Bermuda’s Fairways to Heaven

Port Royal Golf Course will host the PGA Tour's Bermuda Championship Oct. 31-Nov. 3. (Image: Bermuda Tourism)

Port Royal Golf Course will host the PGA Tour’s inaugural Bermuda Championship Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2019. (Image: Bermuda Tourism)

Bermuda is renowned for its pink-sand beaches, turquoise waters and refined atmosphere. Just as unforgettable are Mid Ocean, Port Royal and the other golf courses on an island of almost celestial beauty.

 

(Last updated July 2019.)

“You go to heaven if you want to,” Mark Twain famously said of Bermuda. “I’d druther stay here.”

Founded in 1609 by survivors of a British shipwreck, Bermuda has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most beautiful and civilized places on Earth. Sailboats and luxury yachts dot the harbour at Hamilton, the bustling capital, where colonial-style houses topped by stepped roofs to collect rainwater are painted in a palette of pastel colours. Oleander, frangipani, bougainvillea and hibiscus scent the warm breezes of the Gulf Stream.

High season in Bermuda, located roughly 1,000 kilometres east of the North Carolina coastline, runs from April through October. But many Canadians visit during the sub-tropical island’s more temperate winter months, when daytime highs average just below 20 Celsius, room rates are reduced, and tee times at top courses are readily available.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain: An early Bermuda booster.

Though just 54 square kilometres in size, Bermuda is remarkably rich in world-class golf courses. The sport has been a major tourist draw since the 1920s, when  Mid Ocean Club opened at Tucker’s Town, on the eastern side of the island.

This superb Charles Blair Macdonald design is where Bermuda’s elite take their divots. Billionaire Ross Perot and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg own houses in the rolling hills overlooking the golf course. Another member, movie star Michael Douglas, became a local hero in the aftermath of Hurricane Fabian in 2003 when he used his private jet to deliver chain saws and generators, then stayed for a week to help in the cleanup.

Remodelled with restraint and good judgment by the great Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1953, Mid Ocean offers risk-and-reward golf at its best as it winds 6,520 yards through rolling inland countryside before ending dramatically with a par four that skirts the bluffs overlooking the sea.

At Mid Ocean’s daunting 433-yard par-four fifth, where the fairway bends around a lake that is widest on the direct line to the green, Babe Ruth once stubbornly put a dozen balls in the water before finally hitting a home run.

Found next door to Mid Ocean Club is Tucker’s Point Golf Course, a Charles H. Banks design opened in 1932 featuring sweeping views of Castle Harbour and Harrington Sound. Redesigned in 2002 by Roger Rulewich, the former chief designer for Trent Jones Sr., the 6,491-yard course is a thrill ride of leaps and plunges through the often-severe terrain at luxurious Rosewood Bermuda resort. Re-launched in April 2018 following a $25-million renovation, the 88-room resort includes the largest private beach on the island.

At Belmont Hills Golf Course, meanwhile, golfers pause to admire panoramic vistas of the Great Sound and Hamilton Harbour. Opened in 1924 as the Belmont Golf and Country Club, the original Devereux Emmet layout was completely redesigned in 2002 by architect Algie M. Pulley Jr. Today’s 6,100-yard course features multiple water hazards, tight fairways and a 14,000 square-foot double green.

Bermuda is even home to one of the world’s top-ranked par-three courses. Turtle Hill Golf Club, an 18-hole, 2,962-yard Theodore Robinson design, overlooks the Atlantic on the grounds of the towering pink 593-room Fairmont Southampton.

Two-time major champion Johnny Miller holds the course record (an amazing 49, which included a hole-in-one and two holed bunker shots) at a dramatically hilly and challenging layout that every March since 2010 has hosted the Grey Goose World Par 3 Championship. Open to men and women, professionals and amateurs, the two-day 36-hole tournament has grown in popularity and prestige with each outing.

Mid Ocean Club (Image: Bermuda Tourism)

A classic Charles Blair Macdonald design, Mid Ocean Club is where Bermuda’s elite take their divots.
(Image: Tourism Bermuda)

But the buzz these days is about the rejuvenated Port Royal Golf Course. In June 2019, the PGA Tour announced that Port Royal would host the new Bermuda Championship (Oct. 31-Nov. 3), held the same week as the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. The Bermuda Tourism Authority signed a five-year agreement (through 2023) as the event’s title sponsor.

This is Port Royal’s second go-round in the spotlight, having hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, a made-for-TV exhibition featuring the winners of the year’s four major championships, from 2009 to 2014.

Built in the 1960s by Trent Jones Sr. atop oceanside cliffs on the south shore, the government-owned course received a brilliant $15-million revamp a decade ago by Rulewich, who worked with Jones during the original construction.

Many of the inland holes feature elevated greens and tees to better showcase the scenery. Rulewich installed a new irrigation system, restored the original contours of the greens, and cut down more than one thousand trees to open up still more stunning ocean views.

Especially unforgettable is Port Royal’s signature 16th, a staggeringly gorgeous windblown par three clinging to a cliff high above Whale Bay that stretches to a heroic length of 235 yards from the back tee.

Twain had it right. With golf holes like this, heaven can wait.

 

Explore Bermuda After Your Round of Golf

Bermuda is renowned for its secluded and pristine pink sand beaches. Three of the best: Whale Bay, Astwood Cove and Jobson’s Cove.

Even more than golf, Bermudians love snorkelling and scuba diving. There are roughly 300 shipwrecks to explore in warm and clear waters offering reefs, underwater caves and an astonishing variety of coral and marine life.

In Hamilton, check out imposing Sessions House, the seat of government in Britain’s oldest self-governing colony since 1815. Note the distinctive terracotta-edged clock tower, added in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Opened in 1898, the Bermuda Botanical Gardens is an Eden-like oasis sprawling across 36 acres. Highlights include the palm garden (featuring native palmetto trees), and the flowering hibiscus garden.

A visit to Bermuda in 1980 inspired John Lennon to break out of a five-year writing drought and compose his Double Fantasy album, named for a flower he had seen in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. In 2012, his visit was commemorated with the unveiling of a steel sculpture placed in a raised flowerbed at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. The 4,000-pound installation by artist Graham Foster includes the outline of an electric guitar.

Towering 362 feet above sea level, Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse offers unrivalled views of the island and the surrounding Atlantic Ocean.

Bermuda’s national drink is the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, a beguiling blend of Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer. Uniquely and robustly delicious, Gosling’s black rum has been distilled on the island for over 130 years.

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