How Pete Dye Introduced Golf to Roatan

Echoes of TPC Sawgrass: 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 top golf courses. Legendary architect Pete Dye and his son Perry built a seaside pearl at Pristine Bay Roatan resort.

(Last updated August 2022.)

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

Roatan’s first golf course, Black Pearl, is the centrepiece of Pristine Bay Roatan, a massive US$102-million resort development that is helping remake this once largely unknown Honduran island favoured by scuba divers and expats into one of the Caribbean’s emerging destinations. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, tourist arrivals in Roatan, located about 65 kilometres off the north coast of Honduras, had jumped to 1.2 million annually from about 250,000 a decade or so before.

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 and 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, 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 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 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.

But for golfers, the real prize is the Black Pearl.