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Five things to know: Port Royal Golf Course

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Five things to know: Port Royal Golf Course


    Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR

    By the time Henry Picard strolled Port Royal Golf Course on the western tip of Bermuda in late 1970, his words had some weight. The man had done a few things – wins in the Masters, the PGA Championship and curing Ben Hogan of the hooks, for starters.

    “This will go down as one of the greatest golf courses in the world,” Picard said.

    He cited the natural contours of the land and the forever x-factor in golf course design: wind.

    Now, we can excuse Picard for the hyperbole, but give the man credit for this – he was spot-on about the contours and the wind. They are the main ingredients to a delightful recipe for a golf course that has been beloved by native golfers, visitors and club pros for decades.

    Now that it’s a PGA TOUR stage for a fifth straight year, the world’s best players can join the parade of admirers. Here are five things to know about Port Royal GC:

    A bit of a slow beginning

    The Bermuda government announced in 1965 that it had approved an expenditure of £12,400 (or $35,000) for preliminary work on a new 18-hole golf course in the Southampton parish.

    It would give Bermuda eight golf courses, or one per every 6,000 residents. Well, the population of this island hasn’t grown substantially since then – from about 48,000 to about 64,000 – and Port Royal remains the eighth golf course, so the ratio is still strong.

    Building Port Royal was big news; Robert Trent Jones, the architect, was at the top of his profession. But the promised opening in late 1967 came and went, as did 1968 and ’69. Turns out there were a lot of challenging land issues, and it wasn’t until 1970 that the course opened.

    Port Royal Golf Course | Butterfield Bermuda Championship

    Its size is a matter of perspective

    When opened 52 years ago, Port Royal at 6,531 yards was the longest course in Bermuda, and those who played it called it a demanding challenge – even more so than the long-admired Mid Ocean Club that dated to the famed Charles Blair Macdonald in 1921.

    But since the renovation work by Roger Rulewich was completed in 2009, Port Royal plays to 6,828 yards. That makes it longer, but still the second-shortest course on the PGA TOUR.

    That said, one shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these “little guys.”

    Consider the three shortest courses used for tournaments on the 2022-23 PGA TOUR schedule – Pebble Beach (6,816), Port Royal and TPC River Highlands (6,841). An impressive list, and as Aaron Wise says, Port Royal shouldn’t be disparaged for its “shortness,” either.

    “It's definitely not a bomber's golf course,” Wise said. “(But) the crazy part is how much it changes because the wind's blowing 30 miles an hour. Then all of a sudden, if the wind switches to the dead opposite way, a ball goes 50 yards shorter or longer than it did the day before.”

    It brings the Goodwill

    Organized in 1953, the Bermuda Goodwill Golf pro-am had a wide reach right from the start as clubs from the United Kingdom, and the United States got on board. Club professionals brought three amateurs with them, and the attraction was an instant hit.

    Just two years after it opened, Port Royal joined the Goodwill rota in 1972 and it’s been there since, joining Mid Ocean as staples. (The third course can be Belmont Hills or Tucker’s Point.)

    This year’s Goodwill tournament will be Dec. 3-6, and while it might not attract the likes of Dai Rees – a three-time runner-up at The Open Championship and the victorious captain of the GB&I team in the 1957 Ryder Cup, he brought over members of his club for the 1972 Goodwill – a long list of golfers from some heralded clubs will soak in the Port Royal ambiance.

    Players feel the island vibes

    In as many words, PGA TOUR pros sometimes echo the sentiments of Mark Twain, who said: “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

    Patrick Rodgers calls it “our little slice of paradise,” which “translates into some great golf.”

    As if to prove his point, Rodgers tied for third last year, two back of Ireland’s Seamus Power, who also professed to be a big fan of the Bermuda golf experience.

    “I really, really enjoy the place,” Power said. “I didn't know much about the island before I came here the first time, but I've enjoyed my experience every time.

    “It's unique,” he continued, “even something as small as like the ferry coming across to the course, I find like it's different and it's a beautiful place. And I made some friends here over the years now too, so it's a stop I really look forward to all year.”

    The closing holes are gorgeous but tough

    Lucas Herbert couldn’t help but be mesmerized strolling the 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Port Royal GC. “Amazing views,” the Aussie said with a whistle. Of course, he had to snap out of it when things got serious because as signature holes go, the 235-yard, par-3 16th at Port Royal can ruin your tournament with one swing of the club.

    “That could easily be the toughest hole you’ll ever play in your life,” Ernie Els once said, and many would agree, citing the tee shot that demands a massive carry over the Atlantic Ocean.

    To his credit in 2021, for the week Herbert played the 16th in level par, then scored 4-under on the par-5 17th, where water comes into play left, and 1-under on the 18th with its uphill challenge. A pretty good finishing touch, for sure, and a big reason why Herbert won.

    Lucas Herbert’s Round 4 highlights from Butterfield Bermuda

    Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.

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