Bermuda is approximately 20 miles long from tip to toe and if you laid out every single one of Bermuda’s golf holes along this necklace of tiny islands in a Scottish out-and-back fashion, they would stretch out the full length of Bermuda and nearly half way back again. Bermuda is virtually one enormous golf club and Port Royal is the most popular golf course on the islands.
Regularly considered to be one of the world’s best public courses, Port Royal is basically a government run municipal and Robert Trent Jones laid it out on high ground overlooking the Atlantic in 1970. Host to the annual Bermuda Open Championship, Port Royal is a challenging course with huge, gently undulating greens where three putting is commonplace.
The signature hole is the 16th, a par three played from a tee on the cliff edge and it’s perhaps Bermuda’s most photographed hole. Measuring 235 yards from the tips, your tee shot, which could be a mid iron or a driver depending on the wind, must carry a yawning gap to reach the safety of the green which is perched on a promontory. It’s an absolute cracker.
Port Royal played host to the 2009 PGA Grand Slam of Golf which was won by Lucas Glover. Ian Woosnam was the last European to win the PGA Grand Slam of Golf way back in 1991 at Kauai Lagoons. Two Europeans appeared in the 2010 end-of-season Grand Slam at Port Royal but Ernie Els came from three strokes behind with five holes to play to claim the title.
In the early 70s it was raw, but the potential was there to create an outstanding course. As the years ticked by, lack of proper funding and mismanagement by the government agencies (rather than municipal as is sometimes mistakenly stated) responsible for it caused the course to become run down, unkempt and not worth the effort of playing. Bermuda’s Tourism Minister and, now, Premier (due to retire at the end of the month), a forceful character, demanded and got the many millions (in very good financial times for the island) needed to rebuild and then maintain the course to the required standard – unofficial estimates are that at least $20 million has been spent over the last four years. I played on it last week and it is in fantastic shape.
The course is a mixture of seaside and parkland, with the latter comprising 1 – 6 and 11 – 13; the other holes provide various panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean and the pale blue waters of Bermuda’s south shore. They are stunning visually, although it’s only possible to actually hit the ball into the drink at the 16th, and it would really be an awful shot to do so. That 16th is the most famous hole, a par 3 that from the back tees forces a carry over a pink beach guarded by small cliffs. A beautiful hole, but not, in my opinion, a very good one, being far too long from the back tee (235 yards) for the shot required to hold the tight, firm, narrow green. The best hole is the 15th, a tight drive to a slightly dog-legged fairway running along the plateau above the ocean, followed by a mid-to-long iron into a well-guarded, tricky green - an excellent hole.
So is the remodelling a success? For the thinking golfer, the answer has to be no. Technically, great work has been done to recover the course and re-present it beautifully with lovely greens, and in removing the hideous casuarina trees which had so blighted it by obscuring many of the views, littering the fairways and rough with needles, and preventing the sun reaching many of the seaside fairways. The lengthening is a failure as it mainly comes from making the (new) short 13th and 16th holes much longer than they should be, and by extending the 5th with a back tee that no-one can use (except at the Grand Slam) because the drive crosses a public road. And my personal bugbear is that many of the remodelled greens have been given false fronts with embedded bunkers that have to be cleared with high dropping shots, eliminating the run-up and low driving approach on almost every hole on the course.
Those of you who’ve happened across my salivating over The Machrie will understand my disappointment at this. So the claim made by its publicists that PRGC is one of the best seaside courses in the world is nonsense. There are probably 300 better seaside courses in GB&I alone. As a day out on a resort course however, it is much more successful; visitors, and this is important, will thoroughly enjoy themselves provided they play off the correct tees for their game … no one should play off the blacks whose handicap is more than 5, I would say. This is not an easy golf course. If you’re 10 and up the whites (or reds) will be fine for you and you’ll have a really nice day.
The course is really hilly after the 6th, so you’ll need a cart; Bermuda is humid at all times, and HOT from June to October, so you’ll need plenty of fluids – you’ll sweat like the proverbial horse; and be prepared for wind: for all its heat the Island has a 15 knot wind most days and much more than that quite often. The club facilities are competent without being lavish. And be prepared to play for between 5 and 6 hours; the pace of play is abysmal and the management does absolutely nothing to discourage it. Etiquette is not good either, few divots get replaced (by patrons) or pitch marks repaired. This leads one to ponder upon how the course will fare in future in terms of government financial support when the political regime changes in a few days’ time and the current Premier’s enthusiastic (some say dictatorial) backing has gone. A round will cost you about $200 all-in, although there are some better deals, but that is actually moderate compared to North American “resort courses” and the only other courses worth playing on the Island, Mid-Ocean and Tucker’s Point, which are not easy to get on as they’re private (although they do accommodate visitors with introductions). I’ll write on those two later in the year.
In summary then, PRGC is a good outing if you have the day to spare, and is optically spectacular, especially in the kind of weather we’ve been experiencing in the last few weeks, but keen golfers will find it rather artificial, manufactured perhaps, with only the 15th, 16th, and perhaps the 8th remaining in one’s memory after a couple of days. Rating it among Bermuda’s courses, it is number two twice - as a golf course a long way behind Mid-Ocean, and scenically second to Tucker’s Point.