Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Year in Review Part One - The Game

My first match play event of the year on a frigid late February morning at the sublime Wolf Point Club near Port Lavaca, Texas
(from left to right: Ben S, Don M, Alan L and myself)

It's amazing how quickly this year has flown by...

With the holiday season upon us, it's time to reminisce about my year on the golf course in 2015 through my annual "Year in Review" series. This will be a three-part series, starting today with "My Game" and I'll follow that up with posts about "The Courses" and finally, "Looking Ahead" to next year.

2015 was another wonderful year for yours truly, with some absolutely exceptional travel experiences and some positive developments with my game.

The Game

I started 2015 with a 5.3 index and that actually increased to a 6.0 by the time the Canadian golf season started due to some late February golf in Texas, where I was understandably rusty. Thankfully, I was able to knock a few shots off my game over the course of the year, finishing the season with a 3.3 index, a pretty solid improvement. For the first time in a couple years, my average score was back in the seventies (79.6 to be exact) and most of my stats improved as well.

I posted 65 scores this year, down four from my 2014 total of 69 but I also played three rounds at the exquisite Wolf Point Club in Texas that couldn't be posted due to the course having no rating. So, in reality, I was down only a single round in 2015. Interestingly enough, 50 of my rounds were played at my home club of St. Catharines G&CC, likely the highest number of rounds played at home since I was a teenager.

My first big event was just outside Port Lavaca, Texas at the aforementioned Wolf Point Club. Architect Mike Nuzzo and course superintendent Don Mahaffey put together an event made up of a number of architecture aficionados that would benefit a local family struck by tragedy some months earlier. Teams were drawn the night before play at a local restaurant and I was paired with a Colorado gent named Alan L for Team Texas and we were matched up against Don and USAF captain Ben S (see photo above), who representated Team Louisiana.

Only one day after sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s, we had to head out in weather that was very familiar, with temps in the low 40s and some intermittent rain.

Thankfully, nothing could dampen the spirit of this group of die-hards, especially on a course as incredible and exclusive as Wolf Point. I was carried by Alan's hot ball-striking and in the end, we were able to prevail 5&4 in our match over Don and Ben before heading into the clubhouse for some fajitas and a few beverages. Despite our win, it was Team Louisiana taking the inaugural Wolf Point Cup by a slight 5-4 margin.

My most notable round of the year came in late May during one of my TaylorMade Premier League rounds at St. Catharines, where I somehow put everything together and shot 71 (-1), breaking par for the first time in a couple of years and for the 14th time in my life, an astonishing number to me.

The scoring highlight of the year...a rare subpar round!

For the eighth year in a row, I participated in the St. Catharines G&CC Gentlemen's Invitational, our three-day member guest event in mid-June, with my wife's uncle Henry. This was a very special year for the tournament, as it celebrated its 50th year and our club put on quite a show, including a spectacular Black Tie dinner gala on the Friday night (with our wives of course!) in our curling rink, which usually doubles as our bag storage facility in the summer.

For this special event, all of the clubs were cleared out and the rink was turned into the most spectacular ballroom you can imagine (photo shown below), with incredible lighting, curtains, a stage and a wonderful band. One of the more truly memorable events I can remember, made better by the fact that Henry and I played pretty well, finishing in a tie for 20th out of 62 teams in the field.

The spectacular Black Tie gala for the 50th anniversary of the Gentlemen's Invitational at St. Catharines G&CC in June 2015

The club match play events have always been a big deal to me but I essentially flopped in both the Langley Cup, a 0-7 handicap event with full strokes from the back tees and the club's Scratch Match Play event. In both, I was only able to make it to the second round and would end up getting eliminated by friends Thane M. in the Langley (the eventual champion) and Jaret C in the Scratch matches.

There's always next year I guess...sigh.

I took part in only one match in the Niagara Cup this year, a "Ryder Cup" style event that sees many of the clubs in the Niagara region and beyond take part. I'd team up with Thane in a better ball match that we'd win handily to secure 2.5 of 3 potential points to help our club advance to the next round. Ultimately, our club would lose in the final of the event but as maybe the 15th guy on a team of 8, I was only called on for that one early round match in 2015.

The Club Championship at St. Catharines is always a highlight on my golf calendar. Coming off a 2014 A Flight Championship win, I debated moving up to the Open Flight for 2015 but my improved game would still be no match for the flat-bellied studs who were taking part in that event so ultimately, I opted to defend the A Flight crown. While perhaps a bit tired after returning from a long Western Canada vacation the night before, there was no excuse for the 86 I shot in round one and I could only follow that up with an 81 in round two, coming up woefully short of making the cut. What an embarrassment! Still, it's always a treat to take part in the Club Championship, my favourite event of the year and I hope to bounce back in '16.

For the third consecutive year, I ran a season-long competition on Sundays at St. Catharines G&CC called the "Premier League". It's proven to be very successful and gives everyone something to play for during our normal weekend rounds. The league continues to evolve, with me adding an allowance for a limited amount of Saturday rounds this year to encourage more participation and that resulted in the field increasing to 39 players, up from only 27 the year before. We also had TaylorMade step up and offer sponsorship of the league and they've pledged to do the same in 2016. Nice!

Interestingly enough, I played my best golf of the year on Sundays during the league and I'd end up finishing a solid 3rd place in the Blue Division (out of 24 players), taking home a sizable chunk of change while also leading the Blue Division in skins winnings. Not bad!

Finally, the last major event on my schedule is the Turkey Two Ball Invitational that I run and we increased the field to a record total of 40 players for the 5th Annual running of the mid-October, season-ending event. I'd draft second-last but was very fortunate to be able to draft my friend Paul L. as a partner during the pre-event draft party. I actually played quite well, making three birdies as the "B" player in my group and with Paul making two of his own, usually five birdies is a pretty solid total for the better ball event. However, we'd bogey an incredible SIX holes, faltering especially down the stretch to finish with a 73 (+1), four strokes back of the leaders and well back in a tie for 8th out of 20 teams and out of the money. We did win a skin to break even for the day, thankfully and the 5th anniversary of the event was easily the best yet and also included the first playoff in tournament history.

Another great year and I consider myself very fortunate to have such a great group of friends.

COMING SOON:

2015 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses
2015 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead




Thursday, November 26, 2015

Champions Golf Club

Champions Golf Club - Cypress Creek Course
Houston, Texas, USA


7301 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.1/135
COURSE ARCHITECT: Ralph Plummer (1959)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://www.championsgolfclub.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: February 21, 2015.
LOW SCORE: 87 (+16)

ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Classic Courses 2016: #188

"It's only fitting that Champions Golf Club has found such an important place in golf considering it was the life-long dream of two of the games most prominent figures. Jack Burke and the late Jimmy Demaret share a special place in the history and tradition of the game. Their accomplishments and contributions have endeared them to many the world over and the quality of this facility is a tribute to the careers of these two men.

The atmosphere they created here has made it a retreat for the famous as well as a school ground for the aspiring. Very few of the greats of the past have failed to walk these grounds - there can be no doubt that those of the future will feel that same draw."

- from the Champions Golf Club course guide

Champions Golf Club was founded in 1957 and as indicated above, was the brainchild of noted PGA professionals Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke Jr. Ralph Plummer designed the Cypress Creek course, which opened in 1959 and it has gone on to host a number of the biggest events in golf, including the 1967 Ryder Cup, the 1969 US Open, the 1993 US Amateur, the 1998 US Women's Mid-Am and was also a four-time host of the PGA Tour's season ending Tour Championship.

Demaret and Burke were intent on Champions being a "players club" and as such, to this day, there is a handicap requirement to be a member, with those 50 years of age or younger needing to play to a 14 handicap or better while those over the age of 50 see the handicap requirement relaxed to 18 or better!

Demaret, who won 31 times on the PGA Tour, including three green jackets at the Masters, passed away in 1983 but Jack Burke Jr, who turned 92 in January 2015, is still at Champions to this day!

Burke was no slouch as a touring pro, winning 16 PGA tournaments, including the Masters AND US Open titles in 1956!

I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Champions in February 2015 while on a short golf trip in Texas. I met up with my friends Jeff and Brandon at the airport and we were originally scheduled to play all 36 holes at the club, including the Jackrabbit course. However, an oncoming storm necessitated changes to our itinerary and as such, we only played the revered Cypress Creek course during the trip.

One of our hosts, Kyle, was already on the golf course with some other visiting friends so upon arrival, we sought out our other member host, Drew. You can imagine our surprise and delight that upon walking into the incredibly vibrant men's locker room at Champions, we were immediately taken to meet with the great man himself, Mr. Jack Burke Jr!!

Drew was actually filming The Rural Golfer, a TV show with Mr. Burke and fellow Champions member and major champion Steve Elkington. They had just completed nine holes and were doing a spot in the locker room. Mr. Burke was very polite to us, shook each of our hands and even chatted with me for a brief second, saying how much he loved Canadians.

What a special moment.

Elk was also right there but he was chatting with some fellow members at the time and I didn't want to interrupt their conversation.

Drew wasn't finished with his work on the show but said that he would join us on the course once filming was completed. So with that, we got dressed and headed right to the first tee and my first official golf shot in well over four months!

Thankfully, I made solid contact on the 419 yard par four 1st hole, hitting the ball just through the fairway on the right side to get the season off to a good start.

I'd hit a solid second shot on the green, dialing up my first green in regulation for 2015 and it was here that I saw the main defense on the Cypress Creek course: the mammoth, undulating putting surfaces! I'd promptly three-jack that first hole to get things off to an inauspicious start.

The architectural highlight of the course is the fourth hole, a 221 yard par three that sits on the best piece of land on the property by far. The hole requires an exacting long iron or fairway metal tee shot that clears the very steep-faced creek that winds in front of the green and off to the left, as seen below.

The dramatic par three 4th hole at the Cypress Creek course at Champions Golf Club

We were playing the middle tees and the 182 yard hole was playing hard downwind, requiring only a 7-iron on this day.

It's the biggest "wow" inducing moment on the course by far.

Drew would meet up with us on the 10th hole, a lovely dogleg left par four (seen below) and played in with us from there.

Jeff (left) and I walking up towards the 10th green at Champions

I had a particularly rough go on the long and difficult back nine, taking 45 shots to get around the incoming side and 87 (+16) overall, including three 3-putts.

The par threes on the Cypress Creek course are a particular highlight and I also enjoyed the par fives, especially the 540 yard 13th hole.

I had heard prior to visiting that the course sat on unremarkable land but there was quite a bit more movement than expected.

The Cypress Creek course was really strong and in great shape. It's a true shotmaker's delight, with tree-lined doglegs forcing the player to move the ball in both directions and of course, those aforementioned expansive, undulating green complexes.

And that men's locker room at Champions is off-the-charts awesome! There is a central bar surrounded by locker bays all around the perimeter, with members playing cards in each of the bays or sitting at the bar talking about their rounds. An incredible, unique atmosphere and it easily qualifies as one of the most special locker rooms I've ever seen.

We had a wonderful day at Champions and after our round, we headed over to Kyle's house for a fantastic barbeque. There were about eight of us over there, dining on steaks, drinking some beer and sharing great stories about the club, Mr. Burke and Mr. Elkington.

Champions is a club steeped in history and I feel incredibly fortunate to have walked the same fairways as so many greats in the game have before me. I hope to return again one day soon.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Springtime in North Carolina and a Return to The Masters

If you recall, last year I was lucky enough to win practice round tickets for the 2014 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. I never had the privilege of attending the event in the past so I planned a four day trip, flying into Charleston, South Carolina with my friend Terry and we would play a few rounds of golf in the area in addition to our Monday practice round.

However, a significant storm on Masters Monday meant we only spent about 40 minutes walking Augusta National before the weather sirens went off, forcing all patrons off the course until the storm passed.

As documented in this blog post from last year, that storm unfortunately wouldn't pass and the powers that be at the Masters officially cancelled the Monday practice round, devastating two Canadians in the process, among many others I'm sure.

There was a silver lining though. Mere minutes after getting this awful news, emails started pouring in like the rain on the the top of our windshield, with Masters officials first stating that we would be reimbursed for the price of our 2014 tickets but what came next was the big news - all Monday practice round ticket holders would be guaranteed tickets for 2015!

We'd be getting a second chance!

While scouting out potential flights, I decided it would be cool to fly into a different airport this year and that would give us the opportunity to play some different courses. Ultimately, we decided to fly into Charlotte, North Carolina and I went about building a solid five day itinerary that would start and finish in that lovely city.

Terry and I flew into Charlotte on a Sunday morning and upon getting our rental car, we'd grab lunch in town then hit the road for ten short minutes before meeting up with two friends for a round at Carolina Golf Club.

Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL's Carolina Panthers and located near downtown Charlotte

The tee shot on the 410 yard par four 6th hole at Carolina Golf Club (photo courtesy of Ed Oden)

The uphill approach shot into the par four 7th at Carolina GC (photo courtesy of Ed Oden)

Carolina GC is a private, Donald Ross design that didn't get much attention in golf-rich Charlotte until a much needed restoration/renovation project was completed in 2008 by architect Kris Spence. Bunkers and original green sizes and shapes were restored, trees were cut down and wide playing corridors were re-established and the results are striking.

We had a wonderful day at Carolina, playing in just over three hours in a fivesome, getting compliments along the way from other members who were impressed with our brisk pace of play. We ended the day with a lovely dinner in the clubhouse with our hosts before making the drive to our hotel in Columbia, South Carolina, our home for two nights.

On Monday morning, we were up bright and early for our trip to Augusta and the Masters practice round. It was a tad cloudy as we made our drive into Augusta, with our friend Cory joining us for the day after also playing in our group at Carolina GC the day before. Thankfully, the skies would eventually clear and we had an absolutely beautiful day to enjoy Augusta National after our bad luck from the previous year!

Looking back down the wonderful par four 10th hole from back right

Amen Corner, with a look at the 11th (foreground) and 12th (background) greens

I had been looking forward to this day for a whole year and of course, despite intense preparations, I would forget something important as we made the drive to Augusta - my camera! While photos are strictly prohibited during tournament rounds, patrons are more than welcome to take photos during the three practice rounds but I absentmindedly left my camera in the hotel room. Since cellphones are not allowed on the property, I wouldn't get any photos of my wonderful experience in 2015, with the photos above being shots taken during our ill-fated 40 minutes in heaven in 2014.

We got to see the entire golf course from one to eighteen, following Rory McIlroy for a number of holes while also catching some play from Adam Scott and near the end of the day, Jordan Speith, who arrived mid-day on Monday after winning the PGA Tour event that finished the day before.

Tiger would show up right around the time we were leaving and we were able to catch a glimpse of him working on his pitching and chipping game at the amazing Tournament Practice Facility (yes, all caps!), with crowds lined up about ten deep at the range to catch the fading star in action.

While there, we somehow were able to meet up with a few friends in the middle of the course despite the sheer number of patrons on the property and it was great catching up with them. About the only thing that went wrong that day was when my credit card company put a hold on my card when I tried to put through close to $1000.00 in souvenir purchases! The lovely staff at the merchandising facility put my stuff aside while I called the credit card company to assure them that my card wasn't stolen and in fact, I DID want all of this stuff from a golf course in Augusta, Georgia. A tad embarrassing but I guess this happens very frequently according to the staff. It was a half hour wasted but in the end, I had my souvenirs and the smile never left my face.

Attending the Masters, whether it's a practice round or a tournament round, is a must for anyone who loves the game. The most incredibly run tournament in the world and the golf course lives up to all the hype - it's truly a magical place.

We'd head back to Columbia for the night and the next morning, we'd check out and make the two and a half hour drive to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where we would be playing one of the world's great tracks, the vaunted #2 Course at Pinehurst Resort.

The #2 Course at Pinehurst, with the famous statue of Payne Stewart right behind the 18th green

The wonderful par four finishing hole at Pinehurst #2

This Donald Ross classic design was recently restored by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, with their mandate being to restore the course’s natural and historic character and the strategic options that were the centerpiece of Ross’s vision. Fairways were widened and all rough was eliminated, leaving two cuts of grass - greens and fairways. In the place of rough came naturalized areas, with sand, pine straw and other wiry grasses planted, allowing the removal of over 35 acres of irrigated turf.

Incredible!

The results are startling, without question but I must admit that I was ever so slightly underwhelmed overall about the course and the very expensive experience, perhaps caused by unrealistic expectations prior to the round. Pinehurst #2 is unquestionably a strategic masterpiece but not one of those out-of-body sensory extravaganzas like a Pebble Beach or Sand Hills. With much of the interest lying at the greens, there is much more subtlety at play here that likely requires repeat visits, much like St. Andrews may be from what I've heard. Hopefully I can get back there one day and see it again.

We finished that day off with a visit to the famous Pine Crest Inn right in the village for dinner and some beverages.

The historic Pine Crest Inn, located in the village of Pinehurst

Wednesday was to be a busy day on the course, with 36 holes of golf planned. First up was an early morning round at the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed Dormie Club, located in West End, NC, just outside of Pinehurst.

The long par four first hole at Dormie Club

The very cool green site at the short par four third hole at Dormie Club

The Dormie Club was originally conceived as a private club, opening in the spring of 2010. However, financial issues plagued the project from the start and the business model was doomed to fail, with a saturated real estate market and exorbitant initiation fees the primary issues.

A new investor group would soon take over and Dormie would re-establish itself as a semi-private facility on a temporary basis and it remains open to public play to this day.

I really enjoyed our round at Dormie - it's not overly long at less than 6900 yards from the back tees but the course sits on a wonderful piece of land, with over 100 feet of elevation change throughout the property and the trademark strategic brilliance of Coore and Crenshaw is prevalent from the outset. It's not an easily walkable routing but that is one of the very few negatives about the place. We're glad we visited.

From there, we headed back towards Southern Pines for our afternoon round, which took place at Mid Pines Golf Club.

A stunning downhill vista awaits on the 16th hole at Mid Pines

The stately Mid Pines Inn serves as the backdrop to a wonderful finishing hole

Like many of the courses in the area, Mid Pines was designed by Donald Ross, opening in 1921. Over the years, trees started encroaching on many of the holes, reducing the strategic interest greatly and playability became an increasingly significant concern. A trip to the recently restored Pinehurst #2 by Pine Needles and Mid Pines CEO Kelly Miller inspired him to do the same type of work at Mid Pines.

Miller sought out Kyle Franz, a young architect who did much of the shaping work at the recently restored #2 and had an impressive resume for such a young man, having worked with Tom Doak, Coore and Crenshaw and also Gil Hanse, all major players in the golf course architecture field at the present time.

Franz was tasked with restoring the fairway corridors through extensive tree clearing, adding waste areas off many of the fairways and greens and also replacing the natural Bermuda grass playing surface with a mini-verde grass that would be easier to maintain and allow the course to play firmer and faster throughout the year.

I must say that I was stunned by what I saw at Mid Pines. This was easily the biggest surprise of our trip and I thought the course was simply magnificent. The course isn't long at only 6700 yards from the back tees but strategic interest abounds and the restoration work undertaken by Franz is spectacular. Mid Pines is an aesthetic wonder, with the contrast between the fairways, greens and waste areas a visual highlight.

The Donald Ross routing remains intact and what a brilliant, walkable routing it is, made even more interesting due to the rollicking piece of land that the course is laid upon.

Terry and I were blown away by Mid Pines, perhaps our favourite course played during our trip, which I realize is high praise considering our itinerary. Fun golf in abundance and just a wonderful, historic venue. I hope to return one day soon.

We would fly home the next day but we smartly booked an evening flight out of Charlotte, giving us more than enough time to join a friend for a round at his course an hour north in Winston-Salem, the incredible Old Town Club.

The beautiful 167 yard par three second hole at Old Town Club


The par four 8th hole, with the recently restored double green shared by the wonderful par five 17th hole

The private Old Town Club is a Perry Maxwell design that originally opened for play in 1939. Like many of the courses we played on this trip, excessive and unnecessary tree plantings took away the once sweeping views on the property and the bunkers and green sites bore no resemblance to what was originally laid out by Maxwell back in the late '30s.

Old Town's golf chairman Dunlop White, a man we were fortunate to meet during our trip while having lunch after our round, passionately pushed the club towards a complete restoration project designed to reopen the lost corridors, restore the ragged bunkering throughout the property while also enlarging the greens to their original sizes, allowing for more pin placements and enhancing strategy.

Like Carolina GC, Pinehurst #2 and Mid Pines, the results of the work, in this case conducted by Coore and Crenshaw, is a revelation, with the grand scale of this immense property restored to full, glorious effect.

We played Old Town after a a pretty rough winter and the turf was still coming out of dormancy when we played. Therefore, the photographs above do the course absolutely no justice from a visual perspective but I can assure you that playability was superb and the greens rolled fast and true during our wonderful day at the club. We had a wonderful host, who walked us through all the course changes during our round and as indicated, we were joined by Mr. White while we had lunch before departing.

Old Town is a sensational place, one I would be honoured to visit again in the future and it is likely destined for a rightful place within the top 100 courses in America.

What a fitting end to one of the great golf trips in my lifetime.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jack Nicklaus on Golf Course Architecture

It's pretty rare these days for me to plug another website but there simply haven't been many articles or interviews worthy of the exposure.

Until now.

Nicklaus, Donald O'Quinn, Charles Fraser and Pete Dye during the construction of Harbour Town GC
Courtesy of the Nicklaus Archives (through Golf Club Atlas)

Golf Club Atlas has an extremely compelling Feature Interview with Jack Nicklaus, without question the greatest player that the sport has produced.

The interview was conducted by Ran Morrissett, one of the founders of Golf Club Atlas, along with site member Joel Stewart and took months of back and forth with Mr. Nicklaus to piece together, as he still maintains his incredibly hectic business schedule at 75 years young.

Nicklaus' passion for course architecture is palpable and it makes for a fascinating piece of journalism.

There is no question that Jack's work has evolved considerably over the years and while I'm not a fan of everything he's designed, I do love a lot of his work, including Muirfield Village, Sebonack (with Tom Doak) and Dismal River's White Course, among many others.

Add that to the fact he's the best player in the history of the game and one of its greatest gentlemen and you have one incredibly captivating interview subject.

Very highly recommended. Congratulations to Ran, Joel and GCA for their fine work.


Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer

There will be nothing earth-shattering about this update but since it's been over two months since my last post, I really wanted to get something up, just to show that I'm still invested in this site!

It's been an exceptionally busy summer thus far, with work commitments continuing to take up much of my time. That said, I've still found time to play my regular Saturday and Sunday rounds and also just returned from a business trip and vacation out west in Banff and Jasper, Alberta.

The trip was wonderful and I'll throw a little recap up in the next week or so, as it included rounds of golf at two of Canada's best courses, Banff Springs GC and Jasper Park Lodge GC.

I also need to recap my North Carolina golf trip from April, as I desperately look for time to put these posts together. Oh, and I finally got to play Oak Hill Country Club's vaunted East Course a few weeks back and would love to document that experience as well.

We just celebrated the Civic Holiday long weekend here in Canada and with it comes the club championships at my home club, St. Catharines G&CC. Unfortunately, my defense of my 2014 A Flight title was not successful, as I went 86-81 to miss the cut by a mile.

The less said about those two rounds, the better!

I've been ousted in both of the club's match play events as well so my tournament schedule is pretty much complete for the year, with the notable exceptions of the Premier League (the Sunday scratch league that I run) and of course, the Turkey Two Ball Invitational, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this October.

Much more to come. As always, thanks for sticking with me through my bouts of inactivity.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Exhilaration! The Thrill of Breaking Par

Just a glorious scoreline!

I just realized that I've been writing here at Now on the Tee for over ten years. That's simply astonishing to me.

When I started this blog in 2005, I wanted a place to write about my two favourite hobbies at that time, which were golf and poker. I was 32 years old and had just started dating a new woman, someone who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my child.

Practically a quarter of my life is documented here at Now on the Tee and while I don't have the time or inclination to play poker anymore, I'm still smacking the little white ball around the golf course six or seven months of the year.

Priorities have changed over the years and while I still play about the same amount of golf that I always have, the quality of my game has dropped off severely. Those four footers that I used to grind over a decade ago simply don't mean as much to me as they once did and as a result, my scores more often than not have an eight at the beginning as opposed to a seven.

In fact, prior to Sunday, I had gone almost a full month without breaking 80 and I hadn't broken par in almost 25 months, the longest cold spell I've had since I broke par for the first time on August 30, 2003.

Right off the bat, I knew Sunday was going to be special. I teed off from the back tees with two new members at St. Catharines G&CC, brothers Mitchell and Hayden. We were sent off the back nine to start and on the par five 10th, I'd chip in from about 15 yards in front of the green for an eagle three, my first eagle of the year.

A wonderful start.

I'd bogey the 13th from out of the greenside bunker and would have my first big moment on #14, sinking a 12 footer for par to stay at one under. The rest of the first nine holes were routine pars and I headed to the first tee after carding a 35 on my first nine.

The 1st hole at St. Catharines is a short par four and I hit a very poor 4-iron tee shot into the fairway trap then came up short of the green on my approach. A mediocre chip and two putts gave me a sloppy bogey but I'd come right back with a birdie from about 20 feet on #2 to get right back to one under par.

First fist pump of the day there and I was fully engaged in this round.

If I didn't already think it was going to be a special day, I definitely knew it by the time I hit my approach on the 3rd hole. I got a huge break off the tee, with my drive coming to rest in a grass finger of the right fairway bunker. I had a pretty routine 150 yard approach but I'd thin my 9-iron and screamed "get down" as it reached the green.

The ball bounced two times and then rattled the centre of the flagstick, coming to rest about 9 feet away.

Another incredible break!

It was a super easy putt but I'd just miss it on the pro side before tapping in for par.

Another key moment came on the long par four 5th hole. I hit my drive hard down the left side and got a bad kick into a grove of trees beyond the fairway bunkers. I had absolutely no shot at the green so I just chipped out to the 150 marker. My third shot was average at best, coming up about 35 feet short of the back hole location. My par effort just missed but rolled well past, almost reaching the back fringe. I had a right to left 10 footer to save my bogey and I let out a huge sigh of relief when my putt just dropped in from the high side.

Whew!

Back to even par but only temporarily, as I'd play the par five 6th hole perfectly and hole a 12 footer for another birdie to get back to red figures with three holes to play! Another fist pump for that one!

I'd make two putt pars on both #7 and #8 and stood on the 440 yard par four 9th with only one thought in my mind.

Lets make birdie and shoot 70!

I didn't feel any nerves as I hit a decent fade off the tee, leaving me about 190 yards away for my second shot. I was pretty pumped up and pulled a 7-iron out but I basically flinched on my downswing and pulled my approach left, ending up well short of the green.

I couldn't feel my hands as I set up for my 20 yard pitch and I'd end up hitting it extremely thin. I watched in horror as the ball rolled well past the front hole location, up the hill and about 15 feet away.

It was a tough putt under any circumstance - 15 feet, screaming downhill and a sharp right to left breaker. I quickly stepped up and stroked the ball as lightly as I could and watched it curl right into the middle of the cup.

Unbelievable!

Congratulations came from my playing partners as I looked to the heavens with a smile that still hasn't left my face a full day later.

A one under par 71 on the day and my first subpar round since I shot the same score on May 4, 2013.

When I got home, I was curious about how many times I've been fortunate enough to break par in my life. I pulled out my shoebox of notable scorecards and was a bit surprised to see that this was the 14th time I've broken par.

Just for posterity, here is a summary of my under par rounds. If you're bored, you can cross reference the dates shown here with my archive section to find my writeup of each round (from 2005 on).

1. August 30, 2003 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 36-35-71 (-1)
- Made one eagle and three birdies, playing with Jay B. 11 greens in regulation and 27 putts.

2. September 3, 2005 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 34-34-68 (-4)
- Perhaps the best round of golf in my life. Five birdies and only one bogey, which was a three putt. 14 greens in regulation and 28 putts. I played with Jay B once again, along with Charlie A.

3. September 5, 2005 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 35-36-71 (-1)
- I did the deed once again only two days after my 68. This was in the semifinals of the Newlands Cup, the 0-40 handicap match play event at St. Catharines, playing Dave M. I was three under and bogey free until making bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes to shoot the 71.

4. September 24, 2005 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 34-37-71 (-1)
- Closing off a remarkable month, this was the Newlands Cup final against Brett R. I was three under through 10 before bogeying the 13th and 17th holes coming in. Only 10 greens in regulation and 27 putts here.

5. May 20, 2007 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 33-36-69 (-3)
- A 20 month drought ends in spectacular fashion, as I make six birdies and three bogeys while playing with Jon P, Cal G and Bernie B. 12 GIRs and 27 putts here.

6. October 14, 2007 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 36-34-70 (-2)
- Playing with Jon P and Cal G once again, this time alongside Andy A. Pretty clean card here, with three birdies and one bogey. 13 greens and 29 putts on this day.

7. June 29, 2008 at Legends on the Niagara - Battlefield (Blue Tees): 35-34-69 (-3)
- My first under par round away from my home course and in competition, no less! This was a Niagara Cup match against Brian E from Hunters Pointe - it was moved from a water-logged St. Catharines G&CC to Legends and I remember almost every shot of this incredible round. Five birdies, including three of the last five holes to break 70. 13 GIRs and 28 putts.

8. October 12, 2008 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 35-36-71 (-1)
- Three birdies and two bogeys while playing once again with Andy A, Jon P and Bernie B. 12 greens and 29 putts.

9. June 19, 2010 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 34-34-68 (-4)
- Another remarkable round where I actually had a birdie putt for 66 (!!) but three putted the last green for my only bogey on the day. This was during the 2010 Men's Invitational at St. Catharines, playing with my guest Henry S, along with Chuck D and his brother Larry. Five birdies, one bogey, 12 greens in regulation and 27 putts.

10. June 26, 2010 at St. Catharines G&CC (Black Tees): 34-36-70 (-2)
- My first under par round at St. Catharines from the back tee deck comes one week after my 68. Played once again with Jay B, Andy A and newcomer Mike F. Four birdies and two bogeys, 12 greens in regulation and 29 putts.

11. August 7, 2010 at St. Catharines G&CC (Black Tees): 36-35-71 (-1)
- An under par round for the first time with Gary P, Harris N and Wes J. Quiet day with only two birdies and a single bogey. 12 greens and 29 putts here as well.

12. June 30, 2012 at Dismal River - White Course (Tees Were Up): 37-34-71 (-1)
- Another long drought ends with my second under par score away from home, played during the "5th Major" event in Nebraska. Made four birdies and three bogeys, playing with Tyler K from Winnipeg in two nine-hole matches.

13. May 4, 2013 at St. Catharines G&CC (Black Tees): 38-33-71 (-1)
- Playing again with Jon P and also playing with Brandon M and Sean M, I birdied three holes on the back nine to offset my two front nine bogeys. 11 greens in regulation and 28 putts on this round.

14. May 24, 2015 at St. Catharines G&CC (Black Tees): 36-35-71 (-1)
- Played with new members, brothers Mitch and Hayden M. Two birdies and an eagle are offset by three bogeys. 11 GIRs and 27 putts.

Fourteen times. Man, it will never get old and I hope I get the chance to experience those nerves again soon. What a thrilling weekend!

Thanks for reading.

EDIT - SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Make that 15 times!!

15. September 25, 2016 at St. Catharines G&CC (Blue Tees): 36-35-71 (-1)
- Played with Mark D and non-member Brent Q. Four birdies, one bogey and one double, making it the first time I've ever broken par while making a double. In another anomaly, I didn't hit ONE FAIRWAY officially but hit 11 greens in regulation and had only 27 putts.



Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Delicate Balancing Act Called Life

A summer-time look at the lovely par three 12th hole at St. Catharines G&CC

I try to live up to my promises of posting more but I continue to fail miserably.

Many times in the past I've talked about stretches at work that wear me down to the point of exhaustion and I'm there once again. Two key members of my 14 person company have been stricken with illnesses that have caused both to go on disability. One has been on the shelf for ten weeks now while another is closing in on a month.

Thankfully, both are well on their way to a full recovery but the fact of the matter is that neither will be returning anytime soon. They simply need time to get back to 100%.

My staff is stressed and I can barely sleep at night these days, thinking about this house of cards that is one breath from falling over. The staff liken our situation to the band that kept playing while the Titanic was sinking - that's rather dire but a fair assessment, I suppose. Thankfully, business is strong at the moment and we're somehow coping despite these extraordinary circumstances.

I'm very lucky to have the staff I do and they are working their tails off for the company as I try to find suitable cover for their two temporarily disabled comrades.

Easier said than done, I'm afraid, as I continue to look desperately for capable truck drivers.

The search will continue in earnest tomorrow morning but I need to talk a bit about golf to lighten the mood a bit.

The season is well underway in St. Catharines and I've gotten a few weekend rounds under my belt since the course opened in mid-April. My game is actually in decent shape to start the season, with a few scores in the 70s and a promising amount of early season birdies. I'd like to get my handicap back down to a respectable number this year but have a ways to go after ending 2014 as a six.

The third season of the St. Catharines G&CC Premier League will start up this weekend with a league record number of participants. Shockingly enough, I am likely taking the entire weekend off from golf, as my son is trying out for the city's tyke hockey travelling team. I really need a golf game right now to help ease my stress level but it will have to wait - family and work come first. I get so much joy watching him play - he's having a blast and I want to be there for him.

When I get a chance, I'll post next about my wonderful early April trip to North Carolina and Georgia, where I played a few very interesting courses and finally got to spend a full day at Augusta National Golf Club for a Masters practice round.

More on that soon.

Thanks for sticking with me!



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everything is Bigger in Texas!

I had the pleasure of visiting "The Lone Star State" for the first time for a quick golf trip last month.

The original plan called for us to fly into Houston early on a Saturday morning and play the Tradition Course at Cypresswood Golf Club, which is located only minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. However, a poor weather forecast for the Monday and Tuesday gave us the opportunity to change our schedule and move a couple of other courses up a day to take advantage of a warm weekend.

I'd get my first surprise early, seeing my friend Brandon during a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. His flight from Kansas was cancelled due to weather and he was forced to first fly into Charlotte and then would be on the same plane I'd be on for the flight to Houston.

We'd get to Houston on time and our friend Jeff, who had flown in about an hour before us, picked us up at the airport. We'd grab a quick bite then headed to our first course, the Cypress Creek Course at the highly esteemed Champions Golf Club.

Champions was founded in 1957 and was the brainchild of noted PGA professionals Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke Jr. Ralph Plummer designed the Cypress Creek course, which opened in 1959 and it has gone on to host a number of the biggest events in golf, including the 1967 Ryder Cup, the 1969 US Open, the 1993 US Amateur, the 1998 US Women's Mid-Am and was also a four-time host of the PGA Tour's season ending Tour Championship.

Demaret and Burke were intent on Champions being a "players club" and as such, to this day, there is a handicap requirement to be a member, with those 50 years of age or younger needing to play to a 14 handicap or better while those over the age of 50 see the handicap requirement relaxed to 18 or better!

Demaret, who won 31 times on the PGA Tour, including three green jackets at the Masters, passed away in 1983 but Jack Burke Jr, who turned 92 in January, is still at Champions to this day!

Burke was no slouch as a touring pro, winning 16 PGA tournaments, including the Masters AND US Open titles in 1956!

You can imagine our surprise and delight that upon walking into the incredibly vibrant men's locker room at Champions, we were immediately taken to meet with the great man himself, Mr. Jack Burke Jr!!

One of our member hosts, Drew, was actually filming a TV show with Mr. Burke and fellow member and major champion Steve Elkington. They had just completed nine holes and were doing a spot in the locker room. Mr. Burke was very polite to us, shook each of our hands and off we went to get started on our round.

The dramatic par three 4th hole at the Cypress Creek course at Champions Golf Club

Jeff (left) and I walking up towards the 10th green at Champions

The Cypress Creek course was really strong and in great shape. It's a true shotmaker's delight, with doglegs forcing the player to move the ball in both directions and expansive, undulating green complexes.

We had a wonderful day at Champions. Drew would meet up with Brandon, Jeff and myself on the 10th tee and after our round, we headed over to another friend's house, Kyle, for a fantastic barbeque. There were about eight of us over there, dining on steaks, drinking some beer and sharing great stories about the club, Mr. Burke and Elkington.

The star attraction on the trip was meant to be a full, 36 hole day on Monday at the incredibly private Wolf Point Club near Port Lavaca, Texas. However, that advanced weather forecast I mentioned at the top of this post predicted that temperatures would be falling into the 30s so our host gave us the option of showing up a day early to take advantage of the much warmer Sunday temperatures, which we accepted with gratitude!

Wolf Point is home to one member - the owner of the club! The course was built by architect Mike Nuzzo, with able assistance from noted greenskeeper and irrigation specialist Don Mahaffey and their only mandate was to design a course that could be enjoyed on a daily basis by their client.

That's me in one of the massive fairway bunkers lining the tremendous par four 5th hole at Wolf Point Club, with the owner's house featured prominently in the background

My friend Brandon approaches the super cool double green shared by the 8th and 18th holes at Wolf Point

Our first go-around saw the three of us hook up with Mark B from the Washington, DC area and then hook up with Jonathan from Illinois on hole #6. There's no issue with fivesomes out here and as you'll see in a photo down below, even 13-somes are fine!!!

We had a blast working our balls around this playground, with extremely firm and fast conditions along with the Texas winds requiring a deft touch and a great "ground" game. Jeff, Brandon and I took a lunch break after 18 holes while Mark and Jonathan went right back out for more. We'd dine on some fajitas cooked up by the grounds crew and then headed back out for more, completing our second 18 in short order.

That evening, there were over 30 of us that got together for dinner at the Shellfish Sports Bar & Grille in Port Lavaca, where we were treated to a phenomenal five course meal along with some great locally brewed IPAs. Check out the fourth course below - I don't think anyone was able to contend with these massive portions!!

This was the main course: a huge ribeye on top of creamy scalloped potatos, topped with bacon and sauteed mushrooms and served with scallops, cajun-spiced shrimp, vegetables and a garlic roll!

We were going to play a Ryder Cup style team event the next day, weather be damned, so the two captains drafted their teams after dinner. Lots of laughs and just a superb evening with friends both new and old.

Indeed, the next day we played in very frigid conditions, with temperatures in the high 30s and plenty of wind making it feel like it was well below freezing. Thankfully, the rain that was forecasted never really materialized and that allowed us to complete our tournament without issue. I was drafted by "Team Texas" and was teamed up with Alan from Colorado - we were able to prevail 5&4 over Don Mahaffey and Ben S, a member of the US Air Force. It was a great pleasure playing with Don, Ben and Alan, who carried me like the proverbial rented mule in our match!

Despite our match win, Team Texas would lose by a single point to Team Louisiana, who took home the first ever Wolf Point Cup! While we relaxed and enjoyed another great lunch, a large group of guys decided to brave the cold conditions and head back out for more golf!

Yes, that is a THIRTEENSOME heading out towards the 8th green at the superb Wolf Point Club!

I could go on forever about everything that is Wolf Point, which easily qualifies as one of the great golf experiences in my life. However, this is a club that requests privacy and I will not compromise that whatsoever. If you want to read more about this incredible course, I urge you to check out architect Mike Nuzzo's blog, which goes into great detail about the entire process of building this modern masterpiece.

I will never be able to repay Don and Mike for inviting me to take part in this event. What an experience!

Jeff and I headed back to the Houston area to grab some dinner before getting ready for our last day in Texas and a round at Walden on Lake Conroe Golf Club!

The lovely vista that is the par five 11th hole at Walden on Lake Conroe Golf Club (photo courtesy of Walden Golf Club)

Walden is a Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin collaboration that opened in 1976 in Montgomery, Texas. It's built through a housing community and as such, is a relatively tight course with some of the smallest greens I've ever played. There are a number of gorgeous holes, with the superb par four 8th being a particular highlight. The par five 11th and the short par three 12th both sit out on a peninsula on Lake Conroe and are very beautiful and challenging holes in their own right.

I really enjoyed the layout and the challenge the course presented. Our host Sam had five of us out on another cold morning - Jeff and I played with Sam while my Wolf Point partner Alan played with David M and Keith K. We had a great morning but had to take off right after our round to catch our flights back home.

My first Texas golf experience was incredibly positive and the hospitality from our hosts at all three clubs was off-the-charts. I look forward to seeing them all again soon.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

This Week on the PGA Tour: The Riviera Country Club

For as far back as I can remember, there was always something that drew my attention to The Riviera Country Club.

Nicknamed "Hogan's Alley" for the dominance displayed on the course by the legendary Ben Hogan, located just off Sunset Boulevard up the mountain in Pacific Palisades, a suburb of Los Angeles and home to some of Hollywood's elite, there was always something romantic about the course and the club itself.

I dreamed of playing there one day and people laughed at me, even my own family - it did seem so far fetched back then...

In 2007, I found myself heading to Dana Point, California, near San Diego for a business trip. My wife accompanied me and we decided to extend the vacation up the coast a bit to include the L.A. area.

Was getting on Riviera even possible?

At that point, the best golf course I had played might have been The Prince Course at Princeville Resort in Kauai, which I had played a year earlier on my honeymoon. Despite my interest in golf architecture, I had little to no exposure to the great golf courses of the world and almost no contacts of any kind.

After some encouragement from an architect friend, calls were made and the shocking news eventually came in...

I had a tee time at Riviera!

Not only that, but I had the opportunity to spend a few nights staying at the club if I wished.

Oh yes, I think I'd like that!

And that's how I finally realized my dream of playing at the esteemed Riviera Country Club.

COURSE PROFILE:
The Riviera Country Club - Part One (The Club)
The Riviera Country Club - Part Two (Front Nine)
The Riviera Country Club - Part Three (Back Nine)


The gorgeous clubhouse at The Riviera Country Club

Posing the night before my round on the first tee

A great look at the famous 10th hole, as taken from our room in the clubhouse

A glorious look at the 18th hole, looking back toward the tee from the clubhouse

The PGA Tour's 2015 Northern Trust Open starts today so what better time is there to reminisce about my wonderful experience at Riviera?

This George C. Thomas Jr. design is a masterpiece and almost everyone of note would agree with that assessment, as it's constantly ranked as one of the top five tracks on the Tour by the players in addition to being on every single Top 100 list of note.

I've just refreshed by monster, three-part profile of Riviera, cleaning up the text and enlarging all of the photos as well. This was the first truly great golf course I ever played and I think you can easily sense that excitement in my writing at the time!

I hope you enjoy the profiles and also enjoy the tournament this weekend.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Pebble Beach Golf Links

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, California, USA


6828 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.7/143
COURSE ARCHITECT: Jack Neville & Douglas Grant (1919)
ACCESSIBILITY: Resort
COURSE WEBSITE: http://pebblebeach.com/golf/pebble-beach-golf-links/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: May 30, 2013.
LOW SCORE: 85 (+13)


ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2016: #12
- Golf Digest Top 100 in America 2015: #7
- Golf Digest Top 100 Public in America 2015: #1
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the World 2015: #7
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. 2015: #5
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses You Can Play 2014: #2
- Golfweek Best Classic Courses 2016: #8


"It was all there in plain sight. Very little clearing was necessary. The big thing, naturally, was to get as many holes as possible along the bay. It took a little imagination, but not much. Years before it was built, I could see this place as a golf links. Nature had intended it to be nothing else. All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers, and sow a little seed."
Jack Neville, Course Architect, Pebble Beach Golf Links (San Francisco Chronicle 1972)

Samuel Finley Brown Morse was the visionary behind Pebble Beach and although many of his ideas were controversial at the time, his legacy as the most influential figure in the development of the entire Monterey Peninsula is intact.

A Yale graduate who ventured west after his father's death, Morse, as manager of the Pacific Improvement Company, was tasked with turning the Pebble Beach area into an attractive real estate opportunity.

He decided a golf course could help accentuate the incredible landscape at his disposal and he initially had the desire to bring in one of the preeminent architects at the time, C.B. Macdonald, to design the layout. However, Macdonald had no interest in travelling that far to the west so Morse went in a completely different direction, hiring noted amateur golfers Jack Neville and Douglas Grant as his architects. Despite the fact that neither of these two men had designed a course in the past, it would prove to be an inspired choice, as Morse was able to save significantly on costs due to the fact Neville and Grant couldn't accept a design fee because of USGA regulations at the time. In the end, it would cost Morse approximately $100,000 to build what would soon become the most famous seaside golf course in the United States.

Morse then had the foresight to team up with businessman Herbert Fleishhacker and buy Pebble Beach and close to 18,000 acres of surrounding land through his newly founded company, Del Monte Properties, for approximately $1.3 million from his former employer. Morse would continue to develop and preserve this land until his death in 1969 and he is responsible for helping build seven other golf courses in the Monterey area, including Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Cypress Point.

While Neville and Grant's initial routing is essentially intact from 1919, the course, like all others, has evolved significantly over the years and many different architects have their fingerprints on the current design. Harold Sampson and Arthur Vincent were tasked with rebuilding some greens and improving turf quality shortly after opening in order to gain consideration for future USGA or California Golf Association events.

In 1921, Morse brought in noted archited Herbert Fowler to redesign the 18th hole, which at the time was a 379 yard par four. Fowler was the man who turned that benign hole into perhaps the most famous closing hole in the world of golf and it now is a three-shot par five measuring close to 550 yards.

In order to prepare for the playing of the 1929 U.S. Amateur, Robert Hunter, who was building Cypress Point at the time and H. Chandler Egan, a two-time US Amateur champion, were hired to do extensive work on the course. All greens were reshaped and rebunkered and many other holes saw changes. Alister MacKenzie, the famous designer who was working with Hunter at Cypress Point, is thought to have contributed to the design changes during this time as well.

In 1998, the club was finally able to secure a key piece of land that would allow them to rebuild the inland par three 5th hole on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Jack Nicklaus was hired to do this work and more recently, Arnold Palmer, one of the principles at the Pebble Beach Company, has worked on modernizing the course, mostly through the shifting and reshaping of bunkers. This "modernization", as opposed to a restoration, has been criticized by many purists but there is no question that Pebble Beach continues to be one of the most iconic monuments in the game and perhaps the most thrilling and dramatic course ever built.

My family dining at the Terrace Lounge at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, which features a sensational view of the famous 18th hole

The wall of champions at Pebble Beach Golf Links

My son is checking out the green speeds the day before my round, with the shops surrounding the practice area

My wonderful wife and son just outside the pro shop

The whole family, inadvertently wearing matching outfits, on the 1st tee

I could go on and on about the resort itself, including the dining, the shops and the staff and I will touch on those topics briefly at the end but this is meant to be a course profile, not a resort review.

The first hole gives you absolutely no idea of what you're eventually in for, as it's a benign, inland 377 yard dogleg right par four. Being the first tee at such a famous facility and with many lurkers in the midst, I wanted that big face to avoid an embarrassing situation so I hit a nice bunt driver right down the pipe. That said, it can be an awkward tee shot for many due to the bunker placement so I imagine most will leave driver in the bag and just go with a fairway metal or a hybrid. Bunkers line both sides of the green and you quickly realize that the course's primary defense are the small putting surfaces.

The dogleg right par four 1st hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links

The middle of the first fairway

A look from the 100 yard marker on the first hole

The second is a straightaway, reachable par five measuring 511 yards from the tips but has played as a ultra-long par four during the US Open. You start to get a sense of the grand scale at Pebble Beach from the tee, as there is plenty of width off the tee here but unfortunately, most of it is rough. A long tee shot will allow the player to challenge the barranca that lies about 75 yards in front of the green while others will simply lay up to their favourite yardage before attacking the incredibly small green.

The par five second hole

Well back in the fairway on the second hole

A sand-filled barranca cuts through the fairway about 75 yards from the green

A look at the very tiny target presented at the second green

The third is a hard dogleg left around the barranca and measures 390 yards from the back tees. Like the first hole, longer hitters will likely choose to use a fairway metal or a hybrid in order to stay short of the bunkers through the fairway. To gain the best angle at the green, you will want to challenge the barranca and land the ball as close to the left side as possible, as shots that go well right will have to contend with two cleverly located greenside bunkers that make the approach extremely difficult. As you approach the green, you get your first real good look at the Pacific Ocean, with the iconic 17th hole also directly in view.

A visually intimidating tee shot awaits at the dogleg left par four third

Around 150 yards out on the inside portion of the dogleg

Dead center of the fairway on the 3rd, with the famous par three 17th off in the distance to the left

Just in front of the green at the third hole

The fourth hole is the shortest par four on the course at 326 yards from the back tee but plays well uphill. Once again, a driver is best left in the bag here, as the fairway tightens considerably as you get closer to the green. A long iron or fairway metal needs to avoid the deep centerline bunker and from there, you will have around 100 yards straight uphill to an almost impossibly small green that is very well defended by bunkers on the sides and at the back. The green is pitched severely from back to front and I ended up with an eight foot birdie putt from behind the hole that I essentially just breathed on to get rolling. This is a great spot on the property, with the ocean all around you and the stunning panorama that allows you to take in the splendor of the 5th and 6th holes from a distance before you even reach them.

The excitement just continues to build...a testament to the superb routing.

The short par four 4th hole

Beware of this deep, well-placed centerline bunker on the 4th

A very precise wedge is needed to hit the tiny putting surface on the 4th

Looking back down the fourth hole from behind the green

Stillwater Cove frames this shot of the 4th hole taken from the 5th tee

As mentioned earlier, the 192 yard par three 5th was completely rerouted in 1998 by Jack Nicklaus to take advantage of a dramatic piece of property on a bluff that was finally acquired from a homeowner after years of trying by the Pebble Beach Company. A mid to long iron shot will need to avoid the ocean right and bunkers short right and long left.

The par three 5th hole from the US Open tee

A bit less intimidating a look from the regular back tee deck

Another small green at the 5th but thankfully, one open in front to allow a low, running tee shot

Looking back down the 5th from behind the green

Your senses start to explode as you reach the incredible par five 6th hole, which only measures 506 yards from the back tees but seems much longer. You are finally encouraged to blast away here with the driver but the ocean is very much in play for anyone who loses shots to the right. Arnold Palmer recently repositioned a number of fairway bunkers on the left to swallow up drives that bail out in that direction. In order to reach the green in two shots, you'll need to be in the fairway and still, you'll have to navigate a very steep slope, as the green sits hidden way uphill on the highest part of the property. The distinctive lone cypress tree sits in behind the green and there are bunkers both left and right that will gobble up wayward approaches. One of the great par fives I've seen and the start of perhaps the finest stretch of holes in the world.

The breathtaking tee shot on the par five 6th hole

A slightly different look at the 6th hole, this time as seen from the 14th fairway

Well back in the middle of the 6th fairway; you can get a sense of the incredible topography at Pebble Beach

Just how steep is that hill on the 6th hole? THIS steep! That's my friend Vito hitting over the inlet of Stillwater Cove in an attempt to reach the green from well below

Your first look at the 6th green once you climb the hill from the bottom of the fairway

Likely the most photographed golf hole in the world, the stunningly gorgeous par three 7th hole at Pebble Beach plays well downhill and measures a mere 106 yards. Still, due to the extremely windy site, you could be looking at anything from a flip wedge to a mid iron here! Absolutely astonishing. There is really nowhere to miss, as the green is surrounded by bunkers and the ocean to the right and long. The hardest 100 yards in golf? I'd say so after making a smooth double bogey!

I've been pretty fortunate to visit some incredible places over the years but I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more beautiful spot on earth than the 7th tee at Pebble Beach.

Oh, hello gorgeous!

That's me grooving my wedge right into the front bunker. No thanks at all to my playing partners for marring the impeccable landscape with their cart - yes, I walked and carried!

Another very well-defended green, with bunkers surrounding the tiny putting surface on all sides

A view of the 7th green from near the 8th tee

Vito taking in the view from the 7th green

This is enough to make me cry tears of joy. My favourite photo from the day. Unparalleled beauty and drama.

The euphoria of playing the 7th comes to a crashing halt on the 8th tee, a 427 yard par four. For a first time player, this is a "what the heck?" moment, as you are faced with a completely blind, uphill tee shot with only an aiming rock offering guidance. There's no question that this is perhaps the most awkward shot on the golf course but there is a significant payoff when you finally reach the top of that hill.

You feel like you're on top of the earth, as you are hit with sensory overload once again. You feel like you're a mile up in the air, standing perilously close to the cliff with the white sand beach down below, gorgeous Carmel in the distance and ocean all around! You need to hit your second shot over a huge chasm, essentially going from one cliffside to another and you're likely looking at anywhere from a mid-iron to a fairway metal to the smallest green you've ever seen in your life.

Mind-blowing stuff.

I hit an absolute perfect drive, right to the end of the fairway as seen in a photo below. I'd pull a five-iron out for my second shot from 185 yards and hit a laser beam right at the pin...I stared that sucker down for what seemed like an eternity, holding my finish like a touring pro and waiting for the inevitable cheers that would come from my playing partners when my ball hit the green. You can imagine my dismay when the ball got sucked up by a gust of wind, hit the rocky face on the other side of the gorge and popped way up in the air before cruelly descending all the way down to the beach below.

Failure! Exhilarating failure!!

"Where do I go?" The intimidating blind uphill tee shot on the par four 8th hole

Ahhhh, here we go! My drive in prime position on the rollercoaster 8th hole

Talk about having to trust your yardage! That's a long way down...

The walk to the 8th green from the other side

The very dramatic look back toward the elevated fairway from behind the 8th green

Another look back down the 8th hole from the 9th tee

The incredible stretch of golf continues on the 9th and 10th holes, which run back-to-back toward the town of Carmel, high atop the bluffs with the ocean hard to the right.

The 9th is a beast: a par four measuring 481 yards but thankfully, the tee shot tumbles downhill somewhat to a fairway pitched quite sharply from left to right. The green is likely the smallest at Pebble Beach and it was being renovated when I played in 2013, meaning we had to play to a temporary green that day. Another superb hole, the toughest historically at Pebble Beach during the Tour events.

The long par four 9th hole

A good look at how the fairway tumbles down and to the right on the 9th

More of a zoomed in look at the 9th fairway

The newly redesigned green at the 9th, which was out of play on the day I played

The temporary green on the tough par four 9th

Simply stunning scenery abounds as you look back down the 9th hole from behind

The 10th hole is kind of like the ninth's little sister - it plays in the same direction and has many of the same features as the 9th, just in a slightly smaller and wider package. The hole measures 446 yards from the back tees, plays slightly downhill and has a fairway that slopes hard to the right toward the ocean. The green is tucked in at the far end of the property and there are bunkers left and long. As a touring professional, if you can get through #8, #9 and #10 at even par, you're beating the field by at least one stroke.

Another gorgeous vista awaits at the 10th tee

One of the great walking golf courses in the world!

A good look at the strongly canted fairway on the 10th hole

A view looking back toward the 8th and 9th holes from the 10th fairway

The approach shot on the par four 10th hole

Looking back down the 10th from behind the green

The five hole stretch between #6 and #10 is arguably the greatest and undeniably the most scenic in the world of golf.

The routing takes you away from the ocean on the 11th, a 379 yard uphill par four. While the fairway is wide, placement down the left side is crucial to open up a view at the tiny green, which is pitched severely from back to front.

Tee shot on the par four 11th

While the center of the fairway is usually ideal, a better angle would have been to come in from the left on the 11th

Another tiny green!

That's me about to line up a birdie putt on the 11th green

Looking back down the 11th from the 12th tee

The 201 yard par three 12th is next and this is yet another intimidating tee shot, as the green is wide but extremely shallow and fronted by a very deep bunker. From the tee, it looks as if there is no room to miss but upon finishing the hole, there is room short and even more room long left to give players a chance at getting up and down.

The intimidating tee shot on the par three 12th

A view from the cross bunker short of the green on the 12th

There's a bit more room at the back than it appears from the tee!

The 13th is an uphill par four and plays much longer than its 403 yards. You need a pretty hefty poke to clear the bunker that creeps in from the left side of the hole and your approach will likely be from a hanging lie, as the fairway is sloped pretty hard from right to left. The green is likely the second most undulating on the course, adding to its difficulty.

Tee shot on the par four 13th hole

A shot from the beginning of the fairway, about 200 yards from the green

The approach from "Position A" on the 13th

A look at the 13th from short and right of the green

The 14th is an absolute beast, a legitimate three shotter for all but the longest players in the game. It measures 572 yards from the back tees and bends sharply from left to right on the drive, making a big, high fade the preferred tee shot. From there, it's a long climb uphill the whole way to one of the most difficult greens you can possibly imagine. Seriously, there may be a baby elephant buried under that turf! Arnold Palmer's design group supposedly was softening the contours a tad, especially at the back left, as it's almost unpinnable on that side. A true brute and likely the most memorable "inland" hole at Pebble.

The tee shot at the par five 14th, a true brute!

Rounding the bend and starting the climb uphill on the 14th fairway

The landing area off the tee on the par five 14th hole

Hitting my second shot on the 14th

Hopefully, you have a short iron third into the 14th but as you can see, it's no bargain! Uphill with a huge bunker guarding most of the green

Greenside on the 14th; the bunker in the front left was reshaped and new sand added just before our round

A look back down the 14th from near the 15th tee

The 15th is quite lovely, a mid-length par four that plays well downhill off the tee. Long hitters will likely use an iron or a hybrid here while others will look to avoid two well-placed cross bunkers.

A visually appealing tee shot awaits at the par four 15th

The beginning of the fairway on the 15th

You need to avoid these cross bunkers off the tee to give yourself a chance at birdie here

The 15th green as seen from the 16th tee

Looking back down the 15th from behind

The 16th is another underrated hole at Pebble, a 401 yard par four that bends to the right off the tee. There is a mammoth island bunker directly in the middle of the fairway and long hitters will again be fine using an iron or a fairway metal. The approach is a dangerous one with trouble lurking everywhere and the green is pitched sharply from right to left. A very strong hole.

The tee shot on the par four 16th, with a large centerline bunker being the dominant feature

A closer look at the island bunker in the middle of the 16th fairway

A look at an approach from well back near the 200 yard marker

The approach is a bit more manageable from here!

More bunkers sit about 30-40 yards short of the green

The lovely walk over the edge of the barranca at the 16th

The ocean makes its grand reappearance at yet another famous hole, the treacherous par three 17th. So many championships have been won or lost here, with one of the most notable wins coming from Jack Nicklaus in the 1972 US Open, after his 1-iron tee shot (!!) hit the flagstick and dropped down a foot away. Ten years later, the Open returned to Pebble Beach and Tom Watson famously chipped in from the deep hay in back of the green to snatch the championship away from Nicklaus, who was watching from the clubhouse, thinking the title was his. Two of the greatest moments in US Open history right there and both came on the 17th hole.

From the regular back tees, it's a 177 yard shot to the most narrow target imagineable - in fact, it's almost unhittable unless you possess a towering ball flight. If the pin is on the right side of this relatively wide green, you have a chance since it's open over there but if the pin is tucked behind the huge front bunker, like it was during my round, good luck!! I hit a pretty safe shot to the open right side and was just on the fringe. I thought that was a pretty smart shot but realized that I was DEAD when I got to the green. You can see my predicament in one of the pictures below - I had no chance whatsoever of going at the hole on my birdie putt and essentially had to play for the three-putt! Simply incredible stuff. Another iconic hole on a course filled with great moments.

The ocean reappears at the famous par three 17th

A zoomed in shot of the tee shot on the 17th hole

Just in front of the 17th green, with a mammoth bunker protecting one of the narrowest greens you've ever seen!

How narrow is the 17th green?

THIS NARROW!! It's maybe four steps from back to front in the middle of the green and you can see my ball here on the fringe. I could have chipped this and went for gold but I'd do well to even keep my putt on the green then miss a 12 footer for par

The iconic par five 18th hole needs no introduction. Unquestionably the most famous finishing hole in the world, with the ocean running all down the left side and the surf crashing into the rocks and the retaining wall the whole way down the fairway. Famously, there are two trees sitting directly in the middle of the fairway that many players aim for when playing their tee shots. The hole plays 543 yards and it's usually a three shot hole but can be reached in two if the player dares to challenge the ocean and play down the left hand side. Even if you lay up, you'll have to play a nervy short iron approach that avoids a large cypress tree short right of the green.

The 18th serves as a most wonderful and appropriate climax to one of the most thrilling courses in the world of golf.

Smiles galore as I reach the iconic 18th hole

A look from the back tee at the par five 18th hole

The middle tee deck at the 18th

Short tee shots to the right will need to navigate the two trees sitting directly in the middle of the 18th fairway

The second shot on the 18th

200 yards out on the 18th

A popular layup spot to the open right side of the fairway leaves a tough wedge that needs to both clear the front bunker and avoid the large cypress tree on the right

The famous 18th hole in all her glory

Where do I even begin when trying to summarize my day at Pebble Beach?

I'll start by briefly discussing the "off-course" experience, which was superb in its own right. I showed up the day before my round to move my tee time up a bit in order to finish before dark and the staff were more than accommodating, giving me that extra half hour I would end up needing. I was there with my family and the lady behind the desk at the pro shop pointed to my son and asked if he was playing yet. I told her that he had started hitting balls recently and she indicated that Pebble had a nine hole par three course onsite, something I wasn't aware of at the time. That little interchange prompted me to set up what would be one of the great thrills of my life, the first round of golf ever with my four year old son Evan at the Peter Hay Golf Course at Pebble Beach!

Could there be any bigger highlight than playing a round of golf with your child for the first time? And having that round take place at Pebble Beach's delightful nine-hole Peter Hay GC? I think not!

After leaving the pro shop, one of the cart attendants asked if I had just played and I told him no, I was just getting my tee time set for the next day. He then asked if I had ever played before and of course, the answer was no. He quickly looked around, handed me a key and told me to hop on one of the carts and take my wife and son for a little drive around the course.

"Just bring the cart back here in ten minutes or so", he said.

Simply INCREDIBLE customer service - we drove out to the back of the 4th green and I was able to take in that beautiful site, overlooking the ocean, with my wife and son. My wife, who doesn't play golf, would say something along these lines:

"All these years, I've known how much you love golf but now, I finally realize why".

We shared that moment and drove back to the clubhouse, where I was able to find that very thoughtful cart attendant in order to give him what I hope he considered a generous tip. It was the least I could do for allowing my family to have such a special moment together.

As for the golf course, well, I'm guessing you can easily imagine my overall thoughts.

This is one of the most brilliant and celebrated routings in golf, a figure-eight style that starts inland, loops to the ocean for six thrilling holes, turns inland for a stretch then triumphantly loops back to the ocean for the final two holes.

The course has a high playability factor, with plenty of width off the tee but there is considerable challenge on almost every approach, with easily the smallest collective set of greens I've ever seen on a golf course.

Conditioning was much better than I expected. We had a "chamber of commerce" type of day, with glorious sunshine, temperatures in the mid-60s and a nice two club wind. The turf quality was great, the course played much firmer than I would have ever imagined and the greens rolled quick and true.

The one main criticism people have at Pebble Beach is the pace of play. Please, please don't let anyone talk you out of playing Pebble Beach because of how long it takes. Yes, my round took slightly over five hours to play and that would definitely be a problem at most courses but DAMN! You're playing Pebble Beach for goodness sake! The round could have taken SEVEN HOURS and it still would have ended too soon in my humble opinion. And while I'm at it, why would anyone ride a cart here?! This is one of the greatest and most thrilling walks in golf - get out of that cart and take it all in!

My only quibble, and it's a small one, is that the recent "modernization" by Palmer's group is a bit forced and doesn't look natural in this environment. It's a bit too pretty for my liking and I think the course would have been better served by roughing up the bunkers a bit, rather than making them look clean. That blinding white sand also looks a bit out of place.

But again, a very minor quibble.

The most amazing views, the unique history that you can FEEL walking each of these incredibly famous golf holes, one of the most enviable routings ever devised. This place is a landmark of the highest order.

If I was to use a metaphor to describe the experience, I would say that playing Pebble Beach is like watching a great play or an opera...maybe even listening to a gorgeous song. There's a slow build for a few holes before you finally get a glimpse of the ocean on the 3rd...you steadily see more and more of the ocean until you hit a crescendo on the 6th, riding that incredible high for five holes before hitting the 11th. The heartbeat slows a bit for a few holes then starts building back up again, reaching yet another peak once you hit the closing two holes along the ocean, the most thrilling finish imaginable.

Anyone that loves golf owes it to themselves to visit Pebble Beach once in their life. Yes, it's extremely expensive to play but I guarantee you will cherish that memory for the rest of your life.

How can you put a price on that?

I haven't visited the Old Course at St. Andrews as of this writing but I have to imagine my first visit there will be very similar to my first go-around at Pebble Beach. For those that love this great game, it's the ultimate thrill-ride, an experience of the highest order and one that I certainly will never forget for the rest of my days.