HAPPY NEW (and getting old) YEAR!!
A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a question on GolfClubAtlas.com asking what were “the courses that have defined your golfing life.” This one was a tough one for me. I have been so very fortunate. Through 2016, I have been afforded the opportunity to play 894 courses, including literally every still existing course ever named as a World Top 100 on any list published by 10 sources (e.g. Golf Magazine, Top100GolfCourses.co.uk, Golf Digest, GCA, etc. etc. …even Tom MacWood’s 1939 Spoof List) or a total of 318 courses. Thinking about this question forced me to break down my 61+ years playing into the following periods with the most important courses defined, including the year first played.
Early Golf Life:
--Honesdale GC (1955)-at age 10 first course ever played while at summer camp nearby; a nine holer in hometown of Art Wall Jr. (1959 Masters Champion) and shot a smooth 75 for 9
--Kissena Golf Course (1956)-at age 11 a NYC muni in middle of Queens accessible via two bus rides; par 64 4650 yards from the tips and hardpan tees with no grass…but who knew?
--Bethpage Black (1960)-first world class course ever seen, with greatness obvious even with weeds growing in bunkers.
Exposure to Greatness:
--Cypress Point (1969)-on vacation at Pebble staying in a really tiny but semi-affordable room at Del Monte Lodge; in those days staying at lodge meant you could play Cypress Tues and Thurs (tax laws killed that shortly thereafter); still #1 in world IMO
--The Old Course (1970)-first true links ever for me; if memory is right green fee was £1.00; felt strange at first but quickly grew on me; fascinating and subtle…in many ways course was hard to comprehend but I loved the ground game
--Quaker Ridge (1975)-first real club I joined and first great course played regularly; member 1975-2000…like most special things in life, under-appreciated until you leave;
--Royal Melbourne-Comp (1977)-links without a visible sea…sheer brilliance on both East and West courses and the Composite amazing; for me discovery that brilliant courses are not just in GB&I and USA;
--Muirfield (1977)-wow wow wow, what a place; best combination of US and Scottish golf; perhaps greatest championship course in existence; even got to be friends with that very special curmudgeon, HCEG’s Secty, Capt. Paddy Hanmer (long story);
--Royal Dornoch (1981)-simply stunning and wonderful, and back then so peaceful, unhurried, and uncrowded; my #2 in world
--North Berwick (1983)-actually walked it with Crenshaw and Herb Warren Wind in 1981; such a lesson in architecture…most copied set of holes in world, and not just the Redan…how about (with great adaptations shown to right):
#1 (#1 at NLGA);
#6, 10, 11 (#5, 17 and 18 at Seminole);
#2 (Cape) (original Cape Driving hole copied so so many places);
#9 (#13 at Maidstone);
#13 not possible to copy that wall (except with a creek);
#15 (Redan) #4 at NGLA, #7 Shinney; #7 Chicago, #6 Yeamans, #2 Somerset Hills, #3 Piping Rock…and on and on and on…THE most copied hole in golf.
Drawn Back by the 2nd Golden Age
By the end of 1985 I had played 292 courses, but had really lost interest as so many of the new courses were nothing special (while I could not articulate why they were uninteresting, I could feel it viscerally). Over the next 21 years I would only play another 130 courses (average of 6.2/year), but then the following discoveries propelled me forward (playing 472 courses over the last 10 years):
--Bandon & Pacific Dunes (2003)-What an amazing place and what a pain in the ass to get here! But, absolutely worth the trip (have made 4 more since, and hope to make at least one more…have to play the Sheep Ranch). Clearly ushering in a new age and a special one at that. I recall Herb Wind saying that while the architects of the First Golden Age had wonderful land to build on, architects after WW II had no such land available near population centers (making their job much much tougher). With Bandon Dunes Resort, that equation changed dramatically. Environmental regulation (e.g., wetland regulations) create issues for all modern courses built that did not affect courses built in the First Golden Age
--Sand Hills (2010)-After playing this masterpiece (my 449th) twice with Pat, I told her there were about 10 courses I had never played and really wanted to experience (my first golf bucket list)…her response was “go for it”. She may have subsequently regretted that response, as in the following 6 years I played an additional 418 courses (average of 69.7/year).
--The Country Club (1977)-Had played 2x before meeting Pat in 2007 and have played it over 500 times since. It is a very special club and place; I have been privileged to observe the results of Gil Hanse’s improvements incorporated for the ’13 US Am and planned for the ’22 US Open. Witnessing that process, especially the wonderfully positive results of a major tree removal program, have been highly educational for me.
With all the places I have played, and all the rounds, the most memorable took place in 2010 and 2013, when I returned to play Kissena and Honesdale for the first time in 43 and 57 years respectively. Yes, playing the world’s great tracks has been a marvelous privilege, but the flood of memories evoked by returning to these two was truly my most memorable and meaningful set of experiences. As someone told me as long time ago, “there is no such thing as a bad golf course”.