It's been a while since I've played Sandals, which used to be Upton Golf Club. As a former private club, it does not have the feel of your typical resort course. There is not much in the way of gorgeous views or "signature holes," but the course is solid. It is also not "immaculate" in terms of conditioning. But the fairways are easy enough to hit on, the rough is short but penal (the ball can easily get entangled in the thicker, lush grass), and the greens run true.
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.
Date: January 26, 2011