Golf on Tobago: REader Golf Review
A personal review of Tobago's golf courses by a myTobago reader
Players of 8, 12 and 16 handicaps, from Pyecombe and Lewes Golf clubs, base the following review, compiled in January 2003, upon visits to both Tobago courses.
The courses are within 10 minutes drive of the airport (and of each other) and so are easily accessible from those areas where most accommodation is located.
While Mt Irvine Bay is a traditional Caribbean course that has little or no irrigation and can look parched as a result, Tobago Plantations despite being designed by the British PGA is a US style resort course with all the attendant trimmings, facilities and superior grasses. They can both justify the sobriquet “Championship”. Mt Irvine was for many years home to a regular winter stop for a number of European Tour stars whereas in 2002 Tobago Plantations hosted the PGA European Seniors Tour to much acclaim.
Both border the sea, are attached to the Hotels that adjoin them and offer preferential discounts to guests. It is easy to get on both courses since as yet the clientele is almost exclusively European / American. Neither proved difficult to play at short notice despite none of us staying at either hotel, both extended a warm welcome.
The course has matured extremely quickly yet unsurprisingly still suffers in places from a slightly open feel where the vegetation has not grown up around the lakes / ditches that form an integral part of the course.
The tiger tees are a real challenge especially into the prevailing winds on the 2nd and 3rd, the senior’s tour event played off a combination of blue and gold boxes. For the average holiday golfer the forward tees will provide a more pleasurable experience.
For those who like to combine their golf with a walk my advice is don’t, there are long walks between some greens and tees and the heat will quickly wear you down. A buggy is therefore essential as is a liberal supply of water.
Although both of my partners birdied the 17th (a medium iron par 3) our favourite hole was the excellent 6th, a par 5 that dog legs through the trees with water lining and crossing the fairway.
The Practice/Academy facilities are very good for honing up your game before starting and for those who are unwilling to lug their clubs half way round the world the club has exceptional quality hire sets (Calloway).
There are no weak holes and some in superb settings though there is a little condominium golf on the inward half it is not obtrusive.
The putting surfaces were probably about 8-9 on the stimp metre reflecting the superintendent’s desire to keep plenty of grass on the surfaces a couple of weeks prior to the senior’s event.
Take lots of balls – don't try and find them in the undergrowth – and expect to have to replace them.
Mt Irvine Bay
If you start at the Plantations course and then go to Mt Irvine you will be disappointed by the way it is showing it’s age and neglect. It is still a challenging and scenic layout but has suffered (over recent years) from a lack of irrigation to the putting surfaces and an apparent lack of investment in machinery, equipment and personnel.
In its heyday it was a winter tour spot for European Tour pros and the honours board boasts a number of names the avid golfer would recognise. Peter Allis was a regular visitor (a fact he remembered fondly a few year’s ago in a Golf World article).
A particular feature is the Caddies line up when you book in – for those able to walk I’d recommend a local caddy in preference to a buggy they are highly entertaining and you are giving something back to the local community. The course while undulating in a couple of places at the back is not physically demanding, but as with Tobago Plantations you will need to take plenty of liquid.
The vistas are particularly attractive and the finishing hole in front of the clubhouse plays towards the sea. Our particular favourite was the 9th where anything other than a perfect drive towards the clubhouse and Buccoo Reef in the distance will disappear into a chasm.
The 19th looks out over the finishing hole towards the reef and is a very convivial spot to reflect on the pounds you’ve shed in the fierce heat.
There are limited practice facilities and the hire sets did not match the quality of Tobago Plantations.
Serious golfers wishing to devote a week (or two) exclusively to the pursuit of 18 or 36 holes a day will feel constricted by the lack of alternative venues. A good parallel is Ibiza, which has an excellent 18 holes, (currently being converted to 27) but no other courses and it too attracts casual players or couples who want to play the odd round or two of holiday golf or a daily 9 holes rather than participate in an organised and competitive Golf week.
That said Tobago Plantations is a challenging and enjoyable layout as is Mt Irvine Bay though one might baulk at the cost of the latter in comparison to the former. In comparison with the better resort courses of the US and Southern Spain, Tobago Plantations compares favourably.
Paul J Corney
Golf Course Update (22 Feb 2003):
Mt Irvine Bay: Since my last posting there appears to have been a concerted effort to improve the infrastructure of the course. In the numerous occasions we have passed through the course there was evidence of new equipment and enhanced irrigation. The sprinkler system for the greens appears to be functioning properly – we saw it working effectively on a concurrent basis on three greens and evidence of green staff spreading fertilizer – and the course was being played by significantly more people than previously.
It would now seem to offer an enjoyable alternative (albeit slightly downbeat) to Tobago Plantations and starts to make Tobago a realistic proposition for golfers wishing to play a variety of courses.
Golf Course Update (2004):
The course and facilities continue to improve with the club now offering a more realistic tariff for golfers wishing to play a few times during their stay. We took advantage of the 2 rounds in 5 days deal which (with buggies – essential) worked out at £45 per round. Other packages are even more attractive (a combination of 9 holes for those wanting a “quickie” before dinner) as are the hire clubs and golf shoes.
Pro Danny Hacker (that really is his name) is enthusiastic and engaging – support his Wednesday “Roll up and barbeque” and the staff in the pro shop (Alfreda et al) were extremely helpful and charming. The new 19th is now complete offering daily lunches and dinner (Friday only) in pleasant surroundings and has on site masseuse in the shape of Oosha who used to work out of the Kariwak Village.
Despite claims on the course planner that there are 27 holes the additional 9 are not slated to be built the back end of 2004.
I have no doubt the course will be highly praised by the players at the forthcoming European Seniors event.