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Bermuda A grand slice of golf heaven

mid ocean club golf

“Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer at sea-change
Into something rich and strange”
-Act I, Scene 2; The Tempest

TUCKER’S TOWN, Bermuda – Dredged from the dark recesses of an aged mind, the line from William Shakespeare’s classic scrolls through the subconscious like a nagging CNN news feed as the uninitiated steps to the elevated fifth tee at venerable Mid Ocean Golf Club.

Mid Oceaners call the 402-yard par 4 the “Cape Hole.” With a three-club right-to-left wind and nothing but watery gloom as far as the eye can see, they may as well have dubbed it, “Hit and Hope.”

In 1609 captain Christopher Newport ran the “Sea Venture” aground not far from the cliff that Mid Ocean now occupies to save his crew from a violent storm. The doomed ship was bound for Virginia and some scholars say it was the muse behind Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” As the wind raged and Mid Ocean’s fifth awaited, the thought occurs: maybe Newport was onto something.

If chamber-of-commerce-perfect snapshots of blue-green vistas and pink-sanded beaches are what come to mind when the conversation turns to Bermuda, the truth came by way of a tempest by any measure on the eve of this year’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Three days, three golf courses, three surprisingly strong winds.

But then if fact doesn’t dovetail with perceived fiction then welcome to Bermuda.

Mid Ocean Club
How to get there
15 minutes from the Bermuda airport in Harrington Sound on South Road.

How to play
Although Mid Ocean is a private club, limited tee times are available. Call 441-293-0330 for details.

Don’t miss
Mid Ocean is a C.B. Macdonald gem, complete with Redan (No. 17) and Biarritz (No. 13) holes as well as a picturesque Eden hole (No. 3) hard on the shores of the Atlantic.

Port Royal Golf Course
How to get there
45 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from Hamilton.

How to play
Greens fees are a tad high ($125), but the uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean are worth the added expense. Call 441-234-0974 for details.

Don’t miss
Port Royal starts slow with a series of relatively benign holes and the first ocean view doesn’t come until the seventh hole, but the finish is challenging and visually pleasing. The par-3 16th gets all the attention, but the tee shot on the par-4 15th may be even more intimidating.

Tucker’s Point Club
How to get there
Across the street from Mid Ocean, Tucker’s Point is centrally located for those staying in Hamilton (15 minutes) or St. George (15 minutes).

How to play
Stunning views and an intriguing mix of short par 4s and demanding par 3s make Tucker’s Point worth a visit, but the tariff may not fit the takeaway. Green fees range from $215 in April to November, to $195 from December to March. Call 441-298-6970 for details.

Don’t miss
Although well conditioned with sweeping views of Castle Harbour and Harrington Sound, Tucker’s Point is comfort golf compared to its high-profile neighbor Mid Ocean.

Eighteen miles from tip to windblown tip and just 22 square miles, the sliver of coral and coquina is the geographic and cultural collision of American and English culture.

Cars – of which there are an estimated 32,000 – that seem to begrudgingly share narrow roads with ubiquitous mopeds, drive on the left side of the road and are limited to a blazing 20 mph which seems perfectly appropriate since there are just three main byways – North, Middle and South.

Not only do the bars and restaurants of Hamilton – referred to by locals as “The City” – have a New York feel to them, they’re made even more poignant by the fact that the Bermuda dollar is pegged to its American counterpart and the two currencies are easily interchangeable.

The collision of cultures is ever-present. Within the confines of the recently restored Fairmont Hamilton Princess, a 125-year old gem hard on the shores of Hamilton Harbour, rests a larger-than-life portrait of Queen Elizabeth II not far from an HD television that was recently airing an NFL game.

“It’s really Americanized but it’s also very small and very quaint,” said Michael Sims, a Nationwide Tour player who was raised in Bermuda.

But then Bermuda, the slice of shell that gave us curiously-cut shorts and heat-tolerant grasses, is anything but predictable, particularly as a golf destination.

Shakespeare could have just as easily penned “The Tempest” as an ode to the island’s embarrassment of golf riches – which begins and ends with a forecast that offers a steady diet of divergent – and often violent – wind directions.

It’s why Charles Blair Macdonald took more than a year to complete the routing for Mid Ocean in 1920. It’s why the legendary architect built his house facing the famed “Cape Hole” instead of the majestic Atlantic Ocean to the south (to view nature’s wrath and his own handiwork, we can only surmise). And why few rounds of golf in Bermuda ever feel the same.

There are just seven golf courses on Bermuda – including the sneaky enjoyable Fairmont Southhampton par-3 course – yet rarely do holes play the same from day to day, or hour to hour for that matter.

“I remember playing (the 16th hole at Port Royal) as a kid. I had pitching wedge one day and 3-iron the next,” Sims said of the 235-yard cliff-side par 3. “It’s absolutely perfect.”

Port Royal, site of last month’s Grand Slam, underwent a dramatic facelift in 2008, the kind of overhaul that involves more tree removal than dirt moving and produces uninterrupted vistas and seaside winds that defy direction.

At the 2009 Grand Slam eventual winner Lucas Glover said of Port Royal’s 16th, “Man, I’ve never been so nervous on a shot.” While last month the 2010 champion Ernie Els welcomed a favorable forecast, “I don't think we would have reached (the 16th green) if the wind was blowing the other way.”

When it comes to Bermuda golf it’s always about Shakespeare’s Tempest. Well, that and sensory-overload panoramas of endless Technicolor ocean.

“I’m always taken aback every time I’ve gone home.” Sims said. “The 17th at Mid Ocean, first thing in the morning. Or at Port Royal, it just feels like you’re standing in the ocean.” And, more often than not, a wind tunnel.

Tucker’s Point Golf Club, adjacent Mid Ocean on the east end of the island, has also undergone a transformation in recent years. The course may be a tad scruffy for this neighborhood, but the layout is enjoyable with the short par-4 17th hole (315 yards from the tips) providing a compelling finish.

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”
-Act II, Scene 2

On Bermuda, however, golf is more pastime than passion. Most rounds are proceeded, or pacified, by a round of Dark n’ Stormys, the national cocktail which is a concoction of dark rum and ginger beer. It is, of course, an ode to Shakespeare’s Tempest.

Hamilton is every bit a metropolitan setting with a vast collection of upscale eateries and lively pubs. For true local fare the Black Horse Tavern, located on the east end of the island in St. George, is a seafood lover’s lottery, and the Frog and Onion on the west end is every bit an English pub complete with Arsenal banners and Fish ‘n Chips, a U.K. staple.

Cabs are the preferred mode of transportation since tourists are wisely not allowed to rent cars, but the enclave may have the best public transportation this side of Portland, Ore., complete with a high-speed ferry that whisks passengers from the converted Royal Naval Dockyard to Hamilton in a fraction of the time (15 minutes) and cost ($4 per passenger) of a taxi.

But for the golfer it is the island’s undisputed gems, Mid Ocean and Port Royal, which beckon. Let the scholars debate whether “Sea Venture” was the basis for the Shakespearean classic. Anyone who has ever stood on Mid Ocean’s fifth tee gazing into a gale knows the truth. Dark n’ Stormy, indeed.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep.”
-The Tempest