Friday, May 24

Course of nature: On Eleuthera in the Bahamas, a golfer’s paradise is taking shape

“What a beautiful feeling it’s bringing

All the birds in the sky are singing

You got to understand.”

– Eleutheria by Lenny Kravitz

Tommy Turnquest turns the engine off at Mystery Lake.

“This is my favorite place, right here,’’ the former member of the Bahamian Parliament and cabinet minister says, stepping out of the 4 x 4 Ford and quietly closing the door. “Listen.’’

All the birds really are singing here this morning, just like Lenny Kravitz sang about the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Red-legged thrushes, semipalmated plovers, Cuban pewees. Sea breezes sigh through the shrubby forest reflected in the blue-hole waters of the lake. The ocean on the far side of the island sounds the way it does when you hold a seashell to your ear. Distant, hushed, calming.

And after a few moments at Mystery Lake you begin to understand what Kravitz was trying to say about this place.

That we’ve stopped the car in paradise.

Tommy Turnquest, executive deputy chairman and chief executive officer of Jack’s Bay, visits Mystery Lake on Eleuthera, Bahamas. (Mark Gauert/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Jack’s Bay

Down on the pink sands of Jack’s Bay, Patrick Cerjan is spin casting his favorite yellow and red fishing lure into the surf. He’s the only other person I can see on this four-mile stretch of beach, horizon to horizon.

“I catch everything here,” he says of the turquoise bay, glistening with fish and bobbing today with sea turtles. “Every kind of snapper, jacks – big ones, like you wouldn’t believe.”

He fishes a photo of one of his catches from his phone. And I believe.

Just then a black-tip shark about half as long as his fishing pole cruises past. A loggerhead turtle head pops up farther from shore. Then another, closer. Pretty soon there are sea turtle heads popping up everywhere. The way people described scenes of pristine nature in accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries along the coasts of Florida.

“The turtles come here because they’re protected from predators in the Atlantic beyond the reef,’’ says Cerjan, on a fishing break from his job as director of sales at Jack’s Bay. “I was standing here the other day and a sea turtle swam right between my feet.”

Just like that.

The way it was when the world was new.

The terrace of the Salt Spray clubhouse overlooks Tiger Woods’ Playground and Jack’s Bay. (Mark Gauert/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Tiger and The Bear

Up on the terrace of Salt Spray, the exclusive golf clubhouse overlooking Tiger Woods’ 10-hole course, the Atlantic and Jack’s Bay, I settle into a deck chair and read headlines in magazines about this idyllic place. I didn’t know any of this existed — 260 miles from Fort Lauderdale, 75 from Nassau — possibly because I’m no golfer and possibly because it’s only recently becoming known as a paradise of another sort.

“If money were no object, what would the ultimate golfer’s paradise look like?” a story in Forbes asks. “Exactly like Jack’s Bay.”

“How do you make golf in paradise even better?” Golf magazine asks. “Add a goat. Or rather, the GOAT.”

So, yes, Jack Nicklaus is coming here, putting his illustrious name on a seaside, 18-hole Heritage championship course scheduled to be completed in 2025. Tiger Woods beat him to it in 2020, with the 10-hole, par 3 “Playground.”

And there’s a 1,200-acre resort club and Nicklaus-branded residential community in the works. And 33 “ready-to-build” beachfront and ocean view lots, already sold at an average of $1.4 million a piece. And a 7,000-square-foot spa village on the way. And a “world-class” beach club, a freeform pool, comprehensive fitness and wellness program, a family-friendly Sports Pavilion, a boating lagoon with cabanas and a conch-fritter shack. And tennis, kayaking, diving, hiking trails, cave exploring, giant chess board …

And I think back to my quiet morning at Mystery Lake with Tommy Turnquest, the former Bahamian minister who’s now executive deputy chairman and chief executive officer of Jack’s Bay Eleuthera.

“This is one of the nicest properties in the Bahamas,” he says. “We got to make sure we don’t mess it up.”

Makers Air flies Cessna Caravans from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Rock Sound International on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. (Mark Gauert/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

90-minute flight

It’s a bit of an adventure to get to Jack’s Bay. Makers Air flies Cessna Caravans direct the 260 miles from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Rock Sound International, the tiny airport nearest to the property on the southeast coast of Eleuthera. How that goes may depend on your tolerance for travel in small, single-engine aircraft, seated with up to 14 of your fellow passengers immediately behind the pilot and co-pilot.

You may see storms building between you and the islands ahead, for example, and wonder, how’s that going to work? You may see the hard rain splattering the cockpit windshield at 1,500 feet as the pilot aligns the Cessna with the skinny strip of runway cut into the shrubby forest below. And you may begin to see your pilots – often invisible on commercial flights – in a new light. You may thank them when you’re on the ground more than you’ve ever thanked a pilot on a commercial flight. And not just because there’s no bathroom aboard a Cessna Caravan on the hour and a half flight from Fort Lauderdale.

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You’ll also see wonders on the way over. Savannahs of turquoise dunes beneath the shallow clear waters of the Bahama Banks, between the big island of Andros and the coral-crusted archipelago of the Abacos. A Rorschach test of shapes out the Cessna’s windows in the white sandy bottoms that shift and swirl in the currents below. See that dune in the shape of a bird? Or maybe a dolphin? Assuming you open your eyes on a small plane coming in for a landing on a strip of asphalt in a storm over shallow water.

“Get any shut-eye on the way over?’’ our pilot grins at the end of the smooth landing at Rock Sound International. “I know I did.”

We all laugh.

“Imagine if you’d had your eyes open,’’ I say. And he laughs – a big, reassuring laugh that makes you want to go right back up and go through another adventure with him.

Patrick Cerjan takes a break from his job as director of sales at Jack’s Bay on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. (Mark Gauert/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘Oasis of the soul’

It’s a bit of an adventure to get to Jack’s Bay from Rock Sound International, too. Don’t forget, for starters, they drive on the “wrong’’ side of the road in the Bahamas – which said no to British rule in 1973, but held fast to the Queen’s rules of the road.

The Queen’s Highway south from the airport to the gate of Jack’s Bay is potholed and crumbling, which nonetheless doesn’t seem to slow anyone from driving fast. The views of Caribbean-clear waters on one side and the staggering – at least compared with the rest of the mostly flat Bahamas – 40- to 90-foot hills and cliffs along the Atlantic side are also distractions from driving at full attention.

After all of that, it’s a bit of an adventure to stay at Jack’s Bay, too. At least for now. It’s not really ready for visitors yet, the developers say. Check back in November, maybe sometime after Thanksgiving. No homes have even been built. The master plan on display in the Salt Spray clubhouse is dotted with the words “future residential” because a lot of it’s still months away. Much of the infrastructure is still going in – electrical, water, fiber-optic cables – all being excavated and trenched from Eleuthera’s limestone crust.

But back in the 4 x 4 Ford, which comes in handy because many of the roads are uphill and as yet unpaved, Tommy Turnquest points out the trailer that houses the 1.25 megawatt backup generator, enough to run the whole property if local power fails, he says. He pauses by the new reverse osmosis plant that will convert briny well water to supply the resort and its two thirsty golf courses, and the big new tank that will store it. They’re working on waste disposal systems for the 395 residential homes, too, mindful of how precious water resources and renewables are in the islands.

“There’ll never be more than 395 residences here,’’ Turnquest says. That’s the way he and his investment partners, on-site developers and staff have planned it from the beginning. Low density.

“Everything we’ve done here we’ve done very deliberately,” says Turnquest, who served as the Bahamas’ minister of tourism and national security, among other posts, until he left government in 2012.

“We’ve looked at it and thought about it for the past 12 years. So you can weave into the golf and residential and homes around that golf course the whole aspect of nature and hiking and biking and recreation.”

As for marketing the property to a jet-setting, golf-tourism world, “it’s very golf forward, the ‘Tiger and the Bear,’” says Robi Das, portfolio manager and strategy advisor to Sir Franklyn Wilson, chairman of Eleuthera Properties Ltd. “But as you go around the property, you’ll see there’s a lot of stuff for everyone to do here. They can go out on the water, they can get a spa treatment, they can do hikes.”

On one of those hikes, Turnquest points out some rare red Cuban cave shrimp, swimming in the clear waters of a protected blue hole lake along the trail.

“This place,” he says, happy to see them, “is an oasis of the soul.’’

Golfers and more

And as they’ve built it, to borrow a baseball metaphor for a golf resort, they have come. And not just the golfers. And not just to Jack’s Bay on the southeast coast of Eleuthera.

Ritz-Carlton is renovating the venerable Cotton Bay Club resort next door. Disney is scheduled to begin landing cruise passengers for day fun at Lookout Cay on Lighthouse Point further down the coast in June. The morning I left Jack’s Bay, I spotted a big three-masted ship against the rising sun and wondered … Jeff Bezos’ yacht, Koru? Maybe.

Or maybe not.

“I don’t know,’’ Turnquest said, studying the blurry photo I shot on my iPhone. “Could be. Could be a freighter, too.’’

Maybe.

“It’s been crazy,” says Cerjan, the director of sales, sipping a bottle of the local Sands beer after catching nothing all afternoon in the surf on the bay. Most buyers and prospective buyers have been coming from the eastern seaboard of the United States, Florida and a few Bahamians, he says, most looking for a second (or third or fourth) residence.

“But once Golf magazine picked up on the whole Tiger/Nicklaus thing, omigosh, I had 200 sales leads by 11 a.m. the next morning,” Cerjan says. “From Monaco, the U.K., Switzerland, California, Vancouver. You name it.”

And you begin to understand something else about Jack’s Bay on Eleuthera. That for a director of sales, it’s a beautiful feeling, too.

Jack’s Bay on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. (Mark Gauert/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

‘It’s time to share’

Everybody had said the stars were especially bright here, so I stepped out the door one night to have a look.

It was like stepping into space. Or at least how I imagine it would be like stepping into space.

On a moonless night, without light pollution from any source, the pale constellations and stars we can barely see from South Florida blazed against the sparkling backdrop of the Milky Way. Orion, the Pleiades, the Big Dipper – bigger than I’d ever seen it.

Beautiful. Especially with a soundtrack of the sea. Or Lenny Kravitz.

In the morning, on the way back to Rock Sound International, I asked Tommy Turnquest – the former Bahamian minister – if he really wanted word to get out about this place of beautiful feelings.

He thought for a moment.

“Yes,’’ he said. “It’s time to share.’’

IF YOU GO

Upon completion, homeowners will be allowed to rent their homes through Jack’s Bay’s rental management program. Information, 800-320-6281.

 

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