Barbados: Bowled over
Sports stars such as Michael Vaughan are lured to the Royal Westmoreland resort by the promise of luxury, privacy – and some serious golf. Matt Tench visits a Caribbean sanctuary
Saturday 17 May 2008
Where did Steve McClaren go when he was sacked as manager of the England football team? Where could Michael Vaughan be found as he prepared for another season as captain of England's cricket squad? Where has Gary Lineker been when he reappears on Match of the Day, sporting that tan? Where does Ian Woosnam live?
The answer to all these questions is one of the most exclusive spots in the Caribbean, the Royal Westmoreland resort on the north-west, so-called "platinum" coast of Barbados. And they are far from alone. In recent years the Royal Westmoreland has established itself as just about the leading holiday destination for Britain's sporting elite.
Other regulars from the football world include Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Teddy Sheringham. Andrew Flintoff regularly relaxes at the Royal Westmoreland, and golfers who visit include Sam Torrance and Bernhard Langer.
Barbados has long been a magnet for the rich and famous. In the Fifties and Sixties they tended to be film and rock'n'roll stars. Nowadays our sports stars are legitimate members of the glitterati (though we may be stretching it with McClaren).
For Britain's leading sportsmen, the Royal Westmoreland offers two things that they value very highly: privacy and a superb golf course. The resort, which lies on 500 acres of rolling hillside near the coast, is a gated community that is discreetly policed. The paparazzi would have a hard time getting in, but even if they did, they wouldn't know where to start looking. The properties vary in size and in value, going from around £800,000 to more than £8m, but all are almost completely secluded. You can have the longest lens in the pack, but it won't do you much good if your target is lounging by the pool, behind a 15-foot wall, within a property on a 500-acre site.
If anything, the golf course appears to be an even greater attraction. It is one of the truisms of sport that many sportsmen retain a passion for golf long after their particular sporting prowess has diminished. At the Royal Westmoreland, such golfers have the perfect setting on which to continue the affair. One of just three courses on the island, it was designed by Robert Trent Jones – the acclaimed American course architect – who has fashioned 18 holes that are both beautiful and challenging.
"The course is spectacular and has magnificent views," says Woosnam, the 1991 Masters winner who bought a home here 12 years ago.
As you head north from the capital Bridgetown and inland from the fine beaches that line the west coast of Barbados, the landscape rolls onwards and upwards in a series of increasingly scenic folds. The Royal Westmoreland has been built on the site of a large sugar plantation and the course is especially impressive in the way it incorporates the natural flora and fauna. It even embraces the wildlife – such as the monkeys on the fifth that, come dusk, frequently leave the sanctuary of the nearby forest and can be seen eating bananas next to the fairway.
Michael Vaughan's experience is, perhaps, typical. A keen golfer, he visits the Royal Westmoreland with his wife and two children. By making an early start, he gets a game of golf without intruding too much on family life. "If you get up at seven, you can get on the course early and be back for 10," he says. "It's a brilliant start to the day."
Vaughan has been coming to Barbados for many years – well before he achieved fame as a cricketer. The laid-back lifestyle and the friendliness of the Bajans now makes it the ideal place to get away from the pressures of life as England's cricket captain.
"Here you can do the exact opposite to what happens at home," he says, sitting on the veranda of an impressive villa and watching the sun go down over a glorious red skyline. "You can get in the car, take a road, and go and visit some of the rum shacks with the locals. And nobody bothers you; that's why I like it."
As one of the world's most high-profile cricketers, you might expect Vaughan to be a little wary when freewheeling in such cricket-mad territory. Barbados, after all, is the island that gave the world Sir Garfield Sobers (who has a roundabout and a statue on the Bridgetown ring road named after him), as well as a host of other brilliant cricketers who have played for the West Indies. In fact, Vaughan finds the locals' attitude to cricket just right: interested, informed but never intrusive.
Despite its reputation, Vaughan insists that holidaying in Barbados need not be cripplingly expensive: "If you get the flights booked early, it can be as cheap as going to some places in Europe."
There are plenty of properties to be rented at the Royal Westmoreland, and although they aren't cheap, you don't need to be a sporting superstar to go there. A two- or three-bedroom property can be rented for around £2,500 a week during low season (1 June to 1 December).
The atmosphere throughout the Royal Westmoreland is friendly, if slightly reserved. There is an emphasis on golf, but not overbearingly so – and there are plenty of wealthy visitors who aren't involved in sport at all. Ian Cox, the director of golf and sales, says: "Intellectuals, bankers, businessmen, lords and ladies, figures from politics and the like all visit. Bill and Hillary Clinton have been here."
Cox feels that the mix adds to the allure for the sports stars. "These guys, when they are playing golf on our course, can be standing next to some seriously rich and influential men," he says. "They realise these guys are not going to be making a fuss over them. A lot of them like that – it fits in with their lifestyle."
The success of the Royal Westmoreland has led to ambitious plans for expansion. Last year, John Morphet, the resort's British owner, announced that he would be investing $500m (£257m) to purchase a neighbouring sugar cane plantation, on which he intends to build another 250 properties, along with a second 18-hole championship golf course.
All of which should provide plenty of scope for the remaining members of the England cricket and football teams who are not already regulars here. If they do arrive, they may well come across Michael Vaughan either on the golf course, or at a local bar talking cricket. "You meet so many different people," he says. "You meet a local Bajan, who's a real cricket nut, and then you meet some of the most successful businessmen around. It doesn't matter who you are, everybody seems to have the same attitude – to get on with everybody and enjoy it."
Matt Tench is sports editor of 'The Independent'
The writer travelled with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; www.virginholidays.com), which offers seven nights at oyal Westmoreland from £879. The price includes accommodation, flights and transfers. Barbados is served by Virgin Atlantic (08705 747747; www.virgin-atlantic.com) from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester; British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) from Gatwick; and BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) from Manchester. To reduce the impact on the environment, "offset" your carbon footprint via Abta (020-7637 2444; www.reducemyfootprint.travel).
Royal Westmoreland, St James, Barbados (001 246 422 4653; www.royal-westmoreland.com).
www.visitbarbados.co.uk; 020-7636 9448
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