8 To Love - Golf in Bermuda
Go to Heaven if you want,” the celebrated 19th-century American novelist Mark Twain once said. “I'd rather stay in Bermuda.” The creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn knew a thing or two about the great outdoors, but while his tales tended to have an expansive setting, he also had a keen and critical eye for life's minutiae.
And Bermuda, a scorpion-shaped string of islands in the Atlantic some 650 miles east of North Carolina (four hours time behind the UK), is undeniably minute. However, like all great miniatures, the detail is magnificent. Bermuda has been described by a local writer as “a coral jewel set in a
turquoise sea.” If so, its eight golf courses are like emerald studs on a 22-square-mile coronet lined with rose-quartz pink beaches.
Travel writers making comparisons with jewellery deservedly lay themselves open to accusations of hyperbole, but when it comes to Bermuda some special pleading is in order. The elegance which characterises every facet of this astonishing place and the natural beauty which greets its visitors wherever they cast their gaze puts it truly in a class of its own.
Granted, though, like so many of the world's sumptuous
destinations, Bermuda does not come cheap, something in common with expensive gems.
As a member of the Commonwealth and host to more than 25,000 visitors annually from the UK, Bermuda bears many British hallmarks (like the population's love of football, rugby and cricket) even though it has been a popular playground with wealthy Americans for more than a century. Its culture is therefore best described as traditional – a pleasing mixture of colonial gentility (its seven parishes have quaint names like Somerset and Derbyshire), non-conformist reserve and Yankee conservatism, with a dash of calypso thrown in for good measure.
Yet from the rum-based ‘Dark ‘n Stormy' cocktails which help the evening go with a swing and the peerless fish chowder that sets up many a memorable meal to those eponymous shorts worn by the island's males almost like a uniform, Bermuda has its own distinctive flavour.
“Bermudians have a long history of hospitality and friendliness, and will go out of their way to make your visit just a little bit nicer,” says local hotelier and former minister for tourism, David Dodswell. Nowhere do those words ring truer than at the golf courses, most of which pre-date the Second World War and are a lasting testimony to the island's prolific fertility and temperate, year-round climate.
Perhaps the most prominent club on the island, where guests can generally only be introduced by a member, is MID OCEAN, laid out on the southeastern shore in 1924
by Charles Blair Macdonald (the celebrated designer of the National Links of America on Long Island) and updated in 1953 to its present length of 6,512 yards off the back tees by the late Robert Trent Jones.
Mid Ocean's setting is often compared with that of Turnberry and Cypress Point, but in reality few of its holes run hard by the sea. Its landscape is more a collage of valleys, crests, woods and shrubs than water, which is only intermittently a threat. Most spectacular of the three tees which are the exception to this rule is the 5th, where golfers have to decide how much of Mangrove Lake they are tempted to cut off as they drive towards a fairway which doglegs sharply to the left.
Mid Ocean and the rest of the island's courses are carpeted with Bermuda grass, the strong, sharp, broad-bladed greenery which has become a worldwide standard for durability wherever golf is played in a warm climate.
A near neighbour of Mid Ocean, and another with a stunning range of scenery, is TUCKER'S POINT, formerly
Marriott's Castle Harbour, which is undergoing a major facelift. The course was originally created by Charles H.Banks in 1931 and, like Mid Ocean, it was subsequently modified by Trent Jones. With its steep drops, banks and hills, it is easy to see why Castle Harbour was chosen to host a World Cup of Golf qualifying event in 1984. But when Marriott closed their hotel which overlooked the course
around five years ago, its condition quickly deteriorated as a new owner was sought.
Thankfully, the rolling 200-acre site soon attracted the attention of developers and a $350 million project is now well under way with the 6,361-yard,
par-70 course, extensively redesigned by a former colleague of Trent Jones, Roger Rulewich, as its centrepiece.
Currently under construction on the highest point of the property is a 5-star hotel and spa, while dozens of luxury villas and apartments are being built on various plots of land alongside the course. The only downside to this process of reconfiguration is that the start to a round is now relatively prosaic compared to Castle Harbour's breathtaking first tee, which used to look down on a shortish par-four with trees and shrubbery to the left and sand to the right.
The view in the near distance, past an elevated green, stretched across the eponymous Castle Harbour, over
Bermuda's international airport and through to the azure infinity of the Atlantic beyond. Fortunately, that original hole is still part of the course and now plays as the 17th.
It is unlikely that any such rearrangements will ever
be made at the delightful RIDDELL'S BAY, which juts
out into Little Sound on the island's southern prong.
Riddell's Bay, built in 1922 on a peninsular which
measures no more than 600 yards at its widest point,
stretches to barely 5,700 yards from the back tees but
its condition is immaculate throughout.
The part of the course which really sets the heart
fluttering, and the camera clicking, is the loop from
the 8th through the 12th. The 8th, a 360-yard parfour,
stroke index 1 and very much the signature hole,
doglegs sharply right around Little Sound and poses
the agonizing question of how much of the sea to cut
off with the drive. Take the brave line and stay dry and
you should be rewarded with a mere flick to the green,
but a telephone number score beckons should your
ball find a watery grave.
The 9th and 10th, shorter par-fours, both necessitate
accurate drives across apparently harmless yet
quite treacherous expanses of water. The 11th is a
short par-three across a valley, but it is the 12th, with
another carry over water to a sloping, tapering, tree-lined fairway, which really catches the eye. Set on a small flat promontory, the tee has a luxury villa backing on to it while the owner's motor-powered dingy is moored to the
right-hand tee marker.
Boats are an important part of the backdrop to an even shorter but no less manicured course, ST GEORGE'S, near to the picture-book 19th-century harbour town of the same name on the northeasternmost point of the island.
This Trent Jones creation, which is shoehorned into a tiny slither of land, measures just over 4,000 yards and, not surprisingly, ten of its holes are par-threes. But the standard scratch of 62 is as difficult to attain as any 72, particularly when a strong breeze blows off the Atlantic. The signature hole, the short par-four 14th with a carry of about 150 yards from an elevated tee across a harbour filled with yachts and launches to a diagonal fairway far below, provides another of Bermuda's classic golfing moments.
Apart from playing golf, visitors are strongly recommended to take a stroll around St George's, the island's original capital and a UNESCO world heritage site. Like the Dorset port of Lyme Regis, with which it is twinned, the overriding impression when entering St George's is of stepping two generations back in time, so meticulously are its buildings and appearance preserved.
The modern capital, Hamilton, is more geared to younger tastes with an impressive array of shops, bars and restaurants, but overall there is an innate conservatism about Bermuda which continually surfaces.
The speed limit is a sedate 22 mph and the island's pink sandy beaches are always spotlessly clean. McDonald's have been repeatedly turned down when applying to open a fast-food outlet in Hamilton and a proposed Jack Nicklaus project to build the island's ninth course, on reclaimed land at Morgan's Point near the historic Royal Naval Dockyards in the northwest, also failed to meet with official approval.
Just a couple of miles south of this site, at PORT ROYAL, is yet further evidence of the pervasive Trent Jones influence.
Situated in one of Bermuda's lusher corners, Port Royal measures 6,561 yards and is renowned for its well-bunkered and slightly elevated greens. Concentration and accuracy are the keywords for a round of golf here, with the sea occasionally lurching obtrusively into view. As is the case with each of Bermuda's courses, the signature hole is quite breathtaking. The par-three 16th measures 176 yards from a back tee, chiselled into the side of a cliff. With shrubbery lining the dry land to the right and the ocean yawning 100 feet below to the left, there is precious little room for a bale-out shot. The green, bunkered on both sides and viewed across a kaleidoscope of cliff-side heathers and gorses, is agreeably flat. Thank goodness we played it on a calm day.
Park Royal, which opened in 1970, is Bermuda's youngest course, but the changes recently made to the island's oldest 18-hole layout, BELMONT HILLS, have in effect produced a largely new layout. Golf was first played on Bermuda at Belmont, a mile or so east of Riddell's Bay, in 1915 and it quickly evolved into a typical resort course. It measured under 5,800 yards and had only one par-four longer than 400 yards but its calling card was the spectacular views it afforded of the capital's coastline across Hamilton Harbour.
Golfers invariably approach Belmont Hills – the original Belmont was designed by Emmitt Devereaux – expecting to devour it, and invariably discover they have bitten off more than they can chew. Numerous two-tiered greens, blind second shots and tight fairways
make it a subtle test, especially for good players who invariably find themselves embarrassed by missing green after green with a wedge in their hands.
Meanwhile, the resort hotel at Belmont, closed for the past six years, is at last being demolished and will be replaced in due course by a spanking new, state-ofthe-art, 5-star complex which the owners expect will open some time next year.
The only nine-hole course on Bermuda is OCEAN VIEW, which, like St George's and Port Royal, is government
owned. Set on the north shore near Hamilton, each hole has two tee positions to provide sufficient variety for an 18-hole excursion.
Despite stretching to fewer than 3,000 yards, Ocean View's rambling terrain makes it doggedly resistant to scoring, especially over a full round.
The final layout on Bermuda is the 18-hole par three course, designed by Theodore G. Robinson, the south of the island in the grounds of the luxurious FAIRMONT SOUTHAMPTON PRINCESS HOTEL. But hills on which it is built ensure both exposure to wind and a succession of exceptional views. And, with the holes ranging from the 110-yard 6th to the 216- yard 14th, every club in the bag will be needed.
Of late, the Southampton Princess has been closed, undergoing refurbishment, after suffering extensive damage
at the hands of Hurricane Fabian, which struck the island so viciously. At the time of writing, the hotel, which has more than 500 beds, is about to reopen and
Fairmont group are targeting a vigorous marketing campaign at both the USA and UK in the hope making up for lost time.
Golfing visitors who are relatively new to the game are advised to pitch up to the floodlit Bermuda Golf Academy, next door to Port Royal, to make use 40-bay driving range, chipping bunker and 18-hole putting green. Open from 7.30am to 10.30pm, academy, which was opened in 1996, offers professional tuition for players of all abilities.
Leaving aside the inevitable groans which references to the Bermuda Triangle always elicit from idyllic island's otherwise good-natured inhabitants, surely there can be few better places in the world golfers to lose themselves. Mark Twain, for instance, would have been happy to stay there for eternity.
All you need to know about... BERMUDA
WHERE TO STAY
HOW TO GET THERE
HOW TO GET AROUND
Tel: 00 1 441 236 6400
Fairmont Southampton Princess
Tel: 00 1 441 239 6952
Tel: 00 1 441 293 0330
Tel: 00 1 441 295 9093
Tel: 00 1 441 234 0974
Tel: 00 1 441 238 1060
Tel: 00 1 441 297 8353
Tel: 00 1 441 298 6970
Bermuda Golf Academy
Tel: 00 1 441 238 8800
A seven-night stay at either the Fairmont Southampton 00 1 441 238 8000 or Fairmont Hamilton Princess 00 1 441 295 3000 with Simply Golf Holidays 0161 233 0123; www.simplygolf.co.uk starts from £1,195 per person based on two people sharing a room.
The price includes return flights with BA from Gatwick, airport transfers and taxes, B&B, and unlimited golf at Southampton (buggies cost extra).
Also recommended: Cambridge Beaches 00 1 441 234 0331, a resort at Kings Point with cottage accommodation and a variety of beaches.
Other tour operators include: Prestige Holidays 01425 480400, Kuoni 01306 747008 and Sovereign Holidays 0870 607 0770
Centralised tee reservations for Ocean View, Port Royal and St George's
Tel: 00 1 441 234 GOLF
British Airways flights depart from Gatwick five times a week between June 7 and October 25.
Other airlines which fly to Bermuda include American Airlines via New York or Boston; Air Canada via Toronto or Halifax; Continental Airlines via Newark; US Airways via New York, Boston, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale and Washington DC; and Delta Air Lines via Atlanta and Boston.
A new Air Bermuda airline is expected to open in soon and operate flights from both the UK and Europe.
Cruises to Bermuda from the UK until October are also bookable through Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
Bermuda's environmental policy means it is not possible to hire a car. Mopeds or scooters can be hired, otherwise transportation is provided via taxis, a network of 11 bus routes and two ferry services.
For personalised transport with an official tour guide, contact Glenn Chase 00 1 441 234 7022/3076 firstname.lastname@example.org The main shopping centre is in Hamilton, the capital since 1815.
Opening hours are from 9am to 5pm, Monday-Saturday, and most shops are closed on Sundays
WHAT ELSE TO DO
The official currency is the Bermuda dollar. But US dollars, which are equal in value, are welcome everywhere
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Bermuda has two seasons - spring (November- March) and summer (April-October). Temperatures usually vary between 20-28 degrees Celsius
Sea fishing; sailing and water sports; diving to look at shipwrecks; beach combing; visiting the magnificent Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo which dates from 1926; exploring numerous smaller museums and galleries; looking round the island's ubiquitous churches; indulging in spa treatments; bird watching; clambering up Gibbs Hill lighthouse; getting married (no blood tests or certificates required); popping into a pub like the Frog & Onion in the Royal Naval Dockyard; checking up on your offshore bank account.
For further queries: Contact Bermuda Tourism 020 8410 8188 or www.bermudatourism.com or Bermuda Golf Association 00 1 441 295 9972