Jamaicas Newest Treasures


From the tee boxes, all you can see for miles and miles around is the aqua-blue splendor of the Caribbean, two miles straight down and 100 miles straight out toward Cuba. This the White Witch golf course, which Robert Von Hagge and Rick Baril have carved out of native rock from the sides of mountain terrain.
White Witch LogoAnd from the fairways, all you can see are the remnants of the Rose Hall Plantation of the 1800s, the early aqueducts and sugar mills in this historic acreage just outside Montego Bay, Jamaica. This is the Three Palms Ocean Course of the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort and Country Club, sister course of the White Witch. The caddies will tell you the story of Annee Palmer, the notorious former owner of Rose Hall who murdered her three husbands one by one and had them secretly buried near the beach, each under a palm tree.
Von Hagge, who has designed more than 250 courses around the world, was charged with designing the properties. The two courses are the apex of his career. I have only seen golf course property like this three or four times in my life, he said. This land is magnificent. Von Hagge layouts have been venues for eight regular and Senior Tour events already this season, which pretty much says it all about his credentials.
Three Palms LogoThe White Witch, which was the nickname of the 4-foot 11-inch Palmer, belongs to the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The course starts with the No. 1 handicap hole, a par-5 which sweeps down into a valley from the clubhouse and range, the highest point of the course. Both courses share a common trait ' they can be extremely testing or rather gentle, depending on which tees you choose. The first hole on the White Witch is certainly an example of this as it sweeps and twists and turns down-down-down to the green 550 yards distant from the back tees.
Sixteen of the 18 tee boxes on the Witch offer a gorgeous view of the Caribbean. Number 3 is one such memorable sighting. The sea is visible from perhaps a 200-foot elevation and the beauty forms a vista of sparkling surf. Its difficult to play with such a view to distract you. But there is great golf ahead, so we must press on.
The sixth hole is intimidating from the back and middle tees, necessitating a tee shot which must cross a yawning chasm. Once youve reached the fairway, though, keep it left and youll be able to avoid the trouble. The green offers another enchanting view of the sea.
On to the backside ' the 10th, which is a 620-yard par-5 from the tips but very manageable when played from a shorter tee for the drive over a valley to the plateau fairway; the 14th, a par-3 down to a green hidden behind a pond; the 16th, a par-5 of a swiveling double dogleg ' keep it left because a big valley runs along the right side. Every shot seemingly is uphill or downhill, every view seems to be of the Caribbean or of the ruins of the old plantation.
During a four-hour round, said Von Hagge, the golfer only spends 10 minutes actually hitting shots. Weve got to give him something to look at during that other 3 hours and 50 minutes. That was very easy to do at these courses.
At the Wyndhams Three Palms, Von Hagge took an old layout and virtually redid it all. The course is at a lower elevation with two of the holes actually on the ocean. However, much of it winds through lush tropical vegetation. It is a more level course, though some holes do rise and fall with wild gyrations. Aqueduct ruins are everywhere and the course constantly passes by one historic spot after another.
John Rollins (the late landowner) told us to leave the ruins alone, so we went back to the drawing boards and worked around them, said Von Hagge. What you see is one old aqueduct after another as you play around them at the Three Palms.
The course becomes a walking history lesson as you pass by such scenery. The holes are named ' the second is Great House because it looks up the hill directly into the old plantation home; the fourth is Dead and Gone because an old cemetery stands guard beside the tee of this par-3 over water; the ninth, a perilous adventure which culminates into a green the other side of a chasm, is Aqueduct because the long ruins lie just off the fairway.
Hole 18Other adventures await ' the par-3 15th, Mountain Falls, a spot where Annee would come after she swam in the ocean and the only hole where the ocean is not visible; Rollins Run, the short par-4 16th where my caddy tore off a fragrant bit of nutmeg and presented it to me; The Ruins, the par-4 17th which is yet more old archeological treasure; and finally Sugar Mill, the par-5 18th with a finish again across a chasm to a well-bunkered green.
There is basically a route for all golfers, regardless of abilities. The little witch might well have turned honorable if these courses had been here in the early 1800s. Von Hagge has designed two masterpieces that are once-in-a-lifetime pleasures.