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Golfing (or not) in Bermuda

by Johnny Lucas

I don't golf. There. I feel much better about having this dirty secret about my character out in the open. When I told a friend that I was going to Bermuda for the golf he said "Hey, that's grea... - you!" The truth is I have not been a golf-positive person.

In Bermuda one has to be very careful about this. There are a few things you don't do in Bermuda: you don't call Bermuda a Caribbean island, and you don't not golf. My recent sociological investigations throughout the island colony have led me to the inescapable conclusion that golf is the dominant culture of Bermuda.

Consider the facts. Bermuda has only 54 square kilometres of surface area to work with, yet it has eight golf courses. The weather is perfect for golf most of the year: room temperature with light breezes.

Consider the Bermudian national dress: perfectly respectable businessmen carry on their affairs all day dressed in hot pink, daffodil yellow or electric green Bermuda shorts. In all other parts of the world this sort of garb is restricted to just one venue: the golf course.

They also have a private language. They talk about men with three names and their courses. I've heard of the Norman Vincent Peel course, but that's not the same as a Charles Blair MacDonald course, or a Robert Trent Jones course.

And those same respectable Bermudian men, and even more respectable looking women are regularly overheard to say in public "Shall we play around tomorrow?" or "We played around with some visitors from Boston last week and they beat us badly." The colonies are known for the strange goings on of the inhabitants. Would anyone think that they were talking about "a round" of golf? You tell me.

And there's the matter of who the heroes are: it's the favourite golf pros who are remembered in large photos in the club houses. At Mid Ocean Golf Club there are also photos of Churchill, Eisenhower, MacMillian, Lester Pearson and St. Laurent, but those are smaller black and white photos. The statesmen were in Bermuda merely to decide the fate of post-war Europe, not to golf.

Mid Ocean Club is the most expensive and the most exclusive of Bermuda's courses, so I began my investigations of the golf culture there. And I have to say that it's a nice piece of real estate: rolling hills, some waterfront, a private beach and lots of really terrific lawns.

In fact it was conceived as a real estate venture. There are 325 private houses within the grounds of Mid Ocean, some are in enclaves away from the action of the game, some are just off the fairways squeezed in between the rocky south shore and a narrow border of shrubbery, others sit right at the tee areas or on the greens.

I spoke to Ricky Cox about the concept of a house on the golf course grounds. Ricky is a serious golfer, a son of the island, a Hamilton business man, and a friend.

There's nice three bedroom house for sale on the third tee for a mere $US3 million and I asked Ricky if he perhaps coveted it. Even though he already has a nice house, I kidded him that a residence right on the course would save him a little commuting time.

"I wouldn't have that house - it gets pelted. I should know, I've hit it hundreds of times. It's not safe. You can't sit outside, you have to wear a helmet if you do." Rumour has it that Ricky occasionally exaggerates.

I then floated the idea of my playing a round with him. (Typographer, please be sure there's a space in "a round") In hindsight I realize that this suggestion was trying his powers of tact to the limit. The idea of him doing the course in 80 strokes accompanied by me doing it in possibly 800, in full view of his friends and the world - well, we never did play.

I did go to his club the next day and had some time with Bryan Mewett, the General Manager of Mid Ocean. He explained that the reason this course is special is because it followed the natural contours of the land and was laid out in the days before heavy earth-moving equipment was a normal requisite of golf course construction.

He discounted Ricky's concerns for the peril of white falling objects. "We've had damaged cars, broken windscreens, but so far," he said touching wood, "no heads." Windows are another story. They are so regularly sacrificed to the sport that Bryan keeps stocks of pre-cut glass in the sizes of the most often-broken panes on hand in the club house. When a window gives up the ghost, it's ordered by number and replaced immediately.

Bryan lent me a golf cart and I zipped around the course, staying on the asphalt paths as carts must do at Mid Ocean, in a kind of one-man bumper car tour. No denying it's a beautiful course: like a great park with extremely well-kept houses scattered throughout and sparsely populated by very polite people, mostly on foot.

But was I getting closer to the truth about golf? Yes, a little, but I needed another approach. So I hung around the first tee and talked to the caddies. Mid Ocean is the only course in Bermuda to have caddies, they not only know the course but they can read the players too. James Daniels, a long time caddie, told me that "some folks are so busy talking about their stuff that I have to tell them 'Hit the ball, hit the ball.'"

Like all other Bermudians James is not overly impressed by celebrities. When George Bush and Gerald Ford came to the course "they didn't tell no secrets, not to me. They just wanted to know what club to use, so I told them. And they did what I told them."

As I was talking with James, Jim from New York City joined our conversation. Jim is a young guy who volunteered that he was on the first day of his honeymoon.

James asked the obvious question as to the whereabouts of Jim's bride. "She doesn't golf. She's off on a motor scooter somewhere." I asked him if he liked Bermuda. Said Jim, ready to ravish the course, "I feel right at home here."

When I temporarily gave up on trying to delve the mysterious culture of this peculiar sport I thought of Mark Twain. Mark Twain came to Bermuda and loved it, he compared it to heaven. He also gave us one of the best anti-golf quotes there is. He wrote "Golf is a good walk spoiled." So in that spirit I took myself off for a clubless, solitary saunter. I went along the route of the trans-island railway, now a hiking path. I enjoyed the panoramas of open ocean, cows in small pastures, pink houses and views of Bermudan back yards.

On the Railway Trail, deep in a rock cut in a cool glade about as far from a golf course as it's possible to get without leaving the island, I found a golf ball. That's amazing, yes. What's more amazing is that this didn't surprise me at all, I was almost prepared to believe that golf balls sprouted like mushrooms in Bermudan soil.

When I started entertaining ideas like that I knew that my intellectual pursuit of an understanding of golf was lost. I toured to a few other courses, noted that a tournament had been played the previous weekend despite 100 km/hr winds. I walked on the eighth hole at Port Royal, the hole that is snuggled against the cliffs with the Atlantic Ocean as a water hazard to the rear, and I admired the views of the bay from Belmont.

On my last day in Bermuda I went by Mid Ocean (it's just 10 minutes from the airport) I was hoping against hope for the blinding light of insight into this cult, this addiction, this culture of golf. Guess what, I got it.

It was a revelation that I have not yet dared to tell even my closest friends, it's a confession that's far more embarrassing to me than the confession I made in the first paragraph of this little rant. It happened as I watched a few people position themselves at the first tee and whap a ball out into a perfectly blue Bermuda day. Something inside my brain made the same satisfying "thwuack" as the hitting of a golf ball and with a ray of enlightenment the thought possessed me that "Hey, I could do that."

1,450 words

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Page maintained by Johnny Lucas, © J.P.Lucas. Created: June 24, 1996 Updated: January 11, 1997