There are three golf courses associated with Sandals Resorts; a 9-hole track in St. Lucia, the Greg-Norman designed Emerald Reef in Great Exuma and the Sandals Golf and Country Club in Jamaica.
As seven of the thirteen Sandals resorts are located in Jamaica, the golf course here near Ocho Rios on the northern coast of the island is a very popular sporting facility for many golfers on vacation, especially those Sandals residents who enjoy complimentary green fees.
Upton Golf Club first established the course as a 9-hole layout in 1951, designed by P.K. Saunders and this was extended to a full 18-hole track in the early 1960s. Sandals Resorts International acquired the course in 1992, changing the greens to Bermuda grass.
Laid out on rolling terrain, the course is characterised by narrow fairways with few forced carries and small greens that are relatively unprotected by sand, affording as relaxing a round of Caribbean holiday golf as you might imagine.Caddies are mandatory at Sandals Golf and Country Club but carts are optional.
Staying at Sandals Ochi the course was included and so we played a couple of times. The condition is kept well, the staff very friendly and welcoming, and the course has some fun holes (a couple of drives with risk or reward options which mean hitting blind to get the reward), getable par 5's and reasonable par 3s.
Opening with two par 5's can really set you up for the round, and although the course isn't too difficult for the average golfer, you need to be deadly accurate with approach shots, because the greens are TINY. A lot of them were also quite slow, and you do need to get used to thumping the putts. Worth a play, if your near Ochi.
The course starts with an easy enough Par 5, starting downhill and then going uphill. The course plays in the jungle along the base of a mountain. Left is often in trees, but right is usually fine - though way right on the first hole means water. Several holes are very dangerous to leave the ball past the hole. I am a 20+ handicap, but having birdied the first and third holes, I had a 3-foot putt back down the green on the 5th. Looking at the putt, I realized immediately that I had almost no chance in making the putt (which went 6 feet past the hole - I thankfully made a nervy par).
Not massively bunkered, and rather short, so other than the jungle which often is a hook nightmare, the biggest defence is the wind. The wind can pick up quite a bit, and often in a variety of directions. Still, the course does not play like a links course despite the wind, and I fear that while the course is solid, not much was made of the elevation changes in terms of encouraging an interesting "ground game."
The caddie program is a strong one, and walking is permitted/not overly difficult. They not only are friendly and generally helpful, but they are good at speeding up the round. I played both full 18 hole rounds in under 3 hours (I went out 3 times, but twice it rained and once to the point that the round had to be abandoned). Oh - the greens were typically small and elevated, and almost always sloped in the usual uphill manner, which could, in theory, used some more variety.
I wouldn't say the course is a must-play. But if you are staying at one of the Sandals-resorts anyway, you would have to be a golf snob not to go out and enjoy yourself, particularly given the price - free for Sandals guests, not including caddie/cart/rentals.