In the middle of winter, there is not a more appealing boarding pass than one that says your final destination is a Caribbean island.
That first blast of warm seaside air when you step on the tarmac, the first sip of an island-inspired cocktail with a little umbrella in it or the zing of island seasoning on some local fare are all special treats that golfers -- especially those in the North -- dream about for nearly half a year.
In St. Kitts and Nevis -- a twin-island destination just a quick flight southeast of Miami -- this kind of romantic experience with your surroundings is offered up 365 days a year. So it's no wonder when you get there, you never really want to leave.
St. Kitts and Nevis are authentically Caribbean in the sense that big developments, casinos or all-inclusive resorts haven't overtaken them. They believe in showing off their history and have made a point to promote local culture.
There are still beachfront hotels, sure, but you'd be hard pressed to find anything that resembles a North American chain restaurant, and the islands are idyllic escapes that are equal parts out-of-the-ordinary and a flashback to a simpler Caribbean time.
Its dining scene has also improved drastically over the last five years, with farm-to-table restaurants dotting the island, but there are also numerous traditional street food carts, which at first make people timid but are must-tries.
And then, of course, there's the golf scene, which may very well become the best in the Caribbean in the not-so-distant future.
Royal St. Kitts Golf Club
The first course built on the twin-islands was Royal St. Kitts Golf Club. Directly across the street from a very comfortable Marriott resort, the 18-hole Tom McBroom (a renowned Canadian designer) layout features gently rolling terrain and complex green sites, making it an enjoyable test.
With four sets of tee blocks ranging from 5,000 yards to just over 6,800 yards, golfers of all skill levels can tee it up at Royal St. Kitts. Despite a slightly pedestrian closing hole, Royal St. Kitts features what might be the most dramatic stretch of golf that I've played, starting on the par-3 15th.
The downhill signature hole of the course measures 163 yards from the back tees but plays much shorter than that. Club selection is at a premium, as it's likely you'll be dealing with a constantly changing wind blowing off Half Moon Bay.
The par-4 16th and 17th run along the ocean, and both feature delicate tee shots and testy approaches to well guarded greens.
There are a number of memorable moments at Royal St Kitts; the lone complaint being that the conditioning is less than ideal due to a water shortage on the island.
That said, the mature palm trees, tremendous visuals of bright-colored homes along the hill adjacent to the course, and the fact that you have views of both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on the golf course -- combined with that intoxicating feeling of salty ocean area caressing your face -- more than makes up for that.
Four Seasons Nevis
After a 20-minute yacht ride from St. Kitts through crystal-clear water to Nevis, you'll arrive at the Four Seasons resort, a stunning (albeit $1000-a-night, at the low end) resort complete with all the amenities one desires when escaping the whirlwind of modern life.
The Four Seasons Nevis golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. in 1991, features 18 holes full of character. The dramatic course has 400 feet of elevation, and that's no more evident than on the par-5 15th, the signature hole on the course that features a 150-foot drop from tee to fairway.
With four sets of tee blocks, the course also is friendly to golfers of all levels, and with low levels of play (approximately 8,000 rounds in a year), the course is able to maximize its championship appearance.
Irie Fields Golf Club and Christophe Harbour Golf Club
Two other courses on the main island of St. Kitts are in the works now and should be completed in the next 18 months, both by renowned architects and both with the opportunity to become top courses in the world.
First is Irie Fields at Kittitian Hill -- an "organic" resort that is equal parts stunning and sustainable. It's a par-71, 18-hole layout designed by Masters champion Ian Woosnam. A handful of the holes are fully completed, and the layout is all done. The management is just waiting for it to grow in and get the last of the funding they need to open the course. The resort is open for guests now, though.
It offers tremendous views across the sea to the islands of St. Barths and St. Martin, while golfers will find organic crops and trees filled with fresh fruit, instead of the usual foliage food on golf courses. It will truly be a unique -- and tasty -- experience.
On the opposite side of the island is Christophe Harbour Golf Club, a marina, resident club and premium housing development complex, where a golf course designed by Tom Fazio is set on a hillside, with equal views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Set more than 500 feet above the sea, with a panoramic view of green hillsides and pristine water, Fazio said the course will be "the best of the best" of Caribbean golf courses.