Apes Hill Barbados has become one of golf’s most talked-about golf developments since the arrival of Canadian investor Glenn Chamandy in 2019.
A reimagined course masterminded by renowned architect, the late Ron Kirby, a growing and luxurious real estate community, the world-class Performance Centre and an in-development Par 3 course are just some of the reasons Apes Hill is rising higher than ever in the Caribbean golf world.
Few golfers know Barbados better than Apes Hill ambassador Ian Woosnam. The Welshman has been a regular on the island after purchasing a property in 1995 where he spends the winter recuperating before the start of the season. Still playing competitively on the Legends Tour, Woosnam has followed Apes Hill’s transformation closely.
He also knows a thing or two about Ryder Cups, having won four as a player and one as a captain throughout a distinguished career.
Ahead of this month’s showdown in Rome, we sat down with ‘Woosie’ to talk about Apes Hill, the Ryder Cup and his lifelong love affair with Barbados…
Ian, with the Ryder Cup now just two weeks away, what are your thoughts on the event and how do you see it unfolding?
It’s tough to call but home advantage really will play a part. Europe played a great American Team over in Whistling Straights in 2021 and they never seemed to really get going and maybe that was because of the lack of support. But things are a bit more balanced this year and playing in Europe will help. I also think some of our top players are in better form. So, it’s tough to call at the moment. Can I sit on the fence and say it’s 50-50?
What can you remember most from your time as captain?
Well, you have to back yourself, that’s really important. I had a great team in 2006 and we won comfortably at The K Club. But you still have to get everything in place and make sure you have everything covered. My captain’s picks caused something of a stir with Lee Westwood over Thomas Bjorn, but I had no doubts about him playing and he absolutely delivered. I do think sometimes you have to put the stats to one side and just go with your gut feeling. If it feels right for you, make the call and stick with it. I think at times we get too bogged down in the statistics of it all.
What did you make of Luke Donald’s captain’s picks?
The picks, even back when I captained in 2006 and had two, are always going to cause a stir so having six will really make a few heads turn. I do think Adrian Meronk is unfortunate to miss out. I know I said don’t read too much into stats, but his stats stand out! He has been in good, solid form, looks to have a really good temperament and most importantly, he has won three times in the last 16 months, with one of those victories coming at the venue for the event in Italy and he also finished second there in 2021. I can understand his frustration. It’s a tough one to work out but there are always factors in the background when it comes to the captain’s picks.
What kind of factors?
Key players can have their say. Certain players will want to play with certain players. In 1995, I missed out on automatic qualification, which was the only time I did in my career, and I didn’t get a pick. I finished 11th on the Order of Merit and there were only two picks, and Jose Maria Olazabal was picked ahead of me, and I am pretty sure that was because Seve Ballesteros would have wanted Ollie there so he could be paired with him. This is the sort of thing where players can request who they play with to the captains, and the captain can make that choice who he feels is better. In the end, I played because Ollie had a foot injury and missed out. But these things go on in the background and they can all play a part.
You have recently become an ambassador for Apes Hill Barbados – tell us a little bit about the course, which reopened in 2022 following the redesign by Ron Kirby…
I’ve seen the course develop from its very beginnings. It’s a spectacular piece of land and you get these amazing panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The elevations are something else. It is just a great set-up and the course is so much fun, and really is very playable for all levels of golfer. It’s definitely my kind of course where you can just get lost in the surroundings but also it’s very clever and has some wonderful holes.
Talk us through some of the changes?
They shortened the first and tenth holes, are they’ve created lots of different plots to the golf course. What I really like is the way it’s been made so playable, which is so important. They have been lots of little tweaks. It’s not somewhere you’re going to lose a bunch of balls, either. Lose one and it’ll have been a really poor shot. Softening the greens has helped a little, too. The second hole has been made into this terrific risk/reward hole. Then there’s the 16th, ‘Cave’, the signature hole, which I imagine would be one of the most photographed holes on the course. A coral rock hugs the hole behind the green with water down the right. It’s a special par-3 that comes after another a terrific stretch from 12-15. The 18th is spectacular, too – you’ll have some fun playing that one, let me tell you.
It sounds like you enjoy playing there?
I really do, but it’s not just the 18-hole course – there’s a lovely feel to the place. There is also the nine-hole par-3 short course, which in in development and will be a great to practise, and will be perfect for families with little ones to try, as well as beginners. Then you have the 19th, island style green they are building. It’s all about having fun!
And you have the facilities there to work on your game?
Absolutely. The Performance & Teaching Centre is world-class, arguably the best facility of its kind in the Caribbean that I’m sure will attract the top professionals who want somewhere that’s state-of-the-art to play and practise. If you were an American Tour player, for example, what a place to base yourself for two weeks or so, resting up and doing some work on your game.
Despite being a resort course, there’s a real club feel about Apes Hill…
It’s one of the things that I most like about the place. I’ve become good friends with the Director of Golf, Jody Addison. He’s a really great guy and I really enjoy his company. I enjoy talking to the members, too, sitting down at the halfway house and sharing a drink. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t love talking about the game and speaking to like-minded golfers.
Talking of drinks, apparently you can enjoy a nice glass of wine in the Clubhouse post round?
Yes, it’s something I got involved with several years ago – ‘Wines of Golf Legends’ by French wine company Peuch & Besse. There are a number of us involved, but hopefully there will be a few more to come. If I told you that there’s a New Zealand white from Michael Campbell, a Rioja from José María Olazábal and a drop of red from Costantino Rocca, you’d get the picture. David Frost, Nancy Lopez, Ian Baker-Finch and Jean Van de Velde are all involved, too. Bernhard Langer has just come along and he’s doing a German white! It’s good fun! [Hopefully Laura Davies for Champagne]
When did you fall in love with Barbados?
My love affair with the island started about 40 years ago. I remember enjoying a pretty good year in 1982, winning in Switzerland, and the following year wasn’t too bad, either. One of the highlights was getting invited to play in the Robert Sangster Pro Am at Sandy Lane. My wife and I went, and we fell in love with the place straight away.
How often do you get out there?
We must have visited the island just about every year ever since. In 1995 we decided to invest in a house at Royal Westmoreland, and we moved in a year later. We live in Jersey, which is a wonderful place, but Barbados has become a kind of home from home. After we had our first taste, we kept going back and forth on the holidays with the kids. Back then, they were in school, so we had that to consider, but now my wife and I will go out before Christmas and stay all the way though until April.
What is it about Barbados that you enjoy so much?
I tell everyone who asks that question that there’s so much more to Barbados then you might think. Yes, there are beautiful sandy beaches, the climate is certainly agreeable most of the time, and for golfers there are some wonderful courses with spectacular views. However, when you live there and you get to know the local people – they’re so friendly – that’s when you find out what the island is all about. I love the sunshine and sea breeze, and of course the golf. With the weather the way it is, I can play pretty much all year round. I’m good friends with ‘Beefy’ [cricketer, Ian Botham] and he likes his golf, too.
What do you look forward to the most, the moment you land and get off the plane?
One of my favourite times to visit is in January, February, March time, when you get that gentle breeze coming through, especially when you’re up high like you are at Apes Hill. When you get up in the morning and see that sea, that’s when I just realise how lucky I am.