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Golf legend and course designer Jack Nicklaus returned to the site of the future Jack Nicklaus Signature Design Golf Course at Baha Mar to review the development of the course since his last visit in February 2013. During the current visit, Nicklaus carefully inspected the 18-hole, par-72 course, providing a strategy for the holes according to his vision of how golfers will play each hole. The Golden Bear's input on the strategy of the course includes features such as bunker placement and green design which incorporate the contours of the local landscape while creating a scenic golf course that is suitable for a broad variety of players. The hands-on, customized design strategy for the holes is a key feature of the Signature Design Golf Courses, the highest tier of Nicklaus Design golf courses. The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Baha Mar will be the only one of its caliber in The Bahamas and one of only a handful in the Caribbean. The course is on schedule to open in spring 2014. Baha Mar, the 1,000-acre resort enclave currently under development on The Bahamian Riviera, is scheduled to open in December 2014.
One of the country's newest golf courses is set for a mid-year completion, even before the adjacent resort itself, officially opens.
The Royal Blue Golf Course at Baha Mar, a Jack Nicklaus Signature multimillion-dollar project, is nearing completion, and is expected to be among the best and most challenging courses in the region. The 18-hole, 72-par course, which stretches from the Office of the Prime Minister in the east across Baha Mar Blvd. to Lake Cunningham in the west, offers viewers and players a scenic backdrop that is eco-friendly and nearly 100 percent Bahamian.
According to Robert Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs at Baha Mar, they accomplished one of their primary objectives which was to preserve the natural habitat, ensuring that the various trees and natural resources, such as the limestone rocks, are as indigenous to The Bahamas as possible.
Additionally, all of the work in and around the course is being done by a Bahamian company, Woslee Construction.
"We are very proud of this signature Jack Nicklaus course," said Sands yesterday. "The good thing about this course is that it utilizes the Bahamian landscape. Most of the vegetation has been preserved. As you drive through the course, you would see such things as pigeon plum, coco plum, sapodilla.... everything is completely natural. You will also see a selection of birds, ducks in this beautiful environment. This is a part of the whole Baha Mar theme - things that are indigenous to The Bahamas, and promoting its natural beauty."
The course won't be completed until the second or third quarter of 2014, but play won't likely occur until the Baha Mar Resort itself is opened in December of 2014. The first 12 holes of the course are constructed on the eastern side of Baha Mar Blvd., on the old Cable Beach Golf Course, and the newly constructed six holes on the back nine are to the west of Baha Mar Blvd. Already, a number of houses overlook the course, particularly by the 13th hole. A two-storey club house overlooks the first hole which travels downward, directly in front of the resort. Also, a number of the original land marks were left in place, thereby providing a unique balance of tradition and modern flair to the course.
"This is going to be a tremendous amenity to Baha Mar and the new gaming resort," said Sands. "It is also going to help propel The Bahamas as a potential location for future PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) Tournaments that we hope to take place here in short order. This will certainly be one of the best (golf courses in the region). The dimension to it - its height, distance and beauty makes it challenging but playable. The level of challenge could be enhanced by the type of play that we bring here."
Speaking of potential PGA events, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said during the budget debate in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that a PGA event will be coming to these shores next year, and will be played on the Royal Blue Golf Course, but Sands said yesterday that nothing is confirmed as yet.
"We have had multiple discussions with the leadership in the Ministry of Tourism, and it looks favorable. This would be an ideal location for a professionally related golf tournament, and I am absolutely certain that something will come to fruition. At the end of the day, the best new resort in The Bahamas will attract the best tournaments to The Bahamas, and that is Baha Mar and Royal Blue," said Sands.
The course, which has been under construction for the past 15 months, will be accessible to locals and foreigners, once the applicable fees are paid. There are a number of tees at each hole, for professionals, semi-pros and ladies just to name a few. The name Royal Blue, according to Sands, comes from the color of the beautiful waters of The Bahamas.
As previously mentioned, it is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course - the highest tier of design from Nicklaus Design. It offers 'two courses in one', with the front nine providing dramatic play overlooking the resort, and a back nine that winds through inland forest and native habitat. Founded by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Nicklaus Design is widely regarded as the world's leading golf course design firm.
Representing Nicklaus Design, coordinator Brandon Skopelja said that they are very proud of the product that has been completed so far.
"Jack Nicklaus is one of the world's leading golf course experts, and we just wanted to bring his design ability and his knowledge of golf courses to our clients. It was a great experience. It's challenging when the wind is up, but enjoyable. We just wanted to make it playable for everyone," he said.
Skopelja said that they had to re-route some of the holes in order to keep some of the indigenous trees intact.
"We always try to keep the environment in mind when we are designing golf courses," he said.
"With this property, we didn't know what we had until we stepped foot on it and started trekking through the woods. We found a lot of large specimen trees which happened to be protected, so we decided to work around those," he added.
Environmental specialist at Baha Mar Deshawn McGregory said that they wanted to preserve as much of the natural habitat and native species as possible.
"All of the protected trees were preserved - mahogany, silk cotton, Caribbean Pine - we tried to minimize the amount of trees that had to be removed, and even the ones that we had to remove, we mulched them, so we didn't waste anything," said McGregory. "We're planning for Audubon International Golf Course Certification, which will help us to promote best management practices while the course is in operation. You will see a lot bird species on the course - it is home to indigenous and migratory birds, and all of that helps with the overall beauty of the course."
Audubon International is a not for profit environmental education organization that has helped thousands of communities, developments, resorts and golf courses plan and implement sustainable natural resource management practices, as well as receive public recognition for employing sound environmental stewardship. It is the first organization to work extensively with the golf industry on maintenance issues.
One of the most beautiful and challenging holes on the Royal Blue Golf Course is the par three 16th hole, which Sands said could become the postcard hole of the course. It stretches 120 yards from the ladies tee, and 170 yards from the professional tee. The hole has to be accessed from a drop from the tee, and is surrounded by water from Lake Cunningham.
The landscaping for the course will use recycled water, rather than fresh water, while the durable turf will thrive on water from Lake Cunningham. Sands said that they are very pleased with the partnership with Nicklaus Design, and that the course itself will be consistent with the level of offering that Baha Mar will be bringing to fruition by the end of the year.
The $3.5 billion Baha Mar development is said to be the largest single-phase luxury resort project in the history of the Caribbean, and is scheduled to open in December of 2014.