Legendary golf course architect Ron Kirby has given his final stamp of approval to his most recent piece of work following a four-day pre-opening visit to Apes Hill Barbados last month.
The par-72 layout has been cited as a ‘must-play’ venue with stunning views over the Caribbean Sea to the west and Atlantic Ocean to the east. Set within 475 acres of natural, unspoilt terrain and perched on one of the highest points of Barbados 1,000ft above sea level, Apes Hill is the most elevated golf experience on the island.
Kirby’s visit followed hot on the heels of an exclusive opening to the Apes Hill Barbados members and their esteemed guests on November 1. The course has enjoyed a whirlwind first month as players highlighted its playability and variation, along with several new ‘wow-factor’ holes that enhance the bucket-list experience.
Kirby, who has collaborated with design greats such as Robert Trent Jones and Jack Nicklaus in a distinguished career, is perhaps most noted for his imperious work at Old Head Golf Links in Ireland.
“When I saw Apes Hill for the first time, I saw there were hills and vistas that were just superb,” Kirby said during his recent visit to the site.
“You can see both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean in many places. You have the elevation, so I thought all we had to do here was make sure that visitors can enjoy the time and take in those vistas; if I could get the holes to play with the vistas in the right position.
“The fun at Old Head and the fun at Apes Hill are the vistas, and you just feel like you want to get out here and enjoy it on a course that has such world-class views as the backdrop.
“To everyone who plays at Apes Hill, I want them to walk away and say this was a fun golf course.”
Kirby’s work – aided by Justin Carlton and Gary Shapiro, two of the finest land shapers in the industry – began in 2019 and he has created a new Caribbean golfing masterpiece at Apes Hill Barbados.
The layout has been beautifully crafted around the surrounding landscape and indigenous tropical forests, with sustainability at the forefront of the resort’s long-term DNA to make it the most environmentally responsible golf course and resort development in the Caribbean.
Fairways and tees have been re-laid using the more drought-tolerant Zoysia Zorro grass and the greens with TifEagle.
The resistance of these grasses to insects also further reduces the reliance on fertilisation and use of pesticides, with a view to eventually becoming ‘chemical-free’. Meanwhile, the construction of a reservoir that can hold up to 58 million gallons of rainwater will help fully irrigate the resort, with hundreds of trees, fruits and vegetables being planted around the property.
Playing the course for the first time since its reopening, members have been struck by a design set against breath-taking topography that separates Apes Hill from any other course in the Caribbean.
Kirby’s work has been hailed not only for the test he has created for better players, but also the scoring opportunities and variety which make it appealing to those starting out on their golfing journey.
The new layout stretches to 7,002 yards, although four teeing options make it playable for all levels with the shortest at 5,034. As well as the test on the ground as the holes wend seamlessly through the island’s natural surroundings, sweeping Atlantic trade winds can dictate the difficulty of your round, bringing the shorter tee boxes into play.
“We put four tee boxes in so that we could cover all types of players,” Kirby said. “From those who can strike it pure to the average golfer and then beginners. We have made this mix so that Apes Hill can be fun for everybody.
“Also, I only needed to use what land we had, and so did not want to abuse what nature had given us. Sustainability means you don’t build anything you cannot maintain. We have used grasses that are tolerant to drought.”
An exclusive and gentle opening has been designed to ease players into the course, with the second hole serving up an early birdie opportunity. A par four stretching to only 255 yards, it is still demanding of a well-placed drive should you wish to attack the green from the tee, with the putting surface heavily protected by bunkers, coral rock and a cascading creek.
While there is plenty to get excited about on the course’s outward nine – with the fourth hole and its tee box positioned on one of the highest points of the course – the inward half delivers great excitement. Notably, the run from 12 to 15 – perhaps the most popular and stunning part of the layout – that sets up a grandstand finish as players reach the course’s signature hole at 16.
Named the ‘Cave’ with a coral rock hugging the hole behind the green and water lining the right, Kirby has left an indelible mark on Caribbean golf with a par three that possesses many characteristics for which Barbados is genetically famous for.
The course finishes with another short par four at 17, followed by a monstrous downhill par five on the home hole where a gully snakes along the left-hand side and round to the back of the green. It is a high-drama finish that is befitting of top-level championship golf.
Kirby added: “I am proud to be a part of Apes Hill Barbados and I can now sit back and say it is one of mine. I can say that about 140 or 150 golf courses, but this is a special one.
“It is hard to find a golf course anywhere that has everything we have here at Apes Hill.”
To complement the work that has gone into Kirby’s ‘Caribbean Masterpiece’ and the championship layout, a state-of-the-art Performance Centre and floodlit driving range are due to open soon.
A family friendly short par-three course, with holes ranging from 95 to 150 yards, will open in 2023 while an additional 19th hole played to an island green – in the style of the iconic one-shotter at TPC Sawgrass – and a contemporary clubhouse are set to be completed during the first quarter of the year.
Guests will be able to enjoy a range of other amenities such as a fitness centre and health club, hiking and nature trails, eight flood-lit padel and two tennis courts, while a world-class spa is also in development.
Away from the golf, Apes Hill Barbados has a range of luxury real-estate options available with pricing to be announced in the new year. Additionally, golf vacation properties allowing guests to stay and play are in development, with pricing to be announced in early 2023.