Where a sea view is par for the course : TRAVEL

Bermuda, with its multitude of fairways, is the ultimate golfer's paradise, says Peter Corrigan
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The Independent Culture
FOR a place so sweetly attractive, looking as if it has been pieced together by a master confectioner with more coloured icing sugar than he knew what to do with, Bermuda has an extraordinary capacity to render visitors unimpressed. "Twenty-two miles long and a yawn wide," was how Playboy once described it.

Perhaps the Bermudans didn't play what the boy wanted, but hedonists are not alone in detecting tedium amid the turquoise sea and pink-sanded coves. There are others who claim to have been bored in this sub-tropical north Atlantic outcrop and it is by no means a reaction of recent origin. One of its more celebrated visitors, the playwright Eugene O'Neill, set up a home there from1924 to 1927 and wrote some of his best work while complaining that there was nothing else to do.

Admiration for Bermuda is usually unbounded but it is certainly not unanimous. There is, however, complete accord - even among those disenchanted with the island - that their complaints concern only the dull tranquillity that can engulf people when they become acclimatised to the beauty of the place.

This atmosphere of lethargy is most noticable when the sun ceases to reflect from the white roofs and slides beyond the horizon towards North Carolina, 600 miles due west. The balmy nights are when Bermuda is most vunerable to a loss of enthusiasm from those who require constant stimulation. After dark, Bermuda does not exactly leap into life unless you take into account the whistling frogs which at dusk strike up a melodious chorus not unlike crickets that have trained at La Scala.

In the opinion of some, however, finely tuned frogs are no lasting compensation for the complete absence of a casino. Flashing neon signs and advertising hoardings do not tempt you to the nightspots because neither is permitted and, in any case, niteries outside the hotels are few. Jackets and ties and tastefully decorated ladies are the requirements of many dining rooms and even in daylight beach wear is confined to the beach and the poolside. In short, if you want to be sure of the company of ravers, you'll have to take a few with you.

Thus does Bermuda live up to its latest advertising slogan, "The last, truly civilised place on Earth". A trifle presumptious, but if we are allowed another literary name-drop, Mark Twain once said of it: "Visitors on their way to heaven call, and think they have already arrived."

It all depends on what one expects of heaven. Most visitors have no doubts on the matter, and I wish I was there at this very moment with a straw hat pulled low over the sensitive pate, a glass of Dark and Stormy in hand, the tide gently washing the coral sand from my feet and me bellowing at the blue sky: "Come on, Bermuda, bore the hell out of me for a fortnight".

Regrettably, I have been to Bermuda eight or nine times in the last 15 years without once enacting this scene. I've been too busy to allow the delights of this old colonial outpost a chance to pall because every visit has been allied to a pursuit that leaves no room for boredom. I refer to golf; a game unique in allowing you to experience the sights and sounds of the most exotic places on earth while you play. Since Bermuda has more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else in the world, its appeal to the golfer is unsurpassable.

Such concentration of fairways is remarkable considering that this 22- mile curve of connected islands is no more than two miles wide at its broadest and a lot skinnier in most places. I once calculated that if all the golf holes in Bermuda were placed in a line, east to west, you could play an uninterrupted game from one end to the other. You could tee off at the eastern tip, near the spot where Admiral Sir George Somers was shipwrecked in Sea Venture in 1609, and play your final shot into the sea off the western end - where the Royal Naval Dockyard was built, conveniently out of everyone's way, in 1809.

Somers and his companions had been on their way to join the settlers in Maryland when they were cast upon the uninhabited Bermuda shores. Their experience gave Shake-speare the idea for The Tempest, which is not the sort of title to thrill the Bermudan Tourist Board and, to be fair, the weather is not normally of the turbulent variety. Neither was Sea Venture an early victim of the Bermuda Triangle. Bermuda is more than 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean and has the misfortune to be at the apex of the infamous triangle, the mysteries of which have happened much further south.

Bermuda gets its agreeable climate from the Gulf Stream which assists the temperature to steady itself between 60F and 85F. There are two changes of season. October to March is roughly equivalent to one of our better springs, and there is no rainy season as such. Indeed, the irregularity of the rainfall is the reason for one of the island's most distinctive features. The houses, painted in pastel colours - mainly pinks, yellows and blues - have roofs of dazzling white limestone with slanting ridges designed to catch every precious drop of rain and guide it into the storage tanks of each dwelling.

The rain can be heavy when it comes, but at least has the courtesy to announce its arrival well in advance. This is not much use when you are on the golf course and a mile from the clubhouse. In October we were playing Port Royal, the splendid public course designed by Robert Trent Jones, when a downpour rumbled towards us just as we were about to play the famous 16th, which practically hangs over the sea. The drenching was mercilessly thorough, but when we were wringing out our smalls later it was comforting to think of the happy locals celebrating the filling of their household tanks.

The rain rarely dwells long and the warm clarity of the following day seemed all the better for its calling, particularly as we were playing Mid Ocean, which is the queen of Bermuda's eight 18-hole courses and worthy of a place among the world's most notable. It is a private club, exclusively so, but your hotel can usually introduce you. Unless it is part of your package, the green fee of $100 can induce a mild gulp but it would take a grumpy golfer who did not consider Mid Ocean's challenging contours and vivid greenery worth the expense.

Migratory golfers who have done the rounds of the winter relief available on the courses of Iberia will find Bermuda a pleasantly luxurious, if more expensive, change. It is not as far away as Florida and South Carolina, which have taken the main brunt of the British exodus from the golfing haunts of southern Europe. Nor need they fear discovering certain fellow- Europeans warming up on the first tee, which is golf's version of the towels-on-deckchairs trauma.

Not many Europeans go to Bermuda. This is mainly because British Airways has the monopoly on flying from the east - and a very comfortable seven- hour service it is. The only other way to get there is via the US, which probably explains why 95 per cent of the 600,000 annual visitors are Americans. Apart from the obvious attractions, they enjoy the Britishness of this self-governing colony complete with Union Jack, plumed governor, bobbies, intruiging history and a colonial main street that reeks ofCheltenham.

They also drive on the left, but that is of no advantage because visitors do not drive. There's no room on the roads. Cars were not introduced until 1949 and are even now rationed to one per household. There is a strictly enforced speed limit of 20 mph which at first can induce frothing at the mouth in the back of a taxi but which gradually lulls you into the gentle pace of the island. Mopeds are available for hire, but the tendency is to stay put - so a wise choice of holiday base is important. This applies particularly to golfers on holiday with a non-golfing partner. Golf is not a swift pursuit in Bermuda - it never is when playing behind Americans - and alternative activities for anyone left behind are essential. !

TRAVEL NOTES

GETTING THERE: British Airways (081-897 4000) has flights departing three times a week. from Gatwick . They run a Pex Fare ticket which must be bought 14 days in advance, staying a minimum of 7 days and maximum of two months for £466 return plus £10 departure tax. STA travel offers a fare of £420 plus £10 departure tax, valid until 31 March.

GOLF PACKAGES: Elegant Resorts of Chester (0244 329671) has two separate packages. A 7-day unlimited golf package costs from £1,195 per person during January, February and March and £1,830 per person from April 17 to October 31, staying at the Southampton Princess, a large hotel with every possible facility, including six restaurants, a private beach - and the best par-three golf course you're likely to see. Bermuda has pioneered a selection of colonies where accommodation is in private cottages clustered in gardens around a main clubhouse. The cottages are not self-catering but have private terraces on which meals can be served. The other package offers accommodation at Cambridge Beaches, one of the oldest and best. It has its own 25-acre peninsula with five private beaches, numerous sandy coves and two islands. An inclusive golf package here, which has Mid Ocean on the menu, costs from £1,895 per person from November to March and £2,370 per person thereafter. Non-golfing partners can have five days of beauty treatment in the Cambridge's spa in place of the golf.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Bermuda Tourism, 1 Battersea Church Road, London SW11 3LY (0171-734 8813).

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