Golfers might be forgiven for thinking Bermuda is all about colorful shorts, a sun-loving strain of grass and a mysterious triangle. But this 21-square-mile British colony has eight oceanside golf courses that are as easily accessible as Florida for most travelers: Bermuda’s six connected islands lie 770 miles southeast of New York City and 650 east of North Carolina. And unlike the Sunshine State, there’s not a theme park or retirement village in sight.
Another thing you won’t see much is suits. Many businessmen don the island’s unofficial uniform: knee-length shorts and black stockings–tradition adopted in the 1840s from British soldiers, who had cut their pants to keep cool.
Bermuda’s volcanic terrain isn’t an ideal canvas for golf, but the charms that drew writers and artists such as Mark Twain and Georgia O’Keefe also lured architects like Charles Blair Macdonald and Devereux Emmett. It wasn’t just pink-sand beaches and jaw-dropping views: During Prohibition liquor flowed freely here.
The fishhook-shaped main island is narrow enough–not wider than two miles across–that almost every course offers views of the Atlantic. That’s as true of the muni Ocean View Golf Club as of the exclusive Mid Ocean Club. And unlike in the U.S., private doesn’t mean inaccessible in Bermuda. Even members clubs will welcome visitors on certain days. Have your hotel call to arrange tee times.
There’s only one resort here where golfers can stay and play: the 593-room Fairmont Southampton, an iconic pink behemoth perched on the cliffs at the southern curve of the main island. The hotel has an entertaining 2,684-yard, 18-hole executive course that bobs and weaves through steep hills overlooking the ocean and the Great Sound. The greens are superbly conditioned and the constant breeze means this diminutive layout can serve as handy preparation for Bermuda’s regulation tracks. The Fairmont was renovated in 2003 (Hurricane Fabian had sheared off its roof) and is within 30 minutes of the islands’ best course: Mid Ocean, Tucker’s Point, Port Royal and Belmont Hills.
Port Royal is Bermuda’s longest track, a 6,561-yard Robert Trent Jones Sr. gem on the main island’s southern end. The views are so good that locals are only half joking when they refer to Pebble Beach as “the Port Royal of the West.” But there’s no snobbery with that attitude: Port Royal is about as stuffy as your local muni, with a very modest clubhouse and friendly staff.
Shutterbugs who like to snap photos during a round will find no shortage of distractions on the back nine. The 15th hole is next to the ruins of a naval battery fort while the 176-yard 16th is one of the islands’ most famous holes: Tee shots that fall short disappear into Port Royal’s version of the Bermuda Triangle–a gaping clifftop chasm.
The best course here is Mid Ocean, a 1921 Macdonald design that looks like a New England transplant, except for the flora. the 433-yard fifth wasn’t Macdonald’s first “Cape Hole”–that honor belongs to the 14th at National Golf Links in New York, for those keeping track at home–but it might be his toughest, a terrific hero-goat proposition. Cut off as much aqua as you dare on this dogleg left or face a long-iron approach to a narrow, foot-print-shaped green that is flanked by bunkers and heavily contoured. “If you don’t play this course every day, these greens can really give you headaches,” warns assistant pro Chris Garland.
The final pair of holes are stunning a 200-yard Redan-style par 3 into the prevailing wind, and a 421-yarder with bunkers to the left and a sheer drop to the Atlantic on the right. It’s no surprise that Mid Ocean is Bermuda’s answer to Bel Air Country Club: members include New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hollywood actor Michael Douglas (See “Resident Expert” sidebar for the Oscar winner’s visitors guide.)
Built in 1931 by Charles Banks, Tucker’s Point sits above the egg-shaped basin created by a volcanic explosion 100 million years ago. Banks used doglegs and blind shots to squeeze this 6,361-yard layout into the hilly terrain, but six new holes were built by Roger Rulewich in 2002 as part of a $12 million redesign of the course. Rulewich has softened its edges, with wider fairways and greens that don’t unduly punish errant shots. The track is fun and playable, with–no surprise–superb views over Castle Harbor and Harrington Sound.
Two back-nine par 4s take proper advantage of the landscape. The 425-yard 13th drops from an elevated tee to a tight fairway; miss it and you’ll have a hard time hitting a green fronted by a sprawling bunker. Redemption is possible at the 310-yard 17th, with its wide fairway and large, flat green.
Belmont Hills, a 25-minute drive southwest of Mid-Ocean in Warwick, is another Golden Age course that had an extreme makeover to turn Devereux Emmett’s nearly featureless design into a bumpy, heavily bunkered, 6,017-yard romp. The challenge is issued right at the start: The 318-yard first drops through a tree-lined corridor to a shallow double green that’s shared with the 10th. Bunkers and palm trees await go-for-broke golfers. The 167-yard 17th also plays downhill toward the Great Sound to a green that’s ringed with bunkers. Belmont’s renovation is ongoing. A lake was added to the front nine and another is being built on the back nine, a new clubhouse is in the works, and a hotel will be added in 2006.
A short drive down Middle Road, Riddell’s bay Golf and Country Club was built by Emmett in 1922, shortly before he crafted Congressional Country Club near Washington, D.C. It is the island’s flattest and shortest regulation course at 5,800 yards, with narrow fairways and tiny greens. The only trouble is on holes 8, 9 10 and 12, where you must flirt with the surf. Don’t expect to feel the adrenaline pumping anywhere else. Small changes were made to toughen this track, but even the introduction of three-inch rough last year stirred the members.
The public St. George’s Golf Course, on Bermuda’s northernmost point, is routed around the historic Fort St. Catherine, but its paltry length (4,043 yards) places it in the lower orders. Same with Ocean View Golf Course near Hamilton, a scrappy-but-charming 9-holer (2,940 yards) with the vistas its name promises. This is the best place to find a little Nassau action, especially on Friday afternoons when the locals blow off work.
As conservative as Bermuda is–topless bathing is illegal and there are no casinos–it has plenty of charm. Wearing shorts as business attire isn’t to everyone’s taste–and inadvisable unless you’re Andre Agassi–but the sedate pace of life, comfortable climate and quality golf is enough to distract you from the over-expose gams of the local corporate titans.