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Archive for June, 2011

It had been too many years since I last visited Jamaica, so when I was invited to participate in an annual resort golf tournament, I accepted. I had played the Sandal’s Golf Course ten years ago and I knew it wasn’t maintained as pristine as the Doral, Pinehurst, or other well-known courses, but it was a fun course to play with small greens and Jamaican caddies.

AirTran departed early from both Richmond and Atlanta and we actually arrived early. Sandals has a comfortable private lounge in the Montego Bay Airport; refreshments and light snacks are provided as they arrange your transportation to your resort. Ocho Rios is a 90-mile drive from MoBay but I was glad to see that the improved highway (the one that had been promised for ten years) was FINALLY completed, so the drive time has been somewhat shortened. A rest stop complete with cold Red Stripe beer makes the 1 ¾ hour drive endurable.

 By the time I went to register for the golf tournament, stopped to grab a light snack, and got to my room, my luggage had been delivered to my room. At Sandals, one of the original and luxurious all-inclusive resorts, everything at the resort is included in a pre-paid price. My room was stocked with a complete bar, refrigerator with cold drinks, mixers, and beer, so I got into the island culture with a rum and tonic as I unpacked. At the opening reception and dinner that night, I met the hotel’s General Manager as well most department heads and many Sandals’ executives.

After a breakfast buffet featuring just about anything you could want, including mimosas and every variety of tropical  fruit that I’d ever heard of, we spend time reviewing the many Sandals’ upgrading projects currently being executed. We then headed to the golf course where we were assigned caddies for our entire stay, and off we went. “StarBoy” and Payne headed down the fairway and watched all four first drives find the fairway. As we approached the first green, we could see that the greens weren’t all “green”, in fact a lot of sand on the greens made them half-brown. I was pleased that although slow, the greens actually putted fairly smooth and even. It only took a few holes for us to realize that the caddies did know the way the greens broke, although after mis-clubbing me several times, I started getting my own distances and pulling my own clubs. Most holes were well-marked with 100, 150, and 200 yardmarkers, so calculating distances was not hard. All of the caddies were dressed alike in khaki shorts and yellow polo shirts ~ this gave a very nice and professional look. A well stocked refreshment cart circulates frequently. After golf, we tried the course’s 19th hole. This covered patio features an adequate food menu of chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and a fully stocked bar.

Our outdoor dinner at “MysticMountain” was cancelled because of threatening weather, so in its place, we were invited to the villa of Sandals’ chairman, Butch Stewart. Over one hundred of us had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in his home and then dined under banquet tents that had been erected in just a few hours. We left the villa and returned to our host hotel, Sandals Grande Ocho Rios, where the piano bar was just getting cranked up.

After golf and a relaxing afternoon the next day, we were hosted for dinner at Sandals Royal Plantation. Located next door to our host hotel, the Royal Plantation, is Sandals’ first boutique resort and has earned membership in The Leading Small Hotels of the World. Our buffet was set on the resort’s elevated patio that overlooks their private beach set fifty feet below. A magnificent buffet of everything tropical awaited us including oysters, shrimp, lobster, lamb, jerk chicken and pork (of course, what’s a Jamaican’s meal without one of these) assorted veggies, and a dessert table that must have kept the pastry kitchen busy all day.

Time did not allow me to visit the Red Lane Spa, but from past experiences, a trip here will relieve most things that ail you.

Jamaica continues to receive undeserved “bad press”. If you observe common sense and stay on your resort after dark, Jamaica is as safe as any other island in the Caribbean; the weather is great and the people are friendly. Don’t expect U.S. service levels and you won’t be disappointed.

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