Fourteen years ago international entrepreneur Peter de Savary was flying over an elevated headland on the east coast of Great Abaco, one of the largest islands in the Bahamas. As the early morning sun danced across gently rippling surf, de Savary looked down and saw a narrow peninsula with a two-mile crescent of powdery white. He saw no houses, no chaises or annoying little drinks with umbrellas in them — just gray-weathered driftwood, shells, tangles of sea grapes and palmettos. Perfect.
To take a closer look, he took a boat and cruised up to the beach. Going ashore, he hacked his way into the snarly tropical foliage with a machete. Soon afterwards he bought the 534 acres and started work on The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, an exclusive retreat for people who need never ask “how much?”
The Abaco Club bloomed into a luxurious private sporting club with multi-million dollar homes, spa, tennis courts and a stunning seaside golf course designed by Tom Mackenzie and Donald Steel, evoking the rolling landscape of Scottish links with grass-topped sand dunes, deep sculptured bunkers and drifts of native grasses.
In 2008, the Abaco Club was sold to a Marriott affiliate and managed by Ritz-Carlton until December 2014 when it was acquired by Southworth Development, a highly respected Newton, Massachusetts-based real estate firm that also owns Meredith Bay in New Hampshire, the Village at Macrihannish Dunes in Scotland, Creighton Farms in Virginia and Willowbend in Cape Cod. Under the helm of founders David Southworth, president & CEO and Joseph Deitch, Chairman, Abaco Club owners are assured the coveted kickback lifestyle they crave, will continue and only get better.
Southworth says, “The Abaco Club is the closest place I’ve seen to Polynesia.” He also likes to say it’s “everything money can’t buy.” And he’s right on. You won’t find a prettier beach of powdery white sand that sifts softly through your toes and you won’t find a more dazzling sea where swaths of turquoise, aquamarine and cobalt spread out to a small unoccupied island within kayaking distance of your beach chair. Here unpolluted night skies are sprinkled with stars and constellations and tropical flowers flow over the craggy limestone walls that wind through the property. “I am grateful we found this place,” said Southworth. “I love De Savary’s vision.”
Whether it’s the guy cutting the grass, the housekeeper entering a cottage or the golf pro walking to Busters, the beachfront restaurant, everyone waves and smiles. It’s an Abaco Club tradition,” says Kristi Hull, sales director adding, “It’s the little things that take you over the top.”
It is things like having your golf cart you parked head first into your parking space after dinner, be turned around and ready to go in the morning with a cheerful note about what’s going on that day. It’s the promise of an intimate dinner in your cottage or a picnic lunch on the island beach. It’s the incredible fishing in the waters all around and the hilltop view from Cliff House restaurant of sea and sand, the same jaw-dropping view you get from the infinity pool perched on the top of the hill.
“I’ve been here since the beginning, one of the wait servers said. “Since Southworth came in, I’ve seen more positive things happen in the past six months than I have seen since I came.”
Abaco Club on Winding Bay Golf Course
When you go to your golf cart at the Abaco Club on Winding Bay, you may just see the autographed bag of Darren Clarke, European Ryder Cup Captain, parked next to yours— he’s one of the owners here. Named the top course in the Bahamas by Golfweek, it’s a serious track with behemoth greens rolling (and we do mean rolling) fast (11-12 on the stimp) and depending on where the superintendent has placed the hole, your regulation score to the green may easily turn into a triple bogey on the card.
The Abaco Club flows gently over the land in keeping with designer Steel’s mantra, “Why mess around with something God created.” Indeed with holes like the 4th framed by the sea and the 18th running home by the water, along with well-placed bunkers, pampas grasses, palms and palmettos, the course is a beauty. In designing the course, Steel and MacKenzie took into account the wind. You should too. Six of the first seven holes play downwind easing you into your round.
Although there are some elevations especially when you climb up a hill to the 15th tee, the course for the most part is gently rolling—that is except on some greens where you can encounter some scary undulations like on the 8th and 12th where large swales run through the middle. On some greens there seems to be no safe landing spot so best to be prepared to laugh at yourself as you see your well-placed pitch hit, roll past the pin slowly then take off on a wild ride down a bank.
Addressing this, Southworth says, “We may modify a couple of the greens which have dramatic movement.” Southworth also noted they are completing an extensive new golf facility where golfers can practice their game as well as their putting on a short game area designed by Bob Cupp.
When you play golf here, you really don’t need a tee time, nor do you have a ranger pushing you to keep up. Even in peak season, you may see just one or two other golfers on the course and with only about 3,000 rounds a year—an average of two foursomes a day— the course hardly has enough traffic to even get blemished. It also helps that fairways, tees and greens are planted with superb salt tolerant Paspalum grass while roughs are being converted to rugged zoysia.
And memorable it is. Sir Sean Connery is said to have remarked, “It’s never played it the same way twice. I’ll never get bored.”
In the circular Cliff House bar, a music mogul wearing khaki shorts, tee shirt and sandals chats with another guy in jeans and polo shirt. You don’t know their stories or just how rich they are, you just know they are because they are here. The jovial bartender, Archie Simmonette, who has been here from the beginning, knows what the owners drink and whether they prefer a Cohiba or Hoyo de Monterey.
Fish is a big item on the menu along with local favorites like curried chicken with jasmine rice and scallops and shrimp in a light tomato cream sauce. Both delicious. Romar Forbes, executive chef, says, “We go through more than 150 lbs. of fish a week.” In fact, with excellent fishing all around the club, if guests bring a fish to the kitchen, they will cook it for the evening’s meal. Forbes also likes soups and says, “I have a great carrot soup recipe.”
On the beach, there are plenty of chaises and towels—no need to pop down early morning and claim your spot: all “landing areas” on the beach are good and there are plenty available even in peak season. You can also take on of the watercrafts out at no extra charge. The small electric catamaran with a sun canopy is a great way to reach the little island beach.
For a panoramic view of everything, settle into a chair at the hilltop infinity pool. Nearby is the exercise room and spa.
In keeping with the non-glitz ambiance, architectural styles favor traditional Bahamian design with French doors, open kitchens, covered porches and beautiful exterior railings and detailing. Paint colors, artwork, fabrics and other features also reflect upbeat, island colors.
Estate lots of .9 to 1.6 acres selling from $1.75 to $3.9 million, may overlook the sea, beach and/or golf course offering stunning views from many aspects. Buyers will spend several million more building and furnishing their lofty residences with the approval of the architectural board.
Two-to-four-bedroom Plantation-and Bahamian Island-style cottages are staggered up a hill overlooking the sea and beach. With approximately 2,800 square feet, they are furnished in soft, island-inspired colors. Porches are long and wide, some leading down wide steps to the sand. Prices range from $2 to $3 million.
Twenty octagon-shaped cabanas with wrap-around screened porches are clustered in a grove of palms, palmettos and tropical flowers with views of the golf course. A path leads to the beach nearby. Prices for the cabanas are $375,000. Each is fully furnished and has a minikitchen with a sink, counter, cabinets, microwave and small fridge. Although but 650 square feet, it may be the least expensive way to buy into a very exclusive community.
Each cottage is supplied with a club golf cart to take you wherever you want to go on the property.
Memberships in the Abaco Club include reciprocal priviledges at all other Southworth properties in Massachusets, New Hampshire, Virginia and Scotland. Initiation fees range from $5,000 for a Social Membership and $10,000 for a non-resident International Membership to $100,000 for a Full Membership; Dues range from $1,890 to $12,075. Theabacoclub.com
Southworth Development is committed to a multi-million dollar renovation of the property. A new marina in Little Harbour with 44 berths and boathouse is in the works and plans are underway to establish a market place near Buster’s Beach Bar while a new clubhouse is on the drawing board.
Exciting news for owners and visitors is the strong possibility of a Web.com tour event in 2017
Direct flights (about 40 minutes) are available between Marsh Harbour and several Florida gateways including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Direct flights are also available from Atlanta on Delta Airlines. And of course you can come by boat.
“Not the least of golf’s powerful attributes is that it affords access to some of the most beautiful place on earth,” says Steel. He should know. He and Mackenzie helped place the Abaco Club on Winding Bay on that elite list.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?