I’ve called New Jersey home for over 30 years and while I love the Garden State, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have some sultry, tropical daydream looming in the back of my head every other day. You know the one: palm trees stirring, waves crashing, lustrous sunlight melting away the calamitous wails of all your troubles. There’s a fairway there; perhaps you’re even pleading with your nine iron to stay out of that godforsaken bunker near the sea rocks.
Recently, VUE had the opportunity to bring this vision to life when we visited The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, located in the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands (just 200 miles off the coast of Florida). The Abacos are a chain of islands and barrier cays in The Out Islands of the Bahamas and for those who may not know, the Bahamas consists of about 700 islands and over 2,000 coral reef cays (only 30 of which are actually inhabited). The Abacos are home to an abundance of limestone and are protected by the third largest barrier reef on the planet. Many of these islands are unihabited but one, as it happens, is a golfer’s paradise.
The club itself decorates the landscape of Great Abaco’s eastern shores, with views of the bay and the ocean — an ideal locale for 18 holes. The Abaco Club boasts a Scottish-style tropical links course designed by two of golf’s notables, Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, and has been consistently ranked as the number one course in the Bahamas. A links is the oldest style of course, its meaning coming from the Old English word “hlinc” which refers to “rising ground” or an area of coastal sand dunes. Built with native paspalum grass, The Abaco Club’s turf is made for a warm season and tolerant to the salt in its environment.
The scenery might not be menacing but rest assured, The Abaco Club is not without its complications (or drama). The course, a par 72 running 7,138 yards long, is a complete 18 holes and anything but your typical tropical game of golf. Abaco’s sloping greens and deep bunkers set beside the Atlantic give players a true links-style challenge without a perilous battle with the elements. There are very few links courses throughout the world and a large number of those are located in harsher climates like Scotland and the UK. Each hole gives the golfer an illusion of narrowness off the tee but once you get out there, you’ll see just how much space there really is. The greens are very firm and large, you will be challenged with a medley of shots — for which you’ll want to practice your bump-and-run game.
As you play the course, you’ll not only be tested with having to use different techniques but you’ll be faced with different environments (the club also has its own app so you can keep score and check your yardage on the fly). The course opens with a gentle par 5; from there however, things get a bit more ambitious. Halfway up the fairway of hole 2 (at around 200 yards or so) there are bunkers on either side, which can make an already narrow shot that much more challenging. By hole 4 (a par 3) you’ll get views of the bay and following that on the fifth, you’ll find yourself right against the beach. The back nine play to an old rock quarry and afterwards, you’ll hit a par 3 17th hole which slopes right to the sea. The course finishes on a par 5 with a slim fairway set beside the ocean with plenty of breeze to make you think twice about doing your best Happy Gilmore impression. (If you do happen to be a bit rusty however don’t fret, The Club is also home to a practice facility with a double-end range and short-game area to prepare you for what you’ll encounter on the course.)
The design of The Abaco Club’s course is enough to draw the attention of 2016 European Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke. In fact, Clarke owns a home at Abaco and has been serving as The Club’s World Ambassador since early 2016. “I’ve always loved working on my game here prior to The Master each year, and the new practice facility is a Tour-quality practice area, the best in the islands,” he said. With Clarke on board for The Club’s vision, its notoriety and potential players will only increase.
Golf aside, there’s much more to The Abaco Club than accidentally slicing long drives into the Atlantic. For one, it’s a community with everything from rentals to estate home lots to cottages. Abaco is also a true sporting club — from kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, bonefishing and tennis, there’s no shortage of activity along its two and a half mile white-sand beach. It’s a property where folks want to do more than just enjoy an umbrella drink with a view of a cloudless horizon (but that doesn’t mean your sipping options are limited). Massachusetts-based development company Southworth Development is currently commencing a $10 million improvement that aims to bring a market, marina, improved facilities and new residences to Abaco in the near future. For a club that already has everything money can’t buy, it will certainly be worth watching what follows for Abaco in the coming years.
The Abaco Club’s 5th hole is also one of the course’s biggest risk-reward scenarios. Located on the edge of Winding Bay, this short par 4 can devastate your score if you’re not careful. When you tee off (and when you’ve reached the green), the shore will be very near on your left side, generating an unpredictable sea breeze as you take your swing. The fairway doesn’t begin until over 100 yards on your right but if you want to take on the green and hit the long ball, you’ll have to do it over some tall (and very sandy) rough. The hole has six bunkers and if you miss the green to the left, you’ll find yourself facing a literal uphill battle for a small green. If you do land on the green, it is possible to sink it in for birdie.