A mere 150 miles to the east of Miami lie the stunning islands of the Abacos, sprinkled like a string of colourful conch pearls through the Atlantic Ocean. There are precisely two Abaconian islands; Little Abaco and Great Abaco but there are hundreds of others that are known as cays – pronounced keys – most of which are uninhabited. Great Abaco is more than 100 miles long, making it the third largest Bahamian island and, nestled on a peninsula beside a brilliant powder soft sandy beach, lies the Abaco Club on Winding Bay.
The Abaco Club is the brainchild of British entrepreneur and world-class yachtsman Peter de Savary, who spotted the potential of Winding Bay on a sailing trip. After coming ashore and clearing a path through the tropical undergrowth with a machete, he declared; “This is it!” $250m later, the Abaco Club was born.
British architect Donald Steel and his partner Tom Mackenzie fashioned the course on Winding Bay in a tropical links-like style, which seems a contradiction in terms, as most links courses are synonymous with the distinctly un-tropical British Isles. But the Abaco Club has been laid out on predominantly low lying sandy ground next to the turquoise Atlantic Ocean with hard and fast-running tee to green surfaces. The bunkering is bold with gleaming, creamy white sand, which provides a striking contrast, especially from the tee and for the approach shot to the elevated greensites where the pot bunkers are invariably cut fiendishly deeply into their sides. This really is a Caribbean links experience where you’ll need to bring your sunscreen and a decent golfing ability.
A word of warning, the Abaco Club is not a resort course but a truly challenging and elevated layout which is not for the feint hearted. Tropical bush lies at the edge of the fairways just waiting to gobble your balata, so keep your ball in play and leave the tips for the big boys. Measuring 7,123 yards from the gold tees this is a serious test, so do yourself a favour and choose your tee wisely based on ability. It may ultimately save your entire golf ball collection.
Frankly there are far too many great golf holes at the Abaco Club to mention them all but a few require singling out and these will remain lodged in your memory forever. The opening seven holes play out in an old fashioned manner and the Atlantic drama really kicks in at the par three 4th. From a slightly elevated tee, the stage is set and the prevailing breeze is in your face. The Atlantic glistens behind the green with the bunkers and the beach beyond flashing brilliantly in the sunlight. Chose your weapon with care, swing smoothly and try your level best not to let the sheer drama of the location distract your execution. Easier said than done… we honestly know!
The 5th hole is one of the most sporting short par fours in the Caribbean with its tee situated on the beach. There’s a wide enough expanse of sandy wasteland to carry with your tee shot and this is enough to rapidly focus your mind. We turn for home at the 8th but first we must climb onto a high bluff at the 15th from where the closing holes take on a completely different but equally beguiling style. This final tract of land is an elevated, pointed peninsula which incorporates a working stone quarry. We see the quarry clearly to our right as we play the 15th and from here the narrow ribbon-like 16th fairway appears incredibly daunting. Nevertheless, we try and put that out of our mind until we arrive at the 16th tee but naturally the tee shot on this par four, which doglegs its way around the edge of the cavernous quarry, is even more frightening than it appeared from the 15th fairway! The par three 17th has a certain Pebble Beach style but the par five 18th is set to become the most talked about closing hole of the entire Caribbean. It’s a magical finale to a totally thrilling and engaging course.
The Abaco Club is a private club, but thankfully you can play here once as a non-member. Thereafter if you want to play again you’ll have to join the Caribbean’s most enchanting club, where mere words could never describe the sheer brilliance of the experience.
The eye of Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the Abaco Islands in September 2019 with Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco taking a direct hit from sustained 185 mph winds. The Abaco Club miraculously escaped most of the devastation that wreaked havoc across much of Great Abaco Island. In February 2020 the club reopened, and is once again welcoming members and guests to its tropical paradise.
Have been fortunate enough to play this course a couple of times and it is magnificent. The holes weave up and down in a manner very reminiscent of a links course, although the grass is not of the fine fescue type and I am led to believe that they used Seashore Paspalum from tee to green. The conditioning of the Abaco course is magnificent without being overly fussy. The definition between green fringe and fairway is pronounced but the rough is simply rough! One of the key elements for me which makes this an enjoyable and engaging course is that there’s a great deal of variation with holes down by the seashore and holes on the cliff tops. All the hazards are in view from the tee, including the fabulous deep bunkers that put the fear of god into you. The Abaco resort is possibly the most beautiful place that I’ve visited and it’s certainly one of those wonderful experiences that are so few and far between that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.