There are few activities as humbling and frustrating as golf. It’s a game people spend literal lifetimes playing, few if any feeling that they ever truly master it, but all of us chasing the feeling of those few perfect shots, foolishly believing that one day we can replicate them regularly.
When I arrived in Bermuda last Sunday, I had one thing on my mind: play as well as I possibly could on Wednesday. I was in Bermuda on a press trip provided by the Bermuda Travel Authority, who invited me to come play in the pro-am for the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. My initial plan was to write about the experience of playing on a PGA Tour course with PGA Tour pros and how I, a 6-handicap, fared in that round.
Monday had me feeling confident about my prospects, as I whipped around Ocean View Golf Club to shoot a 4-over 74, punctuated with an even par 35 on the second nine courtesy of a pair of birdies. It was a comfortable round and a familiar feeling, playing what accounts to the closest thing Bermuda has to the best local muni course in your area. Ocean View has a layout that sits right in front of you, more than manageable length, accessible greens, and forgiving fairways, with friendly locals, strolling nine with their push carts, willing to offer some sage local knowledge on the few holes with hidden lines.
It was a breezy afternoon, with the occasional big gust, but that’s to be expected on a course that hangs out over the Atlantic. Little did I know this was simply an amuse bouche, if you will, for the weather that was set to come my way.
When I awoke on Tuesday to get a taxi to go to Belmont Hills Golf Club, winds were howling at a steady 25-30 miles per hour, gusting to well above 40, rain careening down sideways. But I was here to golf, and with a forecast projected to be only slightly better for the pro-am, this represented a chance to get accustomed with the elements and try to get comfortable. The result was 2 hours of simply trying to hold on (as the only ones dumb enough to play in that weather, we were able to fly around the course at least), both figuratively and literally. Clubs and clothes soaked, every shot a guessing game of whether the wind would simply move the ball or pick up and send it into oblivion.
By the third hole, the scorecard had been reduced to unusable mush by the rain, offering a rare respite from the clutches of keeping score. Golf is an internal battle first and foremost, always chasing ghosts of rounds past, with everyone’s definition of success being unique. However, as the island threw its worst possible conditions at us, we had to battle something else. No longer were there expectations for a score, but rather a determination to win at least a few battles against the weather. Every successful shot felt like a small victory, and every bad one had a built-in excuse. It was freeing in a way, as we were determined not to shoot a score but to simply enjoy a day on a lovely golf course when mother nature tried its best to make that impossible.
— Jon McCarthy (@jonmccarthySUN) October 26, 2021
As we arrived on the 16th hole, the weather subsided, and the sun peeked out. We had lost plenty of battles but had, somehow it felt, won the war. The final three holes were a delight, island vistas once obscured by sheets of rain and gloomy clouds suddenly brightened, turquoise waters beginning to reappear alongside us.
However, mother nature has a funny way of returning the favor. Wednesday morning saw the same conditions from Tuesday tear up Port Royal, flinging signs and tents around and soaking the grounds. After initial hope of a 2 hour delay being enough to get the pro-am in, the event was canceled and we hopped back on shuttles to the hotel to try and figure out what else to do for the day – and in my case, what the hell I was going to write about. Our hosts with the Travel Authority scrambled to get us an afternoon tee time out at Mid Ocean Club, after the rain was supposed to clear.
As we arrived at the course at 1:30 for a 1:44 tee time, the sun peeked out for the first time all day. By the time we stepped on the tee 15 minutes later after a hurried warmup and no time on the practice green (this was a mistake), you would’ve never been able to guess there had been even a consideration of rain earlier.
The winds, though, chose to stay, and what we were presented with was as formidable a test as you’ll get in golf. A course that demands accuracy off the tee and punishes loose approach shots coupled with conditions that would love nothing more than to carry your golf ball into a hazard or out of bounds. Through five holes I was 8-over, with three bogeys, a double, and a triple courtesy of a pair of loose shots the wind gobbled up and deposited in someone’s yard and an inlet, respectively. It was the point of a round where, typically, I would shut down and just trudge along through the next 13 holes, head down, muttering expletives to myself about my swing and the wind.
However, as I could feel myself entering that spiral on the fifth tee, I took a quick survey of my surroundings. Here I was, lucky enough to be playing golf on one of Bermuda’s most exclusive courses, with gorgeous vistas off of nearly every tee and green, and I gathered myself.
For 15 years, my enjoyment of a round of golf has almost solely been tied to my score. A good round meant a good time. A bad one, well, you know. On this day, a score wasn’t going to happen, due to a swing that was a bit out of sync and conditions that weren’t going to be accepting of any shot short of perfection. But I told myself, “How could you not enjoy this place?” A course people would kill to play, on one of the most picturesque pieces of property in all of golf.
From that point forward, my mindset changed and for the first time in a very, very long time, I enjoyed golf for the experience rather than the score. This isn’t a story about letting go and the scoring suddenly coming along. There were plenty more bogeys and another double sprinkled in on my way to a 17-over 88, but as I scribbled those double snowmen on my card, I did so with a smile – something unthinkable for me previously. Then again, how could you not coming in to this view?
On Thursday, I strolled around Port Royal to follow the pros in the morning who were being presented with the same conditions of heavy wind and occasional sheets of rain blowing through. For much of my day, I stood behind the tee box on the signature 16th, a par 3 staring straight out into the Atlantic, watching some of the world’s finest golfers try desperately to find the sliver of green 170 yards away against winds gusting above 40 miles per hour.
A few succeeded, but just as many saw the wind carry their ball into the hospitality tent 20 yards right of the green. Most of the guys that walked off the course on Thursday were shaking their heads, muttering to themselves about their swings and the wind. It was a familiar sight, a feeling I’ve experienced many times, but also a reminder that for all the perks of being a pro golfer, there are some for the weekend warrior as well.
170 over the ocean with it blowing 35 in and off the left. Saw a lot of shots in the hospitality tent. pic.twitter.com/CT8xRB2mvF
— Robby Kalland (@RKalland) October 28, 2021
None of the pros that strode out on that 16th tee box, looking out on one of the most beautiful views on earth, took a moment to soak it in. They were stuck in the grind, trying to calculate the real distance of the hole given the winds gusting into them and off the left. They have to do that, as whether they get a paycheck is determined by it. For the rest of us, there isn’t a potential high six-figure payday out there for a great round, and a bad round won’t keep money out of our bank accounts either. So soak in those views when presented with them, and try to find ways to enjoy being out on the course, even if the round isn’t going according to plan.
I expected to go to Bermuda and put my skills to the test and see just how big the gap is between a 6-handicap and PGA pros (it’s very large, to be clear). Instead, I found joy in the game I haven’t felt since I was a kid, where I was just happy to be out on the course, hoping to hit some good shots somewhere along the way.
Golf is a sport where the goalposts never stop moving and only get harder to attain. It’s easy to get lost in that pursuit, which is no doubt part of what brings us back to the course over and over. I’m sure I’ll be back to grinding over every swing soon enough, but sometimes you need something to bring you back to why you play in the first place. Before you were on a quest to break par (or 80, or 90, or wherever you are on the never-ending journey), you were drawn to the course for something else – the people you played with, four hours of being outside, etc. – and sometimes we need a reminder of that. I found mine on an island in the Atlantic, staring down gale force winds blowing off of turquoise waters straight off a postcard.
Uproxx was invited on a hosted trip to Bermuda by the Bermuda Travel Authority for reporting on this piece. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.