Golfers who have never had a hole-in-one should take a trip to Bermuda. Hundreds who have gone in search of golf’s ultimate prize have fulfilled their dream at a beautiful course called Turtle Hill.
What’s the secret? Well, all its 18 holes are par threes. And par threes are, of course, where elusive aces are scored. But if you’re thinking ‘pitch-and-putt’ or an undemanding ‘executive par three’, think again because the holes at Turtle Hill wouldn’t look out of place at Augusta, Pebble Beach or Pinehurst.
The Theodore Robinson-designed course measures 2684 yards so the average length of each hole is just under 150 yards. The 14th, however, is over 200 yards long and there’s plenty of tough rough and water hazards in which it’s all too easy to lose balls. I lost three on the front nine alone. And there’s certainly no shortage of bunkers. The dramatic elevation changes and impressive views over the Atlantic also greatly enhance its enormous visual appeal.
And you’ll never guess who I bumped into. Three top European tour pros -- Ronan Rafferty, Barry Lane and Bill Longmuir. They and dozens of top amateurs had just been participating in the Grey Goose Par Three World Championship at Turtle Hill.
TONY JACKLIN. Two-time major winner Tony Jacklin has played here and Johnny Miller, also a two-time major champion, holds the course record. His astonishing 49 included two holed bunker shots and, yes, a hole-in-one.
I asked Turtle Hill’s Director of Golf, Anthony Mocklow, if he would like to see more par three tournaments. “Indeed I would. I’m hoping to start a proper par three tour with around 30 tournaments all over the world.” He’s also hoping a future championship at Turtle Hill will be televised. “One of the most appealing aspects of par three golf is that a round only takes about three hours, which leaves you plenty of time to do other things for the remainder of the day.”
Mine only took two-and-a-half hours but speed rather than low scoring has always been the strongest part of my game.
So what are the chances of you recording that elusive ace at Turtle Hill? There were no fewer than 63 last year with one day producing a record crop of four. With 30,000 rounds played a year, there’s a total of over half a million attempts annually. Of these, roughly one in 8,600 ends with the ball dropping in the hole, scenes of wild jubilation on the tee and drinks all round in the bar afterwards.
FAIRMONT HOTEL. So if you stay in the fabulous adjoining Fairmont Southampton hotel for a week and play, say, two rounds a day, there’s a fairly decent one in 34 chance that you will achieve the ambition of a lifetime.
By the way, the 11th, which is stroke index 18 and the easiest hole on the course, has given up the most holes-in-one, so take particularly careful aim at this one. Since you ask, I had a solid bogey four there.
The green fees alone will set you back over $1200 and, if successful, there will be a hefty bar bill to settle. Is it worth it? If you fulfil a dream, of course it is. Then, to celebrate your achievement, why not treat yourself to a round at one of the several other outstanding courses in Bermuda?
NOT THE CARIBBEAN. If you’re lucky enough to bag your ace early in the week, leaving you several days of golfing indulgence, then you will have a chance to play a few of the other half a dozen 18-hole and two nine-hole courses on this delightful island.
They are all lovely so you can’t actually go wrong. But before I agonise over which is the best and suggest an order in which to play the others, let’s make sure you know your geography and a few other relevant details about Bermuda.
Perhaps the most important fact is where it is or, more precisely, where it isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, Bermuda is not in the Caribbean but is stuck out in the North Atl antic about 660 miles from the coast of North Carolina.
It enjoys a semi-tropical climate and the near constant breezes render it absolutely ideal for golf. Play is year-round, with October to April the most popular period. The average daytime temperature in January and February, thanks to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Incidentally, although it lies in the hurricane belt and was recently blasted by Gonzalo, Bermuda normally misses the worst of the storms. In any case, the best hotels are members of the Bermuda Hotel Association which allows guests to cancel their reservation without penalty if a hurricane is forecast to pass within 200 miles of the island.
NO RUSH. A British Overseas Territory, Bermuda claims to have the highest concentration of courses anywhere in the world. Because land is so precious, these courses are not overly long, which is something of a virtue as it helps shorten the time taken to play a round. Not that there’s ever any reason to rush in Bermuda, a point underlined by the extremely modest 20 mph speed limit.
If you think such a limit would drive you crazy and stress you out as you grip the steering wheel ever tighter, fearing you might miss your tee time, relax. Such a situation will never arise as visitors to the island can’t rent cars.
They can, however, hire motor scooters and I nearly wrote mine off driving around the car park of the rental company in a futile bid to convince them they could entrust me with one of their machines.
A combination of inexperience and unfamiliarity with driving on the left renders scooters rather dangerous and so taking a taxi is best. In any case, as the island is only 22 miles long and extremely narrow, no golf course is ever very far away.
The Bermuda dollar is pegged to the US dollar and US notes and coins are used interchangeably with Bermudian notes and coins. Because pretty well everything has to be imported, nothing is cheap and golf is no exception. But, reasonably priced packages are available and offer good value.
WHICH COURSE TO PLAY. Okay, let’s get back to the golf and make some tough decisions as to which courses to play and in what order. Let’s start with the worst case scenario and imagine you have just one day and time for just one course, which should it be?
Well, opinion is pretty evenly divided between Mid Ocean and Port Royal as to which is the very best in Bermuda. Both have hosted the prestigious annual battle between the four major winners – the Grand Slam of Golf – and both are truly exceptional and deserve a mention whenever the most beautiful courses in the world are discussed.
If you detect some hesitation and prevarication on my part, it’s only because I don’t want to offend either by preferring the other. However, I didn’t get where I am today by sitting on the out-of-bounds fence and so, if forced, I would have to say Mid Ocean edges it by the length of a tee-peg.
THE GARDEN OF EDEN. If God had thoughtfully provided Adam and Eve with 18 holes in the Garden of Eden, Mid Ocean is how it would have looked: lovely, lush and not overly long. Designed by Charles B. Macdonald nearly a century ago, it rolls gently around the hills, benefits from plenty of elevation and enjoys glorious views over the ocean.
Among those who have experienced both the fabulous course and stunning scenery are Dwight Eisenhower, Sir Winston Churchill and George Bush Senior.
Always presented in immaculate condition, the only mild blemishes on an otherwise perfect track occur where local roads cross the course. But even these quirkily add character to a marvellous and totally unforgettable experience. The other thing to remember is that visitors are welcome on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Port Royal lies at the other end of the island. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior and owned by the government, it benefited from a multi-million dollar makeover back in 2009 prior to taking over the responsibility of hosting the Grand Slam tournament from Mid Ocean.
Having enjoyed a great deal of TV exposure over the last few years, it would appear unlikely that it will continue to be the venue for this popular event beyond 2014, which is the eighth held in Bermuda.
STRONG NERVES. The stand-out hole is the breathtaking, par-3 16th. With the green perched in the distance, the Atlantic on your left and oblivion in between tee and green, it takes a strong nerve whether hitting from the regular tee (180 yards) or the championship tee (235 yards). Take a moment or two to soak up the view and then calm your nerves by gazing down upon the plump parrot fish basking in the shallow waters below.
Remember we’re working backwards from departure day and, in effect therefore, subtly ranking courses in reverse order. Assuming your ace comes with three days left of your vacation, the choice about where to play next is a tricky one. However, tough choices are an integral part of golf and, in my opinion, Riddell’s Bay just sneaks into third place.
It’s the oldest club on the island and the easiest of the four I played to walk around. Mind you, carts are available everywhere and are well used so pedestrian golfers are sadly still something of a rarity.
Occupying a narrow peninsula, the course is right on the water and the three ocean holes are worth the green fee on their own. What it lacks in length (it’s less than 6000 yards long) it more than makes up for in character.
TUCKER’S POINT. A lot longer and benefiting from much more in the way of elevation is the imposing and impressive Tucker’s Point. Right next door to Mid Ocean, it enjoys similarly superb views in what is the most exclusive neighbourhood on the island.
The course is extremely challenging with intelligent bunkering. A sprinkling of water hazards augments anxiety levels whilst at the same time adding to the considerable visual appeal. The trees, too, are both a pleasure and a pain. And the few blind shots will excite some whilst irritating others. The magnificent clubhouse occupies a prominent point from which to gaze upon the breath-taking beauty of Bermuda.
You can desperately store that view in your memory bank and summon it up on a miserable winter’s day or, better still, resolve to return, enjoy it all over again and play the courses you missed the last time you were there.
Good to know
The best value drink on the island is undoubtedly rum. And if there is such a thing as a signature drink, in Bermuda it would undoubtedly be what is known locally as a “dark ‘n’ stormy”. It’s a dangerously refreshing cocktail made with black rum (the dark) and ginger beer (the stormy) served over ice and garnished with a slice of lime. One before you tee off is said to improve your swing; a couple after the round and you’ll soon forget all the double bogeys.
WHERE TO STAY
The two best places for golfers are Tucker's Point Resort, a Rosewood Resort that opened in 2009 just a quarter of an hour from the airport in the northeast section of the island, or the Fairmont Southampton in the southwest corner. The 88-room Tucker's Point, a former Marriott that was entirely gutted and rebuilt, exudes luxury with its gorgeous rooms, spa, library, outdoor courtyards and villas. The Fairmont offers nice rooms and a great location right across the street from Horseshoe Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the island with its famous ‘pink’ sand. It is also closer to Riddell's Bay Golf and Country Club.
BA offers a daily service to Bermuda during the summer and flies there five times a week during the winter. Flights are from Gatwick and take six and a half hours.
WHERE TO PLAY