Bermuda is truly a golfers' Camelot
BERMUDA - The American colonists, heroes that they were, made a big mistake when they allowed England to hold onto Bermuda. Britain's oldest colony is a snippet of semi-tropical paradise just 600 miles off the North Carolina coast.
Warmed by the Gulf Stream to a temperate 68-84 degrees, Bermuda has no rainy season, just periodic showers. In short, it's golfing weather year-round on a Manhattan-sized island with nine courses - four championship layouts and a world-class par-3.
"Bermuda," said Mark Twain, is "the right country for a jaded man to loaf in." A pity he died in 1910, 11 years before the opening of the Mid Ocean Golf Club, the oldest and most famous of the island's golf offerings. Since that moment, loafing has played second fiddle.
Though the tiny island has no room for additional golf courses, it does have room for changes to keep it competitive with golf destinations throughout the world. The Belmont Hotel Golf & Country Club's (441-236-6400) Devereaux Emmet layout is undergoing a complete remake and will reopen in late 2003.
But the biggest change is happening in Tucker's Town, the island's most affluent residential area. Tucker's Point, a $250 million luxury resort, private club and community, is rising from the rubble of the famous old Castle Harbor Resort. The first residences were completed in 2002, and the hotel is expected to open in 2005. The man behind the development is Ed Trippe, whose father was the creator of the Cotton Bay Club, one of the most exclusive resorts in the Bahamas in the 1950s.
Plan to play the new Tucker's Point Golf Course (441-298-6910) before the hotel opens. The course likely will become "members-only" when all the pieces are in place. The Castle Harbour Course was an island favorite, with panoramic opening and finishing holes and a mélange of blind shots and unexpected angles. The scenery and terrain are still there, but Roger Rulewich (a former senior designer for the late Robert Trent Jones, Sr.) has crafted a different layout on this prime site, with new holes, more bunkering and extensive plantings. Dual signature holes, numbers 17 and 13, are positioned back to back - both with super views.
Rubbing elbows with Tucker's Point is the venerable Mid-Ocean Club (441-293-0330), a Charles Blair Macdonald design. The late Robert Trent Jones, Sr., revamped the course in 1953, but his son Rees Jones says the course is stamped with "Macdonald's attention to detail. It's a course with real character and style."
The American golfing pioneer had an enviable site atop bluffs overlooking the Atlantic "and used it to good purpose," says Rees. Six par fours are more than 400 yards, and one par three is 238 yards. Though the course has been touched by a few hurricanes since 1921, many of the trees are quite old, imparting a strong sense of history.
Mid-Ocean is a private club, but hoteliers can usually arrange a tee time. Plan on walking, for only players with health problems are allowed to use golf cars. Caddies are available. Winston Churchill walked the course, as did the Duke of Windsor, Presidents Eisenhower and George Bush (the elder), and Babe Ruth.
The Babe, so the story goes, lost a dozen balls trying to hit a tee shot over Mangrove Lake on the famous fifth hole, a 433-yard par 4. The fairway doglegs left along the far bank to a banana-shaped, sloping green. The challenge is to carry as much of the lake as possible to be in position for the difficult second shot.
Another private course that will require intervention by your hotelier is Riddells Bay Golf and Country Club (441-238-1060). On the grounds of Bermuda's oldest country club, the course has been in play since 1922. Occupying a peninsula only 600 yards wide, Riddells Bay is short (5,759 yards) and tight, with small, narrow greens, many of them perilously near the shore.
Port Royal Golf Course (441-234-0974), owned and operated by the Bermuda government, has been the most popular course in Bermuda since its opening in 1970.
"We had the luxury of land and water, which later courses did not," says Rees Jones, who helped his father, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., with the design. The 6,565-yard, par-71 layout stays green, thanks to one of the island's rare fresh-water wells. The sixteenth hole is a stunning par three with tee and green clinging to a cliff above the sea.
Another beautiful location belongs to the Fairmont Southampton Princess Golf Club (441-239-6952), on the hilly grounds of the luxury hotel. The course presents a thought-provoking variety, with several water holes and a capricious wind.
"Golf Digest has called us a premier course for par threes," says director of golf Bruce Sims. "It's a great test of iron play. When I play this course well, then I shoot the big courses well."
The St. George's Golf Club (441-297-8067) is another Robert Trent Jones, Sr., creation, a par-64, 4,502-yard course near the historic town of the same name. The layout occupies a windswept sliver of linksland where the wind rules. This is a good course to play if you're in St. George's, but it's a long taxi ride from Southampton or Tucker's Town. Tour Bermuda by bus and water taxi, or the pricier auto taxis. There are no rental cars on the island (to preserve air quality), so most tourists rent motor scooters (not advised carrying clubs).
Bermuda is not a land of bargains, but flights from the mainland are inexpensive and hotels large and small offer attractive golf packages.
Where to Stay
Bermuda has an incredible variety of bed-and-breakfasts, small inns, cottages, cottage colonies (with central facilities), small hotels and resort hotels of all sizes. The only Bermuda hotel recognized in Conde Nast Traveler's 2001 readers choice polls (and a gold list award winner in 2002) is the Pink Beach Club (800-355-6161, www.pinkbeach.com). The resort, which opened in 1947, upgraded most of its more than 90 spacious, well appointed rooms and suites in 2002. All but three open onto 1,800 feet of glorious private beach, so that you can enjoy a sunrise breakfast on your balcony or terrace. Pink Beach's adjacent Hidden Cove condominiums opened as well, expanding the lodging choices at this intimate resort. Service here is personal and sincere. From the moment you arrive, the staff members greet you by name - and you soon learn theirs. The cuisine is flawless, from the full English breakfasts to afternoon tea to the five-course dinners. Pink Beach is close to all the major golf courses and offers golf packages.
For a larger hotel experience that is beautifully suited for families, the Fairmont Southampton Princess (1-800-257-7544, www.fairmont.com) is an excellent choice. Occupying the island's highest point, the 100-acre resort has 593 airy guestrooms with private terraces or balconies overlooking ocean, harbor or golf course. The hotel fronts a beautiful beach with all watersports, as well as a full complement of land sports - including its world-class par-3 golf course. Several restaurants and lounges serve excellent and varied fare.
For greens fees and more course information, visit www.bermudagolf.org.
Other Points of Interest
• Royal Navy Dockyard - 1809 fortress turned entertainment and shopping complex.
• The Bermuda Maritime Museum - contains a trove of wreck salvage.
• Spittal Pond Nature Reserve - Take a self-guided walking tour to watch waterfowl and puzzle over ancient rock carvings.
• Hamilton - The historic capital city is a shopper's and diner's delight. See the sights from the plentiful horse-drawn carriages.
• St. George's - Rent a scooter for the ride to the second oldest English town established in the New World. Historic buildings, shops and a ship replica are the attractions.
• Spicelands Riding Centre - Leisurely horseback trail rides on the scenic south shore. For more information, call (441) 238-8212
• Snorkeling/Diving Excursions - Book a trip to the northwestern barrier reef through your hotel activities desk.
For maps and brochures of these and other attractions, contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism at (800) 223-6106 or visit www.bermudatourism.com
December 22, 2002