With all but two of its fairways offering stunning views of the Caribbean Sea, the 18 holes at White Witch are carved through acres of lush green vegetation on Jamaica’s Rose Hall Plantation, just outside Montego Bay.
Interestingly, the layout is named after the “White Witch of Rose Hall,” Annee Palmer, who was an early 19th century mistress on the former sugar plantation, reputed to have practiced voodoo, abused her slaves and murdered three husbands!
The course opened in 2000, designed by Robert von Hagge, Michael Smelek and Rick Baril – the design firm was also responsible for the reworking of another old course next door at Cinnamon Hill – and holes are laid out on a wild, rocky part of the estate with intimidating carries and tumbling fairways.
The round begins with an eye-catching par five that gives notice of what lies ahead, plunging from the tee to a fairway that then rises sharply past bunkers on the right to a small, semi blind, pulpit green.
Towards the end of the round, many will remember the stunning par three 17th, where the white sand of the greenside bunkers contrasts sharply against the rich green of the putting surface with a lone tree in the background standing against the blue of the ocean.
The golf experience here is first class, from pewter bag tags inscribed with the visiting golfer’s name to white-suited caddies or “concierges” as they are called. Just don’t blame the ghost of Annee Palmer which is said to roam the estate for any of those three putts.
Due to rain and ultimately very strong winds, (supposedly just below category 1 of a hurricane) I was unable to get the look that I wanted at the White Witch. We started, stopped after nine due to the rain, bought new clothes, dried off, had lunch, went back out as the rain had stopped for a bit but then played through a continuous heavy rain and strong wind.
I played with rental clubs from the back tees and the caddies were terrific.
I was told by a member at my home club that the White Witch was his favorite course in the Caribbean not including Mexico, but including the Dominican Republic. To date, it is the only course I have played in the Caribbean. One of the reasons the member told me this is because of the awesome views as well as the fun from the rolling and hilly terrain. Despite the terrain, he said there were a number of very good golf holes.
Due to the weather conditions, we did not get the terrific views as it was quite overcast before the rains came in (it started on the fourth hole) but I did get a sense of how spectacular they must be. 12 of us had flown over from Grand Cayman to play the White Witch so all of us used rented clubs and did not bring rain gear nor umbrellas. The umbrellas would have been worthless anyway. One of my playing partners had clubs fly out of his hands twice on the follow-through, once nearly impaling another player walking ahead but to his left.
Despite the rain that began on four, I was able to see more of the front nine to make a judgment that it is a fine resort course with a lot of variation in the holes as well as a real challenge. The front nine from the back tees is 3530 yards while the back nine, despite the tenth hole being 621 yards, came in at 3228 yards due to three par 3’s. The par 3’s are the same length on the back nine at 160, 164, and 161 yards which is disappointing on this design by Robert Von Hagge/Rick Baril/Michael Smelek.
The first hole has a spectacular view from the tee, sitting just below the white plantation style clubhouse with a dramatic fall off from the top of the hill. You get a distant view of the sea as well as some of the housing built adjacent to the golf course. There are fairway bunkers right and left as well as a series of five bunkers going up the right side of the fairway as you climb back up from the valley towards the green situated on the right as a dogleg. The fairway feels very skinny with trees on both sides and with both dense trees and a steeper fall-off down the right side of the fairway. This is a par 5 of 550/534 yards and is the number one index. I am not sure it’s fair to have such a daunting opening tee shot with that view, and particularly in the high wind that signaled the approaching storm. The green has some undulation to it.
You turn back from the ocean to play the second which is a par 3 of 189/168 playing downhill over a pond that is fast against the green with a small sliver of rocks in between. The green is very skinny and has a large back bunker. There are a lot of mounds behind the green to stop your ball but it can give one an uneven lie to chip back towards the water. This hole plays 1-2 clubs less.
The third is playing downhill towards the water as a par 4 of 412/376 that plays shorter than the yardage. The difficulty in the hole is twofold: first is a series of continuous bunkers down the right side followed by trees with the second being the green is surrounded left, back and right by a continuous bunker. The bunker around the green is pressed right against it and the green has a little nob to the left that makes for a tiny target. I liked the hole. The sky was pretty dark at this point but I could still see that we had gotten closer to the ocean. On a clear day the view must be incredible. I did notice the houses on the right side of the fairway mainly because two in our group struck balls that hit the roofs.
Four is a par 4 of 402/382 and this is the closest you will get to the water. It is a relatively straight downhill hole with a single small bunker at the center front of the green. The trees are once again dense on both sides of the fairway. The green is long and skinny with chocolate drop mounds off the left side.
You start to play away from the sea and ultimately are going back uphill to the clubhouse as you step onto the fifth hole, a par 4 of 402/382. The fairway seemed wider here and the trees were more cleared out on the right than they had been on previous holes. We started to play “ready” golf as the rain came. There is a rock pile on the right that comes into play on the tee shot, another smaller rock pile closer to the green. There is good bunkering on this hole which has a plateau green. It is the 3 index and deserves to be.
The second par 5 at 507/491 uphill with a tee shot having to carry a short gorge. You want to stay on the left side as the fairway is tilted a bit. However, there is quite a lot of mounding down the left side so it can kick a ball hit slightly left into an unplayable position. There are four bunkers fronting the right side of the green with is two-tiered with a vertical spine and is raised above the fairway.
Seven is a par 4 of 414/380 yards that plays as a dogleg right. The dense trees are very noticeable on either side of the fairway which has a series of rock formations down the right side and a single bunker left front of the green. This hole played uphill a lot. The green felt smaller due to a large mound to the right side. I liked this hole for its visuals.
The second par 3 comes at the eighth at 183/164 to a slightly uphill green. There is another rock outcropping but it does not come into play. There are two bunkers to the left side of the green.
My favorite hole which we played in a matter of minutes as we were completely soaked at this point came next at the 420/411 par 4 ninth. It is a dogleg left that curves around a valley of vegetation on the left side of the fairway. I was later told it is not a valley but a drop off in the fairway leading to a cliff that has trees and vegetation on it. In any event, the hole had two bunkers left and one right to also consider on the tee shot. I took a triple bogey here as I could not hold a club and rushed the putts but it looked to be a very nice finish to the front side.
Two hours later we went back out for the back side. The fairways had drained reasonably well and the rain had stopped but it was very windy, 40 mph with gusts higher. The rain would eventually return as we played 14.
I hated the tenth hole, a par 5 of 621/598 (we moved up a set of tees for the back nine) that is a horseshoe left that only the green brings an end to the dogleg. I imagine on a drier day that the downhill nature of this hole would shorten the yardage but that was not the case for us. It is cleared out a bit on the left side but the dense trees return nearly all the way down the right side to the green. I remember some fairway bunkers left for the tee shot but what I remember more is the eight bunkers as you approach the green. Then for some reason there is a tree on the right side way too near the green. I thought this hole to be ridiculous.
Eleven is a par 3 of 160/149 and after playing a long silly hole I felt a bit of relief. I also thought this was the prettiest par 3 on the golf course as it is completely surrounded by sand and is very lovely to look at from the tee.
The shortest par 4 is the twelfth which is 342/327 yards and plays uphill. It is well bunkered right and left on the fairway with two bunkers at the green. The green sits at the base of a hill. One guy in our group went long behind the green and faced a very difficult downhill chip as the back and left side of the greens have swales in them that he had to navigate from the deeper, wet grass. I liked this hole.
Thirteen is a par 4 of 427/384 yards that plays sideways to the other holes but it straight up a steep hill so it felt like it played 50 yards longer (on a normal weather day). At this point bogeys felt like pars and double bogies were acceptable scores but triples became more of the norm due to the force of the wind. The green sits in a saddle.
The fourteenth is a downhill par 3 of 164/148 with a small pond pressed right to the green with a similar small sliver of rocks in between and a large bunker behind the green. I felt like I had played this hole before (the second). The rain had returned to add to the wind.
Fifteen is a big dogleg right as a par 4 of 353/345 yards. I suppose this is a driveable par 4 such is the severity of the dogleg. To drive it one would have to drive over a drop-off of vegetation. The fairway has a ridge that creates an upper and lower shelf. The green is steeply sloped back to front to a ridiculous angle and is also pretty small. I did not care for the hole.
The final par 5 comes next and it is another log one of 567/539. It requires a long carry over wasteland trying to stay left. None of make the carry in the wind and rain. I can’t comment much on this hole as we were now speeding up. I did notice a nice bunker to the right of the green but that was after disliking the tilt in the fairway. It was at this point I began to realize I did not like the land that was used for the back nine – too hilly, too sloped, too much quirkiness required to fit a good golf course on this property.
The seventeenth, a slightly downhill par 3 of 161/144 is meant to be the signature hole but we barely saw it. It is surrounded by bunkers but for me I did not think it was as nice as the sixteenth based on what I could see. But once again it seemed to me to be too similar to the eleventh.
Eighteen is a par 4 of 433/393 that plays uphill and felt like it was a little more cleared out. There are numerous bunkers around the green. The green is overly tilted and is silly.
If one is in Jamaica, then this course is worth playing. On a clear day you will love the views. It is difficult mainly due to the density of the trees and a few silly greens. I did not like that too many of the par 3’s felt the same, both in yardage and in look. The par 5’s on the back nine are too long. The land is not as good on the back nine. I think the architects did about as well as they could with this property.
Stunning golf course.
Took me a wile to stop laughing when the caddie told me that the first was a fairway and not a long path to the first tee.
Buggied it and cannot imagine walking it even when not so hot as it very hilly.
Spectacular views and holes.
One of a pair of quality courses belonging to the Rose Hall estate the courses are next to each other but have their own entrance, clubhouse, driving range and putting green White Witch is carved out of jungle like terrain high on a hillside this course offers stunning panoramic views from numerous spots on the course none more spectacular than the first tee which is located in front of a beautiful clubhouse 100 feet above the first fairway a par 5 which runs off into the distance with the ocean as a backdrop.
The first hole gives you a good idea of what is to come many of the fairways at White Witch slope heavily and fall off dramatically into dense vegetation which can make for many lost balls if you are having a bad day with the driver however most of the fairways have ample width and the mandatory caddies are quite adept at finding anything hit not too deep into the jungle.
The course has a good variety of holes with significant elevation changes throughout it has a couple of interesting short par 4’s, there are three quite spectacular par 3’s two from very elevated tees over water and the third across a ravine with the ocean as the backdrop the longer holes also provide great interest with the fast and hard conditions providing a lot of run out on drives and helping most players reach the greens in regulation.
The course condition was far from ideal when I played this course many of the greens had significant damage with large grassless patches I found this peculiar as its companion course Cinnamon Hill was in pristine condition.
Overall I can recommend White Witch for a very interesting and entertaining round however if you only have time for one round play Cinnamon Hill which I found to be the better course even when ignoring the conditioning.