ANGUILLA - While most golfers are enjoying the views of Rendezvous Bay, Richard Schulze is often looking down while playing the new Aurora International Golf Club.
Schulze, who bought the former CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and renamed it the Aurora Anguilla Golf Resort & Spa, is obsessed with weeds. He searches for them whenever he's on his newly-renovated Greg Norman design.
Schulze, the former CEO of Best Buy and one of the world's richest men according to Forbes, has challenged his golf maintenance team to create conditions that would make Augusta National jealous. Every day, workers walk the course looking to pluck unsightly plant invaders.
Selling his shares as part-owner at Pebble Beach Resorts freed Schulze up to invest in his own version of golf paradise in the Caribbean.
"I want it to feel like Pebble Beach and play like Augusta National," he said.
Big dreams, sure, but Schulze has the wallet and motivation to get there. Owning a golf course and a steakhouse - which the impressive clubhouse turns into after dark - have always been atop his personal bucket list.
He's transforming the resort in the British West Indies into something special. The property sat neglected and aging after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017 and the former owner, Leandro Rizzuto, passed away that same year. Following a worldwide search, Schulze bought the 380-acre resort in December 2020 and has spent undisclosed millions of dollars to upgrade every square inch. He's added a short course, enhanced every room and suite on two different campuses and is currently building a water park for families and outdoor amphitheater to host concerts and events.
The Mediterranean-themed Aurora Anguilla has put the Caribbean's other top golf resorts on notice, aiming to set a new standard of conditioning, luxury and service. A grand opening party last November unveiled a bright future not only for the resort, but an entire island that will benefit as well.
Aurora Anguilla's Golf Courses
Could the third time be the charm for Aurora International? The original Norman design debuted in 2006 as the Temenos Golf Club and later became CuisinArt Golf Club. The most recent renovation laid down new turf on the fairways (Latitude 36 Bermuda) and greens (TifEagle Bermuda), enlarged the putting surfaces to their original sizes and removed tons of overgrown vegetation to open up the sea views, especially from the elevated first and 10th tees. Holes no. 2 and 10 share a 16,000-square-foot double green just feet from Rendezvous Bay and the Anguilla Channel.
Resort golfers have Schulze to thank for the playability of both Aurora International and the new nine-hole Avalon Links short course. Norman wanted wall-to-wall short grass on the big course much like his designs at Tiburon (where the ball often rolls into hazards and bunkers) and extensive bunkering on the short course to pay homage to Royal Melbourne. Schulze, a 15-handicap, talked him out of both choices.
Norman did win one debate where I approve. He wanted the short course to have one par 4, the 345-yard second hole. I like it because it's a difference-maker among all the new short courses being built these days. To be fair, Schulze's concerns about crosswinds blowing a beginner's errant drive into golfers on adjacent holes could be an issue on busy days but only on rare instances. It costs between $100-$150 to play.
Coral limestone-lined water hazards give the 7,165-yard Aurora International a clean look. Ever-present winds make the saltwater lagoons that come into play on 14 holes even more intimidating. Its four par 5s are demanding and memorable. "The par 5s are all world class," Schulze said.
The white clubhouse is just as grand as the course, which costs $185-$395 depending on time of day and if you are a guest of the resort. The second-story balcony is perfect for cocktail parties and events, while the open-air patio overlooking the 18th green serves lunch, dinner and drinks after the round at D Richards, the new steakhouse.
Schulze said the golf club already has 100 members, most of them local. He bought two private jets to help recruit more members looking to escape winters along the East Coast. The private jets depart from Westchester County Airport (WPN) in White Plains, N.Y. twice per week with Thursday and Sunday departures and returns. Commercial air service runs through Miami to the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport (AXA) just 15 minutes from the resort. Golfers can also fly to St. Maarten and take the 30-minute ferry ride to Anguilla, the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles.
A future forecaddie program and periodic use of the short course could eventually introduce many locals to golf for the first time.
The Resort Life at Aurora Anguilla
Aurora Anguilla, managed by Salamander Hotels & Resorts, has all the trappings of a modern five-star Caribbean resort. The main resort pool entices guests to jump in the minute they arrive in the lobby. A nice beach beckons, too, just a short walk away.
My beachfront suite - one of 178 on property - was among the largest and nicest I've ever stayed in, featuring a plush couch, desk, sprawling bathroom and a balcony overlooking the waves lapping the sand. If suites ranging from $899-$2,299 per night are out of your budget, the hotel at Merrywing Bay ($599-$1,399) offers more affordable rates and amenities more accommodating to families. This second "campus" will eventually be home to the one-of-a-kind entertainment center consisting of a waterpark, 500-seat amphitheater for live entertainment, and courts for sand volleyball, pickleball, tennis, basketball and bocce ball.
For larger groups, stunning three and five-bedroom villas, as well as 6,300-square-feet Estate Homes that include a dedicated butler and private pool, are even more private and luxurious options.
Guests can stay active by going on coastline hikes, horseback riding, kite surfing, boat racing or taking boot camp and yoga classes at the Sorana Spa. I went a different direction, relaxing with a massage instead. Much like the clubhouse, the 27,000-square-foot spa feels super-sized compared to the competition.
Seven restaurants range from the Kitchen Table for breakfast or family-style supper to the beachfront Eventide that serves local fare and Caribbean-inspired flavors. Long-time island favorite restaurant Tokyo Bay reopened last November after a renovation.
Beyond all the resort's glamour is what some guests might appreciate most in this day and age: sustainable practices and efforts to improve the island community, which suffered greatly during a prolonged pandemic shutdown. It's always a bit of a downer visiting any Caribbean island seeing the poor living conditions of the people who serve you with a smile. Schulze has raised wages of his 580 employees, increased training, donated an MRI machine to the local hospital, bought laptops for school children and is helping to open a neighborhood health clinic for the uninsured run entirely by volunteers.
The Farm, two hydroponic greenhouses that had to be completely rebuilt in the past year after significant hurricane damage, not only serves resort guests the freshest of fruits and vegetables, but also caters hot lunches for local school children in kindergarten through eighth grade. It's hard not to root for Aurora Anguilla, knowing what it stands for under its new leadership. It's come a long ways in a short amount of time and will only get better as more amenities come online.
"I’m proud of what’s been built," Schulze said.