Opened in 1961, Sandy Lane has been the luxury Caribbean resort of choice for the rich and famous for decades now. It closed at the end of the 1990’s to undergo a complete refurbishment and during this extensive makeover, the original 18-hole layout was reduced to a 9-hole course (now known as the Old Nine), a number of the old fairways were reshaped into the new Country Club course and an old limestone quarry was incorporated into the design of the new Green Monkey course which opened in 2004.
Named after the Bajan green primates that inhabit the island of Barbados, the Green Monkey was designed by Tom Fazio and its routing in and out of an excavated portion of the property offers both dramatic elevation changes and spectacular views out to sea. The lush fairways wind past rocky out crops, small ponds, mature Mahogany trees and serpentine bunkers to receptive greens with subtle breaks that test the best of putters.
Some feel the Green Monkey suffers from a relatively dull start and a weak closing hole but what none of the critics dispute is the fact that in between, the course really does lives up to the hype! Having spent a reputed US$25 million on the layout during the multi-million dollar facelift at Sandy Lane, you would certainly expect the hefty green fee to deliver a truly unique golf experience – and who could ever walk off the 18th here and not remember the bunker at the par three 16th with the grass island in the middle shaped as a monkey?
The first few holes ease you into the round, which is fine, because you need to get to grips with the Bermuda greens. On the first green, I had a putt which clearly went from right to left. "About a foot from the left, sir" said the caddy "Its the grain". What, you can't be serious. But he was. Putts can be astonishingly quick or slow when down or upgrain. One of two shots looked great off the club, but the caddy said "Nice shot, but a slippery putt", as the ball bounced past the hole. He wasn't kidding.
After a few holes, the quarry setting for the course starts to become the main scenic feature. The ocean is visible, but you are looking at the course. There then follows a series of wonderful holes, played down and uphill, with the quarry walls as aiming targets, obstacles or just beautiful scenic features. Most of the holes offer generous driving areas, and needless to say, beautifully conditioned and maintained fairways. The bunker sand is crushed marble and gives a lovely sound when you play a bunker shot. Approach shots are the real challenge, with a supplementary grain problem for a shot above the hole and downgrain. Discretion is probably the better part of valour for most holes, but a decent player on his game will have a chance to make a decent score.
Star holes for me included the par 3 16th with the bunker with a cut out in the shape of a monkey, and several par 5s played around and between quarry walls and obstructions. The Green Monkey is one of those once in a lifetime courses, unless you are very well funded indeed.