Blue Shark Golf ClubFEATURE STORY

O Canada is the new anthem of Bahamian golf real estate

By Chris Baldwin,

NASSAU, Bahamas - This country all but closes down on Sundays as Bahamians fill churches, but for longer than most anyone can remember, the object of true unbridled worship has been the U.S. dollar.

Even today when many deride America's dollar for being about as strong as a canary with a broken leg, the Bahamas continues to tie its currency to Uncle Sam. A Bahamian dollar always equals a U.S. dollar in a 1:1 ratio by law.

Which surely makes guys like Gene Fraser happy. Fraser is a top official with the Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan that first purchased a sprawling South Ocean development on the Bahamas' most-populated island that's recently seen the completion of a new Greg Norman course, Blue Shark Golf Club, and includes plans for lavish hotels, a casino and a marina.

It's good to be flashing those funny-looking Canadian dollars on the islands these days. Thanks to the U.S. dollar's fall and the Bahamas' lockstep tie to it, a Loonie's never been worth so much. And when the figures stretch into the multi-millions, the savings over years past become very striking very fast.

No wonder it's suddenly hip for Canadian investors to target the Bahamas.

New South Ocean DevelopmentThe New South Ocean development is the most obvious golf-centric example. Elaborate architectural drawings of New South Ocean show a sprawling marina filled with luxury yachts, hotels, restaurants and homes in a development around Blue Shark, which has already been completed and shown to the media in a preview play.

Roger Stein, a New York real estate developer, emerged as the vision man behind the project, but the Canadian pension fund made the initial purchase of the 400-acre site before just recently selling off the land to the New South Ocean Development Company and Stein. Stein, the master developer, credited the Canadian group at the media day.

That's becoming a familiar story in the Bahamas specifically and the Caribbean in general.

Greg NormanGreg Norman - the former No. 1 player in the world turned global business tycoon - has watched this trend up close. Norman first started coming to the Bahamas 25 years ago when even Nassau was much quieter and the outer islands (there are 700 islands in the Bahamas) stood largely untouched by Western hands.

Norman witnessed the explosion of U.S. development. Now, he's seeing the Loonies and Euros roll in.

"You're seeing the influx of not just U.S. dollars but European dollars," Norman said.

Think the Canadian dollar's strong in the Bahamas right now? Check out the Euro.

While a number of U.S. companies are backing away from making major purchases with naturally skittish shareholders near apoplectic at the moment, Canadian and European developers are swooping in.

"I think it's apparent there is still enormous potential in the Bahamas," Fraser said. "There was nothing like this on this whole side of the island."

Fraser is talking about the casino, hotels and high-end restaurants. But he could have just as easily been referring to the golf. There are less than 30 golf courses in the Bahamas' entire 700-island territory. That includes just four, with the new Blue Shark, on New Providence (which encompasses both Nassau and Paradise Island).

This gives the Bahamas something of an Old Wild West feel to golf course speculators.

"There are not too many places in the developed world where you can be one of the only courses in town," Norman said. "Here, you can be the only course on an entire island."

That's why the bus taking VIPs and golf travel writers from Blue Shark back to a downtown Nassau hotel was filled with Canadian accents. If it seemed like half of Toronto showed up for a premier party that included ice sculptures, hand-rolled cigars and a fireworks display that many mid-sized cities would envy, there's good reason.

Besides the fact that it was near 70 in the Bahamas while it was in the 20s in Toronto.

Toronto suits see gold in these undeveloped beach land lots. Or at least a heck of a return on a lot of those Loonies.

On the other end of New Providence, Atlantis Resort - a theme-park worthy casino land complete with its own marina - charges $495 per night for its worst rooms. And the vacationers keep coming, many of them off the mammoth cruise ships that dock off downtown Nassau.

"Did you know Michael Jordan has a place on Paradise Island?" someone called out in the back of that Canadian-filled bus.

"Forget that, we have to get Wayne Gretzky to move into South Ocean," the shot back came.

Canada has found Bahamas golf real estate. The rules are changing. Right along with the waterfront.

February 20, 2008

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.

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