Sunday, February 06, 2011

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.