The traditional playground of the rich and infamous has a host of ritzy golf destinations writes PETER SWAIN. Barbados leads the field, but other islands like St Kitts and Nevis have plenty to offer.
As a tropical destination in which to hone your game between ice-cold rum punches, the Caribbean is difficult to beat. Ian Fleming, Princess Margaret and Noel Coward loved it; now Richard Branson, Ian Poulter and Tiger Woods regularly hole up here. With some of the world’s very best golf developments lining the palm-fringed beaches, there’s something both glamorous and slightly decadent about the islands of the West Indies.
The advantages of the region for British retirees are clear: many islands are part of the Commonwealth, the locals speak English, tax-friendly regimes are the norm, the English legal system is widely used, and most importantly, they play cricket!
The colonial feel is more pronounced on some islands than others, and the dominant culture is now probably American. But most tourist facilities are absolutely world-class with the overall ambiance being laid-back, barefoot chic.
Many island have well-established British communities, with golf being something of a local passion. For silver golfers, it’s paradise.
CURRENCY: Varies from island to island, with most pegged to the $US. Property prices are invariably quoted in $US.
GOLF TOURNAMENTS: Smaller tournaments are played in the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, but no major Tour events.
Slightly larger than the Isle of Wight, Barbados has seven good courses dating from the 1960s. Tom Fazio’s Green Monkey at Sandy Lane is probably the pick but Apes Hill and Royal Westmoreland are right up there.
With a currency pegged to the US dollar, the island is safe, Anglophile and rather fashionable. It has been quite heavily developed over the past decade, especially on the favoured west coast, but Barbados is still regarded as a haven of stylish tranquility by its many celebrity admirers.
Royal Westmoreland, for instance, boasts Wayne Rooney, Andrew Flintoff, Ian Woosnam (house pictured left) and Gary Lineker as part-time residents. Launched over 12 years ago, it’s now run by English entrepreneur John Morphet who’s investing heavily in new facilities, a second course, and more residential units.
The Robert Trent Jones Junior 7,045-yard course has some of the best par-3s in the world according to Woosnam. Other holes aren’t too shabby either, some featuring jungle filled ravines which can be a tad unnerving for high handicappers. A magnificent colonial style clubhouse is the perfect end even for an imperfect round.
Until recently Royal Westmoreland was aimed exclusively at the seriously wealthy, and there are plenty of multi-million pound mansions on site. But Morphet is keen to broaden its appeal, so big one-bedroom homes in the new Royal Apartments start at only $395,000 (£250,000). Vast three-bedroom units are $850,000 (£540,000) with detached Royal Villas costing from $1.2m (£760,000). (Exchange rate £1 = $1.58)
Local finance is available, and as this is a thriving resort, there is the potential for substantial returns. UK agents Knight Frank always have a good selection of Bajan property available.
WHERE: Set within an historic Bajan sugar plantation on the island's crest, 1,000ft above the beaches of the west coast.
WHY: Built in 2009, the 7,049-yard course challenges scratch players but is more user-friendly from the forward tees. With the beach 10 minutes down the hill, the development has its own polo field and close links to the aristocratic Port St Charles yacht club.
HOW MUCH: Plots of land on the 470-acre development, a mix of rolling meadows and dense forest, start at $350,000 (£225,000). The cheapest three-bedroom Polo Villas are priced from $890,000 (£565,000), all with sea views.
STAY AND PLAY: www.yourgolftravel.com promotes golfing holidays in Barbados
St Kitts bills itself as ‘the Caribbean, the way it used to be’. The 65square-mile island is less developed than its neighbour, Antigua, or indeed Barbados, and consequently cheaper. A few developments have started but the pace of life, weather and high standard of facilities make it and its even smaller neighbour, Nevis, the undiscovered gems of the region.
The tax regime, with no income, inheritance or capital gains tax for residents, is a big selling point. Having invested $400,000 (£255,000) in property, anyone can apply for citizenship, with no obligation to live there full time.
The Peter Thompson-designed Royal St Kitts course at Frigate Bay has recently been refurbished, with the back nine along the seashore offering a stiff and particularly scenic challenge. A band of local Brits play every Thursday, giving the friendly clubhouse the feel of Sunningdale-in-the-tropical-sun.
Ocean’s Edge is a mature development of elegant apartments and villas, with more units still being built. Overlooking both the beach and Royal St Kitts, on which owners have preferential rates, apartments start at $355,000 (£225,000), and Villas from about $510,000(£325,000). Facilities include a beachfront clubhouse.
Sunningdale member and retired businessman, Sir John Robb, has bought a villa at Ocean’s Edge. "After a hard winter, when my friends haven’t been able to play for a month, you can see the attraction of St Kitts where I’ve been playing three times a week," he says.
"My whole family just love it. It’s a bit quieter than some of the more popular islands but we’ve got broadband so we can keep in touch, and BA now flying direct twice a week is a big bonus."
Christophe Harbour is a bigger enterprise altogether. The whole 2,500-acre southeast peninsular of St Kitts is being developed by Buddy Darby of Kiawah Island fame. A stunning Tom Fazio course is being built on a hill with 360o ocean views. When it’s completed in the next year or so, it’ll be one of the very best in the whole Caribbean.
With dredging now in full swing, a marina capable of taking serious super-yachts is being built. Restaurants and indulgent beach clubs are already in place, and an agreement to build a Park Hyatt has recently been signed off, so within a few years the Caribbean will have a brand new upmarket golf and yachting destination. Before prices hit the roof, now is a good time to take a look.
Sales of $60m (£38m) have already been made, with plots starting at $560,000 (£355,000) and finished beach-side villas running at nearer to £2m (£1.27m). 1/10th shares start at only $450,000 (£285,000) but these are obviously aimed at the holiday rather than retirement market.
Separated from St Kitts by the two-mile-wide Narrows, Nevis is a picture postcard island with a 3,232-ft dormant volcano in the centre, and stunning beaches fringing the west and north coastlines. Only 12,000 people live on the 35 sq ml island, so we’re talking serious peace and quiet - perfect for some, maybe a little cut off for others.
Everyone who visits, raves about it – it’s the quintessential Caribbean island paradise. There are several plantation-house hotels, of which the Montpelier is the most famous, because Princess Diana stayed there, and Nisbets on the beach, the most scenic. But by far the biggest enterprise on the island is the five-star Four Seasons.
The hotel was devastated by storm flooding a few years ago, but has reopened bigger and better than before. It’s now got everything: a superb spa, three pools, a beach, fine dining and a range of rooms to suit every budget.
But best of all, it’s got a golf course spread about with villas which make superb retirement homes. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, the 6,766-yard set-up features water on the front-none and trees coming home. It’s demanding, and an absolute gem.
Land costs about $1m (£635,000) per acre. Fully kitted out villas resell at anything from $1.5m (£950,000) to $6m (£3.82). There are also 1/10 shares being sold starting at $472,000 (£300,000). Four Seasons Nevis property isn’t cheap, but it is rather special.
DON’T FORGET: The Caribbean has seen its fair share of developments go bust in recent years, so always get an independent lawyer to guide you through the local buying process, and check rental conditions carefully.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: It gets very hot in the Caribbean, and although ‘hurricanes hardly ever happen’, when they do, things can turn nasty. The peak time for storms is September to November, with Christmas to Easter the high season for visitors. And even within individual islands, there is a difference between the Leeward, or Caribbean side, and the Windward, or Atlantic coasts.