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Caribbean Golf: Take Your Clubs, Wallet & Bodyguard
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Posted by:Jun 1st 2005, 10:53:28 am
Fig Tree News TeamJune 01, 2005
Caribbean Golf: Take Your Clubs, Wallet And Bodyguard

Buyer beware: sometimes the Caribbean isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

There aren't many come-ons more alluring than those from packagers who offer golf in the Caribbean: rum punches under swaying palms after a round on a world-class course.

Especially to the winter-weary or just those who yearn for an exotic break from the mundane, golf vacations in the Caribbean may at first appear to be the ideal, tropical balm for what ails you.

But buyer beware: sometimes the Caribbean isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Here are some factors the travel agents may conveniently forget to tell you about.

First of all, crime - including violent crime - is on the increase virtually everywhere in the Caribbean. The islands are a transnational shipping point for illegal drugs going from Columbia and elsewhere in South America to the U.S. and Europe.

Paradise: hard to find
Add declining economies and high unemployment in many Caribbean states, and you have a problem of considerable proportions. As one who has lived for years in the Caribbean, and was the victim of two robberies and several other near-misses, I can testify that paradise may not be exactly be lost, but sometimes it seems hard to find.

Of course, most golf resorts have good security and most of the crime occurs in run-down, urban areas away from the tourist hot-spots. But, even the Caribbean's dumbest criminals are starting to catch on, particularly in Jamaica and the Virgin Islands.

There are more potential pitfalls than just crime. Consider that most of the islands are in the middle of the hurricane belt and the fact that the AIDS rate in the Caribbean is higher than any place on earth except for sub-Saharan Africa.

Throw in chronic water shortages, power outages, bad roads, insane drivers, maddening bureaucracy and the fact that the Caribbean is the demonstration, protest and violent riot capital of the world.

Watch the VAT
On a more prosaic note, watch out for that VAT (value added tax) some islands charge. The name changes from island to island, but many have hidden fees you don't know about until you're ready to leave.

This isn't to say that a Caribbean golf vacation can't be a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience, if you're careful.

Great golf resorts are mushrooming in the islands. Here are some of the top resorts in places where dangers may lurk amidst the herons and pink flamingoes, and ways to help avoid those problems.

- The Dominican Republic has a course, Teeth of the Dog, that is always on top-10 lists for the Caribbean. It also has Punta Cana, Guavaberry and Caso de Campo.

But, the island also has had an upswing in violent crime and the criminals are becoming more violent. Home invasions are becoming more prevalent.

If you venture off the resort grounds, watch for public taxi drivers, who sometimes turn robbers themselves. Make sure you get a reputable driver, and his name.

Be aware that outside of the tourist areas, little English is spoken.

Also, be sure you carry a passport; you can get into the country without one, but sometimes it's more difficult getting out.

Stay close to your Angel
- Puerto Rico, which has been described as the golf mecca of the Caribbean, is totally out of hand.

The U.S. territory is one of the deadliest places in the country. The homicide rate is skyrocketing - three times the national average. About 80 percent of the murders are attributable to gangs and international drug traffickers.

The island has 10 or 11 great courses, including the Bahia Beach Plantation, El Conquistador, Dorado Del Mar and the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort, just to name a few.

Nice place to golf, but think twice when you leave the course. Or stay close to the Guardian Angels, the semi-vigilante group from New York, a last-ditch effort to fight the bad guys.

- Jamaica is unimaginably beautiful in parts, and home to the White Witch, Negril Hills, Manchester and the Three Palms Ocean Course, among others.

It's also a crime armpit once you get away from the fancy tourist areas. Gang violence and shootings go off like clockwork in the capital of Kingston, but crime is spreading to resort areas, particularly against well-heeled tourists.

The government is trying bike and foot patrols, but the understaffed police are overwhelmed and largely ineffective. Be aware, medical care is limited.

Lock up everything, including yourself in your hotel room at night if you sense trouble. Stay away from unlighted areas, including the beach at night, and ignore any offers to buy drugs.

Steer clear of St. Croix
-St. Croix, home to the Carambola and Buccaneer golf courses, is my least favorite island in the Caribbean.

One of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix once had a bright future as a cruise ship destination. But, lethargic government officials refused to do anything about increasing complaints involving crime against cruise ship passengers and their crews.

So the cruise ships finally left, the economy went south and now there is more crime than ever. Most airlines steer clear as well. You should, too, unless you absolutely have to play Carambola, a very nice course. Consider hiring a bodyguard.

St. Thomas, the other island in the chain along with St. John, has Mahogany Run. It's another nice course, but be prepared for rude and sometimes even hostile treatment from many island residents once you leave the course and venture into the outside world. It's a common occurrence, so don't feel as though it's just you.

- The Bahamas, closest Caribbean destination to the U.S. mainland, has nine or 10 top-notch courses, including Fortune Hills and the new Ocean Club on Paradise Island.

Crime is up here as well, and moving into tourist areas. Date rape drugs are reportedly becoming popular. Medical care is good in Nassau and Freeport, but lousy elsewhere.

Also, beware if you ride jet skis; the industry is unregulated and deaths occur every year.

Sing, dance, pay a ransom
- Trinidad and Tobago, birth place of steel pan music, has the best music and Carnival in the Caribbean, not to mention St. Andrews Golf Club in the middle of the country. But, its criminals also have a tendency to kidnap people.

Kidnappings have shot up in the country in the last few years, and there is no telling if the kidnappers will hold you for ransom - which is what kidnappers are supposed to do - kill you, or just let you go on a whim. They 've been known to do all three.

- Even in the Turks and Caicos, sleepy little islands just south of the Bahamas, there have been increased reports of sexual assault and other crimes in tourists resorts.

Home to Provo Golf and Country club, and Waterloo, make sure you don't get caught with illegal drugs. No fancy lawyers here; possession of even small amounts of marijuana can land you heavy fines and long prison terms.

As in other islands, foreigners are sometimes charged as international drug traffickers even if they were caught with a small amount of dope.

Barbados, Aruba relatively safe
- Barbados has the Royal Westmoreland, and is relatively safe. The island has its share of petty theft and street crime, though violent crime does occur. Stay off the beaches alone at night.

- Aruba is also relatively safe. Home to Tierra del Sol, Oranjestad, and Sant Nicolaas, incidents of hotel rooms being broken into have been reported. But, simply taking ordinary precautions should keep you safe here.

Make sure you're fully insured if you rent a car, however. Teens like to steal them to joyride in or strip them for parts.

There are exceptions to these increasingly violent Caribbean islands, most notably Cuba.

The PGA and Cuban tourism officials have an agreement to build more courses on the sprawling island, and Cuba now has a national golf development strategy.

Despite a crime surge a few years back, both recent anecdotal evidence and official numbers indicate Cuba is one of the safer places in the region.

Just remember not to bad-mouth Fidel or you could be arriving home via raft.

By Tim McDonald, Caribbeangolf.com

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