more than $4 billion (the resort is reportedly the most costly construction project in the nation’s history) and seemingly endless development hiccups (including an ownership change), but the Baha Mar is finally showing signs of life. The first of its three hotels, where I stayed on a recent visit, is a soaring 1,800-room Grand Hyatt that opened in April. The stylish SLS Baha Mar, which will attract more of a nightlife-minded set, opened earlier this month, while the third and final hotel and the most luxurious of the offerings, Rosewood Baha Mar, is slated to debut in the spring.
The scope and grandeur of the place quickly becomes evident when you stroll though reception at the Grand Hyatt and onto the red-carpeted floor of the resort’s centerpiece: an airy casino adorned with locally sourced artwork and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide just about the only thing Las Vegas can’t: ocean views. Or when you anxiously take the plunge off a 15-foot manmade cliff into one of the Hyatt's half-dozen pools. Or when, with a bottle of cold Kalik lager in hand, you watch a chef prepare you a scrumptious conch salad, the star of the dish plucked from a tank, extracted from its shell and filleted before your very eyes. Yep, life is good, and you haven’t even stuck a peg in the ground yet.
For golfers bunking at Baha Mar, the fun continues across the street at Royal Blue Golf Club, home to a Jekyll-and-Hyde Nicklaus design that Big Jack plowed over an existing layout at the now-defunct Cable Beach Golf Club. Nicklaus has a reputation for building big, tough courses and the front nine at Royal Blue, which winds its way around endless bunkers and salt-water ponds, is just that. Accomplished sticks might get a kick out of it, but daiquiri-downing holiday golfers best pack an extra couple of sleeves.
But then you make the turn. If the front nine is a jolt, the less bruising back nine is a joy, with wider corridors and imaginative fairways that wind their way around a lunarscape of limestone outcroppings. The Instagram moment comes at the 16th, a 165-yard par 3 that plays downhill over water to a peninsula green.
Guests with multiple rounds on their agendas are unlikely to see the same course twice. “Freeform” tee boxes that extend up to 100 yards on some holes give the pro-shop staff and grounds crew flexibility in setting up the layout — and they derive great satisfaction from mixing up the tees to keep players on their toes. Which means you might find yourself struggling to reach the green in regulation on a par 4 one day and nearly driving that same green the next. Fun stuff.
If you’re on property only for a short jaunt — and with many direct flights from the U.S. into Nassau, it’s a manageable long-weekend golf-and-gambling getaway — don’t bother toting your clubs. Royal Blue’s club rental program is next level. Not only do you have your choice of just about every mainstream brand (as well as high-end options like PXG and Itobori) but one of Royal Blue’s pros will also take you through a club-fitting on the range. Even if you already know what clubs you want to play, it’s a great opportunity to whack a few balls with the latest models from the leading manufacturers. Another nice touch: The club sends you home with its signature cocktail — a fruity vodka-infused concoction — served in a Royal Blue-branded insulated water bottle, yours to keep.
Keep the buzz going back at the resort with a gin gimlet at the Blue Note jazz lounge, which overlooks the twinkling casino floor. Or enjoy a caipirinha and hand-rolled Greycliff in the Churchill Cigar Bar, from where you can feel the heat from the fire shows that light up a fountain outside the bar. It's all good, like a tropical Vegas with steel-drum music in the air and waves gently lapping at the beach below — so good, in fact, that you might just forget about that tee shot you splashed on 16.
The bottom line:
Room rates: Grand Hyatt, from $275; SLS, from $325; Rosewood, from $595
Green fees: $275 for guests; $325 with club rental