Thinking golf getaway? Jamaica is the place

Montego Bay features not only three ideal courses — Cinnamon Hill, Half Moon and White Witch — but idyllic seasonal weather for year-round play

Life's responsibilities can sometimes feel as helpless as trying to trap wind in a bottle. On the flip side, these stressors create a need for decompression tactics. Like golf vacations. To go even further, like golf vacations in a serene, warm environment. 

With Jamaica's Montego Bay boasting three pristine, public golf courses, that thought alone could trigger the body to melt away stress faster than butter over a hot flame. Think of it like yoga for the brain. 

Rose Hall, a former sugar plantation, features the Cinnamon Hill, White Witch and Half Moon layouts, the latter two being championship designs. The main draw, no doubt, is Half Moon Golf Course, a trademark Robert Trent Jones Sr. 7,100-yard bow-tie walking trek that opened in 1962. Post 2000, it received an upgrade thanks to Jones' chief lieutenant for 34 years, Roger Rulewich.

Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course at Half Moon
Half Moon's championship course was designed by architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1962.

According to Half Moon director of golf operations Kevyn Cunningham, the resort offers a package to play all three. (Note: White Witch is only open seasonally.)

"We do about 80 percent volume between November 1 and May 1," says Rose Hall director of golf operations Keith Stein, who manages Cinnamon Hill and White Witch. "We decided to close one golf course every summer [since the pandemic]. Then we load everyone else up on the other course."

As a result, there are options. For those who reserve their stay at Half Moon, the precursor to golf in the sun induces a bit of other tension. Such as, what to pack and bring. 

As the first order of business, let's start with the sublime weather. It likely played a huge role in heading to Half Moon, so snowbirds can leave their winter coats behind. It generally stays in the 80- to 90-degree range year-round.

"In terms of weather, life's too short for long trousers," says the British-born Cunningham, a former professional who set down roots in Jamaica in 1997. "I don't wear any all year round except for special events. It's always mild down here."

With the weather primarily balmy, the only rainy period usually hits between September and October. Warm showers normally pass quickly and rarely consume an entire day. For heavier downfalls, the best advice is to wait it out. Don't worry, the course can take it. 

"When the tropical rain storms, you look at it thinking, 'They'll be mopping up this mess for three days,'" says Guy Steuart III, chairman of the Half Moon board of directors. "Come three o'clock, it's really dry. It's that old adage where the water now understands where it needs to go. It drains wonderfully."

The winter season tends to be windier, but not to the point that one might hear the Scottish phrase, “Tis nae wind, nae golf.” In other jargon, don't expect bone-chilling Carnoustie gusts.

"The only thing I can say is that in winter time there is more wind and it keeps things a bit cooler," says Cunningham.

However, on those extra breezy days, beware because the course tends to set up as nine holes downwind before heading back into its airy teeth. 

"[Half Moon] is very playable course for a resort but it's also a test," says Steuart, grandson of Curtis Steuart, who was one of the initial 17 investors. "You have to learn how to play your ball in the wind and do it from tee to green."

Rest assured, first-timers won't feel lost because Half Moon heavily promotes its caddie program, which means the pushcart can stay home. It is customary to tip, so be prepared to either convert some funds to the Jamaican dollar or travel with smaller bills for this reason, as well as for incidentals. There are on-site ATMs to assist. 

Half Moon Golf Aerial 2.jpg
Aerial view of Half Moon Golf Course's tight faiways.

It might sound cloying but be open to learning a few phrases. Jamaican patois is woven into the country's national identity and integrating some of it just a bit can go a long way in making the experience more enjoyable. 

For any golfer, the obvious weather takeaway lies in sun protection, and light rain gear that includes protective covers for the phone or other gadgets susceptible to moisture. A waterproof bag with similar compartments helps. 

Hats, sunglasses, a high-numbered sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen, insect repellant and light long-sleeved fabrics, such as wrinkle-resistant microfiber, are highly recommended. Etiquette still prevails on the course. That means collared shirts are the norm. On a trivial note, don't plan on wearing any type of camouflage print since it is illegal in Jamaica.

Overall, the best advice, says Cunningham, is to make a checklist of items to bring. Golf clubs, head covers, shoes, extra spikes, tees and balls, gloves, divot tools — all the basics — and even range finders are welcome. Half Moon offers rental services for those who would rather eschew traveling with bulky clubs.

Outside of golf, Sangster International Airport stands 20 minutes away from the resort. To speed up the immigration process, Club Mobay costs money but it can expedite the time getting through and to the resort. To that point, it's best to reserve transfers to and from the resort beforehand. 

Finally, from a macro level, be mindful of Jamaican law. Not all laws in the U.S. translate to Jamaica. Keep in mind Jamaica is a country with the fourth-largest population in the Caribbean. 

With all of that understood, be prepared to live on island time sans the breakneck pace. Most important, it's about relaxing, even when the courses throw out more challenges than a chainsaw juggler walking a high wire. 

"We are raising the perception as a place you can go to and play golf," says Steuart. "Outside of that, just bring yourself and what you need, and everything here will take care of the rest."