CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa: A Caribbean Discovery

It’s not every day that an 18-hole layout by a well-known designer debuts on a literally virgin island that previously had no golf to speak of beyond a 9-hole pitch ‘n putt course browsed by goats that uses a roadside café for a clubhouse.

But that’s exactly what happened in 2006 on Anguilla, a tiny, eel-shaped Caribbean island known for its dazzling white-sand beaches, crystalline waters, and quiet sophistication.

Serene and discreet, with ocean views from every quarter, Anguilla is an understated beauty with an English heritage. But cricket, not golf, was this British overseas territory’s sport of choice until Greg Norman arrived to sink his teeth into the limestone and sea grape.

Working on an expansive site on the island’s southwest coast facing the rugged profile of nearby St. Martin, Norman preserved and enhanced habitats by implementing his ‘least disturbance’ design ethos. After reviving a biologically dead saltwater pond and creating flushing channels that enable seawater to flow in and out of the pond during high tide, the design team stockpiled precious topsoil, built a meandering system of waterways for irrigation, and transplanted thatch palms (a rare midget species) and other native flora around the course.

After the facility’s original developer defaulted during the financial crisis in 2008, the golf course and its stunning white clubhouse were picked up at auction two years ago by Leandro “Lee” Rizzuto, who previously had built CuisinArt Resort a stone’s throw from the future golf development. (The resort is named for the kitchen-products division of Rizzuto’s Conair Corporation). In the wake of a major overhaul, the golf course, reopened last year, has redefined the resort’s brand and broadened its appeal.

Anguilla, 16 miles long and three miles wide, is routinely described as flat, but CuisinArt Golf Club, which crisscrosses a ridge above Rendezvous Bay, has an 80-foot elevation change. Swept by easterly trade winds, the course brings mangrove thickets, freshwater ponds, and saltwater lagoons into play at 13 holes. The water, coupled with the wind, combine to offer a firm but fair test.

Championship-class from the tips at 7,063 yards, the layout excels as a resort course from the forward pegs. Interestingly, Norman expends a lot of yardage on the prodigious par 5’s, detailing his mid-length par 4’s with a variety of risk-reward scenarios. Each of the par 3’s brings water into play, though the bail-out areas are generous. Greg wants holidaymakers to relax and enjoy themselves here, but he built plenty of muscle and strategic nuance into his finest Caribbean design.

From the elevated tee at the first hole, players are greeted by a spectacular view across the wave-tossed sea to the mountainous coast of St. Martin. This 384-yard par 4 drops sharply to a broad fairway indented near the green by a vast sandy waste area, a theme to be repeated throughout the round.

Among the standout holes is the sixth, a boomerang-shaped par 5 that descends from the high point of the property into the prevailing wind, the fairway framed by a low thick forest of white cedar, palmetto, and sea cotton. The seventh, one of Greg’s favorites, is a short uphill par 4, its slim fairway defended on both sides by flashed-face bunkers reminiscent of the sandy pits at Royal Melbourne in Australia, one of Norman’s chief design influences.

CuisinArt’s back nine ratchets up the challenge and leaves a lasting impression.

The 10th, a massive par 5 that parallels the first hole, tumbles downhill to a curved fairway flanked to the left by a lagoon, the water cutting across the hole in front of the approach area. The huge kidney-shaped green, carved into a seaside dune, is shared with the par-3 second hole.

Another distinctive stage set is the par-5 13th, where Norman insisted that a long, slender finger of coral rock that juts into the fairway 50 yards from the green be preserved intact.

The fishhook-shaped 17th, a short par 4 that swings sharply left and downhill to a slippery peninsula green, will likely decide many a match. Norman asks for a solid drive and an accurate approach at the uphill par-4 18th, its target a narrow, skewed green ringed by bunkers. Behind the green is the airy clubhouse, its sun-splashed terrace and superb new Italia restaurant overlooking the fairways and sea.

The golf club is five minutes from the resort, a delightful, family-friendly retreat designed for relaxation. The 275-acre property is oriented to a two-mile crescent of powdery white sand fronting Rendezvous Bay. It is simply one of the most glorious beaches in the Caribbean.

CuisinArt last year completed a major overhaul of its accommodations, pools, and restaurants. The 93 rooms and suites, contained in low-rise, bleached-white buildings inspired by the Greek isles, feature new custom-designed fabrics and furnishings. Each guest room has a lovely view of the turquoise-blue sea. It’s a reassuring prospect for northern dwellers who’ve managed to escape the chilblains of winter.

As befits its culinary heritage, CuisinArt Resort takes its dining seriously. Newly opened Tokyo Bay, Anguilla’s first authentic Japanese restaurant, serves sushi, sashimi, and teppanyaki in a rooftop room with 360-degree views of the sea. Le Bistro at Santorini, a AAA Four Diamond restaurant, features continental fare with a Caribbean twist, while the casual Beach Grill and Café Mediterraneo have new menus.

The resort’s chefs use fresh herbs and vegetables grown in an enclosed 18,000-square-foot hydroponic farm to produce exceptional salads, sauces, and side dishes. Propagated in a soil-less environment, the vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other veggies are the key to the resort’s culinary excellence. (Cooking classes are available).

There’s also a full-service spa, salon, and fitness center at the resort, plus free non-motorized water sports, tennis, bike rentals, and other activities. To players who find their way to this tranquil little island cradled on the waves, CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa will announce itself with typical British reserve as the most select 18-hole hideaway in the islands.