Imagine being part of a gallery that trails legendary players such as Masters Winner Charl Schwartzel, U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy, Open Champion Darren Clarke and PGA Champion Keegan Bradley along the windswept, ocean cliffs in a match where four greats vie for a $1.35 million prize purse. Or, being up close and personal to witness the dramatic finish of the two-day PGA Grand Slam event when “Rookie of the Year” Keegan Bradley drained his final 5 foot putt to top off a stellar year. I was there and let me tell you it was a thrill of a lifetime!
Once again this year Bermuda and the Port Royal Golf Course and the Fairmont Southampton will proudly host the 30th PGA Grand Slam of Golf in mid-October. But whether you choose to visit this golfer’s heaven then or at another time of year, it’s a good thing that you don’t have to be a Major winner to play Port Royal.
Port Royal Golf Course was designed in 1970 by renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. and after a $15.9 million renovation in 2009 by Robert Rulewich, a Jones protégé, it was lengthened to 6,842 yards in order to host the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
This course definitely has a more ‘modern feel’ with a new computerized irrigation system, rebuilt TifEagle greens and professional Proangle sand. Without a doubt, it has been perfectly redesigned to support tournament golf and avid fans with wide fairways and big amphitheater greens. Even though holes #2 through #6 are relatively flat, for the most part this layout offers undulating terrain and dramatic ocean-side cliffs. Holes #7 through #9 have amazing ocean views but it’s the 10th green and 11th tee block that offer the best perspective of the entire course. Hole #16 is undoubtedly one of the all-time great par 3’s and is very reminiscent of the infamous Pebble Beach #7. At 142 yards from the whites (or 180 from the blues), you are faced with a daunting iron shot that hugs the edge of a coastal cliff and needs to carry across a chasm to a green that’s perched on a cliff jutting out into the ocean. If the wind kicks, up as it usually does, then your club selection could vary by 4 or 5 clubs. This is definitely a Kodak moment! This course was in perfect condition and is rated one of the worlds’ premier public golf layouts offering breathtaking tropical landscape, sweeping ocean vistas and one of the greatest holes in golf. $145USD for 18 holes plus $32 each for a power cart. But there is more…
In fact semi-tropical Bermuda has the highest concentration of golf courses per square mile in the world. As 2010 Grand Slam participant Martin Kaymer reportedly said “It’s like a paradise, playing golf in paradise” and I could not agree any more. Lying 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda is technically not an island but actually an archipelago comprised of seven main islands and many other smaller islands and inlets connected by bridges so you can imagine how wind and water come into play creating some of the most spectacularly scenic and challenging courses you’ll ever play.
During my brief visit I had the chance to play three other courses and I was not disappointed. Tucker’s Point Golf Club was originally designed by Charles H. Banks in 1932 and this 18-hole par 70 course has gone through numerous modifications over the years. The last time was in 2002 when Robert Rulewich revamped the course and replaced the greens with TifEagle Bermuda grass to make them faster while keeping the challenging elevation changes that the course is most famous for. The black tees are just a little under 6,500 yards but with a course rating of 72.1 and a slope of 134, I would highly recommend you swallow your pride and move up a set of tees since accuracy is much more important than distance on this course. The 13th and 17th are Tucker Point’s signature holes. #13 offers a panoramic view of the entire north coast and west end of the island while #17 has sweeping views of Tucker’s Town and Castle Island. You’ll find that the greens are large and that the course is well manicured offering stunning views of the turquoise sea. The course is private but allows visitors to reserve a tee time a minimum of 48 hours in advance. If you are a Tucker’s Point Resort guest green fees are $180USD otherwise they are $215 + $35 per person for a cart. Juniors are $50 (No charge when playing with an adult).
Mid Ocean Club is a private club that was designed in 1922 by Canadian born architect Charles Blair Macdonald and redesigned in 1953 by the legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones. This is a true ocean course that was home to the 2007 and 2008 PGA Grand Slam of Golf event and it consistently ranks as one of the finest in the world. Big greens, possible 35 mph winds and six par 4’s over 400 yards will definitely test your skill and patience. The first three holes run parallel to the ocean but the 3rd hole is probably one of the most picturesque on the island, a downhill par 3 that runs perilously close to the rocky cliff ocean shoreline. The 5th hole with Mangrove Lake in play all the way down the left side is a very intimidating hole, to say the least. Throughout the course, you’ll find plenty of bunkers to contend with but the sand is very consistent but be forewarned that the Bermuda rough or “snatch grass”, as I like to call it, will grab your ball and settle in or bury it. Mid Ocean is a private course that allows guests on Monday, Wednesday and Friday only. Tee times can be booked 24 to 48 hours in advance exclusively through To A Tee, Bermuda Ltd. for $305USD including cart fees.
Fairmount Southampton Golf Club is adjacent to the Southampton Princess Hotel and a great way to start your vacation or hone your short game. A scenic 18-hole 2,684 yard par-3 executive golf course with lots of elevation changes, heavily bunkered greens, numerous water hazards and great views of the aquamarine-coloured ocean. Green fees are $86 USD for adults and juniors are $56 including a shared cart.
Other golf courses in Bermuda that came highly recommended and I will be sure to play on my next visit are:
Riddell’s Bay Golf & Country Club
Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Club
Ocean View Golf Course
For a population of just around 65,000, Bermuda has so much to offer. Their hospitality is unmatched and besides the great golf, there are nine named sandy beaches and countless others, outstanding fishing, diving and yachting, a multitude of relaxing spas, plenty of boutique shopping and first-class restaurants to tempt you.
Bermuda is warmed by the Gulf Stream so the average temperature fluctuates between 68 to 85 degrees throughout the year, so it’s never too hot or too cold to play here. There is no rainy season and any showers that do pop up will quickly dissipate to allow blue skies to prevail so weather will not interfere with any of your outdoor activities.
I think 2011 Open Champion winner Darren Clarke summed it up best after competing in the 2011 Grand Slam Championship. “I was scheduled to play Valderrama next week, but I’m not playing now because I’ve decided that Bermuda is such a beautiful place that I’m going to stay on for a few extra days.”
For more information on other vacation packages in Bermuda you can visit their Department of Tourism website at www.GoToBermuda.com.