The same care was brought to the golf course at Apes Hill. The back nine officially opens after Christmas but has been playable for a while now, and it is as spectacular as anything in the Caribbean. The par-3 12th hole is a jaw-dropper, sitting astride a notch of land 900 feet above sea level. The sweeping view straight ahead is of Barbados's rugged east coast and the churning Atlantic. Turn around and the vista is of the white sand and gentle waters of the Caribbean. Then it's time to get refocused on the shot at hand, 223 yards steeply downhill, all carry, usually into a headwind. Ensuing holes are just as memorable—the drive on the par-4 13th is framed by massive rock outcroppings and untamed jungle, while at the 14th, another stout two-shotter, the fairway bends through 27 towering queen palm trees. And yet it is the 16th that is destined to be the most photographed hole on the course. It is a 190-yard par-3 set in a natural cay amphitheater, with a green sitting next to a massive cave and the Caribbean visible in the distance. All of these holes have a sense of seclusion and serenity, as no homes will be built around them. Real estate makes the money at a place like Apes Hill, but Jeff Potts, the course's lead designer, says, "Golf gets first choice of the land in this company. Always. If real estate wants us to do something, and we think it's going to hurt the golf, we go to Jerry, and he always supports us."
This sense of collaboration and compromise is part of Landmark's culture, and it is made possible because the company is increasingly doing its course design in-house. "Nobody has spent more money on big-name architects than I have in the past," says Barton. "Frankly, it's done mostly for marketing. The intensity of the project demands continuity. Whether it's Pete [Dye] or Jack [Nicklaus] or Greg [ Norman], it takes two years to build a course, and they're there for only 20 days. Better is more important than marketable. Once somebody plays a course, all that matters is how good it is. They don't care who built it."
Barton's obsession with getting the details right is why he was chosen by Sir Charles Williams to develop the land that he had been sitting on for decades. Sir Charles is a success story not unlike Barton, in this case a one-time farmer who has gone on to build the largest construction company in the Caribbean. The polo field near the Apes Hill entrance is his playpen; Williams keeps hundreds of horses on Barbados and regularly competes internationally, including in occasional games with his old polo buddy, Prince Charles. Apes Hill has tremendous name recognition among the well-heeled of England because Williams sponsors a polo team there that Prince William and Prince Harry regularly play for. At 75 Williams remains a hard-charger on the polo field, but even he is impressed with Barton's drive. "If I have a criticism of Jerry—no, not criticism, an observation—it's that his three serious hobbies are work, more work and still more work," says Williams. "The man is incapable of flippant conversation."
Barton does not deny that he is fanatical about making up for lost time. "There are certainly easier ways to make money than developing golf course communities, but nothing is as gratifying to your narcissistic self," he says. "You get to look at an area like God does—you get to determine how people are going to live there for the next 100 years. That's why all the big egos get into golf course development, because it's so appealing."
More than a few of these dreamers got in over their heads in the go-go '80s, when S&Ls seemed to be giving away money. Twenty years later, when credit was again a little too easy to come by and housing prices seemed like they would never stop climbing, many would-be visionaries began golf developments that are now failing amidst a global economic disaster. Barton has lived through both crises, and against all odds he is now poised for a triumphant final act of his career as a developer. Relaxing on his jet on the way home from Barbados, en route to chasing another deal, Barton had no trouble taking the long view. "If I've learned anything," he said, "it's that if you stay in business long enough, everything comes full circle."
For Alan Shipnuck's Hot/Not column, go to GOLF.com.