When talking about locations with a large concentration of golf courses one's mind wanders toward the Grand Strand of North and South Carolina or the Greater Phoenix and Palm Springs areas where there's a different course seemingly on every corner with new ones under development.
But on a recent trip to Bermuda, we saw first hand that a destination need not have 100 courses to be a golfer's delight.
The islands which make up Bermuda are, in total, a hair less in land mass than the island of Manhattan, yet eight fine golf layouts dot the hilly terrain. Each has its own charm, each offers a unique challenge.
To be sure, golf in Bermuda is pricey. Even taking advantage of twilight or special rates a $100 US or more price tag is not unusual. Some courses, if you can finagle an invitation, can cost three times that amount. Still, it's easy to get to from the eastern U.S., a couple hour plane ride away. English is spoken, and golfers are welcome.
On a recent trip I sampled the splendor of the world renowned Mid Ocean Club and the less pretentious Belmont Hills Golf Club. Each required the use of every club in the bag and offered outstanding challenges, beauty and, yes, views of the Atlantic Ocean or Hamilton Harbor.
Recent design changes increased playability on the compact, 6,018-yard, par-70 test at Belmont Hills. With four stellar par-3 holes and only two par-5s, one would think that playing "the Hill" would be a recipe for a low score.
That, my friends, is not a given. It's a relatively tight course, and out of bounds markers come into play on 13 holes. Two large lakes tighten things up, and hilly terrain and the prevailing winds make low scores a challenge.
Augusta National offers its Amen Corner, but Belmont Hills has a three-hole challenge of its own, as several fingers of a lake beckon shots played on the 6th, 7th and 8th holes.
On my recent trip a fairway splitting drive, safety four iron and wedge led to a birdie on the par-5, 470-yard 6th hole, but both of my playing partners found the lake and scored big numbers. Number 7 is a pretty 175-yard par-3, but the back left pin location brought that nasty lake into the picture. Number 8, a par-4, uphill, 330-yard test requires a drive which evades the lake and a second shot to a semi-blind pin position.
My favorite hole was the par-3 17th, a 167-yard hole where the green is a good hundred feet below the teeing area. Standing on the tee one has an excellent view of Hamilton Harbor and the palatial homes which dot the various islands.
If Belmont Hills was a treat, the exclusive Mid Ocean Club is nothing if not a special golf experience. Mid Ocean historically has been ranked among the top-50 courses outside of the United States Golf World and Golf Digest magazines.
History abounds, as everyone from Bobby Jones to Babe Ruth, Sir Winston Churchill to U.S. Presidents Bush, Carter and Eisenhower have played its fairways. Ruth, incidentally, holds the mis-distinction of ballooning to a score which approached 30 when he knocked 11 consecutives tee shots into Mangrove Lake on the par-4, 435-yard 5th hole.
Part of the problem with the 5th hole is that the first three holes on the course offer the tranquility of views of the Atlantic Ocean. A sporty par-4 follows, then, up jumps the treacherous 5th hole. From the elevated tee, the lake appears a bit small and easy to evade. But add in the breeze and a relatively tight fairway and escaping with a bogey is a feat.
The course offers a bit of every challenge, as sand and grass bunkers are strategically placed, the wind constantly changes direction (is there ever a day on a Bermuda course without wind?) and the undulating greens can be lightening fast. Throw in some out of bounds stakes, bushes and other foliage, and I was happy to buy a sleeve of balls at the turn prior to losing all the ammunition I had brought.
Closing the day's golf is a challenging and beautiful 18th hole which begins on a cliff of coral overlooking the Atlantic and ends at the stately clubhouse.
Several of the holes require the golf course to be traversed by a local road, yet this intrusion only adds to the mystique of the historic layout.
This private club comes with a price tag, as much of the year golf and a caddie will set one back close to $300. Still, it's a unique, special test, not unlike the one visitors take when they visit St. Andrews in Scotland or Pebble Beach in California.
Still, it's a can't miss proposal. If you find a way to play it, you have to do so.
For those on a tighter budget, an array of courses and golf experiences are available in Bermuda.
Other courses on the island include the government operated and Robert Trent Jones designed Port Royal Golf Course, the private Tucker's Point Club overlooking Castle Harbor, the 1922 built Riddells Bay Golf Club, the 9-hole Ocean View Golf Club, and the short yet challenging par-62 St. George's Golf Course.
The Fairmount Southampton Princess offers a panoramic 18-hole par-3 layout, while the Horizon Cottages has its own mashie course with nine holes and two sets of tees allowing an 18-hole experience.
The islands also offer the Bermuda Golf Academy, which includes a driving range, chipping and putting practice areas and a miniature golf course.
Advance tee times are available at several of the clubs by calling 1-800-Bermuda.
If you are a golfer, you have to sample Bermuda's challenging layouts. It's hard to imagine a more challenging, beautiful, serendipitous location.