Mid Ocean Club
Tucker Town, Bermuda

Ninth hole, 405 yards, Sound; Tom Doak has been the consulting architect at Mid Ocean for the past eight years. A long time admirer of the course since first seeing it in 1988, his primary advice to the Club has been to bring their greens to current standards. From 2003 through 2005, Doak oversaw the replacement of the old common Bermuda greens with TifEagle. The increased firmness coupled with more pace allow such boldly contoured putting surfaces as the ones at the fifth, eighth, ninth and seventeenth to once again function properly. The golfer is now free to use the interior contours to funnel his approach shots to certain back hole locations as Macdonald intended. Here at the ninth green and tenth tee, the golfer is at the high point of the inland holes and Doak is a huge fan of the topography found in this stretch. Indeed, Doak states that, ‘Apart from his one-off piece of property at National Golf Links of America, Mid Ocean may well be the second finest site that Macdonald was ever given to work.’ Even with the help of topo maps, routing the course must have been a very slow process due to the thick semi-tropical vegetation that was found throughout the inland holes. Today’s ninth, for instance, plays through what was once a dense cedar forest. Though the same length, the ninth and tenth play totally different from one another yet at an equally high standard, a sterling example of how Macdonald used the topography to yield two distinctive holes.

The view up the ninth with its call for a demanding uphill approach.

 

The contours found within the greens at Mid Ocean deserve more recognition, especially since Doak helped the Club reseed their greens with TifEagle. As seen from the tenth tee, a humpback ridge divides the ninth green into a lower left and upper right section.

 Tenth hole, 405 yards, Mercer Hill; In stark contrast with the ninth, the tenth cascades downhill. A mirror Road Hole, this demanding hole plays along the spine of the hill. To the left is impenetrable brush and to the right the hole falls away into the valley of the ninth. The quintessential Road Hole green complex greets the golfer: the angled green best accepts approach shots played from the side of the fairway closest to the most severe trouble. Shots played from the right must contend with the central bunker that eats into the middle of the angled green. The long, deep bunker around the back of the green is meant to replicate the terrors of the road at its name-sake hole in St. Andrews. Though it measures nearly seventy yards shorter than the famous seventeenth, the prevailing wind quarters against the golfer from the right, making this hole quite the beast.

The single fronting Road bunker does an admirable job of guarding the green. The fact that the landing area pushes tee balls to the right makes this bunker

 

The long bunker behind the Road green acts to simulate the problems of the road at St. Andrews.

 Twelfth hole, 435 yards, Hillside; As its name suggests, the drive is played over the side of a hill. The view from the tee is neither illuminating nor encouraging as only a glimpse of the right edge of the fairway is afforded. Sadly, no living architect would build this hole today “ they might shave the hill a bit to afford better optics or perhaps bring even more drastic earthmoving to bear. Yet, one wonders why? The course leaves the shoreline at the fourth tee and doesn’t return until the eighteenth tee. Apart from the course’s idyllic setting, its lasting appeal rests in how Macdonald used the topography on its interior holes to maximum effect. Without doubt, the course is all the better for having such a distinctive hole among its mix and many members consider this the toughest par on the course.

The daunting view from the twelfth tee. By leaving the hillside untouched, Macdonald created a unique hole that sticks in the golfer’s mind while at the same time reinforcing the site’s interesting topography.

 

Crisp contact is a must to hold this green.

 Thirteenth, 240 yards, Biarritz; Mid Ocean possesses the classic quartet of Macdonald/Raynor short holes: the Eden, Short, Redan and Biarritz. In Macdonald’s mind, these four one shot holes constituted the ideal in part because they play four distinct distances and require four different type shots. Interestingly enough, this desire to fulfill Macdonald’s intent has led the Club for the past fifty years to only maintain the back half of this original full Biarritz green as putting surface. Labor and maintenance of a 12,000 plus square foot green isn’t the compelling reason they elect to do so; rather it is the notion of a forward hole location and the subsequent potential shortening of this hole’s playing length by thirty to forty yards that deters them. Such a forward hole location would likely give the golfer on this downhill one shotter too similar a club to either the Eden or Redan hole. As it plays today, the golfer is asked to hit a long iron and that is plenty fine with the Club and one thinks Macdonald too if he were still here.

Only the back half of this Biarritz green complex is maintained as putting surface; thus, the hole is always guaranteed to play long.

 

At ground level, the swale that fronts the putting surface is evident. Given the angle of descent from the tee, getting a tee ball to release through the swale and onto the green is tough; better to fly the tee ball directly onto the putting surface.

Fourteenth hole, 355 yards, Leven; Macdonald borrowed a design concept from the original seventh hole at Leven Golf Club in Scotland when he built the famous seventeenth at National Golf Links of America, long considered one of the best medium length par four holes in American golf. Similarly here, Macdonald created an arresting bunker complex down the left of the fairway and another stunning one at the green’s right front. The time-honored challenge is evident: flirt with the bunkers and drive the ball long left to be rewarded with a clear view of the green. As one shies away to the right, he is forced to accept a forced carry over the deep greenside bunker.

Old fashioned Macdonald bunkers down the left and ….

 

…this recently restored fronting greenside bunker dominate the Leven hole.

Fifteenth hole, 505 yards, Punchbowl; Macdonald was an imposing figure of a man and the boldness of his personality shines through here. The fourteenth and fifteenth once shared a fairway, separated only by the extensive bunker complex down the Leven hole. They were also both par fours and in Macdonald’s quest for providing variety, he devised a punchbowl complex for this hole by building a pronounced fifteen foot hump in front of the green. Unlike the Leven hole where the golfer contends with a ferocious fronting bunker, here the front is bunkerless with the golfer needing just to carry the hump to have his ball tumble down onto the putting surface. Robert Trent Jones in 1953 extended the tee back 85 yards to create today’s par five for two reasons. First, balanced nines featuring two par fives, two par threes, and five par fours was in vogue. Secondly, and more importantly, the public through way that cuts seventy-five yards in front of the green was quite a bit busier than in Macdonald’s day. By stretching the hole, play became safer for all concerned.

Whether it is a short iron for a third shot or a three wood in two, hitting into a Punchbowl is always an enticing prospect.

 Sixteenth hole, 375 yards; Lookout; As Macdonald notes in Scotland’s Gift, ‘One great difficulty was to build the course so that there wouldn’t be too much mountain climbing. After much study, we succeeded in doing this, so that to-day there is only one real climb, that is, at the sixteenth hole.’ The climb to which Macdonald referred occurs on the tee shot, which must scale an abrupt thirty foot embankment one hundred and fifty yards from the tee. This shot must have been especially daunting in the days of hickory golf. A good, straight strike from the tee is paramount, especially as there is a natural twenty foot depression found for 200 hundreds to 230 yards from the tee. The green is the second highest point on the course, just barely below that of the first green. As such, this exposed green is one of the toughest targets to find on a consistent basis. Upon seeing the hole’s modest length, the first time visitor may have high hopes for carding a good score here; the members know better.

Macdonald had the holes attack the landforms in every possible manner. Here at the sixteenth tee, the tee ball must climb up and over the side of the valley wall. As at the sixth, one needs to do his best to ignore the poorly placed cart path.

Once on top, though, the golfer needs to hope that this deep depression 150 yards from the sixteenth green hasn’t gathered in his tee ball. If so, his approach shot is blind.

 Seventeenth hole, 205 yards, Redan; For many traditionalists, the decade of the 1920s represents the pinnacle in golf course architecture. Coming as it did so early in the decade, there still wasn’t a lot of precedence in North America from which an architect could draw upon for inspiration. For instance, at the seventeenth, would a lesser architect than Macdonald have seized upon the right to left slope of the land as the perfect invitation to build a Redan while at the same time gracefully transporting the golfer to the cliff for a rousing Home hole? Perhaps not and fortunately the point is a moot one. A majority of Macdonald/Raynor designs feature the Redan hole in the first nine. Coming as the penultimate hole, this one falls at the latest stage in the round of the approximately twenty Redans that they built. Frequently played against the breeze, a hooded long iron or wood that just carries the short bunkers, takes the slope and runs onto the green is one of immense satisfaction. Its outstanding playing characteristics coupled with the hole’s setting  help make this one of the two or three finest Redans in the Macdonald/Raynor family.

The elevated seventeenth tee allows the golfer the thrill of watching his ball bounce along the ground as it takes the right to left slope. Given the keenness of the new TifEagle greens, the golfer needs to take care that his tee ball doesn’t run too far and into one of the three deep greenside bunkers.

 Eighteenth hole, 420 yards, Home; Hugging the cliff line, the Home hole makes for an entirely satisfactory closing for this island course. The views off the back tee markers are every bit the equal of those from the eighteenth tee at Pebble Beach. The green, with its false front and bold contours is one of the finest on the course.

Whichever direction one turns on the eighteenth tee, one is vividly reminded of the course’s island setting. This view off the back marker is in a westerly direction whereas this view…

 

…is easterly down the length of the hole. The coral clubhouse affords commanding views of hole.

 The creation of Mid Ocean was originally driven by the desire of the Furness Withy Steamship Company to stimulate shipping and cruise line business to this island five hundred miles east of North Carolina. After World War II, most of its vessels were in poor repair having been commandeered for the war effort. In addition, the notion of tourism was but a dim thought in the aftermath of the war horrors. Consequently, Furness Withy sought to divest itself of this property. A group led by Sir Harry D. Butterfield purchased the entity and the Mid Ocean Club of today was formed in 1951. In 1953, the board called in Robert Trent Jones to improve upon the course that lay fallow during the war years. His contributions were largely constrained to the creation of many of today’s back tee boxes and the course grew in length from 6,121 yards to nearly 6,600. He did not move a single green complex, a clear tribute to the skill of Macdonald’s work. Certain bunkers were removed such as a long thin one on the outside of the Cape hole. Today’s board, appreciative of the course’s classical roots, is considering restoring such bunkers.

Mid Ocean has hosted many famous gatherings, one of which was a 1953 summit meeting after World War II between the leaders of England, France and the United States. In attendance was Winston Churchill. Though a famous non-golfer, one can imagine Churchill’s utterance that ‘I am a man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best’ as being applicable to Macdonald’s work at Mid Ocean.

The Union Jack, Stars and Stripes, and Bermuda flags proudly fly along the eighteenth fairway.

 

Recommended Reading: Mid Ocean Club, Bermuda – A Portfolio of Fine Art Prints from the
Original Paintings by Kenneth Reed FRSA, written by Alan W. Dunch,
J.P. & Keith Mackie, available in the golf shop.

The End