Pictured above: Mid Ocean Club
Matt MacKay / Golf Away Tours
Bermuda is one of those destinations that everyone has heard of but few have true knowledge of, causing many assumptions to be made. Most people know that’s it’s a tiny island ‘way out there’ but it’s assumed that it lies in the Caribbean, rather than its position due east of the Carolina’s. Most people assume it’s a long trek to get there, despite the short and direct Air Canada and WestJet flights that depart Pearson for Bermuda eight times weekly. Perhaps most importantly, the assumption is that Bermuda is, to quote former Leafs coach Randy Carlisle, just an ‘ok’ golf destination, when in fact Bermuda is a bona fide world class golf destination. On a recent tour of the island, I was lucky enough to have all of my assumptions shattered.
Who knew you could get to a civilized former British colony loaded with interesting history and more golf courses per capita than any other place in the world, in less time than it takes to get to Orlando?! That’s right, just over 2 hours, tarmac to tarmac from Toronto to Bermuda…the movie credits are just starting to roll as you catch your first glimpse of the rocky coastline peeking up over the crystal blue ocean. To me, it’s surreal whenever I fly to a far-flung place in the time it takes some people to commute to work, but Bermuda takes that feeling to a new level. Even better, within 20 minutes of landing you have cleared customs, hit the Duty Free for a couple litres of $13 Goslings rum and are hopping into a waiting taxi. Taxi isn’t really the right word for the omni-present vehicles. They are more like ambassadors on wheels, full of helpful advice and recommendations. It’s like having your favourite aunt or uncle drive you around. Because the island does not permit rental cars, taxis are a very important aspect of the tourism product in Bermuda. Braver souls can rip around the island on a scooter but that’s tough to do while carrying a golf bag.
At Golf Away Tours, the most important element of a great trip is the golf. Having a keen interest in golf architecture, I was well aware of Mid Ocean Club, designed by Charles Blair Macdonald, the man who studied the best holes in the UK and used them as templates on all of his courses. And I knew that Port Royal GC had hosted the PGA Grand Slam the last few years, but other than that I was skeptical that an island with 6 golf courses could satisfy a golf fanatic for five days. I was happy to find out other otherwise.
At the Rosewood Tucker’s Point Resort (which is a 5*, first class place to stay) there is the Tuckers Point Club, an old Charles Banks design that has been updated through the years to provide a stern test of shot making through the hills and valleys of the oceanfront property.
Riddell’s Bay is a very friendly club that has a similar feel to some of the better private clubs in the GTA. It is an easy walk and full of interesting holes with small greens protected by angled bunkering, highlighted by the incredible par-4 8th hole that plays around a rocky cape. At 6,000 yards, it may seem short on the card but is more than most can handle when the wind picks up.
Turtle Hill is located at the fabulous Fairmont Southampton and is one of the world’s best par-3 courses. In fact, it is the host of the World Par-3 Championship this month. Every hole has views out over the ocean and tee shots need to be precise in order to hold the small, well-protected greens. If your golf game is not cooperating, the Fairmont Southampton has a wide array of other activities including tennis and snorkeling, and fine dining overlooking their private beach.
Sitting on the patio with a long view over the course and out to the ocean, it’s obvious you are in for a treat when you play Port Royal. The host of the PGA Grand Slam, the course gives you a few holes in the valley to get warmed up and then takes your breath away as you crest the hill to the 7th green. It seems you can see all the way home from that vantage point and it’s a good place to catch your breath before playing the par-3 8th, one of the most difficult holes in Bermuda. From there, the ocean is always in view, never more so than on the jaw-dropping par-3 16th perched on the edge of a cliff. It has to be one of the best ‘do-or-die’ holes in the world.
The granddaddy of them all in Bermuda is Mid Ocean Club. A fixture on world Top 100 lists, Mid Ocean is one of those courses where as soon as you step on the first tee you know you are somewhere special. Having played other C.B. Macdonald courses, it was fascinating to see how he applied the template holes from the great links courses of the UK, such as the Redan hole and the Biarritz hole. The course is very playable with relatively wide fairways but it is the challenge on and around the large greens where Mid Ocean leaves its mark. It is well deserving of its stature in the world of golf.
After playing such a varied and good group of golf courses, I was sad to be making the cab ride back to the airport. One of our mantras at Golf Away Tours for keeping clients happy is ‘no surprises’. In the case of Bermuda, I was pleased to be surprised by the ease of the entire trip and the outstanding golf we were able to play. Instead of long weekends to cottage country or ski hills, I may be hopping back to Bermuda in the future.
Matt MacKay is co-owner of Golf Away Tours, which offers personalized golf experiences to the best destinations in the world.