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Five Things to Know: Port Royal Golf Course

5 Min Read

Need to Know

    Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR

    By that point in his life, the man had done a few things and been a few places – wins in the Masters, the PGA Championship and curing Ben Hogan of the hooks, for starters – so when Henry Picard strolled Port Royal Golf Course on the western tip of Bermuda one day in late 1970, his words had some weight.

    “This will go down as one of the greatest golf courses in the world,” Picard told a reporter. The reasons he cited involved “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, only now that it’s a PGA TOUR stage for a fourth straight year, the world’s best players can join the parade of admirers.

    To fully appreciate Port Royal GC, here are five things to know:

    A bit of a slow beginning

    It was announced in 1965 that the Bermuda government 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 64,000 – and Port Royal remains the eighth golf course, so the ratio is still strong.

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

    Its size is a matter of perspective

    When opened 52 years ago, Port Royal at 6,531 yards was the longest golf course in Bermuda. Golfers who played it in the ‘70s conceded it was a demanding challenge, 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 the second-shortest course of those used for PGA TOUR tournaments – only 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).

    A rather impressive list, truth be told, and should you want to dismiss Port Royal because of its “shortness,” Aaron Wise suggests you’re making a mistake.

    “It's definitely not a bomber's golf course,” said the former PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year. “(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.”

    Goodwill quickly fell in line

    Quietly organized in 1953, the Bermuda Goodwill Golf was a pro-am that 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 being opened, Port Royal joined the Goodwill rota in 1972 and it’s been there ever since, joining Mid Ocean as staples. (The third course this year will be Belmont Hills; some years it is Tucker’s Point.)

    This year’s Goodwill tournament, the 70th, will be staged Nov. 14-16, and while it might not attract the likes of Dai Rees – a three-time Open Championship runner-up and victorious captain of the GB&I team in the 1957 Ryder Cup who brought over members of his club to play Port Royal and Mid Ocean in the 1972 Goodwill – a lengthy list of golfers from some heralded clubs will soak in the Port Royal ambiance.

    Oh, yes, players feel the island vibes

    PGA TOUR guys are more likely to listen to Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods when it comes to their line of work. But regarding this island trip, well, they could echo the sentiments of Mark Twain, who famously said: “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

    Patrick Rodgers calls it “our little slice of paradise” and suggests that the calm and tranquility “translates into some great golf.”

    The finishing touch is beautiful, but beware

    Lucas Herbert couldn’t help but be mesmerized strolling the 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Port Royal GC. “Amazing views,” whistled the Aussie. 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 told a reporter and there is a long, long line of player who’d agree with him about this massive tee shot over the Atlantic Ocean.

    To his credit, 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.

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