Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Year in Review Part One - The Game

The Turkey Two Ball Championship trophy is presented to the 2016 winners
From left: Brad G, yours truly and Jon W

Another golf season has come and gone and 2016 is almost in the rearview mirror so that means it's time to reminisce about my year on the golf course in 2016 through my annual "Year in Review" series.

As usual, 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.

2016 was an interesting year, with a couple of exceptional travel experiences and more positive developments with my game.

The Game

I started 2016 with a 3.3 index and that actually increased to a season-high of 5.7 by mid-June, just before I departed for a golf trip to Colorado and Nebraska. Thankfully, seeing two of my most favourite courses on earth kick-started my game, as I put together a bunch of rounds in the low-to-mid 70s on that trip and ultimately, I was able to finish the season with a 2.4 index, the lowest I've been in around four or five years!

I posted only 59 scores this year, down six from my 2015 total and down TEN from 2014. That said, I also played six rounds at courses that don't have a course rating so ultimately, I played about the same amount of golf as usual. I also played 51 rounds at my home club of St. Catharines G&CC, easily the highest percentage of home rounds I've played since I was a kid, as I didn't travel as much as usual this past year.

For the ninth 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. We played pretty well this year but still finished around 15th or so by my recollection. The club always puts on a great event for the members and their guests and I look forward to playing for the 10th straight year in 2017.

As indicated, in late June, I flew down to Denver and played some golf in Colorado and Nebraska. While there, I took part in my second 5th Major, a big two-man best ball event put on annually by my friend Eric S at his home away from home, Dismal River Club in Mullen, Nebraska. I first played in this event back in 2012 and finished in 2nd place overall that year, teaming up with Tyler K from Winnipeg, Manitoba and making it all the way to the final hole of the shootout for the big trophy. This year, we both played exceptionally well again but ran into two VERY hot teams, ultimately finishing in 3rd out of the four teams in the low handicap flight and not making the shootout.

My second 5th Major was one of my 2016 highlights

The 5th Major continues to be one of the most well-run tournaments I've ever played in and I hope to play in it again sometime soon, perhaps as early as 2017! The hospitality shown by our host Eric, club owner Chris J and all of the staff at Dismal River Club is off the charts.

The club match play events have always been a big deal to me but both the Langley Cup and Scratch Cup continue to elude me.

I completely flopped in the Langley Cup competition, a 0-7 handicap event with full strokes from the back tees, losing to my good friend Harris in the first round, one where we both played horribly but he persevered on the first playoff hole.

The club's Scratch Match Play event went MUCH better. Like the Langley Cup, my first round match was a shocker for both me and my opponent Coleman but I was somehow able to squeak past him to get into round two, where I was going up against the defending Club Champion in Rob E. Now, I could play my best game and he'd still destroy me 9 out of 10 times but he had to concede the match to me due to sickness, putting me through to the quarterfinals! There, I'd play a great match against the excellent Colin P, winning 4&3 while making pretty much everything on the greens to move through to the semifinals. There, I'd face another young gun in Mitch M, who almost tied the course record in a game just weeks before, shooting a scintillating nine under par 63. YIKES!!! I'd lose the first four holes in a row but then incredibly, we'd tie every other hole in our match, meaning a 4&3 loss for yours truly. Still, I went up against three plus handicaps in the competition and to make it to the semifinals is a big accomplishment in my eyes.

The Club Championship at St. Catharines has always been a highlight on my golf calendar but the luster of the event is starting to wear, as our club inexplicably has changed all of the "non-Open" flight events to NET COMPETITIONS! Two years ago, I was proud to win the 2014 A Flight Championship, which was flighted but played at scratch among the participants in that flight. Now that they are flighting AND still netting down each of the competitions, I decided to bite the bullet and compete in the actual club championship, which takes place from the back tees and has about 15 one handicaps or better taking part.

I'm not one of them.

Still, I just can't fathom playing in a net Club Championship event so open flight it is! I played okay, shooting rounds of 79 and then 82 after a four plus hour rain delay to miss the cut by a million. Hell, our eventual club champion was TWELVE UNDER PAR THROUGH TWO ROUNDS!!!

While I wasn't able to win any hardware this year, I'm proud to say that my 72 year old mother won her first ever club championship at St. Catharines, taking home the 9-Hole Ladies Championship while also winning the 9-Hole Ladies Match Play event as well.

My mom won the double!!

For the fourth 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. We had 44 players take part in 2016, up from 39 players last year and up 17 (!!) from 2014. TaylorMade returned for a second consecutive year as our league sponsor as well.

After a third place finish in 2015 playing in the Blue Tee division, I decided to move up to the Black Tee division in 2016 against all those young studs just to ensure all the numbers were balanced. Similar to the club championships, I was completely out of my league, finishing 14th out of the 16 competitors in that flight and that actually FLATTERS ME, as the two guys who finished below me played only about half the designated rounds or even less. Truthfully, I would have finished dead last if those guys were able to play a bit more.

We have a lot of great players at our club and I'll tuck my tail between my legs and move back to the Blue Division in 2017.

In late September, I had one of those all-too-rare days on the golf course where everything goes perfectly and I'd sink a ten footer for par on my final hole to shoot a one-under par 71, which incredibly is my 15th lifetime round under par.

Hey! A blind squirrel found a nut!

It's always a huge thrill that never gets old.

Finally, the last major event on my schedule is the Turkey Two Ball Invitational that I run and we once again had a full field of 40 players for the 6th Annual running of the mid-October, season-ending event. I'd actually get my name pulled out of the hat earlier than expected and draft Jamie P. as a partner during the pre-event draft party. We both played quite well, with me making two birdies and Jamie contributing an eagle but our one under par best ball score of 71 was four strokes back of three teams, requiring a FIVE HOLE PLAYOFF before a winner was determined.



It's a wonderful event, one I haven't won yet and I'll keep pressing on with hopes of one day lifting that great trophy!

COMING SOON:

2016 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses
2016 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead




Monday, October 31, 2016

The Absentee Writer

Hey! A blind squirrel found a nut!

Hello friends,

Well, once again I must offer my apologies, as I've gone two entire seasons without so much as a paragraph here at Now on the Tee. I wish I could tell you that I've spent the last seven months travelling and playing the world's greatest courses but alas, that's not the case.

While I still played more than my fair share of golf this summer, it was a relatively quiet year travelling to see new courses. In fact, I saw only three clubs for the first time in 2016 - The Prairie Club in Valentine, Nebraska, Olympia Fields CC in Olympia Fields, Illinois and Beverly CC in Chicago, Illinois.

In all, I played only seven courses for the first time this year, including the three courses at Prairie Club (Dunes, Pines and the short Horse Course), the two courses at Olympia Fields (North and South), Beverly and finally, the Tom Doak designed Red Course at the Dismal River Club. The Red Course wasn't mentioned above because I had visited Dismal back in 2012, playing the Nicklaus designed White Course and seeing the Red Course during the grow-in phase of construction.

So while it wasn't a big year from a volume perspective, there is no questioning the quality of those courses mentioned above. In addition, I did return to a few of my most favourite places in all of golf, including Ballyneal and Sand Hills GC, among a couple others.

And hey, as you can see above, I caught lightning in a bottle in late September, shooting a one under par 71 at St. Catharines G&CC, my home course to notch my 15th (!!) lifetime sub-par round.

I'll certainly share my 2016 experiences in my annual "Year in Review" column, which usually comes in late December.

In the meantime, I'd love to get back to posting some course profiles on a semi-regular basis. I also need to reconstruct my links section, which looks like it's disappeared since I last updated my site!

Thanks for visiting.



Monday, March 07, 2016

And the Winner Is???

Superb topography and strategic design are prevalent at Crystal Downs CC, as seen here on the wonderful par four 5th

After receiving 6 out of the 36 total votes cast, it is Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, Michigan that will be the next course profiled here at Now on the Tee after winning the site's first-ever poll by a single vote over Banff Springs Golf Course in Banff, Alberta, Canada and Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio!

Crystal Downs CC is credited to both Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, who worked on behalf of MacKenzie in the midwest. While universally beloved by GCA types, it's generally unknown by the "retail golfer", as it's very private and hasn't hosted any major events. Still, this was the highest ranked golf course that I played on my trip to Northern Michigan in 2014, sitting 13th on Golf Digest's 2015 ranking of all golf courses in the US, private and public combined and 31st overall in the world. That's high praise and it's very deserving of its lofty stature, with incredible tumbling land and perhaps the most devilish greens I've ever seen, so devilish that today's green speeds are likely a tad too quick for normal play there.

It was a true privilege to get the chance to play Crystal Downs and I'll greatly enjoy writing about this wonderful design. Look for my profile to be posted within the week, likely on Sunday night or early Monday morning.

I will follow that by writing profiles on Banff, Scioto and Jasper Park Lodge GC before the end of the month, with new profiles coming each Monday morning. Banff and Scioto received 5 votes each while Jasper Park received 4 votes and I want to reward those who voted for those four courses by posting profiles sooner, rather than later.

To those that voted for any of the other courses on the poll, there's no need to worry, as I'm really motivated to start catching up on some of these very long-awaited profiles and hope to follow through with bi-monthly updates at the very least.

As always, thanks for reading and you can look forward to seeing that Crystal Downs profile by the beginning of next week.



Friday, February 19, 2016

Poll: Which Course Profile Do You Want to See?

With friends at the incredible Shinnecock Hills GC in 2013, just one of the many courses I need to finally write about!

Which Golf Course Should We Profile Next?



In my last "Year in Review" post, I mentioned the fact that the most popular blog posts on this site, as per Google Analytics, are my course profiles, yet I've hardly written any in the last few years.

It's time to change that!

If you click on the links above that showcase my Canadian and US Course Profiles and scroll to the bottom, you'll see that I have 25 Canadian courses and 27 US courses that I've played yet still haven't profiled.

I've put up a poll with 13 potential choices, arguably the most well-known of the fifty-two courses I haven't profiled. If you'd like to see me write about one (or more) of those 13 courses, please submit your choices before Sunday February 28th at 5:00pm. You aren't limited to one choice and if desired, can select all of them and really put me to work!

Alternatively, if you'd like me to profile a course that isn't listed among those 13 choices but IS one of the 52 courses documented at the bottom of those links listed above, click on "OTHER" and then tell me the course name in the comments section.

Once the winner of the poll is determined, I'll pledge to get a course profile up within a weeks time.

Happy voting and thanks for reading!

EDIT (3/7/16) -

You'll likely note that the poll isn't showing up anymore. It turns out that once the poll ends and is replaced by something else, that original poll disappears. That kind of sucks! Let it be known that the results of the poll were as follows:

Crystal Downs CC: 6 Votes
Banff Springs GC and Scioto CC: 5 Votes
Jasper Park Lodge GC: 4 Votes
Maidstone and Pinehurst #2: 3 Votes
Arcadia Bluffs, Kiawah Island Ocean and Shinnecock Hills: 2 Votes
Muirfield Village, Oak Hill East, Oakland Hills South, Augusta National (write-in vote): 1 Vote
Castle Pines GC: ZERO votes



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

This Week on the PGA Tour: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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

I've made this statement in the past on more than one occasion but it bears repeating. If the Masters Tournament is important for the fact it signifies that the golf season is upon us here in Canada, I'd say the PGA Tour's yearly retreat to the Monterey Peninsula and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is just as significant a step in the transition between winter and spring. This has always been the tournament that gets my golf juices flowing and I can't help but watch the telecast and dream about the days that lie ahead on the course.

Back in May of 2013, I was lucky enough to play two of the three courses on the AT&T rotation: Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links, perhaps the most famous golf course in the world. I didn't have enough time to visit the third course on the rotation, Spyglass Hill, but hope to do so at some point down the line.

I've included links below for my course profiles on both MPCC's Shore Course and Pebble Beach.

COURSE PROFILE: Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course)

COURSE PROFILE: Pebble Beach Golf Links

The picture postcard perfect par three 11th hole at the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club

Pebble Beach needs no introduction for even the most casual golf fan but the Monterey Peninsula Country Club still flies under the radar of most due to its exclusivity.

Originally a Robert Baldock and Jack Neville design from 1961, Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course was completely rerouted and redesigned by architect Mike Strantz, opening to great acclaim in 2004. This would be Strantz's crowning achievement in design and he sadly passed away only one year after its opening due to a rare form of tongue cancer. The course sits in lofty territory among the top 100 courses in America and deservedly so. It is the most recent addition to the course rotation at the Pro Am, replacing Poppy Hills in 2010.

These profiles are among my personal favourites and I hope you enjoy reading them. Enjoy the tournament this weekend!



Friday, February 05, 2016

2015 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead

Oh, hello gorgeous! The stunning par three 17th hole at Sand Hills Golf Club

After golf trips that saw me visit Texas, Georgia and North Carolina in the spring of 2015, along with a lengthy family trip to Alberta last summer, 2016 should be quiet by comparison. As it stands now, I'm planning to take only one golf trip in 2016 but I'm guessing it will prove to be a memorable one.

Looking Ahead

I'm very excited to be visiting Nebraska for the third time in late June of this year.

I haven't finalized many of the details yet but my plan would be to fly out of Buffalo on a Wednesday afternoon and ultimately arrive at Dismal River Golf Club on Thursday morning, just prior to the start of the 2016 5th Major, a wonderful annual event put on by my friend Eric.

A 2012 "Major" highlight: a 2nd place finish in the 5th Major at Dismal River in Mullen, Nebraska, with me in green shirt/black shorts and partner Tyler in baby blue

This will be my second appearance at both Dismal River and the 5th Major, with my first taking place four years ago in 2012, where I teamed up with Tyler K from the Winnipeg, Manitoba area and finished in second place. The photo above was taken just after Tyler and I lost out to a birdie (net eagle) on the last hole of the shootout in a thrilling finale. We played the Jack Nicklaus designed White Course for the event in 2012 and also had the chance to take part in a walking tour of the Red Course during the grow-in stages with the course's designer, Tom Doak.

Walking on Tatooine? Nope, just architect Tom Doak leading his flock on a tour of the Red Course at Dismal during construction in 2012

I'm excited to get the chance to play Doak's Red Course for the first time this summer and I'm greatly looking forward to seeing some good friends and enjoying the camaraderie at the 2016 5th Major. I still haven't decided if I'm bringing a friend to Nebraska to be my partner for the event or if I'll just go alone and pair up with another single. Lots of time for that decision!

From there, I'll be making my long dreamed about return to the exquisite Sand Hills Golf Club.

The glorious view from Ben's Porch at Sand Hills Golf Club, with the 9th green in the foreground

I was fortunate enough to visit Sand Hills for the one and only time in 2010 with my friend Harris, where we spent two full days and nights onsite, squeezing in six rounds during those 48 hours. I've written extensively about my thoughts on Sand Hills, with a pretty thorough trip report and a detailed hole-by-hole course profile being the highlights.

I've been incredibly fortunate to see some of the world's great golf courses in my lifetime and to this day, Sand Hills Golf Club is still the most special place I've visited. I'm honoured to have the rare opportunity to return and I can't thank my host enough for thinking of me and offering the invitation. There will be eight of us spending time together at SH, including a mutual friend of ours visiting the club for the first time so I'm sure it will be a very special couple of days.

From there, I think I'd like to head north to Valentine, Nebraska to play the two courses at The Prairie Club.

I haven't had the chance to visit the Prairie Club before and I'd really like to see the Tom Lehman and Chris Brands designed Dunes Course along with Graham Marsh's Pines Course. The resort also has a ten hole par 3 course designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford called the Horse Course.

Ideally, I'd spend about a day and a half onsite, which would allow me to potentially play three rounds on the two championship courses and one round on the Horse Course.

Dismal River, Sand Hills and Prairie Club...lots of potential for yet another memorable golf vacation!

That is it for golf-specific trips in 2016 but I'm guessing I'll be able to take some day trips here and there and perhaps get in a round or two during business trips.

One of those will be in early May when I head out to Vancouver for a few days of meetings. I'll have one free day while I'm there and I'd love to play two rounds of golf if possible. My two top choices would be Capilano Golf & Country Club, one of Stanley Thompson's most famous designs and Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club, an A.V. Macan design. I've seen neither of these highly regarded courses in the past so it would be a thrill to visit them for the first time.

I'll also be taking another business trip in mid-August to the Detroit area, specifically the town of Birmingham. While there, it would be great to return to the storied Oakland Hills Country Club, where I played the vaunted South Course a couple years back. I'll be bringing my family for this particular trip so I'm not sure if I'll have enough time to play a round of golf but we'll see how things shake out as the summer approaches.

As for local day trips, I have plans to revisit courses like Beacon Hall and Lookout Point and also would love to finally visit courses like Toronto Golf Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, the Toronto Hunt, Redtail Golf Club, Kawartha Golf & Country Club and the Country Club of Buffalo.

One of these years I'm going to get back into playing more competitive golf, whether it's at the local level (like the Niagara Men's Golf Tour) or at the provincial level. My game isn't quite ready for either yet but we'll see if I can build upon the improvements I made in my game last year.

As for Now on the Tee, it will continue to live on despite my sporadic writing output.

We had almost 17,000 pageviews in 2015, a number that is quite flattering but is actually down from previous years. Upon studying the analytics, it's quite clear why those pageviews are down - I'm not writing enough course profiles!

Most of the traffic on the site comes in through search engines and it's my course profiles that are easily the biggest draw. I only wrote two course profiles in 2015: Pebble Beach Golf Links and Champions Golf Club. I wrote NONE in 2014.

Simply put, I need to get back to writing these course profiles and I pledge to do that this year!

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me and I hope to tee it up with as many of you as possible in 2016.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses

The awe-inspiring setting at the Devil's Cauldron at Banff Springs Golf Course

Over the last number of years, it's become customary for me to take two golf-specific trips each year with friends. This trend repeated itself in 2015 but I also was fortunate enough to play a couple of times on a family trip in July. So essentially, I was able to play golf on three different trips throughout the year.

In all, including my home club at St. Catharines G&CC, I was able to play 18 different golf courses in 2015, with a whopping 14 of them being first-time visits. As a point of reference, I played 14 different courses in 2014 with only 9 first-time visits.

This has always been my favourite post to write each year. Here's a look at the wonderful courses Now on the Tee visited in 2015.

The Courses

I had the pleasure of visiting "The Lone Star State" of Texas for the first time in late February, playing three different courses while on the trip.

First up was a round on the Cypress Creek Course at the highly esteemed Champions Golf Club with friends Jeff and Brandon.

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

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.

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 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. 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. What a great start to that trip!

The star attraction on the trip was meant to be a full, 36 hole day on Monday at Wolf Point Club near Port Lavaca, Texas. However, a sketchy Monday weather forecast that predicted temperatures in the low 40s prompted our host to offer an extra day to all invitees, meaning we'd have the chance to spend two days at this very exclusive place.

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

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

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

My second and final golf vacation of the year was centered around a return trip to Augusta, Georgia to take in a Masters Tournament practice round.

If you recall, in 2014, the Monday practice round that we attended was a complete washout and the fine folks at the Masters were kind enough to not only reimburse us for the tickets but also guarantee practice round tickets for the following year.

After using the Charleston, South Carolina area as a home base in 2014, we changed things up in 2015, flying into Charlotte, North Carolina and playing a number of great courses in that area, along with the Sandhills region of the state.

My good friend Terry accompanied me once again on this trip and we would meet up with two other friends of mine 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.

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 super cool par three 9th hole on the #2 Course

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.

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.

So my two "golf-specific" trips in 2015 were completed by early April but thankfully there were a few day trips sprinkled in throughout the rest of the season that allowed me to see some other courses for the first time.

In mid-May, I was able to visit the historic Mississaugua Golf & Country Club for the first time.

Superb topography is prevalent at Mississaugua, as seen here looking back from the 2nd green

Another visual stunner awaits on the par four 15th at Mississaugua G&CC

Mississaugua was originally laid out by George Cumming in 1909 and would see tweaks carried out by Donald Ross around 1919 and then Stanley Thompson was brought in to lengthen and toughen up the course in 1927. It has since hosted six Canadian Opens and sits comfortably within the top 100 courses in Canada.

It's a wonderful parkland design on rollicking terrain and simply a treat to play.

In mid-July, I had the incredible privilege to finally tee it up at a long-time bucket list course, the vaunted East Course at Oak Hill Country Club.

The superb par four 7th hole on the East Course at Oak Hill CC

Proudly standing on the tee of the notorious par five 13th hole at Oak Hill East

Oak Hill has always been near the top of my "must-see" list, simply due to the fact that it is arguably the most famous course within easy driving distance from my home in the Niagara Region.

I made the short two hour drive to Oak Hill in mid-July with my friend Jonathan to play the highly decorated East Course, which has hosted three US Opens, three PGA Championships, two US Amateurs, a US Senior Open, a Senior PGA Championship and also a Ryder Cup. Needless to say, plenty of history has been made on these immaculate fairways.

While there are a great number of towering oaks lining the fairways, there is still plenty of width to maneuver the ball around, making the course challenging yet eminently playable. The holes are much more unique than I originally expected and the memorability factor is high, another surprise. Conditioning was perfect, we had good caddies and the whole experience was very special. We finished the morning off with a quick tour of the incredible clubhouse and a nice lunch on the patio.

I had hoped to get the chance to play the West Course in the afternoon, evidently a favourite of the members at Oak Hill. However, the course was packed solid so that will have to wait until another day. We decided to head to one of our reciprocal courses on the way home, Wanakah Country Club, located in the town of Hamburg, NY.

Wanakah, a Willie Watson design, is another course that surprises me upon repeat viewings, sitting high above the Lake Erie shoreline and featuring solid land and clever strategic options throughout.

A week or so later, near the end of July, I flew to Alberta, Canada with my wife and son for a short business trip that we extended into a full-fledged family vacation, with lengthy stops in the spectacular towns of Banff and Jasper.

We were out west for about nine days and I was able to get in a round of golf at two of the greatest courses in the country, with the first round taking place at the historic Banff Springs Golf Course, one of Stanley Thompson's best.

The first fairway at Banff Springs GC

The stately Banff Springs Hotel looms in the distance on the wonderful 14th hole

The glorious tee shot at the par four 15th at Banff Springs, with Mount Rundle framing the background; this was the 1st hole in the course's original routing

Banff Springs mostly plays on flat ground at the base of the mountains, with a few elevated tee shots like the glorious drop shot par three 4th hole, the famous "Devil's Cauldron" (photo at top of post) and the par four 15th hole shown just above. The Bow River is well-utilized throughout the design and the result is one of the more exhilarating experiences in all of Canadian golf.

A few days later, my family ventured up north a few hours to spend some time in the town of Jasper, allowing me the chance to play at Stanley Thompson's Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club.

The famous par three 9th hole at Jasper Park, aptly named "Cleopatra" for two sizable mounds that once fronted the green where the bunker currently resides

One of the most stunning vistas in Canadian golf, the gorgeous par four 14th hole that plays over and alongside Lac Beauvert

The beautiful home hole at Jasper Park Lodge GC

Jasper Park may just be Thompson's masterpiece, as he needed 50 teams of horses and over 200 men to help clear trees, boulders and debris throughout Jasper National Park's abundant forest to build the corridors for a golf course. This is much more varied land than what's available at Banff but it's balanced by the fact that the mountains are set much further in the distance at Jasper, giving both courses a unique look and feel upon comparison.

Both Banff Springs and Jasper Park sit within the top 10 in Canada and both courses are absolutely phenomenal but if pressed, I'd likely side with those that feel that Jasper Park is the stronger of the two, by the slightest of margins. I hope to return to both one day soon.

In mid-August, I played in a charity golf tournament for my son's travel ice hockey team at Beechwood Golf & Country Club in Niagara Falls, an unremarkable R.F. Moote and Brian Antonsen design from 1960. I got to play with my parents and my sister in this event designed to raise money for the considerable travel costs that come with being on a team of this nature and a great time was had by all.

In late August, I was able to visit Coppinwood Golf Club as a guest of a business associate.

The stellar par four 12th hole at Coppinwood

The par five 13th hole at Coppinwood in Uxbridge, Ontario

Coppinwood is ranked 24th in Canada by ScoreGolf and a lofty 9th by Canadian Golf Magazine, one of the highest rated modern courses in the country. The Tom Fazio design opened in 2006 and sits on 357 acres of rolling terrain just north of Toronto in the town of Uxbridge, with stunning elevation changes throughout the property. Conditioning was superb, as expected at a private club of this nature and the design characteristics were very similar to Fazio's most well-regarded Canadian design, the National GC of Canada. It's a strong, challenging course and the club itself has a very cool vibe.

I was once again invited to play one of my favourite local courses, the excellent Walter Travis designed Lookout Point CC.

A look back at the 18th hole from the top of the Niagara escarpment at Lookout Point CC

Lookout is arguably the best golf course in the Niagara region and one of three, along with Cherry Hill and Grand Niagara, to sit on the most recent ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada list. I have a few friends who are members at Lookout and I always look forward to my one or two games a year on this great track.

Finally, for my last round of the year in mid-October, I was finally able to visit the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design at Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course.

The double green shared by the 9th and 18th holes at Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course in Lewiston, NY

Seneca Hickory Stick, located in the town of Lewiston, New York, just outside of Niagara Falls, was opened in 2010 and is a public facility with ties to the local casino, with both sitting on land owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of this design, with multiple centre-line hazards, including bunkers and creeks, sprinkled throughout the course. The land was also much more interesting than I would have guessed and the very modest green fee ensures that I will be returning at some point in the very near future.

Another incredible year for the luckiest guy in the world.

COMING SOON:

2015 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead