Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 Year in Review

Yours truly on the stunning par three 11th at Pacific Dunes

I have always enjoyed writing my annual "Year in Review" posts, as it gives me a great chance to reflect on what happened both on and off the golf course in the previous twelve months. It was certainly a landmark year for seeing great golf courses, one that will truly be hard to top in the future.

Please indulge me as I look back on a wonderful year on the links...

The Game

Generally speaking, my golf game was decent in 2011 and my handicap actually improved over the course of the season, as I ended the year at 1.8 from a season starting handicap of 2.7.

That said, there was some disappointment in the fact that I didn't break par once in 2011 after getting into red figures three times the previous year. I did shoot two even par scores of 72, with one coming at my home club and the other at Glencairn in Halton Hills.

In my 2010 Year in Review, I mentioned that there was a good chance that I'd step back from playing competitively on the Niagara Men's Amateur Tour and I was true to my word. I just didn't have the time to give up six full weekend days for the Tour in 2011 and I have no regrets whatsoever about stepping back, although I will concede that my game lacked some sharpness due to the lack of tournament rounds.

If you take away the four rounds I played in the King's Putter event at Bandon Dunes, I only played 10 tournament rounds in 2011 versus 16 in 2010.

The tournament highlight, without doubt, was the 2011 Gentlemen's Invitational at St. Catharines G&CC, our three day member guest event. This marked the fourth consecutive year that I've played in the tournament, all with my wife's uncle Henry. After coming close in previous years, we finally broke through this year, winning the championship in the 3rd flight on the strength of a wonderful last round score by Henry and taking home some nice hardware.


Henry (R) and I accepting our silver championship platters in June 2011

I had a rough year in club events, losing out in the quarterfinals of both match play competitions at St. Catharines G&CC and finishing a disappointing T3rd in the A Flight of our club championship.

Another personal highlight was organizing the first annual "Turkey 2-Ball" at St. Catharines, a 24 man, 12 team best ball competition among the better players at the club. I think it went off without a hitch and I look forward to the second installment in October 2012.

The Courses

2011 provided an embarrassment of riches for me, as I was able to play 15 different golf courses for the first time, with an incredible 12 of them ranked as top 100 courses by either Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golfweek or ScoreGolf.

The 2011 golf season started on a supremely high note, as I travelled all the way to Bandon, Oregon to play all four world-class courses at the Bandon Dunes Resort in March. I was part of a 32-person delegation from Golf Club Atlas, playing in the annual King's Putter competition, which left the comfortable confines of California for the first time in history in order to experience the gorgeous Pacific coastline in Southwest Oregon.

I played all four courses twice during my stay - I've already written full course reviews of David McLay Kidd's Bandon Dunes and Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes, so you know how I feel about the first two courses built at the resort. I'll eventually provide full reviews on the sublime Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw collaboration at Bandon Trails as well as the Tom Doak/Jim Urbina designed Old Macdonald. There is now a fifth course nearing completion at the resort, a 13-hole par three course designed by Coore & Crenshaw named Bandon Preserve. The quality of golf available at Bandon Dunes is, in my humble opinion, unrivaled anywhere in the world.


The picturesque par three 5th hole at Bandon Trails


That's me trying to get out of a cavernous bunker on the Alps hole at Old Macdonald

I took a road trip of sorts in May around the Canadian Victoria Day holiday, venturing 10 hours southeast through New York State. My first stop was in Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I spent a few hours taking in the exhibits and snapping photographs and also got the chance to play the sporty Devereux Emmet designed Leatherstocking GC just down the street. Leatherstocking sits near the bottom of the Golfweek Classic 200 list but this quirky gem is a blast to play. Look for a review in the not too distant future.

Checking out the first induction class at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

The elevated par four 16th tee at Leatherstocking, with the stately Otesaga Hotel in the distance

I'd drive another five hours or so, crossing over the Hudson River on the spectacular George Washington Bridge as I made my way toward Long Island and my eventual destination, Southampton. I stayed at the lovely Southampton Inn for a couple nights while in town and was lucky enough to play three of the top four private clubs in town.

My room at the cozy Southampton Inn

First up was the historic and absolutely awesome National Golf Links of America. This C.B. Macdonald masterpiece, built in 1911, is pretty much on every top ten ranking list in golf and is notable for its use of 'template' holes found on many of the great courses in Great Britain. My day at NGLA was one of the more magical golf experiences of my life and you can definitely look forward to an extensive review in the months to come.

Smiles galore at National Golf Links of America - a birdie on 'Narrows', the 15th hole, doesn't hurt either!

After a great dinner in town with my two playing partners, I retired to my room to get some shuteye for an epic day that would follow. First up was a charity event for the Southampton Lions Club at the Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak collaboration, Sebonack GC. This 2006 design has made its way into the top half of most US top 100 lists and is extremely private so it was quite a treat getting to play such an exclusive place. The course was covered by a heavy fog for about an hour and I really didn't get a chance to appreciate the great opening holes until seeing them from high above the course in the clubhouse after our round. I'll have much more about Sebonack in my forthcoming review of the course.

After a late lunch, we took the quick five minute drive from Sebonack to Southampton GC to get in another quick 18. Southampton is a 1925 Seth Raynor design that has just undergone a truly marvellous restoration by Brian Silva. Raynor's trademark bunker style is prevalent throughout and many of the templates seen at NGLA are the inspiration here as well. Southampton will be another course getting a full review here in the months ahead.

Jaws drop to the ground on the gorgeous 18th tee at Sebonack

The par three 2nd hole at the newly restored Southampton GC

After another great dinner, I said my goodbyes and headed west down the Long Island Expressway, getting off in Farmingdale, NY. That can only mean one thing - a midnight trip to a parking lot at Bethpage State Park to wait in line with a bunch of other golf nuts to play the most famous muni in all of golf, the vaunted Black Course at Bethpage. I wanted the whole "Bethpage Experience" so I slept in my car, or tried to anyway before getting summoned to the clubhouse a little after 4:30am to get a tee time. It was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences that I can remember and I can't wait to retell the story in all its glory in a full review that will be coming soon. It was a perfect day in every regard, as the quality of the course exceeded my already high expectations and it made for a fitting conclusion to one of the greatest golf trips of my life.

An early morning look from behind the 18th green at Bethpage Black

I finally got the chance to play the highest rated course in Canada according to ScoreGolf in mid-June, the National Golf Club of Canada. This George & Tom Fazio design is renowned for its toughness and I can fully attest to that, putting at least two sleeves of Titleists in the various water hazards around the course on the way to my highest score in 2011. You can look forward to a full pictorial review down the road.

The difficult par five 4th hole at the National GC of Canada

My third and final trip of the year was another road trip, this time with my wife, my son, my mother-in-law and my wife's uncle Henry and aunt Diane joining us. Our home base was at the Easton Town Center near Columbus, Ohio and while the girls and my 2 year old shopped, Henry (my member/guest partner) and I played golf at some pretty great places.

The highlight was two rounds bookending the trip at Muirfield Village GC, the Jack Nicklaus & Desmond Muirhead collaboration that has been home to the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament for over 30 years. MVGC is a great test with a cool layout and some of the most incredible conditioning I've ever seen and this trip took place during a remarkably brutal hot spell that saw temperatures over 100 degrees. Thank goodness for their famous milkshakes, which were as good as advertised!

The wonderfully-designed par five 5th hole at Muirfield Village

Another highlight of our Ohio trip was playing Nicklaus' home course growing up, Scioto CC. This 1916 Donald Ross gem was a true pleasure to play and one of the finest parkland designs I've ever played. I knew it would be good, as it resides near the bottom of most American top 100 lists but I came away thinking it is a bit underrated. A cool members club and an understated gem of a golf course.

The tantalizing par five 8th hole at Scioto

We also played the highly-rated Longaberger GC, an Arthur Hills public course in the neighbouring town of Nashport. It was good, not great, with some very odd routing choices but I enjoyed the day and some of the holes are very strong.

The very cool second shot at the par four 8th at Longaberger

Stay tuned for full reviews of Muirfield Village, Scioto and Longaberger, hopefully coming around springtime.

We also played The Medallion Club and Wedgewood G&CC while in the Columbus area. Neither are highly rated but Wedgewood, a Robert Trent Jones Jr design, was a pleasant surprise - excellent conditioning and a pretty natural site equalled very good golf. I played a great round at the Jack Nicklaus II designed Medallion, shooting a 73 for the low round of my trip. It's a great club with a wonderful staff but I found the course overly tight and devoid of options, making it about average in my books.

Overall, our trip to Ohio was wonderful - my family loved it and the Easton Town Center was a big hit for all the shopping and great restaurants within such a small area around our hotel. And that's saying nothing about the people, who without question are some of the kindest and most generous people I've ever met in my life.

I'd love to go back someday!

15 new courses and nary a dud in the bunch. Luckiest guy in the world for sure.

Looking Ahead

After such a prolific year in 2011, things will be much quieter in 2012.

From a tournament perspective, nothing much will change. I'll continue to play in my normal club events, like the two major match play championships and our club championship as well. The member-guest event is likely a certainty as well as Henry and I try to win the overall title after our 3rd flight victory in 2011.

As far as travel goes, I have absolutely no firm plans as I write this today. What I do know is that I will likely have only one major, week-long golf trip in me this year plus one long-weekend type trip as well.

The long weekend trip will almost certainly see me return to the New York area, this time to play the highly respected West Course at Winged Foot GC. I was fortunate to win a round of golf there in a charity auction and I hope to take advantage of it sometime in the late spring. While there, I'd love to get in a couple more rounds to make the trip even more worthwhile, perhaps playing Bethpage Black again or if I get really lucky, perhaps I can get out to Southampton again. We'll see.

The 9th hole at Winged Foot (West)

As for the main trip, time will tell. Again, nothing is set in stone right now but there is a very awesome possibility that may end up coming to fruition at some point and I continue to keep my fingers crossed.

I'd say there is also a very slim chance of repeating our Columbus vacation again in 2012 - I'd be delighted if we can make it work but I'm going to leave that up to my wife. I think she'd prefer a beach vacation with no golf clubs in sight and if that's what she wants, she will get it. After my awesome 2011, I owe her and my son bigtime!

If anything firms up from a travelling perspective, I'll certainly keep my readers advised.

As for the Now on the Tee site, I need to do better. I'm writing less and less each year and I plan to reverse that disturbing trend in 2012. It's a bit daunting sometimes, especially since I go overboard with most of my posts, with thousands upon thousands of words and countless photographs for each review. Perhaps I need to streamline the way I write and make it a bit less intimidating for both myself and my readers.

Regardless, I pledge to do my best to exceed my meagre post count from last year! I have a year's worth of reviews to catch up on so there is plenty of content, that's for sure!

Happy new year to all my faithful readers. I'd love to know what is in store for you on the golf course in 2012 either through email or through the comments section.



2 comments:

  1. Great year Matt!
    Looking forward to your blog 2012.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I thought I had it good. : )

    BestRegards,

    Ian

    ReplyDelete