GREAT EXUMA ISLAND, Bahamas – Count Greg Norman among the many Bahamas regulars happy to see Sandals Resorts taking over Emerald Bay, a luxury resort property on Great Exuma Island.
In the 14 months since Sandals took over the property from Four Seasons, they've made a tremendous commitment to Norman's golf course as well as upgrading the resort grounds once run by Four Seasons. Sandals has also been able to bolster its weekly air traffic to Great Exuma Island - so now these world famous waters are now more convenient than ever.
'When Sandals started looking at the property, I knew this should have always been a Sandals Resort,' said Norman. 'This is the perfect facility for them. They know the Caribbean and Bahamian lifestyle, and they knew how to get the airlift [into Great Exuma Island].'
Sandals Resorts have a loyal following with a strong repeat business rate, which helped gain more flights to their new property. Sparsely populated at about 4,000 residents, Great Exuma now receives flights from Atlanta (Delta), Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Continental) and as far away as Toronto (Air Canada). It also added more regular flights from Miami (American) and you can also connect here through Bahamas' main hub of Nassau.
The acquisition of Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club is making Sandals, a brand known for its focus on couples, a larger player in Caribbean golf travel. Norman's team and Sandals have spent the last year restoring the course to the original design plans from 2003. They've been steadily clearing out native areas that had overgrown and also installed a new irrigation system. Also slated for opening later this summer is a new Greg Norman Academy.
The views on the course are as scenic as anywhere, but the design is no resort-friendly cakewalk. It's a championship layout that hosted the Virgin Atlantic PGA Pro-Am, and there are talks of Norman possibly bringing a televised event here. While the back nine features six holes hugging the water, Norman actually said he prefers the front, which plays more inland but still has some great variety but demands a little more shot-making.
The public is welcome to play Emerald Reef, there's just not a ton of accommodations on the island beyond Sandals. So if you're yachting through the Exumas, you can dock at the island's marina for the day and tee it up. Also, visitors from Nassau can fly in on BahamasAir, enjoy golf and the Sandals Resort for the day and fly home that night.