East Coast island hop: Nearby Bermuda is home to diverse golf courses and pleasures

BERMUDA -- At the Crow Circle Lane roundabout en route to Bermuda's capitol city of Hamilton sits Johnny Barnes. An omnipresent morning figure, the retired bus driver, known as "Mr. Happy Man," greets a.m. motorists and passerby with graces of "Good morning!" and "I love you!"

Such is the unique character, color and singularity of Bermuda, a proud island (actually a series of connected islands) that is a British Overseas Territory comprised of a mere 21 square miles.

Long lauded for its pink sand beaches and beatific, crystalline blue waters, Bermuda boasts the world's most courses per square mile. Don't be fooled by the island's diminutive size, Bermuda has a wealth of golf culture. Beneath its trademark, moody skies, the seven courses across Bermuda's nine parishes present a distinct flavor of British design influence with rolling topography and ceaseless Atlantic Ocean vistas.

Coupling diverse golf options with a versatile drink and dining scene, the venerable getaway destination proves an easy hop for east coasters seeking summer sand or winter respites; a mere two-hour flight from New York or Boston, the island's mannerly, proper hosts provide for big appetites both on and off the course.

Golf on Bermuda

Belmont Hills Golf Club, on the south shore of the island's Warwick Parish, proves a fine test of tee accuracy and a studied short game. Though playing a mere 6,017 yards from the tips, Belmont's oft-elevated teeth prove long upon what are reputed as Bermuda's most undulating greens.

A time for nine may be found at the Ocean View Golf Course, conveniently located just a few miles outside the capital city of Hamilton. Elevated boxes define the government-owned, par-35 layout.

Home to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 2009-14, challenging Port Royal Golf Course located in Southampton Parish is a must-play. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1970 before enjoying an extensive, 2009 rework by Roger Rulewich (part of Jones' original design team), the island's longest track at 6,842 yards boasts distance, ocean views, elevated green structures and the aptly famed par-3 16th to make a few rounds here worth the Bermuda visit alone.

Private Riddell's Bay Golf & Country Club is Bermuda's oldest 18-hole course, which is available to the public via hotel bookings. Set upon a 600-acre peninsula in Warwick Parish, the par-70 1922 design from Devereux Emmet cards at 5,800 yards and presents some of the island's most scenic play.

Locals debate whether Port Royal or the Mid Ocean Club is Bermuda's best track. Open for public play on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the 1921 design from Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor (with a subtle rework by Robert Trent Jones in 1953) presents ceaseless character and scenery, combined with continual shot-making demands across its 6,500 yards.

Tucker's Point Golf Course is a rollercoaster of a fine time with elevation tests accompanied by consistent wind study. Originally designed by Charles H. Banks in 1932 before enjoying a course enhancement from Roger Rulewich in 2002, the "Billy Goat" of a course (as locals say) is a measure of beautiful, classic hole-to-hole segues and excellent vistas.

The 18-hole, par-3 course at Turtle Hill Golf Club at the Fairmont Southampton proves a game play well worthy of placing onto the itinerary. Well bunkered with terrific greens and fun elevation, the Ted Robinson design will engage all spectrum of golfer, ranging from low-handicappers to family outings.

Accommodations and dining

The spoils of the Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa on Bermuda's Paget Parish are in abundance, ranging from plush accommodations, to spa, to an idyllic overlook of Hamilton Harbor. Guests at Newstead enjoy seasonal shuttle to beaches, along with gratis water taxi to downtown Hamilton and Belmont Hills Golf; those staying at the resort also enjoy one complementary round of play.

To dine at Newstead, the alliterative proves illustrious at both on-site Beau Rivage and Blu Bar & Grill, with the latter located at the nearby golf course. At Beau, the French stylings of chef Jean-Claude Garzia count among the island's most celebrated; for a special party evening, give a call to see if the Chef's Table is available. At Blu, steak, fresh catch and sushi highlight (and don't miss out on the Rockfish; a provincial favorite).

Special occasions will be well placed at the Fairmont Southampton's historic Waterlot Inn, where an excellent wine list and Bermuda's best steak plate on par with impeccable, fine-dining service.

For some truly local flavor, ensure a stop at one of two Art Mels Spicy Dicy locations, where the famed Fish Sandwich (enough for two) awes with raisin bread, coleslaw and hot sauce.

The lively downtown of Front Street in Hamilton is a must-visit for the imbibing night owl. Start the evening with pub fare at fun Flanagan's before a walkable segue over to a host of inviting bars and clubs.

Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer hailing from St. Paul, Minn. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Spring, Calif. region to further pursue his golf work and Champions Tour dream. Sporting measured distance off the tee, Spicer refers to his pitching wedge as his "magic wand." Follow Judd on Twitter at @juddspicer.
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East Coast island hop: Nearby Bermuda is home to diverse golf courses and pleasures