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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Bermuda 's emerald and exasperating fairways

On an island that attracts world leaders
because of its golf courses, four of the
best were designed by Robert Trent Jones

Saturday, January 27, 2001
Special to The Globe and Mail

TUCKERS TOWN, BERMUDA -- When Sir Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, George Bush and Babe Ruth needed to escape from the madding crowds, they fled to the emerald fairways of Bermuda.

Their club of choice -- the exclusive Mid-Ocean Club, designed in 1921 by Charles Blair Macdonald -- lured the 20th century's most prominent golfers. That their historical clout transcended their handicaps had no consequence. When facing bunkers and water hazards, they were reduced to mere duffers -- albeit with caddies -- most likely praying that the next shot would not be embarrassing.

If these men could blame one man for making their knees shake, he would be Robert Trent Jones. The venerable golf course architect who redesigned Mid-Ocean in 1953, and who built or redesigned some 460 courses, including Augusta National and Mauna Kea, carved his legacy on brutal landscapes around the world, including four courses on Bermuda: Mid-Ocean, Castle Harbour, Port Royal and St. George's.

Called the "father of golf course architecture," Jones was a scratch golfer by his early teens. When an ulcer sidelined him from tournaments, he was determined to design golf courses. After combining courses in landscape architecture, agronomy, horticulture, hydraulics, surveying and economics at Cornell University, Jones became the first accredited golf course architect. After gaining inspiration in the 1930s as an assistant to Stanley Thomson, the respected Canadian golf course architect, Jones honed his métier around a risk-reward philosophy. His tenets of design forced players to play strategically to elude bunkers, roughs and water.

In the 1970s, when he saw pros consistently breaking 70 on his courses, Jones determined to redesign holes so that "par was tough but bogey was easy." So he lengthened layouts to 7,000 yards and added water hazards and big bunkers to penalize errant shots. Then, with a forgiving nod to average golfers, he added multiple forward tees and pushed hazards out of their range. British-born Jones died at the age of 93, on the eve of the June 15, 2000, U.S. Open, leaving his sons Rees Jones and Robert Trent Jones Jr. to follow his footsteps.

Here's a rundown on some of Bermuda's top links.

The Mid-Ocean Club at Tuckers Town is ranked by experts as one of the world's best links. It demands accuracy and concentration. At 6,512 yards, the thrilling par-71 course has six par-fours over 400 yards long, a 238-yard-long par-three, as well as tees perched on coral cliffs above the ocean, rolling fairways and doglegs hugging water.

Teeing off on the elevated fifth, the signature hole forces a calculated risk. Do you drive at least 200 yards over a lake, or do you angle for a safer shot minimizing carry over water but risking a drop in the rough? Apparently Babe Ruth, who had a way with balls, put two balls in the lake before dropping a ball on the valley fairway below. To play the private Mid-Ocean Golf course requires an introduction by a member, hotel concierge or cruise ship concierge.

Phone (441) 293-0330, fax (441) 293-8837. Green fees cost about $160 (U.S.).
Port Royal

According to Jack Nicklaus, Port Royal is one of the world's best public courses. A true links layout, this 6,561-yard, par-71 championship course, opened in 1970 and re-designed in 1995, rambles over oceanside cliffs and hilly fairways, providing an unforgettable experience right from the first hole. The 16th, the signature hole (near the historic, 1876 Whale Bay Battery that was part of a ring of defenses protecting the Royal Navy Dockyard) defies you to tee off over rough and ocean to an undulating green perched on a spur of land. If you've golfed Hawaii's best courses, you'll recognize this hole as inspiration for Mauna Kea's famed third hole.

Phone (441) 234-0974, fax (441) 234-3562. Green fees about $80 (U.S.).
Castle Harbour

The famed Castle Harbour course, initially designed in 1927 by Charles Banks and modified by Robert Trent Jones in 1953, is now closed for reconstruction and scheduled to reopen this summer, as the Tucker's Point Golf Club, part of the "new" Tucker's Point Golf, Beach & Tennis Club. Bermuda Properties Ltd. (new owners of this former Marriott Castle Harbour Resort & Golf Course) hired Roger Rulewich, former senior designer for Robert Trent Jones, to refashion the terrain around proposed condominiums and to increase the course championship quality. Rulewich is installing elevated tees, sculpted bunkers, and faster greens with a new hybrid of Tiff Eagle Bermuda grass. The latest hype boasts: Tucker's new 17th will be "Bermuda's most picturesque hole" and the new 13th will have "panoramic views of the entire North Coast."

For current information, phone (441) 298-6959.
St. George's

One of the last courses designed by Robert Trent Jones before his retirement, the precision-style St. George's course, built in 1985, exemplifies his genius. Comparatively short at 4,043 yards, the tough, par-62 course, with par-fours close to 400 yards long, demands well-executed shots to counter windy exposure, small greens and distracting views.

Phone (441) 297-8353, fax (441) 297-2273. Green fees about $60 (U.S.)
Riddell Bay

For all the fame of Robert Trent Jones' designs, Bermuda boasts numerous other delightful courses.

The famed Riddell Bay, Bermuda's oldest golf course, has the toughest hole on the island. Designed in 1922 by Deveraux Emmett, who designed the Congressional course near Washington D.C., the par-70, 5,713-yard course has tight fairways winding through a peninsula surrounded by water.

The eighth hole, with a dogleg following the contour of Great Sound, has a lovely view of Bermuda's historic Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. To play the private Riddell Bay, introductions are required from a member, hotel concierge or cruise ship concierge.

Phone (441) 238-1060, fax (441) 238-8785. Green fees about $70 (U.S.).
Southampton Princess

If you've ever frowned at par-threes, you'll be smitten by the Fairmont Southampton Princess's 18-hole course. Arguably one of the world's prettiest executive configurations, it rambles up and down Bermuda's highest point of land with gorgeous views from every breezy hole. From March to April, you may even see migrating whales. At 2,727 yards, this deceptive par-54 course looks awfully sweet until you realize each of the first two holes have daunting vertical drops of 200 feet to fairways leading to protectively-bunkered greens. Cleverly designed by Theodore G. Robinson with three lakes and 60 bunkers, this is a terrific course to hone your short game before testing your mettle on the big courses.

Phone (441) 239-6952, fax (441) 238-8479, e-mail, Web site

If you dream of golfing in Bermuda, consider going now, when hotels offer economical rates and tee times are easy to get. To arrange tee-times in advance, call (800) Bermuda. Visit Bermuda's Web site

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