Ahh, Bermuda. Its strongest associations for golfer are shorts and grass, which is fair enough. But the place that lends its name to those two items is one of a kind, with its own unique personality, dynamic people and a heck of a good signature cocktail.
Oh, and there's golf, too. The PGA Tour is there this week, tackling a course that, like all of them on this fishhook-shaped island, photographs ridiculously well.
I had the good fortune to spend most of a week in Bermuda in 2017 on a press trip. We explored much of the island, including its eclectic complement of golf courses. Here's what I appreciated most:
One of destination golf's great one-two punches
Golfers often have the impression that the "best" destinations are the ones that offer four, five or more world-class layouts, with the assumption being that the best trips are ones where each different round is at a different course. I don't always agree, because in many places, the best courses are worth playing multiple times on a trip. This is absolutely true in Bermuda.
This week's PGA Tour host, Port Royal Golf Course, is a great example of a course any golfer would be glad to play more than once on a trip. It takes a few holes to get going, but once one reaches the green of the par-5 7th, it's one of the most beautiful places for a round anywhere, as the brilliant blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean are in view constantly. If you play late in the afternoon, you will reach the climax of the routing - the par-4 15th and par-3 16th - in time to enjoy as brilliant a sunset as golf offers.
If that sounds like a ringing endorsement, consider for a moment that Port Royal is actually the second-greatest Bermudan golf course. The top honor goes to Mid Ocean Club, which is on the shortlist of my own all-time favorite courses. The C.B. Macdonald design is a masterpiece of classic architecture, starting along the sea and then meandering through the village of Tucker's Town before emerging back onto spectacular terrain near the tropical pink, white-roofed clubhouse. All the great "template" holes Macdonald popularized in his career are on display, including the world-famous par-4 5th "Cape" hole. Mid Ocean is primarily a private club, but non-member play can be arranged on certain days of the week. Like Port Royal, it is well worth playing multiple times during a visit. Why would you choose to play a consensus world-top-100 course just once during a visit if given the option? It's one of very few courses I could happily play every day and not get bored.
Bermuda is one of the most isolated inhabited places on Earth, but it's also quite easy to get to from either side of the Atlantic. Regular flights to its L.F. Wade International (BDA) from American hubs like Atlanta (ATL) and New York-Kennedy (JFK), as well as London-Heathrow (LHR), put it within one stop of millions of golfers.
As of press time, Bermuda is allowing fly-in tourists, though there are several protocols and restrictions. Click here for the most up-to-date information from the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
Not your typical par-3 course
One of the most popular places to stay in Bermuda is the Fairmont Southampton, located more or less at mid-island. It has its own golf course, the 18-hole, par-54 Turtle Hill Golf Club. Many view par-3 golf courses as little more than a novelty, but Turtle Hill is better than most, thanks in large part to the breathtaking southeasterly views it offers. And it's far from a pushover, with several drop-shot holes that demand both a reckoning with elevation changes and the ever-present wind.
What's more, few par-3 courses can claim to be the host of a professional golf event, but Turtle Hill can. It hosts the Dark 'n Stormy® World Par 3 Championship every March, combining an amateur and celebrity field with a pro division that carries a $50,000 purse. Not bad work if you can get it.
The Dark 'n Stormy
I'm not a big drinker, but there are a few cocktails I enjoy enough to make them at home. One is Bermuda's national potent potable, a simple blend of Gosling's Black Seal dark rum and ginger beer. The traditional preparation is to serve it in over ice, first pouring in the ginger beer and then floating your chosen proportion of the rum on top, which reminds of storm clouds and gives the drink its name.
Of course, you can also opt for the branded, canned version of the drink, always close at hand when you're on the island. It's refreshing and low-ABV enough to enjoy one or two on the course if you want.
The vibe of the island
Small-island vacationing is an enjoyable indulgence not just because of the weather, but often because of the reception. Many popular Caribbean islands rely heavily on tourism to support their economies, and as a result their people are invested in making sure guests enjoy their visits. Located several hundred miles outside the Caribbean, Bermuda is nevertheless in a similar mode, though its history as a British colony confers a different sort of atmosphere. You will note this connection in a somewhat greater sense of formality in Bermuda than in other popular island destinations.
A half-open tropical shirt and flip-flops are welcome at many beachy spots, but men may also want to pack a blazer and a button-down for a more upscale dinner. Shorts are welcome, though, as long as you pair them with knee-length socks. Bermuda is a place where going with the flow of local customs will endear you to the locals. I like it a lot.