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Jamacia Golf
Michael Patrick Shiels

Leaning to watching out the small porthole from an aisle seat with a bit of trepidation, I see blue water and dark buttes ˝ the reason why this approach and landing are a bit bumpy ˝ but welcome to Jamaica, anyway! The nerves and impatience that sometimes come with intimidating immigration and customs passage is erased at Montego Bay Airport, where three-piece band of steel drum banging, fruit-wearing natives sing to bid you hello.

I got the feeling that the word "impatience" doesn't exist in Jamaica, and from the demeanor of everyone I met on this my first trip, I was right. Take it easy, mon!

The bumpy ride to the resort and golf area ˝ only 15 minutes by taxi or resort transport ˝ offers no clues to the scenery that lies ahead. The town is green but tattered and shaggy. The roaming skinny goats and gaunt, penned cows seemed to long for grass the length of Comerica Park's infield, but got only tight lies, instead.

Once inside the gates of the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort and Country Club, I began to take it easy, mon. That was easy with the numerous swim-up, poolside, or oceanfront bars serving Red Stripe beer and fresh fruit daiquiris. Though the beach and ocean are splendid ˝ "No, no shark here, mon. Reef!"- the Wyndham's water complex is the only real water hazard: it makes you not care to golf! Waterfalls, a lazy river though the fauna, terraced pools, bridges and a 280-foot thrill slide are laid naturally into the terrain between the hotel tower and the thin beach. Live music is always playing.

Let's shake the sand out of our suits, though, and head over, or rather, be driven in a stretch golf cart, to the golf course ˝ a redesigned Robert von Hagge track that climbs up the mountain to provide views of the oceanfront and then swoops players back down right along the sea. Rocky abandoned aqueducts headed for the sugar mill remain in ruin form through parts of the course, adding to the flavor of the site, which was used to shoot scenes in the 007 motion picture "Live and Let Die." The fairways and landing areas are wider and friendlier than they look, and the greens are thoughtful. Trees surround each hole except the ocean holes, which play right along the rocks. The maintenance is outstanding, it's so bloody green! The style of the clubhouse is fits perfectly with the location ˝ so much so that a wooden rocker under a ceiling fan in the open-air patio sent me into a nap during a rain delay! Take it easy, mon!

The Wyndham's golf course, now named Cinnamon Hill at Rose Hall, sends each pair of players out with a power cart and local caddie dressed in a Hogan-style cap and apron. Listen very intently, and you can almost understand them. Though they are speaking English, the Jamaican dialect drops, compresses and shortens words in the middle of a sentence.

"Put a medium roll on it. You're searching for the corner here," said one of the caddies as he pointed the flagstick at the lip of the hole. "Let me hear it in the back of the hole, mon."

My caddie was much younger, and he told me a folktale of how "Takoo," after whom one of the holes in named, killed the blood sucking "White Witch" that lived in the caves along the ocean and haunted the property. The witch climbed out of her skin each night to cause invisible terror. Takoo knew this, so he ventured into her cave and filled her skin with an interior coating of salt and pepper. When she returned and put it on, faster then you can say ŰMargarita,' she was disintegrated with burning pain.

Lunch, anyone?

A golf course named the White Witch sits near Cinnamon Hill. It's reportedly challenging with lots of blind shots and tricky holes.

"Voodoo is bad. I don't think about it," my caddie told me after admitting he knew plenty of people on the island involved in the mysterious faith. "It's all bad trouble. I hate it."

Less mysterious was my visit to the nearby Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club. Half Moon is a bleached white British-styled resort ˝ somewhat more formal: more adult ˝ with a flattish Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course that opened in 1961. Half Moon has hosted some tournaments of note, including the Jamaica Open, the Dunhill Cup Final of the Americas, and the Red Stripe Pro-Am (that must have been a hoot!) Half Moon is a very playable and true course.

When visiting Jamaica, rise early with an authentic cup of Jamaican Blue coffee and play golf early. Mid-day humidity is best-weathered poolside on an all-inclusive rate, if possible! The group next to me at the pool bar rang-up $500 in pina coladas on their scorecard ˝ a great scramble score if I've ever heard one. Take it easy, mon!

Michael Patrick Shiels welcomes further questions about Jamaica or any other golf travels at MShiels@aol.com.

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