At PGA’s Grand Slam of Golf, Much of the Show Happens Off the Golf Course

August 18, 2014

A persistent wind and rain kept all but the most golf-bent Bermudians away from a soggy Port Royal Golf Course on Wednesday, as Adam Scott defeated Justin Rose, Jason Dufner and Padraig Harrington to capture the pink jacket at the 31st PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

It may be, as Dufner said, “the toughest tournament to qualify for,” but the Grand Slam is more celebration than competition. It gathered an elite field of recent major winners for a tropical, midweek, 36-hole exhibition in which Masters champion Scott eagled 17 en route to a course record 64 to pull ahead of U.S. Open champion Rose, but despite the swaying palm trees and spectacular ocean views, much of the show happened off the golf course.

After the first 18, Bermuda’s political, social and business elite donned Bermuda shorts and blazers to mingle with some of golf’s biggest names at the Champions Celebration at the Fairmont Southampton Hotel on Tuesday night. Craig Cannonier, Bermuda’s premier, welcomed the players like visiting dignitaries, and why not? With seven courses packed into its 21 square miles, Bermuda boasts the highest concentration of golf courses in the world. Its leaders are eager to reestablish tourism as a pillar of an economy otherwise dominated by a global reinsurance industry vulnerable to policy shifts in Washington, D.C., and golf — and scuba diving — are seen as its biggest attractions.

“Everybody plays here,” said one lifetime resident. “If you’re not underwater, you’re on the golf course.”

So Bermuda spoils major winners and their families with enough blue water, pink sand and square footage — Harrington joked that his suite is so spacious he could play soccer in it — to keep the PGA coming back through 2014 and earns the right to beam “Bermudaful” images of the archipelago around the world, whetting the travel appetites of TNT’s millions of viewers.

Nasty conditions turned a scenic seaside stroll into more of a battle than the players (and tournament officials) had likely hoped for on Wednesday, but the mood remained light. Players joked about the previous night’s festivities and discussed plans for the upcoming weeks. After all, Harrington, the fourth place “loser,” still cleared a $200,000 paycheck, and it appeared that everyone but Scott — who continued on his “long way home to Australia” a few hours after his record-setting victory — would stay on the island through the weekend.

“Now that the golf is finished, I will take more of the sights of Bermuda in,” said Harrington. “Please tell me it’s going to be sunny.”

Altogether, the spectacle reinforces the majesty of the majors as the sport’s most special pursuits, but with players and their fans all staying at the Fairmont Southampton, rubbing elbows rather than moving through a course on opposite sides of the ropes, the players seem, well, not unlike the rest of us. It’s their stories, not just their talent, that make them exceptional.

All the players agreed that winning just one major “changes your life.” Three-time major winner Harrington (who as the tournament’s defending champion replaced Open Championship winner Phil Mickelson in the field) called winning a major championship “a heavy burden,” with the increased pressure of heightened expectations, but for Scott and Rose, it was a burden lifted.

Since he holed the putt to become the first Australian to wear the green jacket, Scott has risen to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings, poised to secure his place among the next generation of elite golfers. When Rose locked up this year’s U.S. Open at Merion on Father’s Day, he pointed to the sky and shed a tear for his father and coach, Ken, who lost his battle with cancer in 2002. With his PGA Championship win at Oak Hill, Dufner emerged as golf’s instant everyman, someone who, as Dufner himself put it, people identify with “because they think I could be that guy they play with in their Sunday foursome.”

“It was neat to see everybody else's story,” said Dufner. “You kind of have a feel for it, being out here what guys are going through. Everybody's kind of struggled to win one of these majors and for the couple of guys that did this year that are here, it's pretty neat.”

So the PGA Grand Slam of Golf is but a victory lap around one of the game’s biggest playgrounds. Scott shot the lowest score and hoisted the trophy, but everybody had already won.