Where I played: The Abaco Club is Bahamas golf (and living) at its best

The 18th green at the abaco club.

The 18th hole at The Abaco Club is a demanding challenge that comes with a surreal view on its perched-up oceanside green.

The Abaco Club

Welcome to our “Where I played…” series, in which a resident GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might play in your future. Today, we’ve got the Abaco Club on Winding Bay, a true links course in the Bahamas. 

Unlike its boisterous counterparts in the Bahamas, The Abaco Club on Winding Bay is a quiet refuge from the world. Abaco is home to a Scottish-style links course — that’s right, a links course in the Bahamas — designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie. Sadly, in September 2019, Category 5 Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Great Abaco area and the club was closed for two months while it was rebuilt and recovered

The Winding Bay Fund was established to specifically assist the people of Abaco in the form of food, shelter, medical aid and supplies, and to provide assistance in the island’s clean-up and rebuilding efforts. To date, the fund has raised over $3 million through donations from members, friends, family and visitors.

But The Abaco Club reopened for business less than two months after Dorian and hasn’t looked back since. Here’s what you should know about this under-the-radar Bahamas gem.

The 4th hole at The Abaco Club is the first time you get a glimpse of the ocean on the course, but it won’t be the last.

The Abaco Club

Course: The Abaco Club on Winding Bay

My tee time: 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13; and 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14 (I couldn’t resist going around a second time!)

Course Type: Private 

Membership options: Full Membership – Resident, Abaco Membership – Non-Resident, Full Membership – Non-Resident Bahamian Citizen, International Membership – Non-Resident, Sports Membership, Social Membership

Price: Varies by season

How to get there: Traveling from New York, I took a connecting flight through Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Located just 186 miles east of Palm Beach, it’s a short puddle-jumper flight from the Florida coast.

Difficulty: You need to play well to score well. There won’t be many lucky breaks coming your way. The fairway terrain often leaves you with an uneven lie and there’s little room for error on approach shots. In true links fashion, it’s not uncommon to watch what you felt was a good shot roll 10-15 yards off the green in any direction. The undulated greens make it fun to track your ball when you strike putts just right — but it also leaves you scratching your head when you don’t.

The course gradually picks up in difficultly. Hole Nos. 15-18 are a real test and known as the best final stretch in the Bahamas. (Let’s just say the views on those four helped distract me from the numbers on my scorecard.) The Abaco Club is challenging in the way a course should be, leaving you to say, “I want to play again knowing what I do now.”

Elie Petitphait, The Abaco Club’s beach supervisor, returned to work three months after sustaining life-threatening injuring from Hurricane Dorian.

Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, but it only made The Abaco Club family stronger

By: Tim Reilly

Fun fact: The first tee is located just steps away from a cabana bar, Flippers, on the beach. Seriously, just steps away. Before my Friday twilight round, I lounged on the beach that looked like something you’d find on a postcard, grabbed a drink at the bar and took it with me to the course…and made it back to the bar when I was done playing. It’s the ideal circle of life when it comes to Bahamas golf livin’.

Notable holes:

No. 4 (180-yard par-3) – As the first hole that comes with a backdrop of the ocean, this is when the full beauty of the course truly begins. The staggered tee boxes are surrounded by colorful shrubbery and flowers that create a vibrant scene. You could end up playing a short-or-long iron, maybe even a hybrid, depending on the ocean breeze that day.

No. 16 (380-yard par-4) – The 16th is by far the most intimidating tee shot on the course, especially if you venture to the back tees. There’s a canyon that’s wedged between the right side of the fairway on 15 and 16. Unlike the 15th, which is more of a straight shot, the 16th bends to the right, begging you to accept the challenge and see how much of the canyon you can clear. This is your high-risk, high-reward moment on the course. The living’s easy everywhere in Abaco — other than the 16th tee.

It’s a picture-perfect scene on the 17th hole at The Abaco Club.

The Abaco Club

No. 17 (163-yard par-4) – Trouble on the right, a heavy slope on the left and blue ocean as far as the eye can see comes with the 17th hole. It’s a picture-perfect par-3. I’d be content grabbing a cooler and setting up shop to play the 17th over and over again for the day. This is the type of hole you daydream about at work.

No. 18 (543-yard par-5) – Finish strong! There’s no room for error on the 18th tee shot. The ocean is embedded into your mind on the left, as you’ll hear waves crashing when you address the ball, but there’s also hidden bushes and shrubs off to the right. I wouldn’t count on reaching this par-5 in 2. The most important shot is your second. Try to avoid that runoff to the right of the green to end your round on a high note. When you tap that final putt in make sure to soak in the ocean view on a perched-up green.

I loved: The Abaco Club has world-class golf, beautiful views and a no-worries attitude, and that’s all this golfer from the Big Apple could ask for. There’s nothing pretentious about the course, or the community as a whole for that matter. “Barefoot luxury” is what Abaco considers themselves and I can attest to that. All the amenities you could ask for exist while maintaining the feeling of an escape from reality.

After your round, I recommend taking the short stroll over to the beach, grab a drink at Flippers, jump in a kayak and take the 15-minute trek to what’s referred to as “Sugar Cane Island” located straight off the Winding Bay beach. It’s a small, uninhabited island that’s the absolute perfect setting for a sunset drink.

There’s no better way to cap off a round of golf at The Abaco Club than to take in the sunset off Winding Bay.

The Abaco Club

I didn’t love: The golf balls I lost on 15 and 16. You can find three custom-marked “Life of Reilly” balls laying in the bottom of the canyon between both holes. I pushed my ball off to the right once on 15 and went for the hero shot twice on 16… and you guessed it, came up a zero both times.  

My lack of versatility around the greens was exposed in a big way. I don’t frequently play many links-style courses, so I wasn’t accustomed to keeping the ball low around the greens. I played a game of ping pong with myself on a few holes going from one side of the green to the other, but I have no one to blame by myself for that.

Bring your A-game and enjoy a slice of golf paradise at The Abaco Club.

Tim Reilly

Golf.com Photographer

Reilly is GOLF’s social-media editor. In September 2017, he took over the reins to the brand’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. He manages GOLF’s short- and long-term social strategy and produces social video content. Beyond the social space, he contributes to GOLF.com and GOLF Magazine as a writer. His ranking of the best golf scenes in Seinfeld is his magnum opus.