Pete Dye Introduces Golf to Roatan

Black Pearl’s island green par-three 11th hole. (Image: Pristine Bay Resort)

Roatan offers white sand beaches, world-class scuba diving and one of the Caribbean’s most gorgeous new courses. Legendary golf architect Pete Dye and his son Perry have built a seaside beauty at Pristine Bay Resort.

Unlike the notorious pirate Henry Morgan, who stashed his plunder in Roatan’s hidden sea caves, golf architects Pete and Perry Dye have left a treasure that’s easy to find.

Called the Black Pearl, Roatan’s first golf course is the centerpiece of Pristine Bay Resort, a massive $102-million development that is helping transform this once largely unknown Honduran island favoured by scuba divers and expats into one of the Caribbean’s emerging destinations. Tourist arrivals in Roatan, about 65 kilometres off the north coast of Honduras, have jumped to 1.2 million annually from about 250,000 just a few years ago.

Visitors discover a lushly tropical island of white-sand beaches lapped by translucent waters warmed to a year-round average temperature of 27C. Just off shore is the world’s second-largest coral reef, offering spectacular diving among old shipwrecks, shallow terraces and deep undersea fissures.

One of the last of the Caribbean islands to embrace golf, Roatan made a splash with the announcement that acclaimed golf architect Pete Dye and his son Perry would design the island’s first course in a gorgeous jungle landscape just outside the town of French Harbour. The elder Dye, known for his innovative, often radical designs at TPC Sawgrass and other world-famous courses, is widely regarded as the most influential golf architect of the past half-century.

Opened in January 2011, the Black Pearl starts almost at the ocean’s edge before gradually climbing into the surrounding hills. Visual drama is introduced on several holes by strategically placed waste bunkers. A far more pleasant distraction is provided by the sweeping ocean views from no fewer than 14 holes.

Pete Dye cemented his reputation with his diabolical island-green par three 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass — and he has repeated the trick here. The green at the 157-yard par three 11th sits in the middle of a small lake routinely buffeted by trade winds. The only hope for errant shots is if they catch the thin bunker that rings the green.

The Dyes have built a 7,064-yard course that’s the match of almost any in the Caribbean for challenge and beauty. But no matter how popular the Black Pearl becomes, golf is unlikely to supplant scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and other water sports as Roatan’s big draw.

Within wading distance of many beaches is a prime stretch of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site that extends over 1,000 kilometres south from the Yucatan Peninsula.

It was both the natural bounty of the reef and the hidden seas caves, perfect for stashing their ill-gotten booty, that brought Morgan and other brigands to Roatan in the 17th and 18th centuries. Fortune hunters still come to the island to search for their abandoned treasure.

For golfers, the real prize is the Black Pearl, one of the Caribbean’s rarest jewels.

Planning your trip 
Sunwing Airlines offers direct flights from Toronto to Roatan. Continental Airlines and others serving the island most often connect in Houston, Miami, New York and Atlanta.
Where to golf
The Black Pearl, Roatan’s first golf course, is a challenging 7,064-yard beauty designed by Pete and Perry Dye.
Where to stay
Pristine Bay Resort‘s Las Verandas Hotel and Villas will eventually offer 60 rooms and suites, as well as 30 free-standing villas. The hotel is currently open with six two-bedroom villas. Also offered for rent are privately owned villas and other residences throughout the property.
Infinity Bay Spa & Beach Resort is a stylish and recently expanded property on a prime stretch of beachfront in West Bay that offers one- to three-bedroom condos.
Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort offers comfortable suites and condos on the beach in West Bay.
Where to eat
Vintage Pearl Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant on the beach in West End. It offers international cuisine with a focus on local seafood, as well as the island’s most extensive wine list. 504-2445-5005.
Gio’s Restaurant, a seafood spot on the waterfront in French Harbour, is famous for its king crab al ajillo (in garlic sauce). 504-2455-5214.
Where to party
Sundowners is locally famous among the raucous open-air bars along the ramshackle waterfront in West End for its specialty drink, the frozen Monkey La-La, a mind-bending blend of Kahlua, ice cream, coconut cream and vodka.
What else to do
Dive shops are as ubiquitous as seashells on Roatan’s beaches. Two that come highly recommended: Barefoot Divers in Barefoot Cay and Mayan Divers, operated from inside the Mayan Princess resort in West Bay.

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