St Maarten Interesting Golf Destination
by Scott A. Sumner
Living in Northern Ontario has many advantages. We are a great part of Canada with a distinct change of seasons. When we reach fall and winter is approaching fast and furiously you can't help but look for warmer climates for a break. In mid December I found a great place for a break! How about the island of St Maarten in the Caribbean. My previous experience in this part of the world was at Nassau, Bahamas last February. St Maarten is quite a bit further south, located some 70 miles from PeurtoRico and close by to several other islands you can visit easily as well.
St Maarten is a 3 /12 to 4 hour flight from Charlotte, North Carolina which is fast becoming a huge hub for many travellers. My trip began with a flight to Toronto on Air Canada and then to Charlotte with US Air with a short wait before flying direct to St Maarten. There are other opportunities to fly to St Maarten with other American air lines an as well as charter carriers out of Canada like Air Transit. There are some great package deals which can make your holiday very competively priced with other southern locations such as Cuba. Ask your travel agent on what's available.
The first visual siting of St Maarten flying in is very spectacular with the Caribbean beautiful blue water and tranquil settings. You glide lower and lower to the water in your Boeing 757 to a airport that is adjacent to the ocean. The airport is the second busiest in the Caribbean, with Puerto Rico first. Our home away from home for the next five days was the spectacular Maho Resort and Casino located adjacent to the airpot. This 600 room complex is ownedby an Italian group and has everything you can imagine including 9 restaurants, the second largest casino on the island (their were 12 in total) and some beautiful pool and beach locations. The view from your room balcony was fabulous and worth the price of admission for a Northerner who will see ice and snow for the next 5 to 6 months. I always am impressed with the fact that you can leave the cold of Northern Ontario and be in a tropical setting in less than a day. The Maho resort is really a whole complex with a grocery store, shopping for clothing, jewelry and many of the unique items of St Maarten.
What makes the 36 square mile island St Maarten so unique is it is two seperate governments on one island. The Dutch and French both occupy this island. There is no customs pointor division of the two sides but they exist together. This gives a European fell to St Maarten, There is Dutch and French languages spoken as well as some languages of ther local people. I gues s this is why there are several direct flights from Europe each week to St Maarten with Air France and KLM Airlines. Also the number of cruise ships that stop here is rising annually and currently over 1 million visitors come in off the cruise ships. Add this to the 500,000 who come in by air and you have a very busy island in the Carrribbean.
The infrastructure of St Maarten is great with the largest marine (650 metres long) birth for cruise ships in the Carrribbean. There has been as many as 12 cruise ships in the harbour at one time. The airport can handle 747 jets and has become the jlanding point for many as they may depart to other islands on smaller planes or boats. We saw many corporate jet aircraft on the tarmac meaning St Maarten is a place for the rich and famous as well as ordinary people. You can find a place to stay on St Maarten that meets your needs from the more than 3500 rooms on the island. As well a major accomadation type on the island is time shares. Here you have purchased a one or two week stay at a location for life and it has become a popular way for many North Americans to travel to St Maarten each year.
Our host for the most of the was week William Bell promotional officer at the St. Maarten Tourism office. Locally there are 10 people working plus 4 more at the airport and 4 people in the cruise office. "This island can be your base to visit othe islands in the area.' said William Bell. It is an excellent area for diving. St Maarten has a little bit of everything. including night life. The population on the Dutch side of the island has grown from 25,000 in 1983 to 40,000 today. The French side has risen in population from 15,000 to 38,000. St Maarten has two types of electrical power in place with 110 in the Dutch side and 220, on the French side. The water is drinkable using the reverse osmosis system. Their water is clean.
So what can you do on St Maarten? Really the choices are endless and we tried some very unique activities on our trip. Your starting point could be a tour of the island. We did this first in the comfort of our large Volvo bus. This was a great introduction to St Maarten with the help of out tour guide William Bell from St Maarten tourism. The traditional markets are very colour ful and allow you to purchase some souvenirs of the island at very reasonable price. The favourite currency here is US dollars although you can use the Euro as well. The beaches are renowned and we visited Orient Beach as our next stop. This beach is one of two clothing optional on the island and was very interesting to see. Here both European and North Americans can let it all hang out as they say and many did on our visit that day. Immediatey next to the beach is the islands only nude beach where you have no option but to be totally nude. It is a different environment that I'm used to but one that you can experience. On our trip I met Bonnie who is from nearby island St Lucia. "I work here and love it. Back home is nice as well. There are lots of tourists here so the atmosphere is great,' said Bonnie "I stay home or go sight seeing on my day off. I work here and never been in this water." Our trip also included a stop at a butterfly farm. This was a very unquie opportunity to get up close with some beautiful butterflies which will land on you!
Phillipsburg in the French side is where you can find so many jewelery stores you will be amazed. Also there are electronics stores and some clothing stores along with the island favourite many casinos. I never saw so many casinos in all my travels(which doesn't include Las Vegas.) The casinos are really quite small but have lots of character. In addition to gambling a great sport in St Maarten is eating! There are over 350 restaurants on this island and the variety is great. The food is almost always served in open air dining areas adjacent to the ocean beach. It is a fun setting in which to kick back and enjoy some good conversation, nice drinks and special food. Island dining is a experience I enjoy.
Our second full day was a high lite of the trip for me as we went sailing in a Canada Cup boat. The St Maarten 12 metre Challenge allowed you to participate in an actual race against our counterpart Americas Cup. The day began with two captains being chosen and the teams of 18 selected to join our 3 man expert crew leaders. Our crew included Paul, who with his British accent and love of sailing made me feel quite comfortable for my first sailing experience. After some excellent instruction we were on the pontoon boat out into the harbour to pick up the previous crew and board our sleek multi million dollar sailboat to begin preperation for our actual race. Each section of the boat had crew members which were chosen based on your level of desired activity - full, partial or inactive.
Soon our race experience began and with several legs it was very exciting to compete in the 25 to 28 knot winds in waters which were somewhat choppy. We were near the limits of the weather for the race to go on but I felt good about our team. Sailing in such a high quality boat was fantastic. I liked the wind in your face and warm sun on your skin. It was definitely exhiliating especially when our team on True North and beat the Americans. What an experience! I t made the trip to St Maarten special is and something even non salers will enjoy.
Another activity on our trip I will always remember is horse back riding at night with the Lucky Stables. We arrived at the stables at about 730 pm and spent some time getting ready to mount our horses. Monica was my horse that night and she was the best horse I've ever ridden. Lucky Stable is owned by Roderick and his family and their love of the horses was very evident that night which resulted in an great experience for out 8 riders. We began with a ride down an industrial road past some Jet A1 fuel storage tanks to make our way to the 500 acre property of which Roderick and his company have exclusive use. The cars were sharing the road with us but the horses reacted well and soon we were up a elevated trail to a great look out location over the ocean. There was something rythmycal about riding a horse at night, hearing the sounds of the crickets and other wildlife. Also escorting us was Tristin the stables dog who somehow seemed to be guarding us on our ride. I was also happy to have Liseette, another member of Luck y Stables right behind me. Liseette is from Holland and works for part of the year with Roderick Her love of the horses was great and they followed her every command. Afte our ride to the top of the look out it wa s down a path to the ocean and a secluded beach for some champagne and marshmellows on a open fire. As we looked up the full moon appeared from under a cloud and with the soothing sounds of the ocean and a temperature of 80 degrees it was a special setting, one I will think about many times again.
As an avid golfer I was looking forward to playing championship golf course Mullet Bay the next day. This course is the only one on St Maarten and was once a high level layout until Hurricane Lewis came in 1995. Hurricane Lewis destroyed many of the building on this large resort complex that at one time employed 600 people. The owners of the time shareapartments and the golf course. Sun Resort Inc. are still in court over the repairs. Also since 1995 there has been an additional 8 hurricanes. The water system doesnt work any more 7 on the course as the hotel water waste was used to fill the reservoir. and the hotel was leveled. Still the course was very good except for conditioning and attracts quite a bit of play. "On the weekends we get 60 to 70 people play and during the week it is tourists who are on the course,' said Alberta of the Pro Shop. "30 to 40 play during the week, mostly from the cruise ships. During the weekends its mostly locals. The cost to play 9 holes with cart is $55 while 18 is $80."
I was happy to play golf and surprisngly hit the ball quite well with my rental clubs and running shoes. Perhaps some of the most unique aspects of this round was when I hit a ball in the water and after approaching where it went in was surprised to see a human head come out of the water and begin talking to me. I was somewhat scared at first and then quickly realized my new friend had a interesting vocation. He spends his days in the water searching for balls that he sells to the pro shop at Mullet bay. Pretty interesting stuff for a golfer from Canada.
Water activities abound at St Maarten with the beautiful clear blue water. Many of our trip members took advantage of the sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving lessons. The water is very warm and the sea wildlife fantastic. Our trip icludes some great dining experinces as well that were unique. I especially liked the meal of barbuequed ribs and chicken we had at Johhny Bs, an outside barbeque restaurant. Here the food was plentiful and very good. It went very well with a Carib beer!
Really this is a beautiful part of our world. If you plan ahead it is a place everyone can experience and Im sure be in your memories for a lifetime. Find out more information on St Maarten from St. Maarten Tourist Office at 703 Evans Avenue, Suite 106, Toronto, Ontario, M9C 5E9, tel: (416) 622-4300, fax: (416) 622-3431, or visit www.st-maarten.com