As international travel goes, Bermuda is a tantalizingly drivable par-4
By Ted McIntyre
If you’re going to watch a movie during your flight to Bermuda, you might want to stay away from something like, say, The Ten Commandments. At barely two hours and 45 minutes, it’s almost as quick to fly to Winnipeg from Toronto as it is to L.F. Wade International Airport in Bermuda.
Although often lumped in among its Caribbean neighbours to the south, Bermuda is technically in the Atlantic, a mere 1,250 kilometres south of Cape Sable Island, NS, and 1,000 kilometres west-northwest of Cape Hatteras, NC From a sophistication standpoint, however, it’s a world apart. Owing its subtropical climate to the nearby Gulf Stream, which helps carry warm, humid air—including the odd hurricane—eastward over the island nation, Bermuda is not for the monetarily challenged. Instead of the string of shantytowns that typically provide the backdrop for tourists being shuttled to luxury resorts in the Caribbean, this British colony is First World and fashionably detailed in every respect, with the median figure for single-family homes ringing in at a cool $1 million and hotel rooms hard to find for less than $300 a night.
The height of elegance—literally—is the Fairmont Southampton. Perched near the country’s southern tip, the Fairmont occupies the highest point in Bermuda, assuring it splendid views of the powder blue waters of East Whale Bay and Horseshoe Bay below. The former houses a marvellous sliver of private beach for guests, but the latter—separated by a small promontory—is one of the finest public beaches I’ve ever encountered—dotted, as it is, with sentinels of rock and meandering cliffs that cuddle up against miles of pink sand.
I killed two hours exploring that unspoiled stretch while awaiting my tee time for the final round of the two-day Bacardi World Par-3 Championship, an annual March event for amateurs and professionals alike that’s staged at the Fairmont Southampton’s own course, Turtle Hill GC, one of the highest rated par-3 layouts in the world.
Climbing from South Road at the foot of the resort, a short walk from the beach, the Ted Robinson design, which turns 50 next year, is hardly a pushover resort course. Rising and tumbling along 2,684 yards strewn with bunkers and water hazards, the par-54 is well conditioned and pestered by coastal winds, a common foe of golfers in Bermuda. Depending on wind direction, even low-handicappers will need as much as a three-wood in their bags here.
The Fairmont also shares an exclusive partnership with nearby Riddell’s Bay Golf Club, where Fairmont guests have booking privileges and a complimentary shuttle to and from the club. While the par-70 measures just 5854 yards, Bermuda’s oldest private course balances its lack of length with tight, bending fairways and small, challenging greens. Designed in 1922 by Devereux Emmet (who, two years later, sculpted Congressional in Washington, DC) and revamped in 1995 under the watchful eye of Ed Beidel, the creative routing winds its way along an undulating, well-treed peninsula that juts into Great Sound, offering up a trio of ocean holes along the way. The first of the group, the 360-yard, dogleg-right, par-4 eighth, with its view of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in the distance, tests your intestinal fortitude off the tee, with its long, tight carry skirting water to the right. It’s followed by the very drivable par-4 ninth across an inlet and around a stand of trees, although had I known how well protected the putting surface was, I would never have taken it on. The prettiest view, however, is reserved for those reaching the par-3 11th green, with its panorama of the bobbing boats of Riddell’s Bay.
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There are, in fact, nine courses on the 22-square-mile main island, giving it the highest concentration of golf offerings of any country in the world. But if you want to truly examine the depth of your game, the Fairmont concierge will arrange transportation to the home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, Port Royal. Ranked alongside Mid-Ocean Club as the finest layout in Bermuda (but a lot easier to reserve a tee time), Port Royal proved a stern oceanside test for fellow golf scribe Brian Kendall and I, particularly since it was our first stop after dropping off our luggage in our rooms and quickly donning shorts and shirt sleeves. Nine holes before dinner seemed in order given our 3 p.m. arrival, but quiet fairways allowed us to quickly negotiate this arresting Robert Trent Jones Sr. design in less than three hours. And that included a long enough stop at the signature par-3 16th that we could have had a picnic. It’s a breathtaking, nerve wracking, unforgiving, all-carry 235 yards from the tips, with the Atlantic Ocean guarding all the space in between and to the left.
Should you require therapy after your varying tours de force, be it of a physical or mental variety, the Fairmont Southampton offers two particularly intriguing options. The first embraces the early morning solitude of the spa pool, a solarium-like setting with a cascading waterfall, ceiling fans and two hot tubs, one of which is set on a patio overlooking the golf course, down to the twinkling Atlantic. You might even spot breaching Humpback whales offshore, which typically cross these waters in March and April.
The second distraction, located a few steps away—a seemingly dangerous liaison considering the spa pool stays open until midnight—is the Fairmont’s dance bar, the Cellar. But don’t expect anything too wild in Bermuda. “Safer, cleaner, friendlier than the Caribbean—no police officer has died on duty here in 100 years,” observed one local.
Better food, too, as is showcased by the resort’s Waterlot Inn restaurant, which dates back more than 300 years. A special night out for both residents and visitors, the Waterlot’s dress code has mellowed over time, and, as a consequence, gentlemen no longer have to wear a jacket. The scallops, harvested from December through March, are a specialty, as is the Truffled Mac & Cheese. Tasty, to be sure, but not the sort of meal you want sitting on your stomach in anticipation of your final 18 tournament holes against two veterans of the Bacardi Par-3 Championship.
As fate would have it, though, I played well enough for everyone to question my handicap, and then celebrated afterward with a signature Bermuda libation, the Dark ’n Stormy—a particularly guilty pleasure considering Bacardi is the tournament sponsor, and the Dark ’n Stormy’s recipe of lime, ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal rum.
• To view Ted McIntyre’s video tour of this trip, please visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQCRXK_JEfg
Bermuda Tourism: GoToBermuda.com; (800) Bermuda
Fairmont Southampton: fairmont.com/southampton-bermuda; (866) 540-4497
Riddell’s Bay GC: RiddellsBay.com; (441) 238-3225
Port Royal GC: PortRoyalGolf.bm; (441) 234-0974