Return of the Native

Seaside at the resort

Well do I remember my first trip to the tiny island of Nevis (KNEE-vis), home to the Four Seasons Resort Nevis. Following a rollicking 30-minute boat ride from St. Kitts, its sister island, we arrived to a long, slim dock at the far end of Pinney’s Beach, there to be greeted by a smiling staff of Nevisians in starchy new uniforms. This was March, 1991. The resort had opened the previous month. As my wife, three-year-old daughter and I walked with glasses of chilled fruit punch to the reception area, it was clear the 196-room property was still working out the kinks. The landscaping was bare. The pool wasn’t ready. And the 18th hole of the golf course was still under construction.

But the people were nice, and the accommodations were special. Contained in low-rise, West Indian plantation-style cottages trimmed in gingerbread and shaded by palms, their modest exteriors concealed sumptuous guest rooms—mahogany/wicker appointments in the bedrooms, wall-to-wall marble in the bathrooms, plus an expansive verandah set with cushioned teak chaises overlooking the sea. I was later shown the resort’s estate homes and multi-bedroom villas perched on the green slopes of Mount Nevis, a dormant volcano rising 3,232 feet from the center of the tiny isle. Also very nice.

The following day, I toured the resort’s golf course, a dramatic Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed layout that starts at sea level, climbs  450 feet into jungle-covered foothills, and hopscotches deep ravines on the side of the mountain. When I heard a commotion beside one of the canted fairways, I was delighted to see a band of green vervet monkeys chattering away in the treetops. The higher I climbed, the more my eyes were drawn to the top of Mount Nevis, its peak shrouded by a crown of puffy white clouds. Columbus, I later learned, sailed to the island in 1492 and named it Nevis from the Spanish word nieve (snow) due to the clouds that perpetually blanket the summit.

The highlight of the tour came when I marched to the back tee of the par-five 15th, a gargantuan 663-yard hole where the drive must carry 240 yards across a verdant gorge to reach the fairway. The hang time here is significant. So are the panoramic views of nearby St. Kitts and the limitless blue sea.

Jones, who described the site as “topographically difficult,” absorbed most of the sharp elevation changes in the transitions between the holes, though the plunge from the 14th through the 18th holes is “tropical alpine.” Given the difficulty of the terrain, Jones kept the features simple on his lay-of-the-land design. The bunkers are small brushstrokes. The greens are subtly sloped and receptive.

The scorecard, by the way, is a fooler. The layout appears petite at 6,766-yards (par 71) from the tips, but the 73.6/132 course and slope rating is a clear indication that there’s plenty of trouble in store for those who stray.

For years I kept in touch with the resort’s progress. By the end of the ‘90s, guests could lounge beside a free-form, infinity-edge pool and be handed chilled, eucalyptus-scented towels (or spritzed with Evian water); soak in an outdoor hot tub built to resemble a sugar-mill ruin; or join a naturalist-led “eco-ramble” up the slopes of Mount Nevis.

Then Hurricane Lenny, a category 4 storm that rampaged through the islands in 1999, badly damaged the AAA 5-diamond property and forced its closure. The resort reopened in 2000 following a complete refurbishment. In October 2008, Hurricane Omar cut a ruinous path through the Lesser Antilles, saving its full wrath for the resort’s ground-floor guest rooms, main electrical grid and Pinney’s Beach, which was deposited in the resort’s gardens. The timing could not have been worse. The Four Seasons Nevis had been named the top golf resort in the Caribbean by Conde Nast Traveler and had established a loyal following. Due to the extent of the destruction, the resort was forced to close for a full two years during a rebuilding effort.

St. Kitts looms into view from the golf course

But now the curtain is waiting to be drawn. Guests who arrive this winter following the resort’s debut on Dec. 15, 2010 will be in for a pleasant surprise. The lobby and public spaces are now brighter and lighter. Lush, aromatic gardens embrace the Spa and its cottages.  Four new 200-square-foot beach houses will offer furnished private oceanside retreats. A new sailing program will enable guests to earn sail certificates when they complete each of the three courses offered. The complimentary Kids for All Seasons program will reopen in December, as will the separate Teen Club. The redone Mango restaurant, a casual beachfront eatery, will once again invite golfers to sample a ‘Tipsy Palmer’ after the round—mango rum, mango iced tea and lemonade.

Back by popular demand will be the resort’s Dive & Dine program. Two to six guests with dive certification will spend the day with a dive master and his crew of Nevisian lobster experts on a two-tank dive in the waters off St. Kitts and Nevis. Participants are challenged to “lasso” their own lobsters and later help prepare their catch at a lavish beach barbecue. Leading the expedition—and the kitchen team—is newly appointed executive chef Andreas Donnerbauer, a veteran of the program who returns to Nevis after stints in Maui and Australia.

Perhaps best of all for avid golfers, the Four Seasons Nevis layout is generally underplayed. Because most guests visit the resort to relax or engage in water sports, tee times are at a premium for only an hour or so in the morning. Which means this twice rebuilt slice of golf paradise is wide open most of the day, even in high season.

Based on dates and availability, the resort is currently promoting a number of special offers, including complimentary fourth night with every three consecutive paid nights.


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