Laid out between Half Moon Bay and North Frigate Bay on the island of St Kitts, the resort course at Basseterre was inaugurated in the mid 1970s and for over twenty-five years its delightful charms were enjoyed by a great number of visiting golfers.
Come the new millennium however, the layout was looking decidedly tired and so the management of the Marriot hotel group who run the course decided to radically update the course, calling in prolific Canadian designer Tom McBroom to renovate the design.
After almost two years of remodeling on the 125-acre site, nine holes of the revamped McBroom course were unveiled at the end of 2003 with the full 18-hole Royal St Kitts layout opening for play a year later.
According to Tom McBroom's PR release: "In 2002, Marriott's Royal St. Kitts debuted as Tom McBroom's first design in the Caribbean and immediately took its place among the region's most popular courses next to Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican and Green Monkey in Barbados. McBroom artfully routed the holes along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, presenting golfers with a variety of shots, ever-present wind and spectacular ocean views. Royal St. Kitts is planted with seashore paspalum grass ideal for the Caribbean. The greens are aesthetic gems with subtle to severe swales that test a player's shot-making ability and short game."
The new par-71 course measures around 6,900 yards from the back tees and its palm-fringed fairways are strung out along the Atlantic coast of the island, culminating in a spectacular closing sequence of holes between the 15th and 17th that run along the Caribbean Sea.
Royal St Kitts professional, Scott Lien, commented as follows "Our signature hole is the par three 15th. It measures 165 yards from the championship tees and sits atop the highest point on the golf course. With the Atlantic Ocean as a beautiful backdrop for the hole, you'll be able to see neighbouring islands of Saba, St. Maarten, and Nevis.
We played 3 times on our March '19 trip to St Kitts and left having had a brilliant time, but longing for the course conditions we'd experienced on our previous 3 trips to St Kitts and Nevis.
On my first trip in 2007, the course was still managed and maintained by the Marriott resort and was in absolutely pristine condition. It was clear that the Marriott had invested a lot of money with lush green fairways and excellent, responsive bermudagrass greens.
Now, 12 years later and under new ownership, it is sad to see that the maintenance of the course has been neglected and the course's glory days are long gone. The teeing areas and fairways are now a browny-green for the most part which I can only put down to years of lack of watering. The bunkers are largely empty of proper sand, making them almost unplayable as a normal bunker; in fact, we were almost aiming for the bunkers as the ball would bounce off them like concrete and back into the fairways. The 15th hole, the beautiful, idyllic par 3 hitting down a hill towards the Atlantic Ocean has now been almost ruined by a hotel built to its left.
All this being said, the course is still a delight to play thanks to the fantastic layout of the course. The greens are also extremely responsive and are in excellent condition. There are water hazards a-plenty making for some particularly testing par 3s hitting over water, and tee shots onto par 4s where errand shots can easily end up feeding the fishes. The most pleasing part of the course is certainly the last 5-6 holes playing towards and parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, making for some stunning holes back towards the clubhouse.
If you're a golfer and in St Kitts, I'd strongly recommend playing the course as it was immensely enjoyable despite the poor condition of the fairways and bunkers. Ultimately, if we didn't enjoy it we wouldn't have played it 3 times in our 2 week holiday.
I play here most years. My 2017 visit was in January. The course is now thoroughly bedded in after its redesign, and is a real pleasure.
It is beautiful, a proper challenge, but reasonably forgiving. A bad shot costs you a shot or two, not a reload. Very good greens, fairways in excellent condition, tees not quite so good. The Atlantic holes are some of the most spectacular you will see anywhere.
The course was uncrowded, the clubhouse is good, the staff very helpful and the whole thing was very good value.