Big bet on Baha Mar pays off in The Bahamas 

Courtesy of Baha Mar

Big bet on Baha Mar pays off in The Bahamas 

Architecture

Big bet on Baha Mar pays off in The Bahamas 

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New Providence, The Bahamas – Every resort development starts with a vision, a dream, and few ever dreamed bigger than the original developers of Baha Mar.

They envisioned a flashy, $4 billion mega-resort that would transform historic Cable Beach into The Bahamas’ next must-visit destination. The scope of the project was breathtaking: three hotels with 2,300 rooms;  a 100,000-square-foot casino and sportsbook, largest in the region; more than two dozen restaurants and bars; a 30,000-square-foot spa  with 24 treatment rooms; and a Jack Nicklaus Signature course.

When I visited New Providence in the spring of 2015, shortly before Baha Mar’s scheduled opening, signs proclaimed the resort to be “The New Riviera.” But it would take two years for Baha Mar to open, as the prominent local developer wrangled in court with the project’s Chinese financiers. Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, one of China’s largest conglomerates, ultimately acquired Baha Mar in late 2016.

Back on sounder financial footing, Baha Mar has opened in phases over the past 18 months – first the Grand Hyatt in spring 2017, followed by the swank SLS hotel later that year and the uber-refined Rosewood in mid-2018. New amenities and attractions are continually added.

The dream for Baha Mar may have been deferred, but it’s finally fully realized.

. . .

No. 16 at Baha Mar’s Royal Blue (Courtesy of Baha Mar)

What are you looking for in an island escape?

Sure, you want a memorable golf experience. If you’re reading this, that’s a given. At Royal Blue, Baha Mar’s Nicklaus Signature course (“signature” indicates the project received more of the Golden Bear’s personal attention), you’ll find a fair number of Instagram moments throughout the 18 holes and a staff that has taken creative measures to ensure you have a great time.

What do you want beyond the golf?

Are you searching for a romantic, seaside hideaway with a quiet beach and a rich collection of culinary options?

Are you looking for a family destination that can cater to a multi-generational group?

Are you holding a corporate retreat, with some team-building fun on the side?

Do you fancy a little flutter, perhaps a comfortable game of blackjack, or maybe something more adventurous – say, baccarat or roulette?

Are you looking for something a little racier, a bit more raucous?

It’s all there for the taking at Baha Mar. The three hotels each have their own vibe. Guests simply have to choose what suits their mood.

Baha Mar’s Reflections pool (Courtesy of Baha Mar)

Consider a recent sun-splashed afternoon. At the Rosewood, soothing music more akin to a spa lilted across the courtyard as guests lounged quietly around the pool, the dense greenery enhancing the sense of privacy. The Rosewood is a short walk and a world away culturally from the South Beach-meets-the-Bahamas scene at the SLS, a hint at the champagne-soaked weekend pool parties that have become a staple at SLS properties. At Dean’s Blue Hole near the beach, children are jumping off the rocks into the pool, then wading into the grotto to gawk at nurse sharks and green turtles in the adjacent marine sanctuary.

If anything, the options seem to become more plentiful as the day grows longer. The casino floor forms the resort’s interior hub. It’s bracketed by the sports book on one end and, on the other end, by the high-stakes, private gaming parlors tucked behind The Lynden, the bar honoring Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling, who spearheaded The Bahamas’ independence movement in the early 1970s.

Baha Mar’s casino (Courtesy of Baha Mar)

If gaming isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options just a few steps away.

Walk past the sports book, through a corridor, and suddenly it’s all low lighting and muted tones as couples gather at the whimsical Monkey Bar in the SLS lobby. Back in the Grand Hyatt one recent night, not far from the main entrance, The Blue Note’s patrons were glued to the small stage, where a local trio served up everything from Barbra Streisand to Bill Withers. Across the casino floor at The Swimming Pig, a far rowdier crowd lined the bar and surrounding booths, most of them glued to Thursday Night Football.

Walk around the corner, past Shuang Ba – which serves Chinese cuisine so authentic that the resort’s Asian owners could be excused if they think they’re still in Hong Kong – cross through a passageway and you’ll arrive at the Rosewood’s Manor Bar. It’s all dark paneling and hushed tones, with young professionals in business-casual attire gathered in small groups.

Baha Mar’s Blue Hole pool (Courtesy of Baha Mar)

Everywhere you walk around Baha Mar, John Cox’s influence can be felt. Cox is the resort’s creative art director, the man responsible for curating the thousands of pieces of Bahamian art spread throughout the resort. His title only hints at his stature around the resort.

“He’s a rock star,” Sean Cracraft, director of golf at Royal Blue, said over dinner at Cleo Mediterráneo in the SLS.

The Bahamas’ calling card always has been its natural beauty, but “there’s also sunset and scenery in a lot of other places,” Cox said. He’s hopeful visitors to Baha Mar won’t just enjoy the resort but get a greater sense of all things Bahamian. Guests might never leave the resort to experience the local culture, so it’s his mission to offer them a sense of place, of what separates The Bahamas from other island destinations. They can do that passively by taking note of the art around the resort or actively by participating in the resort’s arts program.

“I hope they take away a broader definition of what Bahamian-ess is,” Cox said. “I think that definition without the right amount of rigor is a little undernourished. Art and culture can help hydrate that a little bit. I think there’s a lot of rich history and irony and humor, all kinds of things in Bahamian culture, and I think the art can present it in different ways. If you can be exposed to an element of the country and its history or an individual through the artwork, that’s my goal.”

A room at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar (Courtesy of Baha Mar)

Cracraft’s goal, as is fitting for an island resort, is simply that the golfers who visit Royal Blue have a great time.

Royal Blue has generous width to accommodate the winds and two distinct nines. The front nine is a relatively flat dunescape similar to what one might find in South Florida. The tone changes at the turn; players will encounter limestone outcroppings, dense jungle and heaving terrain that rises and falls over the final nine holes.

Cracraft and head pro Andy Deiro are turning Royal Blue into a fascinating little laboratory for golfers.

“We’re able to do things here that we can’t do anywhere else,” Deiro said, citing the financial stability the resort now enjoys.

One of their favorite perks is their “Better Than Your Own” club-rental program, which includes premium American brands, but also Itobori, an exotic Japanese brand, and the Cobra one-length irons similar to those used by Bryson DeChambeau. They also have golf butlers to take care of foursomes, much like a butler would be assigned a block of rooms at a Five Star hotel.

Their most intriguing experiment has been putting out just one set of tee markers per hole each day, with a cumulative yardage around 6,400 yards. (Forward, conch-shell tee markers in the fairways can be played from around 4,500 yards.)

Cracraft will vary the tee positions from day to day, constantly altering the playing experience based on wind conditions. Golfers habitually choose the wrong tees, so he’s helping them tee it forward, or at least to a spot where the course will be manageable. The single-tee setup, ironically, “gives us a lot of flexibility for the wind, the weather, the players,” Cracraft said.

Those tees are merely a suggestion; golfers can peg it wherever they choose. It’s The Bahamas and you’re on vacation, so you can do whatever you want. But in practice, most players are going to choose Cracraft’s tees rather than march back to the tips and take a beating. This serves Cracraft’s objective.

“We don’t want anyone to walk off the course and say, ‘Man, that beat me up,’” he said. “I want people to say, ‘Man, that was fun.’”

In that vein, he was happy with the Nicklaus team’s recent decision to clear out 30 yards of rough and trees along the left side of No. 14.

“This was the hardest 350-yard hole I’ve ever seen,” Cracraft said. It was the quintessential Nicklaus hole, requiring a high fade up the hill, across a greenside bunker. Now guests can play a more receptive approach from the left side of the fairway.

On the 16th tee, a young couple stopped Cracraft and asked him to take their picture. And why not? The peninsular green that darts into Lake Cunningham on the downhill par 3 provides a striking backdrop for vacation memories.

More memories are in store for Baha Mar guests. In October, on the west side of the SLS, the Crystal Palace Resort and Casino’s three towers were demolished, clearing the way for more beachfront amenities. It seems the vision for Baha Mar, already expansive, just continues to grow.

 

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