I knew there were no golf courses on Saba. But as we approached the island I was looking for where I might build one – if I won the lottery.
What a remote and beautiful place!
The de Havilland Otter, the twin engine prop-plane that serves as a shuttle for the 12 minute flight from St. Maarten, headed straight for Green Island. Green Island is a small grass covered rock that looks a lot like a finger sticking straight up about 100 feet about the choppy ocean. What a great par-3 I thought. The little island was floating like a fishing bobber in front of the towering seaside cliff that circles Saba. Just as we were sure the pilot was going to smash the Otter directly into the cliff face he banked hard left and landed on the driving range length runway; the only flat spot on Saba.
When I say driving range length, think of aircraft carrier deck and you will get the picture. The runway on Saba is the shortest landing strip in the world for a commercial airport. It is barely 1,200 feet long. That is 400 yards – a short 4-par for us golf junkies. Shit, Bryson DeChambeau can fly it that far. The wheels screeched, immediately the pitch of the propellers reversed and we were forced forward in our seats as the plane came to a halt about 50 yards from the runway end. “That was not too scary!” my wife said as she exhaled a deep breath. The first one exhale in over a minute.
Saba is a very small, Dixie cup shaped island that is only 5 miles at the widest point. The non-active volcano raises 2,800 feet above the cobalt blue sea to a mist-shrouded peak, the highest mountain in the Caribbean.
Known as the unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean, there are no golf courses, McDonalds, Burger Kings or Holiday Inns on Saba. That is the way the 1,800 residents, most relatives of the 5 original families dating back to the mid 1600s, plan to keep it. The very safe and spotlessly clean island is a world-class divers venue and a hiker’s delight with a few good and very friendly restaurants. The islands only “real” commercial enterprise is Saba University of School Medicine (yes, a medical school with 500 students from all over the world on a small rock). My nephew had attended the medical school 12 years earlier and we were lucky enough to be asked to join him and his family on their first return trip to the magical island.
As Eddy, our van driver, tour guide and chauffeur for the week who is a a seventh generation resident and a graduated from Indiana University, was starting up “The Road” he said, “engineers said that a road could not be built on this rugged island. It took our proud people 40 years to build our 10-mile long road… using pick and shovel.”
The first thing I noticed were the goats. Eddie explained that goats, dating back to the original inhabitants, are the main source of milk and meat for the residents. The island serves as “open range”, like the Old West. He explained that there are no brands on the goats but each rancher, as they are called, knows his goats!
On our second day on the most peaceful place on earth, we planned a hike along the Old Sulfur Mine Trail overlooking the sea. As we broke out of the rain forest onto a meadow like clearing, I was stunned – I thought we had discovered a lost golf course on Saba! The goats, in a rainbow of sizes and colors, had nibbled the turf on this approximately 2-acre site to a play-the-ball-down height. With the wind whistling and the surf pounding 400 feet below, I thought of the shepherds who, while tending their sheep, invented the game we love to hate. As I stepped closer to the cliff overlooking the ocean, there below me was Green Island, the same small grass covered island that serves as a target for pilots landing on Saba, bobbing like that fishing bobber below me.
I had to try it! I did not have a shepherds crook, but I did have my walking stick and my caddies (family members), helped me locate a few smooth rounded stones.
Teeing the stones on tufts of grass, I whacked the make-believe ball at the green that God had placed on Green Island. I am not Bud Chapman, the golf artist or a golf course designer; I am just another golfer dreaming of playing a perfectly designed hole that had never been played before.
I will return to Saba!