SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda -- Major championship-winning golfers have played the game just about everywhere on earth. So when even these well traveled souls are struck by a course's setting -- as is the case each fall during the PGA Grand Slam of Golf at Port Royal Golf Course -- it's quite a statement.
So as golfers like Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington are caught by TV cameras gazing out at sea during their round, viewers at home probably get a little curious about what golf is all about in Bermuda, and particularly the course with the country's most famous, cliffside golf hole.
Golfers have been dazzled at the views from the fairways on these unique string islands for awhile now. Bermuda is an historic golf destination that dates back to the early 1920s, which makes Port Royal, opened in 1970, a relative newcomer compared to original clubs such as Mid Ocean Club and Riddell's Bay Golf & Country Club.
Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Port Royal received a $14.5 million makeover when Bermuda announced it had secured the Grand Slam from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. It was renovated in 2008 at the hands of Jones' former associate, Roger Rulewich.
The Slam was held at Mid Ocean Club -- the country's most famous Golden Era course designed by C.B. MacDonald -- for two years before Port Royal was ready to host the world's major winners, which it's done since 2009.
There aren't many flat lies in all of Bermuda, and Port Royal is no exception. Only a handful of holes on the front nine are level tee-to-green. While there are some fun downhill tee shots like the first and 11th hole, holes such as No. 9 and No. 18 make up for it and then some with steeply elevated greens.
The first six holes on Port Royal play on the backside of the ridge that lies beside the ocean, making it mainly shielded from the elements, playing on lower ground. Once you make the walk up the par-5 seventh fairway, whose final 150 yards begin a gentle rise uphill, you begin to sense the ocean is at your doorstep. And by the time you're standing on the eighth green, there's nothing obstructing a long view of the ocean and beaches below the course.
Much of the design's defense off the tee comes in the form of large, multiple, directional fairway bunkers. But green complexes aren't much easier. Many are raised and elevated, while many don't leave much room for bailout.
The famous 16th hole is a prime example. Sure, your attention will be focused on avoiding the cliffs to the left, a tiny little bunker swallows up balls that are left out to the right, and the shot back onto the sliver of green, with hazard on the other side, is practically as intimidating as the tee shot.
With its updated, championship-caliber design and conditions highlighted by smooth, fast TifEagle greens worthy for major champions, Port Royal is Bermuda's supreme test of golf.
Like everywhere in Bermuda, it's a scenic walk at every turn, even on the more-inland front nine. Just make sure you've got plenty of batteries in your camera for the 16th -- and batteries in your leg to make the trudge up the steep 18th fairway.
Facilities here include a large driving range and short-game area, plus a clubhouse with a location overlooking the ocean. While there is no official resort attachment to Port Royal, resorts such as the nearby Fairmont Southampton and Rosewood Tucker's Point offer golf packages that can include golf at Port Royal.
November 29, 2012