As a seven-handicapper who has owned a house in Bermuda for 35 years, Helen Stovell knows something about golf on that mid-Atlantic isle where politicians in Parliament still wear white wigs and businessmen don shorts and knee socks. So it's not surprising that she shunned the track known as Castle Harbor, even though it was only a five-minute moped ride from her home. The course had too many blind shots and hillside lies, she thought, and the conditioning was never up to par.
But Stovell has had a true change of heart, thanks to the redesign by architect Roger Rulewich, who toiled as the great Robert Trent Jones' senior designer before going out on his own. After playing the revamped layout a dozen times this past year, she fairly raves about the track, whose name was changed to Tucker's Point Club when it reopened in the spring of 2002 as the centerpiece of a $300 million resort project.
Stovell stops short of saying Tucker's Point is the best on an island that has more golf courses per square mile (eight) than any other place on earth. She reserves that for neighboring Mid Ocean Club, a classic Charles Blair Macdonald design ranked by many players as one of the finest anywhere. "But Tucker's Point is definitely number two," she adds. "And a very strong number two at that."
It's hard to think of Tucker's Point as being second to anything—especially as you stand on what is now the 17th tee (and was number one on the old course) late one autumn afternoon. The sunset turns the partly cloudy sky soft shades of red and orange, and the whitewashed, stepped-roof cottages nestled in small groups make it feel as if you are about to hit into a Winslow Homer painting. The wind, as usual, is blowing, and that turns the 310-yard par four into a much tougher test than its length might seem to indicate. And even a long and straight tee shot into the breeze still leaves you with a nine-iron to an uphill green full of maddeningly subtle breaks.
Actually, it feels that way on most of the par-70 course. Tucker's Point, at 6,361 yards, has a wonderfully natural beauty, from ocean vistas of the elevated tees to low-lying coral walls and lush groves of palm, oleander, rubber, and spice trees. A ten-minute taxi ride from the island's main airport, itself only a two-hour flight from New York City, the property occupies an enclave known as Tucker's Town. Once a small farming and fishing community where cotton was grown and from which whaling boats sailed, it is now a posh second-home community whose residents include Ross Perot and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Yet Tucker's Point retains a quiet, unspoiled quality very much in keeping with Bermuda, where neon signs are banned, cars limited, and environmental laws strict.
Rulewich not only rebuilt all 18 greens with TifEagle, a superlative Bermuda grass that provides optimum putting surfaces, but he also gave them new contours. In addition, the architect constructed five new holes and installed the colony's first computerized golf-course irrigation system, fed by a one-acre pond guarding the ninth hole. Rulewich also put in 17 new tees and 20 new bunkers, and found room for a new practice facility—no easy task on such a small (21 square miles) island. All told, he moved tons of earth in an extraordinary effort to flatten fairways, eliminate blind shots, and cut down on the quirky lies that so often bedeviled golfers in the past.
And finally, there are the holes themselves. Take the par-three 11th, which hugs the harbor on the right side and requires a precise long iron that is best faded between a pair of green side bunkers. Or number 16, an uphill dogleg left where the target off the tee is a thick stand of ficus trees. Players even find themselves praising the 12th, a seemingly unexciting par four that doesn't demand much more than a five-iron off the tee and a pitching wedge into the green. But it does overlook Harrington Sound and the blue-green waters that glisten in the afternoon sunlight, a sight that gets even the most single-minded golfer thinking of the snorkeling possibilities that exist when the round is done.
Tucker's Point has always had the goods, but only after the Rulewich revamping did it acquire the design and the conditioning to compete with the best in Bermuda, if not any island course in North America or the Caribbean.
What makes the course stand out even more is its association with an ambitious new development slated for completion in 2005. By that time, Tucker's Point will have a 61-room hotel configured as classic Bermudan cottage clusters; a 14,000-square-foot spa run by The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia; three small residential communities with houses, townhouses, and villas that will sell for as much as $5 million apiece; a golf, tennis, and beach club; a retail village; and a 21,000-square-foot clubhouse.
Although the course is essentially complete, the rest of Tucker's Point is clearly under construction. You can see that when you arrive at the ninth green and come upon the foundation for the soon-to-be-built clubhouse, and also behind the green at number 11, where abandoned (and soon to be torn down) parts of the old Castle Harbor hotel are visible. There are also signs along the right side of the 17th fairway, where some of the 26 single-family houses and townhouses that make up an area known as Ship's Hill Estates are being built.
The principle investors in the new Tucker's Point Club are the Argus Insurance Company and Bermuda Properties Ltd., which has owned and operated the asset since 1957. According to John Bush III, the executive vice president for residential development at Tucker's Point, the reasons for the massive makeover are simple. "The land has always been phenomenal," he says. "We have the largest private resort beach in Bermuda, and the 200-plus acres we have make us the largest privately owned parcel of land on the island. But the old hotel wasn't very good, and wasn't making any money. So the owners decided they needed a truly luxury product at a luxury price."
On one level, Tucker's Point is an actual golf club, with a projected membership roster of 375, each of whom will have to put down an $85,000 deposit if his, or her, application is accepted. (Memberships may be bought and sold with houses.) It will also be a place for those who own houses on the property as well as for guests of the hotel. Most likely the track will make itself available to limited outside play.
What all those golfers will find at Tucker's Point is something that is both club course and resort course, a layout that will remain interesting and challenging to regulars yet fair and forgiving to first-timers who do not know the different bounces and breaks. The elevated tees provide dramatic views, the spacious greens a host of possibilities for pin placement and plenty of difficulty when it comes to getting down in two. As for length, the track has five par threes and is short enough to give even mid- to-high handicappers plenty of opportunities to score well. But there is always enough breeze coming off the ocean to keep big hitters in check. And though there is only one real water hazard—that irrigation pond on the par-four ninth—there are plenty of places where slightly errant drives can soar quite easily out-of-bounds.
Helen Stovell is explaining all this to her playing partners as they stand on the 17th tee at the end of a Sunday round, gazing past the palms and hibiscus trees and across the water to St. David's Lighthouse, the final beacon for the prestigious Newport-Bermuda sailboat race. "You might have come out here for the views before they did all this work," she says as her friends, all of whom also have second homes on the island, nod in agreement. "But now you come out here for the golf."
Greens fees are $150 per person; 441-298-6970, 441-298-6915; www.tuckerspoint.com.
Bermuda does not have much in the way of land, but designers have found space enough to build eight golf courses, several of them well worth playing. At the top of every golfer's list is MID OCEAN, a Charles Blair Macdonald design that opened in 1921 and abuts the Tucker's Point Club in several spots. The layout, a 6,512-yard par-71, tests even the very best players with its deceptive length and devilish design; it often plays long and provides some wonderful ocean views and cliffside tees. Though part of a private club, it is open to guests on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Another popular retreat is RIDDELL'S BAY, a short (5,800-yard) par-70 track in Warwick Parish, in the Southwest. It is the colony's oldest course and one of its most scenic, built on a small peninsula that juts into Little Sound. Tight fairways and narrow greens are the rule here, and drivers are often best left in the bag. As is the case with Tucker's Point and Mid Ocean, Riddell's Bay is a private club, but one that provides tee times to guests, generally through the better-known hotels and guesthouses.
Greens fees are $200 for Mid Ocean; 441-293-0330. Fees for Riddell's Bay are $110; 441-238-1060.
In the Pink
The course at Tucker's Point is ready, but it will be months before the hotel is completed. So where is a golfer to stay?
Perhaps the best option is the PINK BEACH CLUB, a five-minute drive from the Roger Rulewich redesign (and just as close to the superlative Mid Ocean layout). Set on nearly 13 acres of rolling hills and lush gardens, the hotel overlooks the Atlantic and two magnificent pink-coral-sand beaches. Twenty traditional Bermuda cottages house a total of 94 suites and junior suites, all with private balconies; many also have water views. Built in the 1920s as a seasonal home for an American family, it was turned into a club in the late 1940s by a consortium of locals and retains an old-world feel, even with the modern amenities added over the years. Situated in Tucker's Town and just four miles from the airport, the club has two restaurants, a heated swimming pool, fitness center, two tennis courts, and daily traditional English tea. Pink Beach also provides in-room spa services. Even more importantly, it has access to tee times at both Tucker's Point and Mid Ocean.
Rooms, $430-$750. At 11 South Shore Road; 800-355-6161, 441-293-1666; www.pinkbeach.com.
John Steinbreder wrote about Texas' Barton Creek Resort in the January issue of Departures.