Rarely, if ever, will you be standing on the first tee box of a Caribbean golf course and enjoy the fact that you have the links to yourself. Anyone who has ever squeezed a round into a vacation itinerary knows that many pro shops will stack foursomes on top of each other like luggage in the cargo hold, and there’s always that random twosome in between that you kinda feel bad for because the group in front of them is playing at a snail’s pace.
But there I was, on the only course on one of my favorite islands in the world, smiling like a kid in a candy shop because the fairway in front of me was wide open and the only sounds behind me were those of children receiving their morning lessons. I’ve been told that Royal Turks and Caicos Golf Club is as fun as it is beautiful, but not having to worry about my pace of play had me feeling like this was going to be a very special round.
Sure enough, as I eventually walked off the green of the 18th hole, I wrote in my personal best seventh par of the day and chuckled as I did the math—an 87. A great golfer I am not, but to break 90 on my first round ever on what is widely considered to be one of the best courses in the Caribbean? That’ll make a good vacation great, and my family retreat to Beaches Turks and Caicos was already on pace to be spectacular.
With that wonderful round behind me, here’s some basic advice I have for the next group on the tees.
Enjoy the Views
Traveling solo as much as I do, I’m often paired with complete strangers when I golf in paradise. I rarely mind it because it’s a great way to meet new people from around the world and appreciate their perspective on travel and regions like the Caribbean, but serious golfers tend to be all about the game and rarely about the moment. Sometimes it’s a little awkward when I stop to get photos and videos from multiple angles and my new friend is itching to get to his second shot.
Playing a course like Royal Turks and Caicos is such a blessing that it blows my mind when other golfers don’t take a moment on every tee box to stop and marvel at the natural beauty. After all, this course was recently named the Best Caribbean Golf Course by USA Today, and it beat out perennial favorites like Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo and the magnificent Old Quarry Golf Course in Curacao.
That recognition alone is all the excuse you need to stop, smell the roses, and take a few dozen selfies so your foursome mates back home envy more than just your short game.
Play It Safe
As a high-handicap golfer who is still overcoming years of detrimental swing tinkering from a variety of contradictory coaches, shooting an 87 on any course is a miracle for me. That’s not to say, however, that this is an easy course. If I’ve learned anything from playing courses like El Camaleon and Quivira, it’s that I treat every design the same—as if it’s the most challenging course I’ve ever played in my life.
So, my approach is always cautious. Hit it low to avoid the sea breezes, play it short until I find my comfort level, and don’t try to Bryson the ball like I do when I’m back home. There are some wide-open fairways on this course, and they’ll tempt you to bust out the boom stick, which I did a few times. Beware of the hidden curves along the way because they’ll take your ball on a journey if you’re not careful.
When you’re visiting a tropical destination, you simply have to play a round. But first you need to choose the right gear to bring.
I’m still thinking about the ProV1 that I lost on the left side of the fairway on Hole 11, as it felt like my best swing of the day. No one can convince me that a little critter didn’t sneak out of the bushes and steal it.
Take it from the Expert
If you want a little more than my amateur advice, let’s turn to Dave Douglas, the Director of Golf at Royal Turks and Caicos for his most important pointers. For starters, one of his biggest pieces of advice echoes my own. “For most of the year we have a 12-to-15-mile trade wind, so a lower ball flight is very valuable to keep the golf ball under the wind,” he explains.
Aruba this is not, so at some points during my round it felt like the world around me was standing still and I didn’t adjust my swing for the wind. When the ball gets up, it becomes anyone’s guess where it might land, and, more often than not, it wasn’t where I’d aimed and hoped.
The greens at Royal Turks feature platinum paspalum turf grass, which makes sense because it does well in saltwater environments. Now, full disclosure, I didn’t know a thing about this type of grass before playing, so it took me a few holes to get used to it, but it’s great for cautious golfers like me. Especially those of us who chip from around the green because we don’t land on it as much.
“Due to how pure the Platinum Paspalum greens are, from 10 feet and closer, when putting, play less break than you read, as there is little to no grain with Platinum Paspalum grass,” Douglas offers. Once you realize how the ball rolls here, it makes anyone feel like a putting champion.
Let’s Play Two!
When you shoot a good round—which can be a number score or just that feeling you get when you didn’t spend every minute cursing—you’ll get that urge and desire to play the course again. The flow and pace at Royal Turks and Caicos are so smooth and quick that even when it’s a little busier, most golfers will have that moment where they’re like, “How the hell are we already at 17?”
I don’t typically play 36 holes anywhere, let alone on vacation, but when the incredibly friendly starter greeted me on my way back in, he asked, “Wanna play another?” Feeling the buzz of a great round, I laughed and replied, “Why the hell not?” I looked over to the first tee and realized there was still no one around, and I knew the fam would understand if I took a couple more hours to get back.
As for the score, I didn’t keep it this time. Instead, I used my notes to see if I could improve on the holes I shot bogey or worse on the first time, and it worked… a little. At least the views were just as good the second time.
Mind Your Manners
It wasn’t until I reached the tee box on Hole 16 that I spotted one of the only other golfers on the course that morning. He was walking the course with a lightweight Sunday bag and if I hadn’t been in a rush to get back to my family at the pool, I might have copied him and burned more of the calories from my all-inclusive dining.
But this is less about Royal Turks and Caicos and more a tip about Caribbean golf in general. There are a lot of people visiting these courses who have never played before or, like me, aren’t that great and/or want to enjoy the views. Let’s all leave the frantic impatience at the airport and appreciate that we’re all just trying to have a little fun out here.