TUCKER’S TOWN, BERMUDA | Bermuda may be a small nation, a fishhook-shaped collection of islands only 21 square miles in size with a population of just 70,000 people. But more than a dozen visits have shown me there is a lot to love about that retreat just 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
For starters, Bermuda is the place where I proposed to my lovely wife one sultry June evening not so many years ago, on the moon-drenched beach at Church Bay. It is also where the folks at Gosling’s make my favorite rum, known as Black Seal. The ebon elixir not only tastes awfully good on the rocks with a squeeze of lime but also mixes brilliantly with ginger beer to make the essential island drink – a Dark & Stormy.
Settled in 1609 by shipwrecked English colonists bound for Jamestown, Va., Bermuda is an overseas territory that exudes a decidedly British feel. I like that Queen Elizabeth II is still considered the official head of state, and that businessmen wear shorts and knee socks to their offices. Members of Parliament don white wigs whenever they enter the Senate or House of Assembly, and afternoon tea is served throughout the island nation each day at four o’clock. Yet, Bermuda also boasts strong social and cultural influences from other parts of the world, primarily Africa, the Caribbean and Portugal, giving it an overall ethos as beguiling as it is diverse.
I also like how many of Bermuda’s beaches are iridescent pink, thanks to the bits of sea invertebrates like coral, clams and sea snails that have been crushed and ground by waves that constantly beat against its shores. And I can never stop gawking at the vast waters surrounding it, some swathes aquamarine in color and others azure, brownish clusters of reefs visible just below the surface.
Then, there is the golf. Bermuda has plenty of it. In fact, the territory has more layouts (seven) per capita than any place on earth. The courses combine great design with first-rate conditioning, ever-present winds and jaw-dropping vistas to make Bermuda as enjoyable a place to tee it up as there is. Whether you are carrying an engagement ring with you or not.
The crown golf jewel in Bermuda is the Mid Ocean Club outside Tucker’s Town, which was once a small farming and fishing community but is now a second-home community whose residents include New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ross Perot.
Designed by the great Charles Blair Macdonald and constructed by his protégé, Seth Raynor, Mid Ocean is a par-71, 6,548-yard masterpiece with stylish renditions of the great golf holes of Europe and the British Isles. Like the par-3 third, an awesome Eden with the green perched on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. And the 13th, which may be the best version of a Biarritz that Macdonald and Raynor ever created. It requires a 240-yard tee shot to clear the characteristic swale and get to the middle of the massive, well-bunkered green. And then you have to putt.
Mid Ocean opened for play in 1924, and the story of its founding is as delicious as its routing. It begins with one of the owners of a local steamship company looking at golf as being a way to help develop Bermuda and asking Macdonald to accompany him on a trip there to see about building a course. Macdonald was keen for an overseas job at the time, in large part because he and his golf friends needed another place they could tee it up, and drink after their rounds. Prohibition, you see, had just taken hold in the States, all but closing down their favorite 19th holes. In time, the developers found suitable land for the course, and Macdonald and Raynor drew up plans, needing two years to complete construction.
Mid Ocean quickly became a favorite among discerning golfers and has attracted its share of luminaries over the years, including Dwight Eisenhower, the Duke of Windsor and Babe Ruth. Ruth famously hit 11 golf balls into the water one day trying to drive the par-4 fifth hole. Winston Churchill also visited Mid Ocean, but being a non-golfer, never made it onto the course. He did, however, visit the clubhouse bar on a couple of occasions.
Next to Mid Ocean is another wonderful track at the Tucker’s Point Golf Club. Originally laid out in 1932 by another Macdonald disciple, Charles Bank, it was deftly revamped a decade ago by Roger Rulewich, once the lead designer for Robert Trent Jones. The par-70, 6,491-yarder features some fabulous downhill tee shots from coral rock outcroppings that are fun to play no matter where your drive ends up. Roosters and chickens scratch for food along the edges of the fairways, while colorful stands of oleander and hibiscus rustle in the breeze.
The setting is so enchanting that when I admire the stretches of ocean and clusters of traditional Bermuda homes laid out before me, their stepped roofs painted white and walls soft pastels, it feels as if I am hitting into a Winslow Homer painting.
It is only a 30-minute cab ride from Tucker’s Point to another Bermudian golf gem, Riddell’s Bay, which is located in Warwick Parish in the southwest. As compact as it is convivial, the par-70 layout designed by Devereux Emmet is tight, tidy and scenic, like the island nation itself, measuring a mere 5,854 yards from the back tees.
A little farther down the South Road is Port Royal, which opened in 1970 and was recently restored by Rulewich. Owned by the Bermudian government, it boasts several seaside holes that would fit in nicely at Cypress Point, especially the par-3 16th, which hugs the water. The par-71 course also has a bit of heft to it, playing more than 6,800 yards from the back tees, and is so well regarded that it has hosted the last two PGA Grand Slam’s of Golf – and will host that silly season event again in 2012 and ’13.
To be fair, the quality of Bermuda golf falls off somewhat after that quartet. But no player would ever tire of teeing it up on those four tracks during a visit there.
I sure don’t.