Sunday, February 06, 2011

Mid Ocean - World Class

Way In

The Holes
1 Atlantic 10 Mercer Hill
2 Long 11 Trott's
3 Eden 12 Hillside
4 Mangrove 13 Biarritz
5 Cape 14 Leven
6 Brow 15 Punch Bowl
7 Short 16 Lookout
8 Valley 17 Redan
9 Sound 18 Home
Mid-Ocean is one of those timeless places that are all too rare – as good or better as you remember – sort of like the way Switzerland is. Neat, tidy clever, well-run and a joy to visit for starters. Charles Blair Macdonald laid out a very memorable set of holes with very little filler using a very contoured and hilly property to its fullest. Recent work at the hands of Tom Doak and associates has involved recovering the green surfaces and much tree removal as well as the usual bunker renovations that clubs must do from time to time.
The setting is incomparable looking out over infinite miles of ocean, rolling Bermudian landscape, stunning coastline and those charming white stepped-roofed homes. Standing on the first tee a voluptuous landscape of land unfolds in front of you encompassing the first hole and 16 – 18. One of the suggested points for an ideal routing is to avoid putting the clubhouse on a hill so that one must hill-climb at nine and the end. At Mid-Ocean there is a magnificent and distant half-way house and only a short walk back up the hill to lunch or cocktails. What a magnificent place to have either overlooking matches finishing on the eighteenth or just to have lunch or dinner. The big climb back is on the sixteenth with the green hard to the first tee. The view in that direction is unobstructed now as well due to restoration.

One must spend a few minutes gazing from the first as it is such a remarkable spot and the task at hand – picking a line on Atlantic – the opener – a very formidable challenge. The landing area slopes to the left towards the Redan 17th and one really should steer far clear of that line yet many caddies at the club question the openness of that first tee shot as the 17th is now so exposed. There are many bunkers in view but only one key bunker per player left at the limit of one’s attempting carry to shorten the hole. The green is a skyline and rather large benefiting a long drive with better depth perception. The green is hard to the cliffs making for a nearly humourless start although the second – a shortish par 5 is not as forgiving as the card might suggest owing to the markedly uphill nature of the second shot and the relative blindness. The Eden third is one of the better examples of what is a generally the most uninspired template on most courses from Macdonald, Raynor and Banks.

Mangrove is one of my favorite short par 4's anywhere. It is uphill to a skyline green with pesky well-placed bunkers just where you want to place your tee shot. Lots of slope to the green and a peek at the iconic Cape. It is never anything but thrilling. One cannot help but think of Babe Ruth standing on that tee emptying his bag of balls trying to drive the green once one has heard that story. Cape for some is almost anticlimactic except there are so many extras - special spots in the fairway, a raucous green complex and the seductive tee shot. No - you cannot carry it as far as you think, always play a little right of what you are confident you can carry!

I personally am a fan of this peculiar little Short template - not possessing the wildly contoured green that some do it is surrounded by little ponds making water rather than sand hazards key for this almost square green.

#8 Valley is a marvelous example with a near button-hook at the end with a good long drive to the left side what is needed. The green is rather elevated from the fairway leading to a high tee option for #9 - and a left bend from there.

Sound plays even more uphill than it appears, I needed a full three iron after a fine drive last play and that is typical. This far end of course leading to the half-way house is wide open to enjoy the view now. The half way house is almost the furthest point away from the clubhouse and is one of the finest in golf for location, elegace and a sense of presence.

The second nine has some of the most exciting land anywhere. Ten feels as though it will slide away if not somehow tacked down, a wonderful four with a crowned green. Eleven the five, feels very snug but one wishes that technology didn't have such impact. The routing of the second nine just matches the land so impossibly it seems timeless. The tee shot on #11 - Trott's (Named for a very prominent Bermudian family as is the pond) played straight away is too short for current driver technology, so a layup or a shot over the corner is in order. I love the fall off over the green. Hillside has long been a favorite of mine and just barely begins to describe it - very aptly named original hole. Being a coral reef island series, there are some varied landforms on the main island and at various points in the routing of Mid-Ocean. Hillside has a large half-dome that obscures a fair amount of the landing area of this dog-leg left. The green is also on a little plateau and never fails to thrill. The fact that it is followed by one of the finest Biarritz in Golf is a lovely bonus. However, now just the putting surface past the swale post renovation is maintained as such. It used to be that the entire front portion and swale were also putting surface, but not now.

The aptly named Lookout plays wonderfully uphill and ends the trip back to the clubhouse. The Redan and Home play on the lovely sloping plateau below the clubhouse in full view of the club.

Mid-Ocean is one of Golf's Happiest Places on the planet as it is relaxed and stimulating simultaneously. It is a beautiful spot to sit and have a drink, it is simply on Bermuda's finest land.

16 One of the Triumvirates most uphill holes

17 is a fine Redan - rescued from the trees

Routing - A wonderful walkabout and decent exercise. thrilling views constantly unfold
par 3's - a very good set with a great Biarritz even if only the back is green
par 4's - great variety, short 4th to long 9th, everything in between
par 5's - technology rears its head, but design-wise worthy of study
Cohesion of the course - Never do you feel out of place
Green Complexes - very well-done but new cultivar colour difference can be jarring
Bunkering schema - simple shapes well-placed, ideal for site
Conditioning - excellent playing surface, greens can be taken up to sub-ridiculous speed if that's what you're into.
Useful trees and avoidance of horticultural decoration - some complaints at the club about danger, but they do have a ton of visitors. Stark beauty of land is stupendous at places such as 1, 16-18
Ideality - pretty close to perfect except hills can be tough for newbies
The rest of the club - Didn't even ask for Kummel, but draft Foster's tastes no better anywhere else in this hemisphere. Plenty of libations and an excellent kitchen. I'll sign up anytime. Right at the top of my choices of places to play.
Milieu It is THE place away in a very comfortable way. The perfection of the new turf on the greens is not what I would have done had they asked me as it is noticeable. Mid Ocean is best when just a little scruffy here and there, like a favorite Blue Blazer with a threadbare area or small hole in the sleeve with a great story behind it. That's a comment, not a complaint.

Bermuda - Port Royal

The View inspiring the quote

and the hole on the side of the cliffs

Bermuda’s Golf scene has undergone a few changes over the past couple of years and today I feature Port Royal as it was announced that a new arrangement has been finalised so that the PGA Grand Slam of golf will remain on that blessed little Island for another two years. For those of you that have never been and especially those on the Eastern Seaboard, don’t ask why, just go. Trust me. Bermuda has more land as a percentage of total area dedicated to golf than any other nation on earth. Port Royal is the gem of the Bermudian state-owned golf scene and it has been the most recent host of the PGA Tour’s Grand Slam –arguably golf’s most exclusive invitational. One must be a major winner or a very special invitee if one man happens to hold more than one title in that calendar year or somehow infathomably cannot otherwise attend.

In December, 2007 I was fortunate to be one of the last few people to play the course before its renovation and last month - little changed from the mid 1990's - and returned to check out the work. The turf was always very good, now it is perfect. Many trees and much brush has been removed especially on the second nine which one can overlook from the deck behind the gently renovated clubhouse – creating an uninterrupted vista that is breath-taking. One can see so much of the course from the clubhouse compared to previously and it is very good as the view is spectacular.

Those familiar with the course from previous visits won’t see too much change in the first nine holes other than some pond work and a change in the form of the bunkers. The same routing is maintained as before through hole nine with added back tees added in several spots most notably way back on the par 4 fourth completely changing the character of the hole making it play for the long hitter how it does for an average hitter from the regular tees. The par 3 eighth is a spectacular setting with a green over 40 yards deep often playing into and with a crosswind. It is not hanging on the cliffs as is the famous par 3 sixteenth, but it is quite demanding as well. The two par 5’s at the third and the seventh are both really good demanding yet not penal holes.
Par 5 seventh

The lovely ninth plays 360 up the hill but it is a much longer play than that due to the severe elevation change.
The severely uphill ninth

Little change is there but on the very first hole the pond is larger and more in play on a demanding opener nearly ninety degrees dog-leg right and it seems that the expanded lake is much more in play. The first nine is mostly on the lowest land of the property with no ocean views until the 7th green and from then on one rarely loses sight of the water.

The 10th is a very fun short par 4 requiring a lot of thought as to how one wants to approach the green which is severely uphill and blind other than the sight of the flagstick.
the tenth

I was very glad to see that the 11th hole, a long par 4 that has always been one of my favorites is largely unchanged with its slightly and irregularly stepped landing area. A less than perfect drive prevented a 3-iron from reaching the narrow angled green into the wind.

The largest routing change in the course – which I noticed immediately watching the Grand Slam on TV - is in the new 12th and 13th in which the par for the two respective holes has been changed. Now there is a longer shot downhill on the 13th as a par 3 than the second was on the earlier iteration of the par 4 hole. 12 is now a par 4 that turns right intending to keep the tee for 13 safer than the landing area was on the par 4 13th previously in place and it does likely accomplish that.

The new 13th

Personally I miss the old par 3 twelfth as that was one really good albeit really hard hole, I love really good uphill par 3’s and there just aren’t enough of them in golf so I’ll personally miss this one even though it is good for the course that the changes for safety were made.

The tree clearing becomes quite apparent form this spot in and from 15 especially. Now a wide open wind-swept hole it was always the start of a demanding finish, perhaps now even more so.
Fifteen - now wide-open

The picturesque 16th is as challenging as ever and note the plaque leading the piece with then current USGA Open Champion Lucas Glover’s quote from the tee spot that day.
Here's the standard tee

and the target

It is there for all to see - I’ve shown the views one sees from above and the various tees and the photos show my one gripe with the new bunkers – one cannot see them. Perhaps this was done to reduce sand loss, but my regular readers would wonder what happened to me if I said I was enamoured with the new look.


Seventeen benefits as much as does 15 from the extensive tree removal with play being speedier as time looking for balls scared right by the pond on the left are now actually findable rather than fruitless search objects.

Eighteen as one can see from its images shows the patio with drinks awaiting you up the hill to end a glorious day on a simply spectacular completely public access course.

The Stern Eighteenth uphill all the way

One simply must play at Port Royal just as golfers just must visit Bermuda over and over. Do your homework and you might find a visitor’s tournament with half-priced tee times at this lovely course which at its current $180 offers you much more than many a similar-priced American resort course. Bermuda once had the bad rap of being ultra-expensive but with oversea ship and air transport costs showing the effects of greater technological efficiency the differences are much less than previously. One thing to remember about Bermuda is that the people are as nice as any that you will meet anywhere - a bit of Britain, America and Island all rolled into one and very relaxing.