IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Mahogany Run Golf Course in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
THE LAYOUT: This spectacular Caribbean course was designed by George and Tom Fazio and is located on the scenic North side of the island, about 20 minutes from the bustling resort town of Charlotte Amalie.
Opened in 1980, this sporty course plays to a deceptive 6,002 yards and a par of 70 from the back tees, with a USGA rating of 70.5 and a slope of 133. The ocean and several water features on the course come into play on nine holes.
The course had a tendency to dry out during years in which there was a drought, but in recent years a new irrigation system and total re-grassing of the greens have made it even more delightful to play.
Golf Digest has proclaimed it more of an engineering marvel than an architectural one -- the course had to be carved and blasted into an area of land that covers less than 110 acres.
Golf carts are required because of the elevation changes on the course.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Nevin Phillips.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Augusta National has Amen Corner, but Mahogany Run can boast the Devil's Triangle -- a scary three-hole stretch on the cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean.
The 13th hole, a 327-yard par-4, plays along a precipice to a shelf-like 25-foot-wide green that Golf Digest has called "one of the most beautiful settings for a putting green in the game of golf."
No. 14 is one of the most dramatic par-3s in the world, with a 173-yard tee shot across an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean to a green guarded by three bunkers, with the islands of Hans Lollick, Jost Van Dyke and Tortola as a backdrop.
Then comes the most difficult hole on the course, a 560-yard par-5 to a shallow green guarded by a pond that covers the last 80 yards. There also is out of bounds beyond the green, which slopes from front to back.
Players who negotiate the stretch without a penalty shot are awarded a certificate that reads, "I Survived the Devil's Triangle."
After golf, enjoy a gourmet meal prepared by Executive Chef Yamil Sanchez in the Grillroom at Mahogany Run overlooking the course, or have a drink in the After Five Lounge.
President Barack Obama played the course during an Easter vacation break from his campaign four years ago, and former President Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Hank Aaron, Bill Gates and John Travolta are other dignitaries who have tested the Devil's Triangle.
When asked how he played the course, Obama said: "With difficulty."
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Mahogany Run is the only golf course on St. Thomas, but there are three on neighboring St. Croix. Probably the best is Carambola Golf Club, in the island's northwest valley, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
The Buccaneer Resort, outside Christianstead, boasts a challenging course that was a favorite of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The Reef Golf Course in Teague Bay is a nine-hole layout that offers fun for the entire family and is located farther east than any other course in United States territory.
WHERE TO STAY: The major resorts on St. Thomas, including the Renaissance Grand Beach, Bolongo Bay Beach Club, the Marriott's Frenchman Reef, the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel, the Ritz Carlton and the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, are only 15 or 20 minutes from Mahogany Run.
Among the fine boutique hotels and inns on the island are the Bellavista Bed and Breakfast, the Crystal Palace, the Flamboyant Manor Inn, the Mafolie Hotel and Bluebeard's Castle -- formerly a villa built by the famed pirate for his lover, Mercedita, overlooking Charlotte Amalie and its magnificent harbor.
Most of the major cruise lines, including Princess, Holland America, Carnival, Disney, Celebrity, Radisson, Royal Caribbean and Cunard, have Charlotte Amalie on their itineraries.
ON THE WEB: www.mahoganyrungolf.com.
THE LAST RESORT: The North Sound Club, formerly known as the Links at Safe Haven, in George Town, Cayman Islands.
THE LAYOUT: Designed by Roy Case of Lake Worth, Fla., and opened in 1994, North Sound is located about five miles from downtown George Town on the North Sound of Grand Cayman Island.
The course is adjacent to the famous Seven Mile Beach and plays to a par of 71 and 6,605 yards -- although the prevailing wind can make it equivalent to a course of more than 7,000 yards. It has a USGA rating of 75.1 from the tips, but guests can choose from five sets of tees.
Despite the sometimes strong Cayman winds, the course is very playable for the resort golfer because the fairway target areas are approximately 70 yards wide and the outstanding greens measure 5,000 square feet on average.
The course is set against the backdrop of North Sound, making for a challenging yet fun golfing experience with panoramic vistas of the Caribbean Sea.
North Sound was closed for several months because of damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. Other than a few lost trees, the course has come back better than ever.
The course will be host to the 52nd Caribbean Amateur Golf Championship in August.
GENERAL MANAGER AND HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Jason Deerwester.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Like all island golf, from the British Isles to the Hawaiian courses, you must deal with the wind to succeed at North Sound. But the breeze, which ranges from gentle to ferocious depending on the day, is not the primary feature on the course.
Water comes into play on 15 holes, and on some holes there are hazards off the tee, in the fairway and guarding the green. That's because when they were building the course, they had to dig to get the necessary topsoil, so later they simply filled the holes with water.
The signature hole, the par-3 11th, is a dangerous beauty. One of three par-3s that require a carry over water and into the wind that blows off the North Sound, it plays 235 yards from the back tee right down to the beach.
Even after your shot clears the water, you must negotiate four traps that guard the green, which is 35 yards deep.
No. 3 is a demanding 435-yard par-4, rated No. 3 in difficulty on the card, before the course turns into the wind at the 425-yard par-4 fourth hole -- rated the most difficult on the course.
Take advantage of holes 12 through 17, which are protected from the wind somewhat by a stand of high trees, before the strong finish.
The 545-yard par-5 finishing hole wraps around a lake to the right and is made extremely difficult by the usually strong wind blowing across the fairway from the left.
Marcelo Santis of Italy, who plays the European PGA Tour, set the course record at North Sound with an 8-under par 63.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: North Sound is the only 18-hole course in the Cayman Islands. But there are two outstanding nine-hole layouts on Grand Cayman, one designed by Jack Nicklaus at the Hyatt Britannia, and the Greg Norman-designed Blue Tip course at the Ritz-Carlton.
There also is a nine-hole par-3 course at the Sunrise Family Golf Centre.
WHERE TO STAY: There is no shortage of lodging on Grand Cayman, starting with the Turtle Nest Inn, the Aqua Bay Club, the Regal Beach Club, the Cobalt Coast Resort and Suites, the Indies Suites, Brac Reef Beach Resort, Morritt's Tortuga Resort and the Seaview Hotel and Dive Center in Georgetown.
Right on Seven Mile Beach near the Links at Safe Haven are the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman Resort and Suites, the Christopher Columbus Condominiums, the Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa, the Beachcomber, Discovery Point Club, the Victoria House, the Villas of the Galleon and the Plantana Condominiums.
ON THE WEB: http://www.northsoundclub.com.