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Bermuda: Great people, great golf

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

In the last 30 years, my husband and I have been to Bermuda 20 times.
Only a three-hour flight from Atlanta, Bermuda lies east of us in the Atlantic Ocean. There are nine golf courses within the 21 square miles of the island. Two of them are presently closed for renovations, but will open shortly. Gene and I have played all of them.
Some of the courses are private but become available through golf packages and Bermuda-sponsored tournaments (like the Bermuda Goodwill Open).  
Belmont Hills Golf Club. One of the older courses, opening for play in 1915, was part of the old Belmont Hills Hotel. The original building was torn down and the course extensively renovated in 2002. It is now the Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa.
Castle Harbour (Now Tuckers Point). Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones and Charles Banks, the course was cut back to nine holes during World War II. On the site is an old African-American cemetery with about 12 known graves. Other unmarked gravesites are said to be scattered around the greens and fairways nearby.
When the old Castle Harbour Hotel closed, the original 18 holes were renovated and reopened as Tuckers Point, a private club, in 2004.
Mid Ocean Golf Club. It opened in 1922 and was designed by Charles Blair MacDonald, who won the first U.S. Amateur in 1895. This course is also private.
Renovated by Robert Trent Jones in 1953, the course has been host to such luminaries as presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Babe Ruth played there and reportedly put 11 straight balls into a Mangrove Lake before driving over it.   
Ocean View Golf Club. It is nine holes with two sets of tees. It was originally designed as the only course in Bermuda for African-Americans. The clubhouse was built on the foundations of an old fort.    
Port Royal. This is home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an elite tournament open only to the winners that year of the Masters, U.S. Open, The (British) Open and PGA Championship.
First played in 1979 at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., the tournament moved around each year, finally settling in Hawaii from 1994-2006. In 2007 and 2008, the Grand Slam was played at the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda. In 2009 it moved to Port Royal, a Robert Trent Jones design that had been refurbished for the event at a cost of $15.9 million. The Grand Slam has been there ever since, with contracts running through 2014.
Riddell’s Bay Golf & Country Club. This club also opened in 1922 and was designed by Devereux Emmet, who also designed the Congressional Gold Club near Washington, D.C.
St. George’s Golf Club. This wonderful executive course (par 62) is closed for renovations. It overlooks Fort St. Catherine and the town of St. George.
Turtle Hill Golf Club. One of my favorite vacation courses, Turtle Hill is an 18-hole par-3 course that plays at 2,684 yards. Holes range from a short 100 yards to more than 200 yards. Yardages in Bermuda are always measured to the front of the green, not the center.
Bermuda is hilly and shaped like a long, narrow fishhook with many bays, inlets and islands. Most golf holes in Bermuda have spectacular views of sandy beaches, craggy coral rock formations, deep blue water, palm trees and brightly colored homes nestled into the hillsides. It’s truly hard to keep your head down in Bermuda.
Golf began in Bermuda in the late 1800s, when British Army officers brought their clubs to the island. Today, golf is a vital part of the tourism industry in Bermuda, bringing in thousands of visitors each year.
The island was first discovered in 1505 by Juan de Bermudez but was not settled until 1609, when two ships from a British fleet of nine foundered on the reefs and 150 sailors and settlers made their way to shore from a sinking ship. Other ships came to help and, eventually, Bermuda became a British colony.
Without sufficient land suitable for farming, residents and settlers turned to other means of survival, including fishing, ship building, maritime trade, privateering and harvesting salt in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands. Many ships that helped in the American Revolutionary War were built in Bermuda.
At times Bermudians were not happy with British rule and speculation exists that had Bermuda been closer to the mainland of the United States, it would have been the 14th American signer of the Declaration of Independence.   
The population of Bermuda today is a mixture of many ethnic and racial groups. In all the years we have been going there, I have never met a rude or impolite person and we have made friends of several folks who are citizens of Bermuda.
One such person is Sinclair Woodley. Sinclair is a cab driver and a carpenter/cabinet maker. He is a former Bermuda soccer star and all-around terrific guy. When you are in Sinclair Woodley’s cab, folks all along the way, honk, shout and wave at him.   
It all began in 1989, when we took his cab to a restaurant and he asked whether we needed a ride the next morning.
“Sure,” Gene said, “pick us up tomorrow morning.”
The roads in Bermuda are narrow and hilly, bordered by cliffs on one side and crevasses on the other. There are roundabouts everywhere. To make matters more difficult for Americans, everyone drives on the left-hand side of the road. Since then, Sinclair has been our driver each time we have been to Bermuda. He is kind, affable and a certified tour guide. He knows local history, good restaurants, museums—and beaches and great fishing spots. He can tell you what international celebrity is in residence at any time and what local activities and festivals are taking place.     
We always call him before we go to Bermuda and he arranges for all the cabs. Usually, we travel in a foursome of golfers with spouses and need more than one vehicle. We’ve even given his card to relatives and friends who have gone to Bermuda.
We have played golf with Sinclair’s son, and we rejoiced when he had his first grandchild.  
Several years ago, when he told us that his wife was diagnosed with cancer, we commiserated with him as she endured treatments, many of them in the United States. A few years later, when he told us that she had died, we all cried in his cab.  
Sinclair has his own, unique island lingo.  
“You lot need to go to Hamilton” means “Y’all need to go to Hamilton.”
He calls me “Mum,” not “Ma’man.”
We’ve invited him to come to visit us here in Brunswick County the next time he is in the U.S. I look forward to his visit.
And so, dear readers, if you’ve never been to Bermuda, put it on your bucket list.

Golf Gab groaner
Every Saturday, Charles went to play golf and returned groaning and moaning about his game. Finally, he came home on Saturday, threw his clubs all over the garage, took an ax to his golf bag and set his golf shoes on fire.
His disgusted wife finally said, “If it’s that bad, why don’t you just stop playing golf?”
“What? And give up my only form of relaxation?”  

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.