SOUTHAMPTON, BERMUDA –
— When the morning came and the storm had passed
And the dismal fog began at last
To open up before my eyes, well then I saw to my surprise
Chains and specks of islands curved
Where palm trees dipped and sea gulls swerved—
“You’re going back to the Caribbean?” she asked.
“No, I’m going to Bermuda,” I replied.
“Bermuda, Bahamas, same difference. It’s all in the Caribbean,” she scoffed off-handedly.
There was no point with arguing with her. The girl actually named Kristin was proving once again why we call her “Crazy Agatha”: she couldn’t be more horribly, horribly wrong. Bermuda is not in the Caribbean, neither physically nor metaphorically. From the moment you land at Wade International Airport on the southwestern end of St. David’s Island, you know you are in a place light years from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, or any other “U.S. offshore” golf destination from Baja to Britain.
Yes, dazzling sun-dappled days recede gently to perfect perfumed azure nights, and yes, warm sandy beaches (this time a soft pink reminiscent of the color of Morocco’s fabled Anti-Atlas mountains) link rolling, verdant green hills with the iridescent, cerulean blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But Bermuda’s stately grace and class – eminently British indeed – stand head and shoulders above the Caribbean world’s dichotomy of opulence lying cheek and jowl with abject poverty. It is this refined, relaxed elegance – indisputably Bermuda – that will be the backdrop for this week’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf and our analysis of the three crown jewels in Bermuda’s golf diadem: Tucker’s Point, Port Royal, and Mid-Ocean, the Bermuda Triangle of Golf as it were.
Indeed, the island is already surpassing its sterling reputation. The cold winds, leaden-slate skies, 50-degree chills, and city stink of New York has been replaced by 80 degrees, and warm tropical breezes, the dismal fog gone, – dissolved by the beaming smiles of the affable, intelligent staff of the Fairmont Southampton Hotel, a Gold Standard resort if ever there was. It’s splendid…in fact capital! And now after a short 90 minute flight, I type for you, dear reader, from a rooftop balcony overlooking the edge of the World, my cares a limitless ocean away. If only my golf game were this good.
Lying in the North Atlantic Ocean on the western edge of the infamous Sargasso Sea, Bermuda (full name “The Islands of Bermuda”, also referred to as “the Bermudas” or the “Somers Isles”) is a set of about 180 islands the geographic center of which lies at 34 degrees 20 minutes north, 64 degrees 45 minutes west. Shaped almost exactly like a fishhook, the country has five main islands divided into nine parishes. Discovered in 1505 by Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez, after whom the islands are named, and covering an area roughly 20.6 square miles, the islands are now a British Overseas Territory. While the nearest continental landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about 640 miles to the west, they are roughly 580 nautical miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, their closest U.S. landfall. Its present population is roughly 68,000, up about 4,000 from the 2000 census.
Though Bermuda’s culture is a mixture of the various sources of its population – American, Spanish-Caribbean, English, Scotch-Irish – it is predominantly, indeed definitively British, with English is the primary and official language. Its British roots run deep, and it was a critically important British naval base as early as 1812. It was no less a personage than the famous Admiral Yorke himself who, when analyzing England’s naval outlook against the U.S. navy in the War of 1812 remarked, “There are the home bases, Halifax, the West Indies, and Bermuda.” Nevertheless, America won several prominent sea battles against the British that year with no less than four British frigates or man-of-wars striking to equal or smaller U.S. vessels.
Bordering on a tropical climate, Bermuda is warmed by the nearby Gulf Stream westerlies, so in summer temperatures can reach about 86° Fahrenheit. Winters are mild and windy, with average daytime temperatures in January and February around 68° Fahrenheit. On occasion – not often, but sometimes – cold fronts can bring Arctic air masses that can result in rapid temperature drops and Atlantic winter storms often associated with these cold fronts can produce powerful gusting winds and heavy rain, so while the actual temperature rarely drops below 50 °F it can feel much colder in inclement weather.
Oddly, although a chain of islands, there is no fresh water in Bermuda other than rainfall, which is collected on roofs and catch basins (or drawn from underground wells) and stored in tanks. Stranger still, it is not possible to rent a car on the island; public transport is available or visitors can hire scooters for use as private transport, and it is not uncommon to see scooters and mopeds motoring locals with everything from golf clubs to Christmas trees strapped to their backs as they zoom along the twisting roads. One good reason for no rental cars is that since the island is British, Bermudans drive on the left side of the road in vehicles where the steering wheel is positioned on the starboard side of the car. (If Caddyshack’s Judge Smails ever visited, he probably fume “Put that steering wheel back where it belongs!” at them as well.)
Government employment, insurance and re-insurance are the largest sectors of Bermuda’s economy, with tourism close behind, the island attracting over one-half million visitors annually, the lion’s share of which come from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Having no corporate income tax, Bermuda is a popular corporate location. Google, for example, is known to have shifted over several billion dollars in revenue to its Bermuda subsidiary utilizing the “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” tax avoidance strategies, reducing its 2011 tax liability alone by $2 billion. As such, the island is remarkably wealthy, boasting, at times, the highest per capita earning income in the World. Correspondingly, costs of living are equally high as well, among the highest in the World. Basketball star Patrick Ewing would have liked it here as his infamous, “We make a lot, but we spend a lot too,” is especially true in Bermuda.
As for chief exports, there’s not much. Since it’s an island with little farming, 80% of Bermuda’s food must be imported. Flowers, fragrances, pharmaceuticals, semi-tropical produce (such as bananas, and citrus fruits) dairy products, honey, light fixtures, cricket players, insurance men, sinfully delicious and lusciously decadent ginger beer, Dark and Stormys, and casual shorts are the main home grown products.
CULTURE, FOOD, SPORTS, AND ARTS GAZETTEER
Since the 1970s Jamaican influence has helped raise reggae music to almost the dame stature as the more native West Indian calypso, while Afro-Caribbean dance helps form a melting pot of cultural arts vibrant in color, scope, and ethnicity.
The food in Bermuda has both British and Portuguese influences. Of course there’s plenty of seafood (Well Duh!) and if there is a “Grand Slam of Bermudan Cuisine” it would be the native Bermudan fish chowder, spiny Lobster (from September to March), shark hash made with hot peppers and parsley, and Hoppin John – a 17th century British dish named after a slave and made with fish and bacon served over rice. You can also have sweet potato pudding on Guy Fawkes night, November the 5th, essentially a Britishers Fourth of July, commemorating the capture and execution of the Catholic conspirators who tried to blow up Parliament in 1606. They were all hanged, drawn, and quartered, their limbs dipped in pitch and posted on spikes atop the Tower of London as a warning. Dark and Stormys all around to celebrate!
As for sports, scuba divers can explore numerous wrecks and coral reefs in relatively shallow water with virtually unlimited visibility. British naval influence introduced cricket, soccer, rugby, tennis, and sailing to the locals, who took to all of them with voracious delight. The annual “Cup Match” cricket tournament between rival parishes St George’s in the east and Somerset in the west is the occasion for a popular national holiday, golfers flock yearly to the islands for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, (interestingly Bermudian Quinn Talbot was once the World one-armed golf champion), and the prestigious Newport–Bermuda Yacht Race is a more than 100-year-old tradition. It is also tradition for Bermuda to march in the Opening Ceremony in Bermuda shorts, regardless of the summer or winter Olympic celebration.
The golf is particularly excellent, led by Charles Blair Macdonald’s 1921 masterpiece Mid-Ocean Club – the standard in island golf until Pete Dye re-conquered the world with Teeth of the Dog and Dye Fore at Casa de Campo. Macdonald’s direct architectural Bloodline descendent Charles “Steamshovel Banks followed with Tucker’s Point (since reworked by Roger Rulewich) and then Port Royal was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. This year’s Grand Slam will be hosted by Port Royal, and Masters Champion Adam Scott, U.S. Open titleist Justin Rose, and PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner will all compete. As British Open champion Phil Mickelson had prior family commitments, defending Grand Slam champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland will take his place.
“You!” I expect Harrington to gasp when he sees me, his eyebrows popping through the ceiling. “What brings you here?!” he’ll shriek pointedly.
“I’m wherever good times are had,” I’ll reply puckishly, cackling impishly at his horrified reaction to my popping up like a rabbit in a conjuring trick in the most unlikely of places. (Harrington hates when I ask him hard questions about the xs and os of his golf game. Hence his wariness.)
“He got in my head! I started thinking too much!” he wailed plaintively to Irish writers Brian Keogh and Karl MacGinty at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. They, of course, responded by reminding him that he’s a former accountant and should be above getting frazzled by intelligent questions. Happily, Paddy’s wife Caroline and Jason Dufner and his wife Amanda all greeted me with a much more warm, “Hey Jay! Good to see you!” So I have that going for me, as Carl Spackler might say.
So as the sun gets ready to sink into the ocean in a blaze of glory, setting the sea on fire in a burnished blaze of gold and red, all is in readiness for a great tournament and a sterling week of golf. It’s Bermuda, ready for its yearly golf close-up. It’s the unparalleled hospitality of the most civilized of the offshore golf locales, and it’s the inimitable style and grace of the English. Make her victorious, happy and glorious, long reign she o’er us, indeed. The splendor and grandeur of the Empire still lives on, and we are all richer for it. So let’s play away.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF SOUTHAMPTON FAIRMONT AND/OR PORT ROYAL G.C. EXCEPT THE LAST, ((c) JAY FLEMMA)