Foreign correspondence: Tee off with Jamaican history

Cinnamon Hill Golf Course in Jamaica. (Handout)

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Robbie Ames, 39, is director of golf at Cinnamon Hill Golf Course in western Jamaica ( is originally from Trinidad.

Q. Where is your course, and what does the area look like?

A. We're 15 minutes due east of Montego Bay Airport. It's typical coastal Caribbean, with a hint of mountain range close by. The course has a great combination of two nines: Some holes are on the edge of the Caribbean; others are 350 feet above sea level. The front nine plays hard and fast, links-style. The back holes go up the face of a mountain with a gentle climb, Cinnamon Hill.

The grounds have palms, coconut trees and some big redwoods — not the type in northern California; we call ours cotton trees. Dotted around the course are poinciana trees: lovely shade trees whose leaves turn orange more than once a year.

Q. Is this an old course?

A. It was designed in 1969 and rebuilt by Robert von Hagge; it's a resort course. Our main hotel on the property is Rose Hall Resort & Spa, a five-minute walk to the pro shop. We get a lot of our guests from the hotel, which is a Hilton; we also have a local membership — people who live in the Montego area.

Rose Hall, on the other hand, is centuries old. When it was bought in the '60s it comprised 7,000 acres. That includes the course and where the owner, Michele Rollins, lives. She's the 1963 Miss World USA who was married to the late John Rollins, a business magnate and former lieutenant governor of Delaware.

Q. Is she ever around?

A. Every month, for at least a week. I just came out of a meeting with her.

She has her own private place, but the great house — the old house, now a museum — is just a couple hundred yards behind the third tee box. The great house looks magnificent from the course, especially from the No. 2 hole. All of our holes are named; that one is called Annie's House.

Q. And that would be the notorious White Witch of Rose Hall who pops up in tales. …

A. Yes, Annie Palme, the White Witch of Rose Hall. She lived in Jamaica in the 1800s, was married three times, killed all of her husbands and countless lovers. Eventually, one of her slaves, Takoo, killed her. The place has supposedly been haunted ever since.

Q. That's commonly thought?

A. Absolutely. What's great about the course is that caddies serve as unofficial tour guides. It's just one of the things they'll talk about when they stand at hole No. 2. But there's so much other history on the course.

To the left of hole 14, for instance, is the Cinnamon Hill great house, where Johnny and June Cash lived for 30-plus years.

Q. Johnny Cash? A golfer?

A. He wasn't. But he would go to the driving range and then come home and say, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world! Look how many golf balls I found!"

When the Cashes left the house every winter, people from the driving range would go and get them back.

No. 15 is called Bond, James Bond Hole. The wonderful waterfall behind the green is in "Live and Let Die," the 1973 movie with Roger Moore.

The 17th hole is The Ruins. Back when this was a sugarcane plantation, a tall aqueduct carried water down from the hills to the flats. The ruins of it note the aqueduct was built in 1761. It's 20 feet off the back of the green.

It's a hard hole, by the way, a monster that will ruin your score. It was par 4 but I redesigned into a par 5 in 2008.

Q. I'd think with all that history, you get non-golfers wandering around the links.

A. Yes, we do. We also offer a 45-minute tour of the course for $20. We send you out with a guide to get a taste of the place.


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