The final spot in golf’s most elite foursome has been filled.
By beating Bubba Watson in a three-hole playoff to capture the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old German star, won the final berth in the world’s most exclusive tournament—the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. This year’s major-champion winners will face off at Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda Oct. 18 – 20 in a 36-hole stroke play event.
Kaymer, a native of Dusseldorf and the first German to capture a major championship since Bernhard Langer won the 1993 Masters, continues the trend of first-time major champions. In June, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland claimed victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, followed by South African Louis Oosthuizen’s seven-shot victory at St. Andrews in the Open Championship. They will join Ernie Els, who will replace Phil Mickelson, the reigning Masters champion. Diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, Mickelson elected to rest following his late-season appearances in the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup. Els, a three-time major winner, captured the 1997 PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
The Grand Slam, now in its 28th year, will again travel to Bermuda, its 22 two square miles of civility and serenity located 650 miles offshore of North Carolina. A group of coral islands capping a beveled volcanic cone, Bermuda is hardly the “Isle of Devils” feared by early explorers who often wrecked on her reefs.
Officially a British overseas territory, Bermuda today is a paradise in miniature ringed by pink sand beaches and turquoise-blue waters, an enchanted spot where English traditions endure, where true luxury (defined as the absence of vulgarity) exists, and where the charming, well-spoken residents have perfected the art of hospitality.
With more golf courses per square mile than any other country in the world–eight layouts on an island barely 21 square miles in size–Bermuda has just enough top-flight venues to satisfy purists and more than enough off-course diversions to occupy tourists. Bermuda is especially appealing in the fall, winter and early spring months, when tee times are readily available, courses are uncrowded, green fees (and hotel rates) are reduced, and daytime temperatures are in the 70s.
An unhurried pace returns to Bermuda once summer, a busy family vacation time, has passed. Once autumn arrives, islanders have time to tell their stories. Migrating birds abound, aromatic oleander is in bloom, high-quality European goods are marked down, and native lobster is in season. From late October through March, you can slip on a light sweater and enjoy a rum nog in front of a cedar fire at a restaurant that will gladly accept your last-minute reservation.
Mark Twain, a frequent visitor, claimed Bermuda was the “right country for a jaded man to loaf in.” For players who have yet to experience this tiny, pastel-colored British colony, a place that has no pollution, illiteracy, billboards or sales tax, a well-mannered destination awaits a mere 90 minutes by jet from most East Coast gateways. It’s no accident Bermuda enjoys one of the highest visitor return rates (40%) in the world. Its quality is unvarying, its appeal timeless.
As for the golf, the elite four-man field in the PGA Grand Slam will be competing on a government-owned layout that received a $14.5 million makeover in the run-up to last year’s event won by 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover. The renovation of the 40-year-old Robert Trent Jones-designed layout, which had fallen into disrepair, was spearheaded by Roger Rulewich, who had served as Jones’ man in the field at the time the course was built.
The project required the movement of 100,000 cubic yards of earth to create new lakes to support an advanced irrigation system fed by the facility’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant.
Hundreds of invasive casuarinas trees that had encroached on the fairways were removed, opening up the course to the sun and the sea. Palm trees and Bermudian cedars were planted to frame the holes without enshrouding them. After the fairways and greens were regraded and resurfaced, Rulewich and his team restyled and deepened the bunkers, which had deteriorated after decades of wind erosion.
Port Royal still has numerous sharp doglegs routed on surprisingly hilly terrain as well as nettlesome rough, but there’s not much here to terrify a world-class pro from the tips at 6,842 yards (par 71). For everyone else, Port Royal, perched at the west end of the fishhook-shaped island, presents a scintillating test on a typically breezy day.
While the longer, more rugged front nine can be difficult in spots, the back nine offers sweeping views of the sea and a few more opportunities to score. There are, however, two exceptions. At the par-four 15th, the tee is located hard by the encrusted fortifications of the Whale Bay Battery, an old lookout fort, while the fairway skirts majestic cliffs before climbing to a triple-tiered hilltop green that drops off severely on the right. Par here is a good score.
Port Royal’s postcard hole, the prettiest in Bermuda, is the par-three 16th, which is perched on a coral cliff and in the wake of the makeover stretches to a daunting 235 yards from the tips. Even major champions need to pay attention from this distance on a hole exposed to the elements.
The tee shot on this dazzling one-shotter is played over a scrub-filled ravine to a peninsular green, the ocean flooding the horizon directly beyond the flag. A slim, sickle-shaped bunker wraps behind the green to save shots from tumbling down the cliff. Three additional sand pits defend the bail-out areas at the front and right of the green. The wind, not the player, generally dictates club selection at No. 16. Hook it left into the ocean, and your drop area would be, appropriately, England.
A mile or two closer to Hamilton, capital city of Bermuda, is The Fairmont Southampton, which is offering a Grand Slam of Golf vacation package during this year’s event. The program includes accommodations in a 593-room hotel that resembles a giant pink cruise ship washed ashore, its balconies offering lovely ocean views; one ticket per person to the Grand Slam event; and shuttle transfers to nearby Port Royal.
The package, priced from $229 per room, per night, can be booked for one to three nights. Special pricing is available for guests who wish to extend their stay before or after the Grand Slam. Lingering longer is a good idea–the Fairmont Southampton has a course of its own, an 18-hole, par-three charmer with just enough water, sand and undulation to keep things interesting when the wind blows. At a typical British clip, an average round here takes just over two hours, leaving plenty of time to relax on the resort’s beautiful pink sand beach, explore the island on a motorbike, or go snorkeling in the gin-clear waters.
The Fairmont Southampton: www.fairmont.com/southampton
Port Royal Golf Course: http://www.portroyalgolf.bm/
Bermuda Department of Tourism: www.bermudatourism.com