Golf is an important facet of sporting life in Bermuda, where golf courses make up nearly 17% of the island's 21.6 square miles. The scenery on the courses is quite often spectacular, with trees and shrubs decked out in multicolor blossoms against a backdrop of brilliant blue sea and sky. The layouts may be shorter than what you're accustomed to, but they're remarkably challenging, thanks to capricious ocean breezes, daunting natural terrain, and the clever work of world-class golf architects.

Of the six 18-hole courses and one 9-hole layout on Bermuda, four are championship venues: Belmont Hills, the Mid Ocean Club, Port Royal, and Tucker's Point. All are well maintained, but you should not expect the springy bent grass fairways and fast greens typical of U.S. golf courses. The rough is coarse Bermuda grass that will turn your club in your hands. Most clubs have TifEagle or Tifdwarf greens—finer-bladed grasses that are drought-resistant and putt faster and truer than Bermuda grass. Because the island's freshwater supply is limited, watering is usually devoted to the greens and tees, which means the fairways are likely to be firm and give you lots of roll. Expect plenty of sand hazards and wind—especially wind.

Many courses overseed with rye grass sometime between late September and early November to maintain color and texture through the cooler winter months. Some courses use temporary greens, whereas others keep their regular greens in play during the reseeding process. This makes for inaccurate putting situations; so if you're visiting in fall, call ahead to find out the condition of the greens. Though all courses now have carts, there's often a "cart path only" rule in force to protect the fairways, so expect to do some walking.

Many Bermudian tracks have holes on the ocean or atop seaside cliffs. They're wonderfully scenic, but the wind and that big natural water hazard can play havoc with your game.

All courses in Bermuda have dress codes: long pants or Bermuda (knee-length) shorts and collared shirts for both men and women. Denim is not allowed. Bermudian men always wear color-coordinated knee-high socks with their shorts on other occasions, but it's okay to go bare-legged on the golf course.

Courses in Bermuda are rated by the United States Golf Association (USGA), just as they are in the States, so you can tell at a glance how difficult a course is. For example, a par-72 course with a rating of 68 means that a scratch golfer (one who usually shoots par) should be four under par for the round. High handicappers should score better than usual, too.

Reserve tee times before you leave home or ask your hotel concierge to do so as soon as you arrive. This is especially necessary to access the private courses. "Sunset" tee times, available at lower greens fees, generally start at 3 pm, but call ahead to be sure.

Hamilton and Central Parishes

Belmont Hills Golf Club. Belmont Hills, opened in 2003, was designed by California architect Algie Pulley Jr. and built on the site of the former Belmont Manor and Golf Club, a haven for celebrities in the early 1900s. This course is now a real shot-making test, heavily contoured and with more water than most other Bermuda courses. The sand in the bunkers is the same used at Augusta National, site of the Masters. A waterfall connects two man-made lakes that can come into play on several holes. The final four holes are challenging because of their tight landing areas bordered by out-of-bounds stakes. The pressure continues until the ball is in the hole, because the greens are heavily bunkered and multitiered. The course has the island's only double green, a 14,000-square-foot putting surface on holes 1 and 10. The 7th hole, a 178-yard par 3, is bordered by a waterfall. 25 Belmont Hills Dr., Warwick Parish, WK 06. 441/236–6060; $100 daily (including cart), $50 sunset.

Ocean View Golf Course. If you want to play with locals or just mingle to talk golf, Ocean View is the place to be after the workday ends. Only 10 minutes from Hamilton, it's very popular. Switch tees on your second loop of the 9 holes for an 18-hole round playing 5658 yards to par 70. The first hole is a tough par 5 with a long, tight fairway flanked by a coral wall and a drop-off to the shore. The course is aptly named; there are panoramas from many holes as well as from the clubhouse. The club has a 260-yard driving range where the wind is often at your back, so your drives seem longer than they really are. The green on the 192-yard, par-3 9th hole is cut into a coral hillside landscaped with colorful plants. It's a demanding shot when the wind is gusting from the north or west. 2 Barker's Hill, Devonshire Parish, DV 05. 441/295–9092; $50 with cart, $50 sunset.

St. George’s and Eastern Parishes

Mid Ocean Club. The elite Mid Ocean Club is a 1921 Charles Blair Macdonald design revamped in 1953 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Golf Digest ranks it among the top 100 courses outside the United States. The club has a genteel air and a great sense of history. Even though it's expensive, a round of play is worthwhile, as you walk with a caddy to savor the traditional golf experience and the scenery. There are many holes near ocean cliffs, but you'll want to linger on the back tee of the last hole, where the view up the coast is spectacular. Overlooking the 18th hole and the south shore, the Mid Ocean's pink clubhouse is classically Bermudian down to the interior cedar trim. The pro shop offers a range of golfing goodies. The Clubhouse is open to visitors for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks before or after their round of golf. Nonmembers can play midweek; be sure to reserve your tee time early as the calendar books up months in advance. Caddies, club rentals, and shoe rentals are all available. 1 Mid Ocean Dr., Tucker's Town, Saint George’s Parish, HS 02. 441/293–1215; $275 for nonmembers ($32 for cart); $65 for caddy.

Tucker's Point Golf Club. Roger Rulewich, a former senior designer for the late Robert Trent Jones Sr., mapped out a stunning site layout for the old Castle Harbour Golf Club in 2002, making the most of elevation changes and ocean views. On many holes, you tee off toward the crest of a hill, not knowing what lies beyond. Topping the rise reveals the challenge, often involving a very elevated, sculpted green with a scenic vista. If you're not a guest at the Rosewood Bermuda, you must have an introduction (your hotelier can do this) for playing and dining privileges. Walking is reserved for members; carts are recommended for nonmembers. The par-4 17th is one of the most picturesque in Bermuda, with sweeping views of Tucker's Town and the Castle Islands. A rival is hole 13, where the perspective is the north coast and the Royal Navy Dockyard on the island's western tip. 60 Tucker's Point Dr., off Harrington Sound Rd., Hamilton Parish, HS 02. 441/298–6970; Member guest $125; nonmember $210 for 18 holes, $130 for 9 holes (cart included); hotel guest $195 .

Dockyard and Western Parishes

Bermuda Golf Academy. When you just want to practice or have some fun teaching the kids how to play golf in a relaxed environment, head for the Bermuda Golf Academy. The 320-yard driving range is floodlit at night until 10 pm, and there are 40 practice bays. If you get a rainy day, fine-tune your game in one of the 25 covered bays. You can also work on sand shots in the practice bunker or sharpen your putting on a practice green. Especially attractive for families is the 18-hole miniature golf course, which features pagodas, a waterfall, waterways—and even a drawbridge to hit over on the 16th hole. The minicourse is lighted at night and takes 45 to 60 minutes to complete. Afterward, have a tasty bite to eat at the food truck parked nearby. 12 Industrial Park Rd., Southampton Parish, SB 04. 441/238–8800. Driving range $6 (40 balls); club rentals $2; miniature golf $12; lessons $85/hr.

Turtle Hill Golf Club. Spreading across the hillside below the high-rise Fairmont Southampton, this executive golf course is known for its steep terrain, giving players who opt to walk (for sunset tee times only) an excellent workout. The Ted Robinson design is a good warm-up for Bermuda's full-length courses, offering a legitimate test of wind and bunker play. The front nine has almost constant views of the ocean and is more difficult than the back nine, with tight holes calling for careful club selection. Club rentals and lessons are also available. Because the hotel and its restaurants are so close, there's no golf clubhouse per se, just a 10th-hole Golf Hut for snacks and drinks. Fairmont Southampton, 101 South Shore Rd., Southampton Parish, SN 02. 441/239–6952; $99 before noon (with cart), $69 after 12 pm (with cart), $45 sunset (walking).

Port Royal Golf Course. One of two government-owned courses (Ocean View is the other), Port Royal is a perennial local and visitor favorite. A 2009 added irrigation, rebuilt tees, rebuilt and returfed greens, and redesigned bunkers. It hosted the PGA Grand Slam in October from 2009 to 2014. The 16th, arguably Bermuda's best-known golf hole, has a green that occupies a treeless promontory with a backdrop of the blue waters and pink sands of Whale Bay. When the wind is blowing hard onshore, as it frequently does, this can be a tough green to reach. The holes leading up to the 16th are the icing on the cake, with ocean views on 7, 8, 9, and 15. The 1970 Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout has many elevated tees and greens and some clever doglegs. There are plenty of hills. 5 Port Royal Golf Course Rd., Southampton Parish, SB 03. 441/234–0974; $180; sunset $110.