St Andrews was listed as a golf club in the 1891 Trinidad and Tobago Collens Year Book so it’s one of the oldest in the western hemisphere. It’s not known who laid out the original 9-hole course but it was located at Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, five miles south of the club’s present location.
In the early 1920s, the club moved a couple of miles to the west, to what’s now St Mary’s College Sports Ground, where another 9-hole course was set out. This layout lasted only ten years, as the government required the land, and so the club purchased 96 acres a few miles further north then looked for an architect to design the new layout.
Incredible as it might sound, a club member went to the UK and somehow managed to persuade Harry Colt to do the work! According to the club, Colt offered to do the job for nothing, “but was eventually persuaded to accept 50 guineas as a token. He produced a fine plasticine model to scale and… members set about following Mr. Colt’s design”.
The first nine holes were in play by 1935 and the remaining holes followed a year later. Forty years would go by before the club decided to move yet again, this time to Moka, and Ron Fream (who was working with the Thompson, Wolveridge and Harris design firm at the time) set out the course that’s still in play today.Fairways are shoehorned into a mountain valley, where serious undulation changes and a meandering creek are the main topographical considerations. The 470-yard, uphill par four 9th is easily the toughest hole on the front nine then the shorter inward half climbs into higher ground before the layout eventually returns to the clubhouse at the right doglegged 18th.
Architect Ronald Fream kindly provided us with the following exclusive St Andrews article:
“Something I didn’t fully appreciate in the 1970s when we were doing the design and construction for the relocation of St Andrews Golf Club to its current permanent home was the history attached.
The course surely originated, as did most of the other early courses outside the UK, due to British colonial or military actions and it may well be the second oldest existing course in the Caribbean, after Manchester Club in Mandeville, Jamaica which opened in 1865.
St Andrews shifted to the suburbs as Port of Spain expanded in the 1930s and the great British architect Harry Colt provided a design to host the course for the next forty years. In the early 1970s, it was time to move again, this time to a secluded valley dense with tropical jungle in the district of Moka.
Commander John Harris, together with Peter Thomson and Michael Wolveridge, was engaged to do the design and I was collaborating with that team. It was me who did the field study and the office produced the golf hole layout and drawings.
The site was dense with tropical growth and it had some native critters too, including the fearsome pit viper Fer-de-Lance, said to be the most dangerous snake in the Americas. How it got to Trinidad I don’t know but I do know that when we were doing initial site reconnaissance I always made sure someone else was walking ahead of me!
Budgets for construction were modest by modern standards and Ernie Gee, a well-experienced golf superintendent from Southern California, came to direct the construction.
Construction had to deal with tropical rainfall, hillside erosions and wash outs, with most of the work done by hand. I made visits to review ongoing construction and turf establishment progress.
Tifdwarf hybrid Bermuda was new grass for greens in the mid-1970s. Serangoon grass at the earlier St Andrews locations was the most common variety used on greens in tropical areas in those days, before the obsession with green putting speed took hold.
Tifway Bermuda was selected to cover the fairways and the Bermudas were sourced in Southern California. Savannah grass - cow grass in South East Asia – is the local inhabitant and it most likely overtook the Tifway, as it so often does in tropical climates.
The course is now just over forty years old and still in play. The tropical setting must really be spectacular with so much mature vegetation. The clubhouse will offer a tranquil, visually dramatic setting with the high hills surrounding. As with so many older courses renovation, renewal and upgrading may well be in order as green creep, bunker creep and expanding tree canopies all take effect.” Ronald Fream, Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
I was a member of this club in the early 1980s at its present location tucked in a quiet valley known as "Moka" by the locals. My brother and I played this course almost everyday during the dry season and the fairways were arid and hard so the ball went far. There tended to be condition issues with debris from the forest often obstructing the ball and often you had to play around the local wildlife, one time it was a snake and I remember a frog infestation and insects burrowing into the greens. The course was challenging enough with smaller greens and a heavy rough, but the location really stands out with towering hills surrounding the holes. Don't expect well manicured fairways or greens here but the atmosphere more than makes up for that.