SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda -- I hadn't been in Bermuda longer than a day before realizing I'd packed for my golf trip entirely wrong.
The black golf shirt I was wearing while on the fairways of Tucker's Point should have been a pastel orange or pink. Later that day, when we attended the PGA Grand Slam of Golf Champions dinner, those in attendance wearing a sport coat with bermuda shorts and knee-high socks all seemed to be the best dressed with the biggest smiles on their faces as they held colorful cocktails in their hand, in all likelihood a 'Rum Swizzle,' a signature Bermudian libation. Silly me, thinking that gray slacks and a lager were the way to go on day one.
The Bermudian way of life is certainly a colorful one. An array of Hibuscus flowers and other flora bloom beside narrow, two-lane winding roads that make the girth of rural Scotland roads appear generous. The ocean's bright blue color with pink sand beaches allure around every corner. Maybe that's why you've never seen taxi drivers honk so politely.
'We 'toot' not to say 'get out of the way' but to say 'hello,'' explained our driver and tour guide for the week, Beldwin Smith, who seemed to know just about everyone we passed during the week. There are only about 60,000 residents in Bermuda, and family lines run deep.
Left: underground corridor at Fort St. Catherine's. Center: an old Bermuda golf advert on display. Right: a pink hibiscus blooms beside the road.
Bermuda, once called 'The Bermudas,' is made up of a collection of seven main islands (365 total if you include all the tiny ones) that span 22 miles east to west and are connected by bridges and ferries. The many twists and turns of these islands mean that it takes awhile to get around thanks to few straight roads. The national speed limit of 35 kpm, slow enough to spot roadside lobster vendors selling their fresh catch of the day. Another benefit of this peculiar topography is that there are countless little bays, coves and secluded beaches, where visitors can find their own little piece of the 'rock' for an afternoon if they keep their eyes open.
For golfers, it also means there are few flat lies to be had beyond the tee box.
Golf on Bermuda: deep roots, sloping lies
Golf has been a fixture in Bermuda since the 1920s, when ship lines raced to build courses in hopes of luring tourists to this exotic spot in the middle of the Atlantic. While winters are cooler here than in the Caribbean islands, highs usually in the 60s mean it's prime time to ditch the bathing suit in favor of 'golf and spa' season.
With seven courses today, the country claims more golf per square mile than anywhere else in the world. It's pedigree is strong, thanks to abundance, tradition and recent upgrades to some of its facilities. Port Royal, where the PGA Grand Slam has been staged since 2009, was originally built in 1970 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. but redesigned by Roger Rulewich. 2012 PGA Grand Slam of Golf winner Padraig Harrington finished with a two-day total of 9 under. That's quite an achievement, considering the course is under 6,900 yards and the wind laid down for both rounds, and that two of his opponents -- Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson -- have serious long game.
Port Royal is the island's supreme test of golf, climaxed by the island's most famous par 3, the cliffside 16th. But laid back, traditional golf can be found at one of the island's first courses, Riddell's Bay. You can see its bayside location from above at the nearby Fairmont Southampton hotel, the island's top spot for golf groups and home to its own 18-hole executive golf course.
Riddell's Bay has some of the island's flattest golfing terrain to walk, while Belmont Hills, another 1920s design, has hillier terrain to navigate. Meanwhile, Mid Ocean Club, which came along in the 1921, is the island's most impressive Golden Era course. A C.B. MacDonald design, the first hole's rippling fairway slowly trudges uphill to an exposed, elevated green site perched high up overlooking the ocean. The ensuing 17 holes deliver all sorts of unique features, which creates a sensory overload to any architecture buff's palette.
Sharing a boundary with Mid Ocean Club is the semi-private Tucker's Point, part of the Rosewood Tucker's Point and the centerpiece of an affluent neighborhood whose part-time residents include big shots like Michael Bloomberg and H. Ross Perot. Similar to Mid Ocean, this course, opened in 1931 but later redesigned by Rulewich in 2002, yields virtually no flat lies, which makes for a topsy-turvy round full of demanding shots but also extraordinary scenery. Everything great about Bermuda comes comes together on the par-4 17th hole, which plays from an elevated tee overlooking the ocean. Unlike Port Royal's infamous 16th, which will have your knees quaking a bit - this drivable par 4, with its grand scenery and high birdie potential, will have you licking your chops.