Thursday, January 06, 2011

2010 Year in Review

Like almost every post I promised in 2010, I'm late with my annual year in review, detailing the state of my game last year and the courses I experienced for the first time while also offering a brief glimpse into what may be on tap for 2011.

The Game

I was looking to bounce back from a rough year on the course in 2009, where my handicap soared to a 5 by year's end but the fact that my infant son became a toddler gave me hope. Those sleepless nights that are commonplace in the first year vanish for the most part and my scorecards became much easier on the eyes in 2010.

Again, I won't bore you too much with stats for fear of alienating readers Harris and Cal but my scoring average (77.64) was down over two shots a round from 2009 and my handicap, which was 4.1 at the start of the year, dropped to as low as 0.1 in the summer before finishing at 2.7.

It's the second time I've reached scratch status in three years and the 0.1 is as low as I've ever been so I definitely had a pretty hot stretch of play in the middle of the year.

After shooting a low score of 73 in 2009, I got back into red figures three times in 2010 and two of the three scores came in competitive play, making the rounds especially memorable. My two under round of 70 came in the second round of the Langley Cup and marked the first time I've ever broken par from the back tees at St. Catharines. The other notable subpar round was at our club's Men's Invitational, the annual member/guest tournament and I'll get to that in a bit. My third subpar round was a post-Club Championship 71 (-1) from the tips in early August.

The main reason for my success this year seemed to be iron play, usually a big weakness for me. I hit over 50% of my greens in regulation, easily my best year ever in that regard and a lot may be due to the new sticks I was forced to pick up in June. More on that a couple of paragraphs down...

I played 16 tournament rounds in 2010, the exact same amount as the previous year and overall played quite well but results, as usual, were lacking.

Harris and I continued our annual tradition of barely coming up short in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier. We played at the absolutely sublime Scarboro GCC, the only Tillinghast design in Canada and ended up finishing one shot out of an alternate spot for the tournament proper, made worse by the fact that we had to take a triple bogey on our card in a best ball format. A par or a bogey there and we make the tournament for the first time.

I once again participated on the Niagara Men's Tour and while I played quite decently for the most part, missing one of the six events and falling flat on my face in another doomed me to another mediocre finish. I'd end up 18th overall and card one top five (a 4th place finish in the first event) but the biggest story on the Tour for me this year was during the second event at Thundering Waters GC when my car got broken into in the club's parking lot after my round. Maybe you were all feeling sorry for me but I'm surprised that post didn't get any love from my readers - my clubs and wallet were stolen and the most disgusting thing of all was the fact that my SLR camera with photos of my son celebrating his first Victoria Day fireworks celebration was stolen as well before I could upload the pics onto my computer.

The police contacted me a month later, having found some stolen paperwork in a ditch about 50 miles away from Niagara Falls but none of my valuables were ever found.

I played in our Member/Guest tournament for the third consecutive year with my wife's Uncle Henry and we finished somewhere in the teens this year. We got off to a horrific start, with a triple bogey on our first hole in the handicapped best ball format and never could get back into the race. The highlight of the event for me was my scintillating final round, where I was bogey-free and five under par on my own ball upon reaching the 18th hole. I'd end up nervously three-putting for bogey but tie my personal-best score of 68 (-4) in the process.

I flamed out relatively early in the Langley Cup again, our club's match play competition for 0-7 handicappers, losing to eventual winner Brian B in the quarterfinals by a lopsided 5&3 margin.

The club also introduced a new match play event, one that may become more coveted than the Langley called the Scratch Cup. It's a true Club Championship match play event with no strokes given and again, I was ousted in the quarterfinals, this time by Brad B and again by a shocking 5&4 margin. Those were my two biggest match play losses ever in competition although Harris did beat me something like 8&6 in a friendly match down at PGA Village many years ago. Still don't know how in the hell that happened!

My most anticipated event of the year is always our Club Championship at St. Catharines, where I finished T7th this year. I actually played well this year, starting 76-76 but made a triple and two doubles in a nervous final round of 81 that ensured I wouldn't better my 6th place finish from the year previous.

Overall, it was a very strong year for my game and I'm very much looking forward to putting some more good numbers on the board in 2011!

The Courses

I only played seven new courses in 2010 but the quality of these new additions more than makes up for the lack of quantity.

As I mentioned earlier, Harry and I played in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier at Scarboro G&CC, the truly lovely A.W. Tillinghast design that continues to move up the ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada charts, now sitting 49th in the rankings. The course, shown above, was recently restored by Gil Hanse and Ian Andrew and the results are astonishing, especially with the unique and memorable bunker work.

One of the major surprises of the year was finally getting the chance to play the 2nd rated course in Canada, the highly-esteemed Hamilton G&CC. We were fortunate to get the chance to play all 27 holes at the facility, warming up on Robbie Robinson's East Nine before moving on to play all 18 holes on H.S. Colt's West/South Course. The routing may be one of the best in our country and while we played in pretty nasty weather and on very-recently aerated greens, the experience was unforgettable.

Without question, the highlight of my golfing lifetime thus far was my trip to Colorado and Nebraska with Harris in June. First, we spent two days and nights at Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club in Holyoke, CO. We played five rounds of golf on this Tom Doak-designed masterpiece, rated 83rd in the world by Golf Magazine, enduring unseasonably cool temperatures and driving rain for much of the two days but nothing could dampen our spirits at such a memorable place. We met up with about 12 great guys from Golf Club Atlas for this part of our adventure and I can't speak highly enough about our experience both on the course and in their wonderful accommodations, nor can I wax poetic enough about the absolutely incredible staff they have at the club that even remember the guests by name. I only hope I get the chance to return someday in order to see the course in more ideal weather conditions, as the abundance of rain meant it wasn't quite playing as firm and fast as usual.

The second leg of our trip took us to the spellbinding Sand Hills GC, located just outside of Mullen, NE. Rated 11th in the world by Golf Magazine, playing Sand Hills for us was a spiritual experience and one that will be very hard to top in our lifetimes. We were fortunate enough to spend two full days and nights at Sand Hills, playing six rounds of golf while staying onsite. The meals were easily the most amazing I've ever enjoyed at a golf club and both the membership and the staff treated us like their own while we visited. We also had the remarkable chance to sit and talk about the development of the club with Sand Hills owner Dick Youngscap over some drinks on our final day on Ben's Porch. It sounds hokey but club itself is about as perfect as I can possibly imagine, with no wrong steps at any point either on or off the golf course. It's the most special place I have ever visited in my life and I still shake my head almost every day, knowing how lucky I was to get the chance to experience this piece of heaven even one time.

The second part of my Sand Hills writeup, with a full course pictorial and review, will be coming soon. Take it from me: it's worth the wait!

Another highlight for me was my trip to British Columbia in July with friends Cal, Steve and Ryan. We played two rounds at the Thomas McBroom-designed Tobiano and my impressions of the newly-minted 16th rated course in Canada are slightly better the second time around, especially after playing from a different set of tee markers on our second round of the day.

We then ventured south to spend three full days at Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, the Rod Whitman/Armen Suny/Richard Zokol modern masterpiece located on Nicola Lake just outside of Merritt, BC. While there, I had the great fortune of meeting three more Golf Club Atlas members in Bob J, Sean L and Rich C and all of us marvelled at how spectacular this golf course is right out of the gates. It's one of the most special and unique courses in Canada and I very much look forward to returning sometime soon to introduce more of my friends to this ideal getaway in Western Canada.

We ended the trip by spending a night in a gorgeous cabin at Predator Ridge in Vernon, BC and then playing a round on the resort's brand new Ridge Course the following day. I had one of the best ball-striking rounds of my life in hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation but 38 putts on the day meant a disappointing 74 (+2). Good solid golf course with amazing views and I'll be writing a full review in the next month or so in addition to uploading a bunch of photos from the Tobiano and Sagebrush legs of the trip.

The last new course I played in 2010 was Beacon Hall GC in Aurora, ON, the 8th rated course in Canada according to ScoreGolf. This is certainly one of Tom McBroom's best designs (working with Bob Cupp) and the club itself is very exclusive and posh. I'll be recapping our time at Beacon Hall in a review sometime in February most likely.

It was a hell of a year but there were a couple of things that fell through that were disappointing. An invitation to St. George's fell through yet again as I continue to keep my fingers crossed that I'll finally play the Stanley Thompson masterpiece in Toronto and I still haven't been able to get that elusive shot at playing the top rated course in Canada, The National.

Another big disappointment was not getting to play Redtail GC in St. Thomas - I just ran out of time late in the year and really have only myself to blame for that.

Minor quibbles, really. I was truly fortunate in 2010 and look forward to what lies ahead in 2011.

Looking Ahead

Speaking of which, let's talk about this coming year, shall we?

From a tournament perspective, there will be changes ahead. The big one will see me stepping down from my post on the Niagara Men's Tour committee and also sitting out the 2011 Tour season. I love the competition and camaraderie but I just don't have the time to commit to running the Tour this year and I want to concentrate a bit more on playing my own golf course and on travelling a bit more as well.

The jury is also out on whether I play in the provincial better ball qualifier again this year - again, it comes down to time and with limited vacation days at my disposal, I'd rather travel than go play some average course in the Niagara Region and burn one of my days off. It will all come down to what courses are available in the qualifiers - if there is something architecturally interesting, I'll give it another shot; otherwise, I plan on saving the vacation day for something else.

To compensate for these changes, I fully plan on playing in the Niagara Cup competition for the first time in three years. This has always been a favourite event of mine, basically an interclub competition in the Niagara Region and I hope we can repeat as champions from the last time I played in 2008.

I imagine I will play in the Member Guest tournament at St. Catharines for a fourth consecutive year with Henry and will participate in both the Langley Cup and Scratch match play competitions, along with the Club Championship at St. Catharines to close out my tournament schedule.

At this time last year, I already had my plane tickets booked to Denver for the Ballyneal/Sand Hills trip and pretty much finalized the itinerary for the British Columbia trip.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely nothing booked thus far for 2011. That's not to say nothing is going on - quite the contrary in fact. I just don't have any firm invites or commitments yet.

At this point, the most likely trip will see me venture deep into New York State, where games at Sebonack GC and Southampton GC on Long Island beckon, along with my first visit to Bethpage State Park and a date with the vaunted Black Course.

Sebonack is an ultra-exclusive course right around the corner from ultra famous Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America. The Tom Doak-Jack Nicklaus collaboration from 2006 is currently rated 53rd in the United States by Golf Magazine and will likely vault further up the charts when the periodical comes out with their new rankings later this year.

Southampton is an old Seth Raynor design that has recently been renovated and obviously Bethpage needs no introduction to anyone reading this site after hosting two US Opens over the last decade.

I don't have anything else lined up for that particular trip at the moment but even with those three courses, I think it will make for a wonderful trip.

There's also a possibility that I'll finally be heading to Ohio in the late summer or early fall to play places like Muirfield Village (home of the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour), Firestone CC in Akron (home of the Bridgestone WGC Tournament) and possibly Scioto CC (Jack Nicklaus' home course growing up). If we head out there, I understand there is a chance we'd get to play Double Eagle CC or The Golf Club, one of Pete Dye's earliest courses.

That trip sounds pretty epic as well but I'd call it about a 50/50 shot at best.

Other than that, I've got nothing else in the oven right now. I'd love to head back to Colorado to spend more time at Ballyneal again and would be hard-pressed to turn down an invitation should one arise.

I can also see a little road trip to Michigan being feasible at some point this summer, with potential trips to Arcadia Bluffs, Kingsley Club and maybe a couple other places if the stars properly align.

That leaves little time for my favourite place in Canada: Sagebrush - I'm just not sure if I'm going to have time to make that work, as it's a big time commitment to venture that far out west. We'll see...

The one big disappointment already is that a planned business trip to Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta and with it, rounds at Jasper Park and Banff Springs GC, will not be happening this year. With businesses still recovering from the financial turmoil over the past two years, hard choices need to be made about how money gets spent and in the end, we couldn't justify sending 5 delegates from my company on such an expensive trip.

Another year I hope!

If anything firms up from a travelling perspective, I'll certainly keep my readers advised and ultimately I hope I get the chance to play more golf with many of you out there in 2011 and in the years to come. Of course, as usual, you can still expect to get honest and detailed reviews and great photos of all the courses I play in 2011.

I'm starting to get excited about the end of March and the start of our golf season already!

I'd love to hear what your plans might be for 2011 - drop me a line either through the comments or by email. Best of luck to all my readers in the new year!

Bonus Photo Tour

I ended last year's review with a pictorial of my son Evan and his evolution from newborn baby into an infant. I like the idea of documenting his growth here for future reference so the tradition will continue!

January 2010 (15 Months Old)


April 2010 (18 Months Old)


July 2010 (21 Months Old)


December 2010 (2 Years 2 Months)



4 comments:

  1. You're bailing on me for Best Ball? And telling me in a blog post? I feel violated.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, hi Harris! Nice to hear from you!

    First of all, I planned on telling you at lunch when Cal got back from Israel but you bailed on us.

    No worries...I'll just tell him when we get together for dinner and poker before New Year's.

    Well, funny enough, you bailed on us again that night so I am forced to break up with you via Blog.

    I hear "The Muskoka Owl" would like to take my place considering you kissed and made up last year...

    ZING!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice pictures of your son.

    I see I need to call with an invite or two to get you to see a couple on your list.

    Regards,

    Ian

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ian,

    Thank you for commenting and for that gracious offer. I hope we can get a game in this year, perhaps with R.T.

    Continued best wishes,
    Matt

    ReplyDelete