Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

2012 "Major" highlight: A second place finish in the 5th Major at Dismal River in Mullen, Nebraska, with me in green shirt/black shorts and partner Tyler Kearns in baby blue

I knew it was going to be next to impossible to better what was a spectacular year of golf in 2011, when I took golf trips to Bandon, Oregon, Long Island, New York and Columbus, Ohio and ultimately played 12 top 100 courses over the course of the year.

2012 was much quieter but no less satisfying. Here's a look back at the year that was on the golf course for yours truly.

The Game

I went into 2012 with a handicap index of 1.8 and hoped to work it down toward scratch, a level I've reached briefly a couple times in recent years. Despite putting in more range time than perhaps any year I can recall, my game was pretty mediocre throughout the year and I ended the season at 3.1.

Rounds played were down significantly, with only 58 posted rounds versus 72 in 2011. That 14 round difference can mostly be attributed to the fact that I only got away on one golf trip this year versus the three last year.

I played a number of competitive rounds this year with mixed results. My buddy Ryan and I teed it up in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier in London, Ontario and fell short of making it though by a few strokes, mostly due to my lacklustre performance that day.

I also played poorly in the two St. Catharines G&CC match play events that I love competing in: the Scratch Cup (lost in the 2nd round) and the Langley Cup (0-7 handicap event - lost in the 1st round).

For the fifth consecutive year, I took part in our club's three-day member/guest event with my wife's uncle and after a 3rd flight win in 2011, we struggled in 2012, finishing 2nd in our flight but quite a way down the list overall. Still, as usual, it was a wonderful event and I don't see any reason why we won't give it another shot in 2013.

The tournament highlight in 2012, without question, was my participation in the 5th Major, an event put on by my friend Eric Smith that is played annually at the Dismal River GC in Mullen, Nebraska. I was partnered up with Manitoba native Tyler Kearns, a fellow member of Golf Club Atlas and I played some of my best golf of the year in this very interesting format of nine-hole best ball matches. In fact, on the first day, I made 8 birdies in 27 holes and Tyler made a whole bunch as well, as we'd end up winning the "A" flight over some pretty stiff competition and qualify for the four hole, five-team "Shootout" for the 5th Major crown.

That's me teeing off on the 7th hole at Dismal River, the second hole of the 5th Major-deciding shootout, with lots of interested onlookers

Tyler would birdie the 6th hole right of the gates to get us going and we'd make it right to the end, losing out to a birdie/net eagle from the team of Brent Carlson and Greg Krueger to finish 2nd overall in the 30-team event and win a pretty nice chunk of change!

It was one of the best-run events I've ever been part of and my thanks go out to Eric, Dismal River owner Chris Johnston and to all of his staff, who all were incredibly committed to ensuring the event went off without a hitch.

In other team play, I also participated in five Niagara Cup matches this year, representing St. Catharines G&CC in matches against Rockway Glen, Peninsula Lakes and then Lookout Point CC in the finals. I'd win four of my five matches but the one loss was a costly one, as it was at Lookout in the final round where our team would fall by a narrow margin. Nevertheless, after a long, self-imposed sabbatical, it was a hell of a lot of fun playing in the Niagara Cup again.

The final highlight from a tournament perspective was organizing the second annual "Turkey 2-Ball" at St. Catharines, a 24 man, 12 team best ball competition among the better players at the club. Once again, we had a team draft party a few nights before the event itself and the last players drafted ended up winning the whole thing so I must be onto something with the format! Even better was the fact that I got paired with Ian Kowalchuk and we tied for third, finishing in the money.

You may notice one major omission from my tournament schedule - the 2012 Club Championship at St. Catharines. Indeed, I didn't participate for the first time that I can remember. It's without question my favourite event of the year but due to scheduling issues at the office, the only week I could get away with my family this summer happened to conflict with the championship.

Family comes first. There will be other club championships in my future, I'm sure.

The Courses

While 2011 provided an embarrassment of riches for me, 2012 proved to be much more modest regarding new courses seen. In all, I played 14 different courses in 2012, with only 6 of them being first-time visits.

One of the new courses seen was Highland Country Club in London, Ontario, which hosted the Ontario Better Ball qualifier. I actually played a practice round the day before the qualifier and played poorly both days. It's a sporty course, with small, undulating greens and my inept iron game definitely held me back in the qualifier.

I only took one trip in 2012 but it was a great one, as I headed back to Colorado and Nebraska for the second time in three years.

We decided to fly out of Detroit in order to get a cheaper flight so that offered Steve, Ryan and I the opportunity to play St. Thomas G&CC just outside of London on the way to Detroit. For the first time in three visits, I was able to complete all 18 holes without a monsoon and interestingly enough, I thought the course was a bit overrated. I can see the architecture is quite strong on this Stanley Thompson design but the tree overgrowth was borderline absurd, something I understand that the club is working on. I hope to return one day to see the positive changes.

From there, we were off to Colorado! Our first stop was at Castle Pines Golf Club, the home of the former PGA Tour event "The International" which was notable for its use of the Stableford scoring system.

The lovely par five 15th at Castle Pines GC

Castle Pines is a 1981 Jack Nicklaus design that is ranked 29th in America by the folks at Golf Digest. I was able to meet up with friend of Now on the Tee, noted architect, tournament director and greens superintendent Armen Suny at Castle Pines and Armen checked in with us at various points during the round to see how we were enjoying the experience. I was very impressed, perhaps surprisingly so, at the architecture at Castle Pines and I think that this is one of Nicklaus' best designs, rivalling his work at Muirfield Village, which I had the pleasure of seeing in 2011.

The next day we were off to see the relatively new Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw design at Colorado Golf Club.

The tough little par three 2nd hole at Colorado Golf Club

This 2007 design will be hosting the 2013 Solheim Cup and it's a delightful golf course to play, with plenty of the trademark width that Coore & Crenshaw are noted for and options galore around the greens.

Later that day, we played another 18 holes, this time at the Tom Doak designed CommonGround Golf Club in Aurora.

The par four 4th at CommonGround, with it's very interesting green contours

CommonGround is a public facility that opened in 2009 and co-hosted the stroke play portion of the 2012 US Amateur with nearby Cherry Hills GC. CG is essentially a municipal course but being a Doak course means it's filled with plenty of great moments, with the ground game especially being embraced throughout the design.

From there, we were off to Ballyneal Golf Club, easily the architectural highlight of the trip for all three of us.

The wonderful par five 8th hole at Ballyneal

This was my second trip in three years to Ballyneal and once again I was fortunate enough to get four rounds of golf in during our two day stay. Steve and Ryan absolutely loved the experience and the stop in Holyoke reaffirmed my love for the course and the people at Ballyneal, who bend over backwards to make sure your stay is a positive one. I got to meet another GCA'er for the first time at BN, as Wyatt Halliday was nice enough to come out to the 7th hole to greet us despite barely being able to walk after taking part in the inaugural Hundred Hole Hike two days earlier.

We concluded our trip with a three days at Dismal River Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska to take part in the 5th Major. The Jack Nicklaus designed course at DR has been softened considerably in recent years and a clever course setup for the event ensured maximum fun for all participants, regardless of handicap. The golf course played quite short during the event so I'd like to see it from a bit further back the next time I return but I certainly enjoyed making a boatload of birdies out there!

The 5th Major wasn't the only highlight at Dismal River - interested participants were able to get a personal tour of the soon to be opened second course at Dismal by the architect himself, Tom Doak.

Architect Tom Doak explaining his thoughts about his new design at Dismal River

Walking on Tatooine? Nope, just Tom Doak leading his flock on a tour of his new course at Dismal

Doak is unquestionably one of the hottest architects in golf right now and his course at Dismal will not disappoint his legion of fans. The land for his course, in my opinion, is better than the land Nicklaus was given for the first course at DR, with much more drama available in the holes down in the canyon along the actual Dismal River.

We spent about four hours over two days walking the entire course with Mr. Doak and it was a truly enlightening, one-of-a-kind experience for this architecture aficionado. The new course is scheduled to open in the summer if grown-in goes as planned and I hope to get the chance to see the finished product sometime in the near future.

In August, I rented a cottage up in the Muskoka area a couple hours north of Toronto for my family, including my wife, son, sister-in-law, our two nephews, my mother-in-law and her friend. It was a relaxing week off from work and the cottage was pretty awesome, right on a large, secluded lake. I'd miss out on the club championships, as mentioned earlier but I did get a round of golf in that week at the Bob Cupp/Tom McBroom designed Deerhurst Highlands in Huntsville. It was better than I remembered, with plenty of great golf holes on a beautiful piece of property.

I returned to play a few local clubs during the course of the summer, most notably a round at the Walter Travis designed Cherry Hill Club just outside Fort Erie. It was the first time I'd returned since Canadian architect Ian Andrew did his wonderful bunker restoration and I was duly impressed with the work and can only hope the powers that be at my club do the same thing at some point down the road. I had an enjoyable day at Cherry Hill, playing one half of a "Canada Cup" match with fellow Canadian GCA'er Mark Saltzman versus Buffalo Golfer's Ron Montesano and Kevin Lynch. Mark carried my sorry butt to victory that day and Ian Andrew would take my place in the second half of the matches at Lookout as Team Canada would prevail once again. I'm hoping for a rematch in 2013, presumably on the US side of the border this time!

Speaking of which, after playing matches at a couple of average local tracks like Rockway Glen and Peninsula Lakes, it was a heck of a treat getting to play in the Niagara Cup finals at Lookout Point.

Incredible land leads to visual deception on the par five 7th hole at Lookout Point CC

Lookout is easily my favourite golf course in the Niagara Peninsula, perhaps a sacrilegious statement from a member at a neighbouring club but I stand behind the comment and always look forward to testing my game on this interesting design.

The final new course I saw in 2012 was one of the great courses in all of Canada - St. George's Golf & Country Club just outside of Toronto.

Gorgeous St. George's G&CC (Photo courtesy of Clive Barber)

I actually played St. George's back when I was 17 years old but I had no appreciation for architecture back then so I consider this to be the first time I've played it "with eyes opened". It's truly a world-class design, one that can measure up to the best in all of golf, with as good a finishing stretch as I've ever seen. I certainly hope it doesn't take 22 years for a return visit!

I've still got plenty of catching up to do from courses I visited in 2011 and earlier but you can be assured of eventually seeing profiles on Castle Pines GC, Colorado GC, Dismal River, St. Thomas, Lookout Point and St. George's, all of which are rated as top 100 courses by publications such as Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, GolfWeek, Links Magazine or ScoreGolf. I also took a number of photos out at CommonGround so that's another course that might get the full profile treatment down the road.

Looking Ahead

I predicted a quiet 2012 after a busy 2011 and was on the money. What's in store for 2013, you ask?

Well, similar to last year at this time, I have absolutely no concrete travel plans for the coming year.

2013 is actually a big year for yours truly, as I will hit the big 4-0 (four uh-oh?) in April. My grand plan was to finally take my first trip overseas, thinking it was a perfect time to take a big trip and see the great links courses in Scotland.

I've spoken with some friends about it and there's even a crazy itinerary that I love that would include seeing courses not only in Scotland, but Ireland, England and the Netherlands as well!

None of that is off the table as I write this but I have some new responsibilities that may force me to postpone any thoughts of making a trip overseas until another year.

I do think there will be some room for me to take one large scale golf trip and one smaller "long weekend" getaway type of trip but we'll see how things shake out as we get into January and my schedule becomes a bit clearer.

I'll likely know more in the next month and will certainly share any travel plans I eventually make with my faithful readers.

One thing I can almost guarantee that I'll play more golf next year, likely somewhere in between the amount of rounds I played in 2012 (58) and the number I played the year before (72). I'd like to continue working on my game, a laughable thought for many years but after spending some Q.T. at the range this autumn, I can definitely envision spending a bit more time practicing in 2013 as I try to improve on my currently inflated handicap index.

That brings me to the thing I'm most excited about in 2013 - playing golf with my son Evan!

I've shown remarkable restraint over the past four years, according to my wife anyway, of making sure not to force Evan into golf. I've taken him to the club a number of times, just to let him run around, play in the practice bunkers and even hit a couple of putts but I haven't had him hit a full shot yet.

Why is that? Well, he hasn't asked.

While Earl Woods may have been great for Tiger, I don't want to force my son into golf too early and have him eventually resent me and this great game that I love so much. So I told my wife I wouldn't put a club into his hands until he was ready.

Well, I'm happy to say that Evan recently told me that he wants to try golf next year!

We have a wonderful, Ian Andrew designed short game facility at our club and a tyke program for kids four and up so I can't wait to get him out there in the spring and perhaps even get a little set made up for him. I will certainly cherish every moment I get to spend with him out there and I can't wait to build some new memories with him in 2013 and beyond.

Happy new year to all my patient and loyal readers. It was another lacklustre year of posts and I'm woefully behind on my course profiles but I hope to put a major dent in them over the course of the next three months. This is sadly just my 20th post of 2012, a pretty pathetic output for a guy who loves to write but admittedly has many responsibilities both at home and at the office. I won't promise anything, as that hasn't worked in the past but I have to imagine you'll see more content from me in 2013 than you did this year!

Best wishes to you all - let me know if you have any exciting plans of your own on the course in 2013!



3 comments:

  1. Great to finally meet you this year, Matt. I look forward to trouncing team USA in 2013!

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  2. Hope you make it to the UK, definitely a great place to celebrate your birthday!

    The wife and I will be in your neck of the woods for 2 weeks in August if your up for a round, hoping to make it down to Ohio to play Inverness, Canterbury and Brookside.

    Happy New Year.

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  3. We will play this year, very overdue. whether at St. C's or out to somewhere else that I'll arrange. Perhaps even in Montreal...

    Enjoy the blog.

    Regards,

    Ian

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