Last fall I got a chance to play Port Royal in Southampton, Bermuda at the Gosling's Invitational tournament. I quickly fell in love with the views and layout, and its easily become one of my favorite golf courses that I've ever played.
While Bermuda was never on my golf map before this trip, I'm more than happy to get the word out there because more golfers should consider this golf course in their travel plans.
Bermuda's Golf Crown Jewel
Most golfers don't know it, but Bermuda is an amazing golf destination. Just a short flight from most East Coast Airports, it should get more attention than it does.
Golfers can choose from Port Royal, Turtle Hill, Belmont Hills, Ocean View, and Tucker's Point. Port Royal and Mid Ocean Club are the two most acclaimed courses on the island, but since Port Royal is a fully public course it is usually the top choice for visitors to the island. As a side note, despite Mid Ocean Club being fully private, the staff at Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa can get you on there, which I detailed in my review here.
Port Royal Golf Club hosted the PGA Grand Slam from 2009 to 2014. This brought the course (and the island) plenty of attention from golfers since they were able to watch the winners of each major championship compete on its stunning layout.
Unfortunately, Port Royal lost the tournament in 2015, which hurt golf tourism to the island.
After playing several rounds at Port Royal during my week at the Goslings Invitational tournament, I'm here to tell you that this is a must-play destination. If you are planning a golf trip it should definitely be on your radar. This was my second trip to Bermuda and it's far and away one of my favorite vacation destinations.
A Ton of Strategic Decisions
After playing Port Royal several times and thinking about the layout of each hole, the course does a great job of testing your decision making. Robert Trent Jones first designed the course in 1970, and in 2009 it was renovated by Robert Rulewich as part of a $16 million project.
In my opinion, it's more of a tee shot course. I have never found myself in as many fairway bunkers as I did in my rounds there. On almost every par 4 or par 5 there are bunkers staggered in such a way that it will make you think twice about your target and club selection. There are plenty of landing areas that are pinched by bunkers and are ready to collect your slightly errant tee shots.
Additionally, several holes have some sneaky, difficult trouble that you might not be aware of if you never played the course before. For example, on 14 if you hit your tee shot up the left side your direct view of the green is blocked out by trees. But if you cheat too much to the right you'll be greeted by a large bunker and some trees.
The tee shot on the dog-leg right 15th might be the most difficult. The left side is guarded by two large bunkers, and if you go too far to the right you will lose your ball in some native bushes. Plenty of players posted big numbers on this hole during the tournament. Ignorance was bliss the first time I played the 15th because from the tee it tricks you into thinking the landing area is more management than it really is.
On iron shots, I found myself second-guessing club selections due to the elevation changes and wind conditions. None is more challenging than the par 3 16th, which is Port Royal's signature hole. When you first arrive you can't help but admire the beauty of the hole, but when you get on the tee box things change quickly. In both of our rounds, it was a swirling wind off the water, which had me pulling out three clubs. You can't help but want to bail out to the right, which can leave a terrifying bunker shot towards the ocean, or an extremely downhill pitch shot off the Bermuda grass. On both days I was able to leave my shots to the short-right side of the green for easy up and downs.
Overall, the wind, bunkering, and elevation changes are the courses main defense. I had so much fun playing Port Royal because there was so much variety from one hole to the next. While I would consider it a challenging course, it's also very playable for golfers of all levels because there are fairly wide landing areas off the tee. It's a fair, interesting test of golf.
What A Beautiful Ride
Port Royal is almost two golf courses rolled into one. The clubhouse is perched on the highest point of the course and serves as a dividing point between most of the front nine and the back. Your tee shot off the first brings you down a steep elevation change as you head away from the ocean. The first seven holes are partially guarded against the sea's wind as you meander through a lush low point. Most of the holes are guarded by trees earlier on, and it gives the appearance of a tropical inland golf course.
As you make your way on the par-5 7th hole, conditions abruptly change both visually and with the wind. You are no longer protected by the hills, and you get a clear view of the ocean on the 7th green and 8th tee box. The course becomes dramatically more beautiful at this point because the ocean is in full view. However, this is where the wind can really show its teeth.
As you make your way up the 9th hole you start to realize just what a special piece of land you are on. For the rest of the round, you are treated to beautiful views of Bermuda's light-blue ocean. My view from the top reminded me of rounds I played in Hawaii. Simply put, Port Royal is one of the most visually stunning courses I have ever played and I think you'll feel the same way.
Things come full circle when you tee off on the 16th hole. There aren't many golf courses in the world with this kind of view, and it reminded me of my out-of-body experience earlier this year at the 16th at Cabot Cliffs in Canada.
If you are traveling to Bermuda, Port Royal has to be on the top of your list. It's the best fully public course the island has to offer and consistently ranked amongst the best in the world. My hope is to be back soon!