Pink sand or not, Bermuda is warm and colorful with fine golf courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HAMILTON, Bermuda — On several trips to Bermuda, I've never seen any of those pink-sand beaches they always talk about, but then maybe I'm immune to the subtler shades.

Riddell's Bay Golf and Country Club
Riddell's Bay winds along a peninsula that is only 600 yards at its widest point.
Riddell's Bay Golf and Country ClubTucker's Point Golf ClubPort Royal Golf Club
If you go

In any case, Bermuda has everything else you would expect from a Caribbean island, except the fact that, technically, it isn't in the Caribbean. It's off the coast of the Carolinas, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Oh, and also all those colorful trees you see were shipped in from somewhere else. A blight wiped out all the prized Bermuda cedar trees decades ago.

This is an island that banned cars until 1946; even now only one car per family unit is allowed. Still, there are traffic jams, which you might expect on a 22-mile long island jam-packed with tourists and motor scooters.

But, these are quibbles.

Bermuda is warm and colorful, surrounded by turquoise waters straight out of postcards and travel magazines. It's hilly, giving you ample opportunity to gaze at the sun dancing off the ocean, either in the morning or late in the afternoon.

And the golf is pretty darn good, if you don't mind the fact you won't find any 7,500-yard behemoths here.

Must plays

Mid Ocean is the queen of Bermuda, opened in 1921 from a design by Charles Blair Macdonald, a golf architect's name if ever there was one. Macdonald is well known in the U.S. as well, with works like the National Golf Links in Long Island, the Chicago Golf Club and the Old White Course at the Greenbrier.

The golf course is located on the northeast part of the island, with a dramatic ocean backdrop, particularly on No. 1 and 18. It's set on undulating terrain and it features ponds, which you might falsely expect from Bermuda golf courses.

In any event, Mid Ocean has kept pace with its reputation as one of the world's highly-regarded courses. Be advised, it isn't cheap: green fees are above the $200 range, $100 when staying at the Mid Ocean Club or $70 when playing with a member. Caddies are extra, as are carts.

Port Royal Golf Club is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design with oleander-lined fairways, good elevation changes and colorful in that Bermuda way. Add to that the fact it's a public course, and now you have something. The course is relatively long for Bermuda, being such a tiny island and short on terrain, at 6,561 yards.

The par-3 16th steals the show. The course calls it its signature hole, and if you play it from the blue tees you'll see why. If you try it from the tips — and you should — you'll be hitting over the ocean and ravine. It's the Bermudian version of Pebble Beach. The green falls off in the back and on the left hand side to a rocky slope leading down to the ocean.

It's an excellent public golf course, one that you should make a point to play if you're on the island. It doesn't have the fancy trappings of the more exclusive private clubs, but it has a big-name designer, an imaginative layout and cheaper green fees.

Sold seconds

Riddell's Bay Golf and Country Club is another old Bermuda course, built back in 1922, back before they started building them in the hills to give tourists views of the ocean and bays.

The result is that the course is flatter, and the views — there are plenty — are more up close and personal. Located at the southern end of the island in Warwick, many of the views Riddell's Bay in fact are not of long-range vistas, but of small inlets with moored sailboats, their banners flying and the sun sparkling off that beautiful water.

The course plays through Bermudian flowers, blooming bushes and Australian pine, winding along a peninsula that is only 600 yards at its widest point. Nearly everywhere you look, there's that sparkling turquoise water again.

It's a short course, even for Bermuda, at a shade less than 6,000 yards and — let's face it — not all that difficult. It has some short, drivable par 4s, only one par 5 and a par of 70. The slope rating is a pussycat-like 121.

"I'll say forgiving," Assistant Pro Slaine Eve said. "It's very forgiving. It has its challenges, especially when the wind blows on the back nine, but coming in on 17 and 18 is pretty easy."

Tucker's Point Golf Club used to be known as Castle Harbour, with roots dating back to the 1930s. The golf course eventually came under some criticism for the way it had let itself go, but after Roger Rulewich, longtime student of Robert Trent Jones Sr., re-designed it, people are happy as lovebirds with it.

"Oh, I love it," said frequent visitor Chris Addieg, playing with Brian Looney on a late spring day. "I've played them all here, and I have to say I like this one the best."

That may be because it combines the classic beauty of Bermuda with some friendly golf. The course is best known for its views, especially of the aquamarine waters of Harrington Sound. The course is very hilly — the locals call it the "goat hill course" — which lifts you up to those uplifting Bermuda vistas. Many of the tee boxes and most of the greens are elevated, too, so that you can see all over the island and its surrounding, azure waters.

As for the golf, Rulewich, in his re-design, cranked up the bulldozer and flattened many of the fairways, with an aim toward losing the blind shots and awkward stances some folks found too difficult. He also added five new holes, 17 new tees, 20 bunkers and installed TifEagle Bermuda.

Many of the fairways slopes will tend to keep the ball in play, and the greens have more than their share of soft mounds to keep the ball on or near the dance floor. It's a resort course, intended to inspire awe with its views and par or lower with its contours, but there are still some blind shots, like on Nos. 3, 10 and 15.

Stay and play

• Elbow Beach overlooks the waters of South Shore and close to the capital of Hamilton. The property has 235 rooms including the main building and cottages, all set among 50 acres of gardens that slope down to the beach, which is reserved for guests. Most of the rooms have ocean views.

The main building is more than 90 years old, painted a classic Bermudian shade of yellow, and houses a restaurant, Veranda bar, cigar room, shops, function rooms and a business center. Butler service is available.

There is a spa, which has six, self-contained suites, with granite soaking tubs, bamboo flooring and river pebble-lined steam showers.

• The Pompano Beach Club is a smaller, boutique property. It has cottages, many of them brand new, with terrific ocean views that look like they've come straight from a magazine ad. The owners here are extraordinarily friendly, calling almost all their guests by name.

The spa at the property has all sorts of things they do to you to get you to chill. There are seven types of massage, including chocolate aroma, and lemongrass stress relief. There are body treatments, including the "tutti-frutti salt glow scrub," the "micro buff body polish," and the "serenity mud wrap." If you're not limp by then, they also have baths, like the whipped milk bath and mocha milkshake bubble bath.

• The Reefs is also a smaller property, though larger than the Pompano. It also offers ocean-view cottages, located close to the clubhouse. Each cottage suite has its own "garden setting" with private patio and Jacuzzi.

Dining out

Elbow Beach will do nothing if not feed you; there are no less than seven places to eat and/or drink.

The Seahorse Grill has fine dining, including prime, dry-aged Angus steak dishes. The Veranda Bar, just off the lobby, is Bermuda's first rum bar, Blue Point is a poolside grill, Lido, located just above the beach, has a Mediterranean influenced menu, Mickey's Beach Bistro and Bar is on the beach and serves more casual food, the Sea Breeze Terrace offers cocktails and Deep is the nightclub.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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