The Abaco Club on Winding Bay in Abaco, Bahamas opened on December 23, 2004, and less than one year later, it’s 18-hole championship Scottish-style tropical links course, designed by acclaimed golf course architects, Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, has already been rated as one of the top 100 golf courses in the world.
For those not familiar with the term “links course,” a links course does not refer to any relatively treeless golf course, although it has come into frequent use as such; an authentic links course refers to a course that is built along a narrow stretch of land close to the sea that is shaped by the wind, is firm and fast running, has a sandy soil base, with long spiky grass in the rough, making it often difficult to get a good lie, and a true links course also has undulating greens, rolling fairways, and deep bunkers to prevent the sand from being blown away. The golf course at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay is all that and more, with its sandy base, tiered and undulating greens, rolling fairways, deep bunkers and extraordinary “can’t take your eyes off of the view” scenery.
It is the type of course that attracts the best golfers in the world, including Ernie Ells, rated as the # 3 golfer in the world, who came to visit The Abaco Club on Winding Bay and decided to become a member. Sir Sean Connery also came to visit and played golf four times over the course of a weekend, and remarked that what he liked best about the course was that each time it played differently from morning to evening, taking into account the ocean breezes, etc.
What did we enjoy about the golf course? Everything! First of all, the staff is first rate, and the course is an amazing combination of challenge and beauty. We played golf our first day with Head Golf Professional Kenny Gargiulo, who explained the course to us, and attempted to keep our eyes trained on the greens, although our eyes kept straying to the majestic tourmaline blues of the Atlantic Ocean. Holes 4, 5, 6, 7, 17 and 18 run along the ocean, and it was difficult not to watch the equestrians riding along the beach. There are fabulous ocean views from Holes 8, 9, 15 and 16, and the spectacular vistas can easily add to your handicap, we know that the vistas certainly did not help ours!
As we set up our tee shots on Hole 5, we not only could hear the crash of the waves, we also felt the spray of saltwater on our faces; and Hole 15 with its high elevation, provided an inspiring view of the golf course. Playing golf in the late afternoon at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay was truly like playing in paradise; the cumulous clouds were radiantly backlit by the sun, the greens were the rich color of money, the vegetation was an artist’s color palate of varying tones of greens and grays, and the ocean was an intense blend of shades of turquoise, azure, and teal. We ended our round of golf contented, knowing that we would be playing again the following morning on this truly spectacular golf course.
The next morning, the sky was dark and gray, and just as we arrived at the Pro Shop, it began to rain, not a slight drizzle, but a solid downpour, so we stayed in the Pro Shop and enjoyed a great conversation with the Assistant Golf Pro, while we waited out the tropical shower.
Fortunately, the rain ended quickly, and we decided to test out their putting green before heading out on the course. Today, the course was playing completely different than the day before, as the course started out wet and then with the prevailing sun and winds, started to dry out. What shots worked well yesterday, were of no advantage today, but luckily what didn’t work yesterday, worked well today, so it all evened out in the end.
The golf course, designed to be eco-friendly, uses Seashore Paspalum grass on the greens, tees and fairways, a grass that actually is compatible with seawater and duplicates traditional links turf conditions. Native Paspalum grass is used in the rough, and it can be a bit tricky to find your ball, let alone hit a decent shot out of the tall, spiky, grass, which we found out by trial and error. The deep bunkers are another challenge, and our best advice is to just avoid them, unless you are part mountain goat, or really appreciate playing golf “the hard way.”
The closing four holes may be four of the most spectacular and challenging finishing holes in the world, starting off with two par 4’s at the 15th and 16th holes, which are rated a 7 and 9 handicap respectively, followed by the deceiving par 3, 204-yard 17th, and culminating with the 18th hole, which is a mere 572-yard par 5, and is rated a 9 handicap. The bunkers come into play prominently on 17 and 18, with 18 holding two groups of bunkers, one group on the fairway making you think about holding up or trying to carry the bunker, and a group of bunkers lining the right side of the green. Besides the challenges on the course, the closing holes are located on a breathtaking piece of landscape that runs along the ocean on one side and Winding Bay on the other, so maintaining your concentration becomes a critical and rewarding part of your game. The course is a par 72 with an equal split of 36 out and 36 in; the course length runs 7123 yards from the gold tees, down to 5395 off the red tees, providing a little something for everyone.