Saturday, December 08, 2018

2018 Year in Review Part One - The Game

A lifetime low nine hole score of 32 on my favourite course in the world was a 2018 highlight

My annual "Year in Review" series is always a personal favourite to write. 2018 was very similar to the previous year for me, where I had no real concrete plans as far as travel coming into the year and as a result, low expectations for the season ahead.

Both 2017 and 2018 provided major surprises on that front but while I was fortunate to see a number of architecturally significant courses once again, my actual game deteriorated significantly.

As usual, this will be a three-part series, starting today with "My Game", perhaps the most boring piece for my readers but something I like to write for the sake of posterity. I'll follow that up with posts about "The Courses" I was fortunate enough to visit in 2018 and finally, "Looking Ahead" to what looks to be another wonderful year of golf travel in 2019.

The Game

I started 2018 with a 2.9 index and it didn't take long for that to rise significantly, going as high as 5.1 before settling at a season-ending 4.8. I only broke 75 once all season and that was in September at Sand Hills GC in Nebraska, where I made five birdies overall in a one over par round of 72, punctuated by a thrilling 32 on the front nine, a lifetime low nine hole score (scorecard pictured above).

Simply put, I did not play well at all at any stage of the year. I made way too many big numbers in 2018, with an incredible amount of double bogeys, mostly due to a balky driver and the ensuing penalty shots.

Opportunity certainly wasn't to blame for my poor golf game, as I posted 68 scores this year, up five from my 2017 total and when you include scramble or alternate shot rounds, plus the 5-6 rounds played at Sand Hills that can't be posted due to the lack of a course rating/slope, I played somewhere in the vicinity of 75 times in 2018, an absurdly high total for me. My overall scoring average was just under eighty (79.7) and I'm definitely trending in the wrong direction with the quality of my game.

I had some major highs in competition this year but also some sizable lows.

The most disappointing club event at St. Catharines for me this year was our Scratch Match Play event, where I'd lose in the first round by a lopsided 5&4 score. The only saving grace there was the fact I was matched up against our two-time defending club champion, Robbie E, who would ultimately win the "member's major" for a third-consecutive time in early August.

Speaking of which, I didn't play in our club championship at St. Catharines G&CC this year due to the fact I was in Duluth, Minnesota for my first-ever "Midwest Mashie", an annual event put on by some members over at Golf Club Atlas. I went 1-1 in my two matches at Northland Country Club, with the lone victory coming in my singles match against tournament co-host Pat C.

For a second straight year, I'd go deep in the Langley Cup competition, a 0-7 handicap event with full strokes from the back tees at St. Catharines. I'd win three close matches over friends Graeme F, Stan D and Mark D to make the semi-finals for a second straight year but bow out to another good friend, Colin P, in the final four in a 20-hole nail-biter.

The most emotionally satisfying event for me personally in 2018 was easily the St. Catharines G&CC Parent/Child tournament, where I teamed up with my nine-year old son Evan for the first time.

Beaming with pride, as I'd partner with my son Evan in our first-ever Parent/Child tournament at St. Catharines G&CC

This was Evan's first round at St. Catharines and his first round on a regulation-sized golf course. We played a modified alternate shot format where each of the players would tee off and then you'd pick the best one and play alternate shot from there. Evan was flabbergasted that we used 10 or 11 of his drives, mostly a strategic decision to allow me to hit the approach shots but as far as he was concerned, it was because his drives were just that much better than mine! Months later, I can still barely contain my smile thinking of that day. We'd make a gross birdie during our round and finish in third place in the "Future Club Champions" division, a nice touch by our head pro, Cameron T, at STGCC.

It was a very special day for both of us, one I'll never forget.

For the sixth 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 a whopping 57 players take part in 2018, up one from 2017 and up from 44 players in 2016 and TaylorMade returned for a fourth consecutive year as our league sponsor as well. I'd play in the Blue Division for the second straight season, one league lower than the Black Division that contains all the flat-bellied scratch players at St. Catharines. After finishing in 3rd place (out of 23 players) in 2017, I'd falter greatly this year, needing a last round charge just to finish in 10th place (out of 29 players), barely making it into the money.

Likely the most fun match I played in this year was the vaunted DEATH MATCH at Sand Hills, teaming up with Jimmy O against the stalwart team of Keith O and Tom H in a two-man, trash talking extravaganza of a modified alternate shot match. Jimmy and I would take control on the front nine and move to the 10th hole with a 3up lead. Perhaps we were overconfident, perhaps we were just thirsty but we felt obligated to get a six-pack of beers on ice for the inevitable celebration, a celebration that ultimately would not take place. Our opponents would turn up the gamesmanship, halve the 10th, birdie the 11th to get within two and then win #12, #13 and #14 to shockingly take the lead in the match, one that we would end up losing on the 17th hole by a 3&1 score.

I brought shame to my home country of Canada and upon my return, I spent many hours at customs getting grilled about my "performance" by officers before they finally let me back into the country in pity.

Finally, the last major event on my schedule is the Turkey Two Ball Invitational that I run on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. I started this event eight years ago as a way to have a season-ending competitive event for the large group of guys who play on weekend mornings at the club. It's a 40-man event, with a pre-tournament draft conducted to pick the teams. Incredibly, my name came out of the hat fifth and I was lucky enough to be able to pick Adam S, a former Canadian Tour professional, as my partner. I'd three-putt the first for bogey with Adam out of the hole to get us off to a poor start but then Adam's class took over. He'd make five birdies and I'd contribute one myself, as we hit the 18th hole at three under par and in a tie for the lead with our playing partners, Brandon M and Mark D. Adam and I would both hit poor drives well left but after I could only punch out well left of the green on my approach, Adam was able to get his shot to the front fringe, about 30 feet away. With a huge crowd watching us from the patio, Adam would MAKE HIS PUTT to move us to four under and the lead! Mark had a putt to tie but would come up short, so we now had to wait for the last four groups to come in.

No one was able to catch us and with that, Adam and I were the 2018 Turkey Two Ball champions!!!

True bliss - finally winning the event that means the most to me!

My first ever Turkey Two Ball win and an incredibly bittersweet moment, as this would be my final round as a member at St. Catharines G&CC after 30+ years of enjoyment and memories.

What a way to go out!

COMING SOON:

2018 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses
2018 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead




Thursday, November 29, 2018

Golf Assessor's Best Golf Blogs

Golf assessor

I just wanted to send out a quick thank you to Paul Bradshaw over at Golf Assessor for including Now on the Tee on their list of the top golf blogs on the web.

NoTT earned an "Honourable Mention" nod and to be included on such an esteemed list of blogs and golf-themed sites is very special indeed.

You can check out the article at https://www.golfassessor.com/best-golf-blogs/.

I plan on doing a lot of writing over the next few months, with catching up on course and golf trip reviews being a priority. I'll soon have my annual "Year in Review" posts going up as well.

Come back soon for more. As always, thanks for reading!


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The End of an Era

The par three 12th hole at St. Catharines G&CC (Photo Courtesy of Geddie Advertising)

I've spent close to three quarters of my life as a proud member of the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club but all good things must come to an end.

After months of thought and reflection and with decidedly mixed emotions, I decided to hand in my official resignation last week, effective October 31, 2018.

I originally joined St. Catharines in 1987 as a 14-year old junior member, took a few years off in the late '90s after I graduated from university and was trying to build my career then rejoined the club in 2000. The countless hours spent at the club, especially as a teenager, taught me about life, relationships and about how to be a good, respectful person more than any activity I can possibly imagine.

I've had so many great moments at the club: those 36 hole days as a kid, with a dip in the pool sandwiched in between, helped me really develop my game in short order and introduced me to friends that I still have to this day. I'd hit a major hot streak around 2008, just before my son was born, when I'd get my handicap down to scratch for the first time and incredibly, break par fourteen different times at STGCC over the years. I'd win a few events, namely two Newlands Cups (0-40 handicap match play event) and one A Flight Club Championship back in 2014.

My proudest moments as a member have always come from rolling up my sleeves, getting involved and making the club a better place. Whether it was sitting on marketing committees and helping devise ways of getting young professionals to join the club back when we had openings or my years proudly sitting on the grounds committee, something that was always near and dear to me as a big fan of golf architecture, I've always been a passionate advocate of the membership experience at STGCC.

In recent years, I've organized tee times and games for a large cross-section of the lower handicap players at the club, instituting the TaylorMade Premier League back in 2013 (a summer-long, gross competition with three flights) and the season-ending Turkey Two Ball Invitational, a forty player, two-man gross best ball competition that I started back in 2011.

The 2018 Turkey Two Ball, held two days ago on Canadian Thanksgiving, was my "swan song" event at the club and perhaps it's fitting that I drew Adam Short as my partner, a former Canadian Tour professional. Adam carried my sorry butt all day long and holed a dramatic 30 footer from just off the 18th green, allowing us to finish with a four under par 68 and lock up the coveted 2018 Turkey Two Ball title!

Going out in style...teaming up with Adam Short (right) to win the 2018 Turkey Two Ball Invitational

It was such a bittersweet day for me...hard to really put into words. We have a phenomenal group of people who play on weekends at St. Catharines and it's been a true pleasure playing the part of "The Commish". Thankfully, I didn't shed any tears but there were lots of hugs and handshakes after we were awarded the trophy. That's the one thing I'm going to miss the most - the camaraderie among this select group of members.

Then why leave?

Sometimes, priorities in life change and I think after 30 years, I was just looking for something new and different. I've decided to close one door and open another and I'm extremely excited about 2019 and the new adventure that awaits...more to come on that in my next post!

My sincere appreciation to the STGCC's management, their incredibly devoted staff and of course, to all of the friends I've made over the years. I will always look back fondly upon my time spent at STGCC and I look forward to visiting as a guest as often as time will allow.

Onward and upward.




Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2017 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses

A dream comes true - ripping one off the 18th tee at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland

A year in review post that comes out over six months into the following year?

Utterly ridiculous, I know, but please indulge me as I attempt to make up for lost time.

2017 was supposed to be a year devoid of golf travel but fate intervened in late July, when an opportunity that I had been waiting my whole life for presented itself.

Almost a year later, I still shake my head at my good fortune.

We finally take a look back at the courses I was lucky enough to visit in 2017.

The Courses

For the first time in recent memory, I went into the year without any set plans for a golf trip. I'm usually able to get away at least once each year for a golf trip with friends due to having a very understanding wife but it didn't look like things were going to work out that way in 2017.

My first excursion away from my home club in St. Catharines came in late May, as I had to fly to Atlanta for a business trip and while there, I was taken out to White Columns Country Club by a supply partner.

White Columns is a true family-oriented country club, with myriad amenities and a Tom Fazio designed golf course on a rolling piece of land. A solid member's course.

My eight year old son Evan started getting into golf a bit more in 2017 and we went out to Brock Golf Course a couple times, a little par 57 executive course just outside of St. Catharines. I grew up playing at Brock and this was the first time I had played the course in three decades so needless to say, it was pretty cool getting to experience it with my boy.

In mid-July, I visited Royal Niagara Golf Club in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a fundraising tournament for my son's hockey team. Royal Niagara was designed by Ted Baker in 2001 and incredibly hosted a Telus World Skins Game back in 2003, with Vijay Singh prevailing over Sergio Garcia, John Daly and Canadian journeyman Ian Leggatt. I say incredibly because Royal Niagara is not a world-class course in any respect and the conditioning was famously awful when it hosted the event only a short time after opening. That all said, there are some decent holes out there and we had a very successful event for our boys so it was a good day.

I've always dreamed of making the excursion overseas to see the great links courses of Great Britain and Ireland but at this point in my life, I had yet to travel off the continent.

July 24, 2017 was the day everything changed.

That's the day I came across a post at Golf Club Atlas, a golf architecture discussion board I frequent. The post outlined the fact that a group of eight guys heading to Scotland in three short weeks for the golf trip of a lifetime unfortunately had a last minute drop out, opening up a spot that they were hoping to fill.

I was immediately intrigued. I had never met Howard R, the gentleman who made the post but I had conversed with him on occasion both on GCA and through social media. But I did know two of the seven guys going on the trip quite well: I had met Andrew L and Matt S at Ballyneal back in 2010 during an event held out there by our mutual friend Jim and then had the opportunity to join Andrew and Matt in future years at their home clubs in Chicago, Illinois and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan respectively.

There was some comfort and familiarity here for me and I knew this was a good group of guys, without question.

I reached out to Howard via email to get some info and I soon heard from the trip organizer, Chris H, who sent me an incredibly detailed itinerary. I soon received emails from Andrew and Matt, encouraging me to join them as well.

The first thing I checked on was work and it immediately looked like a no-go, as one of my fellow staffers had already blocked that week off for vacation. I casually asked about her plans for the week and she immediately said "well, I don't really have anything going on so I was actually considering moving my vacation up a week instead".

"Yeah, I'm sure that's fine", I replied.

I walked back to my desk shaking my head in disbelief - getting the time off work wouldn't be an issue.

Of course, now I'm thinking about my family and most specifically, my better half. There was no way she was going to be okay with this on such short notice, I was sure.

My wife and son were actually up north at a family cottage when this opportunity presented itself so I started chatting with her via text, just casually dropping a reference to the opportunity presented to me.

Me: House was very quiet last night LOL

Wifey: LOL! How R U?

Me: I'm fine. Had a dentist appointment this afternoon then got a ridiculous golf trip offer today so that's kept me busy daydreaming.

Wifey: What trip babe?

Me: Scotland - some friends are going in three weeks and had a cancellation. Everything is booked and paid for so they are looking for someone to take the spot on short notice...sent the itinerary to me. Makes me cry it's so good LOL.

Wifey: I bet *kiss emoji* You can't go?

*** HEART STARTS TO RACE ***

Oh my goodness...she seems OPEN to this!

We continued the conversation via text and I was even more surprised that she asked what was on the itinerary. But I should have known better - at the cottage were some family members who had been to Scotland before and they wanted to know the courses I'd be playing. Of course, they all were unanimous that this was an amazing itinerary and it was clear that my wife would be okay with me going as long as I was comfortable with the expense.

So I started looking at flight costs.

Trying to find flights for a trip less than three weeks away is not ideal - first of all, using points was not an option on the flight out of Toronto but I would be able to use points on the return trip. However, any return trip using points would see a very convoluted flight route OR would contain a exceptionally long layover somewhere.

Things were also slightly complicated by the fact that my destination airport was going to be different from the departure airport.

It took me close to 48 hours to make my final decision. Work was going to be okay and in fact, it was the PERFECT week for me to be away, as there would be no one else at the company taking vacation that week. My wife knows how hard I've been working for the past six months and the fact that I haven't been able to get away for any golf excursions all year perhaps made her sympathetic to my plight.

Even with a number of factors in my favour (trip already completely planned, booked and for the most part, paid for in advance), it was still going to be a pricey trip but there is no question in my mind that it will never be as inexpensive as it would be right now, especially with the British pound being weak against our dollar at the moment.

So I bit the bullet, booked my flights and sent the email to the others, saying I was "IN".

The result was unquestionably the greatest golf trip of my life, with an unrivaled collection of golf courses and experiences that I'll simply never forget.

I took a red-eye flight from Toronto direct to Glasgow and met up with Andrew, Matt and Steve S at the airport on Saturday morning August 12th, as we all had arrival times within a couple hours of each other. One unlucky member of our group (Dan G) had a flight delay and was going to have to meet up with us the next day while the three other members of our crew (Chris, Howard and Ed M) had arrived in Scotland a couple days earlier and played Cruden Bay and Fraserburgh before winning the daily lottery for the Old Course Saturday morning. They were likely finishing up their round at St. Andrews while we were arriving in Glasgow.

The group would be traveling in style during the trip, courtesy of St. Andrews Executive Travel and an eight passenger coach, fully equipped with a beer fridge and captain's chairs, along with a dedicated driver for the duration of our adventure. Matt, Andrew, Steve and I jumped on the coach and began the 45 minute drive to our first destination, Western Gailes Golf Club in Irvine on the northern Ayrshire coast.

Teeing off the beautiful fifth hole at Western Gailes GC in Irvine, Scotland
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back down the delightful par five 6th hole from behind the green at Western Gailes
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Western Gailes is an absolutely wonderful introduction to links golf, with appropriately wild terrain and where wind is always a factor due to the exposed nature of the course near the Firth of Clyde. Fred Morris is credited with the original design back in the late 1800s.

Chris, Howard and Ed arrived via rental car and met us at the course after their morning round at the Old Course all the way on the other side of the country. We had a picture perfect day, with mild temperatures (approximately 17 degrees Celsius) and a crazy three-club wind that exposed any weaknesses in your ball striking. The course chewed me up and spit me out - I shot 89 yet you couldn't wipe the smile off my face the entire day, especially that when I hit my first wedge into the air and it started coming right back at me due to the headwinds on the first hole!

We finished off the day in the Western Gailes grill room with a couple drinks before heading to McCallum's Oyster Bar in Troon for a late dinner.

Our accommodations for the first two days in Ayrshire were at the lovely Marine Hotel in Troon, located right alongside Troon's championship course, which incidentally we did not play during the trip.

The Marine Hotel in Troon, our home for the first two days of the trip
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

Day two saw us meet up with our eighth member, Dan, who finally arrived after a brutal commute. We would venture south for 36 holes at historic Prestwick Golf Club, the birthplace of the Open Championship.

The famous first hole at Prestwick Golf Club on the Southern Ayrshire coast, with train tracks running hard down the entire right side
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The view from the 17th tee, "Alps", showcases the close relationship between the course and the town of Prestwick
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

Originally a 12 hole golf course designed by Old Tom Morris, Prestwick was home to the very first Open Championship in 1860 and would eventually host an incredible 24 Opens, the last of which was back in 1925. Despite the fact that it has been over 90 years since the club has hosted the world's best, only The Old Course in St. Andrews has hosted more Open Championships, a remarkable fact.

The history here is astonishing and the course is filled with character and quirk, with lots of blind shots (Railway! Cardinal! The Himalayas! The Alps!) and plenty of more conventional brilliance (a phenomenal Narrows). She ain't the prettiest girl in the room but she was "cracking" all the same! We had a second consecutive brilliant day, with warm temps and bright sunshine - I made two birdies but hit it into a million bunkers in round one, shooting 82 but after a delicious lunch in the upstairs grill, I came back in the afternoon wiser, if a bit weary and shot a lovely 77 under perfectly calm conditions. A great day at one of the oldest and most historic links in Scotland!

We'd finish the night off with a nice dinner at Lido in Troon before heading back to the Marine Hotel for our final night in Ayrshire.

The next morning, we packed up the coach and headed further down the coast. We'd be going from the oldest Open Championship venue to the newest, the exquisite Ailsa Course at Turnberry.

The delightful Wee Links at Turnberry, a little pitch and putt at the foot of the hotel, was a perfect warmup for our round on the championship Ailsa Course
(From left: Matt S, Howard R, Chris H, Dan G)

The "Yuuuuge" Trump Turnberry Resort hotel looms large in the background at all times while playing the Ailsa Course
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The recently renovated par three 9th hole on Turnberry's Ailsa Course, with the iconic lighthouse in the background
(From left: Andrew L, myself, Matt S and Howard R)

Matt S watches as Andrew putts out on the beautiful par five 10th hole on the Ailsa Course
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The history of the Ailsa Course at Turnberry is incredibly interesting, as the site was used as an airstrip during both World Wars and required extensive renovations in the late 40's and early 50's before getting the honour of being the newest Open Championship venue in 1977. The famous "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson took place on these links and has been followed with stirring championships in 1986 (Greg Norman), 1994 (Nick Price) and 2009 (Stewart Cink taking the title over a then 59 year old Tom Watson).

In 2014, current American President Donald Trump purchased Turnberry for a bargain price and his surname now precedes the Turnberry name like every other course in his portfolio. The ever-controversial President has made many derogatory and inflammatory comments since buying the resort and its spot on the Open rotation is now in question but there is no question that the Ailsa is perhaps the most visually spectacular and scenic links in Scotland.

We finally got some proper Scottish weather at Turnberry - extreme winds (4+ clubs!), some rain (especially late) and cooler temps. Often called "the Pebble Beach of Scotland", almost everyone on our trip felt it is stronger from top to bottom than PB and we had some interesting discussions about where we'd rank it versus other courses on the trip. To sum up, it's very, very good and unspeakably beautiful and played very tough in the weather we had. I played very well, making an eagle (!) and a birdie in my round of 79 (36-43). And the "Wee Links" (18 hole pitch and putt course at the foot of the imposing Trump Turnberry Hotel) was delightful. A great day!

From there, we boarded the coach for the 2 1/2 hour drive to East Lothian and North Berwick, where we'd be staying for two nights at the MacDonald Marine Hotel, directly adjacent to the famed West Links.

The MacDonald Marine Hotel in North Berwick
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

We had a nice, late dinner at Herringbone in North Berwick before resting up for a very big day on Tuesday, as a 36 hole day awaited us at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

Dan G attempts his birdie putt on the fourth hole at Muirfield
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The gorgeous clubhouse at Muirfield provides the backdrop as you approach the 18th green
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

A day at Muirfield is a step back in time - jacket and ties are mandatory in the clubhouse for their famous lunch
(From left: Me, Andrew L, Ed M and Matt S)

The whole crew enjoy some post-round beverages on the gorgeous patio at Muirfield
(From left: Steve S, Andrew L, Dan G, Chris H, Howard R, Matt S, Ed M)

Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013. Other winners at Muirfield include Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Player, Els, Faldo (twice), Vardon and Hagen. That is some list...

The club is unique for many reasons, one of which is due to the fact that the game most commonly played by members is foursomes, more commonly known as alternate shot. The club also was in the news for the wrong reasons in recent years due to the fact that it had a male-only membership policy, one that was finally abolished last year so that the club could maintain its spot in the Open rotation.

Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and we were lucky enough to be playing our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory!) and then head back out for a boozy alternate shot match in the afternoon, all while enjoying some of the finest weather during our entire trip.

Muirfield is unquestionably one of the finest experiences I've ever had in golf and the course may be the best I've played as well. Oh yeah - how did I play, you ask? Well, during my morning round, I made an eagle and FOUR birdies, including birdies on 17 and 18 to come in with a mind-blowing 72!

Certainly a day I will never forget...

We had another memorable 36 hole day on Wednesday, this time hitting North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

The historic West Links at North Berwick Golf Club (background), as seen from the MacDonald Marine Hotel, with the Children's Course in the foreground
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

Smooth-swinging Dan G rips one down the par four 3rd, with Matt S, Steve S and our caddies looking on with envy
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The famous "Pit" hole at North Berwick, the par four 13th - here Dan has to pitch over the rock wall to the green located on the other side!
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The rain finally stops and we're all smiles as we reach the home hole at North Berwick
(From left: Matt S, me, Steve S, Dan G)

North Berwick has long been a "hidden gem" on Scottish golf itineraries and is a favourite of pretty much anyone who visits, with great template holes in a spectacular, seaside setting.

The course has a great first four holes, the slightest of lulls in the middle then an absolutely world class stretch between 13 and 18. It took awhile for me to take to the old girl and shot my highest nine hole score in years on first nine (47!!! With a birdie too!!!). But I steadied myself on incoming nine when rain started, birdieing "Perfection" (#14) and the "Home" hole to finish with 83 in first round. We had a great lunch then went back out for round two, where I went 36-39-75.

It's not as quirky as many make it out to be but then again, maybe I knew what to expect. It's awesome, it's on great land in a great location, it's a charming, quaint town and it's fun personified. I absolutely loved North Berwick!

From there, we hopped into the coach and made the hour and forty five minute drive to St. Andrews, where we'd be staying at the quaint little Hazelbank Hotel on the Scores, just down the road from the Royal and Ancient.

The gang in front of the Hazelbank Hotel in St. Andrews

For our next round, we'd head north and visit one of the most notoriously difficult tests in the game, the championship course at Carnoustie Golf Links.

Looking back down the treacherous 17th hole from behind the green
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

Ed M, myself, Matt S and Howard R on the 18th tee at Carnoustie, with the stately clubhouse (and a rainbow) in the background
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The notorious Barry Burn fronts the 18th green at Carnoustie...are those Jean Van de Velde's footprints I see?
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

Carnoustie has hosted seven Open Championships, with the most famous being Jean Van de Velde's epic final hole meltdown in 1999 that allowed journeyman Paul Lawrie to win in a four-hole playoff. It was one of the most brutally tough majors ever, cementing Carnoustie's status as the most difficult venue on the Open rota.

It isn't a pretty course by any means but was prettier than I thought it would be and surprised me with the middle stretch of almost parkland style golf. An incredible routing and a very strong test overall, with the stretch from 15-18 being unrivalled for toughness. I made no birdies on this day and shot 82 but was pretty satisfied with that...not too bad!

The Open is returning to Carnoustie in 2018 (starting tomorrow!) and I'm really looking forward to watching the world's best tackle this most difficult of venues.

We went out to dinner in St. Andrews that night and my thoughts turned to the following morning.

The vaunted Old Course was next on our itinerary - this is obviously a course that needs no introduction: host of the Open Championship an incredible 29 times and one that every single great player in the game has walked at some point in their lives.

But the fact of the matter was that I did not have a tee time to play.

The guys tried to book a time a year in advance for the entire group but were not successful so we had to go to Plan B to gain access, which is to sign up via the daily ballot. Essentially, a large percentage of tee times on the Old Course are held for the daily ballot, kind of a lottery format held a couple days before you want to play.

So we entered our two groups into the ballot, which was drawn while we were playing our second round at North Berwick. We were excited to see that Matt S, Andrew L, Steve S and Ed M won a tee time but upon scrutinizing the list of winners, we didn't see the other four names. Chris H, Dan G, Howard R and I were out of luck and would have to move to Plan C, which is to show up in the middle of the night and attempt to gain access as a single through the walk-up line.

Put simply, playing the Old Course has always been a dream of mine but surprisingly, I think I handled the bad news well. I was completely prepared to show up at midnight if necessary and wait in line all night to play.

So at dinner the night before, I asked Howard, Chris and Dan what time they were planning on heading down to the course to wait in line. A few of the guys were looking at each other in between bites of food and I was told not to worry about it.

"It's all taken care of."

"What do you mean it's taken care of?", I inquired.

"It's taken care of - you're IN", was the reply.

Incredulous, I asked them what the hell was going on. It turns out that Ed, who played the Old Course six days earlier with Howard and Chris, generously decided to give up his spot to play again so that Dan or myself could get the opportunity to play. Even more incredibly, Steve S, who arrived in Scotland at the same time as I did and therefore hadn't played the Old Course, gave up his spot as well so that both Dan AND I could play.

I didn't understand what was going on.

"You guys are good players and will appreciate the experience more than me", Steve said simply.

He made another droll comment about being able to stay up late that night now and not have to worry about playing in the rain but insisted his mind was made up, as was Ed's. They were giving up their spots on the Old Course so Dan and I could play.

It was hard not to get emotional at that point and to this day, I'll never be able to repay the generosity of Ed and Steve for their selflessness.

I now had a 6:40am tee time at the Home of Golf, the historic Old Course at St. Andrews!

Andrew L, Matt S, Dan G and I just prior to teeing off the first hole at the Old Course
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

Getting a little too frisky on the Road Hole - I'd hit this one out of bounds - and yes, you have to hit it right over the hotel
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Andrew, Dan, myself, Matt S, Chris and Howard on the famed Swilcan Bridge
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

Now, there is a great story here that I'll only briefly touch upon about the fact that Dan and I had to essentially impersonate Steve and Ed respectively. Now, Ed and I were relatively close in handicap (maybe a three or four shot difference at most) but there was plenty of comedy throughout the day due to smooth-swinging Dan, a low single digit handicap, impersonating Steve, who was about a 20 or so. The look on the caddies faces after his opening tee shot was priceless.

Or the number of times the guys would say "Good shot Matt...errr, I mean Ed!".

I'm sure the caddies caught on quickly and likely couldn't care less. But my caddy continued to call me Ed for the entire round, although with a bigger smirk as the round progressed. So funny!

We played half the holes in heavy rain but nothing can disguise the magic and brilliance of The Old Course. I've never been more nervous on an opening tee shot and almost sliced my opening tee shot out of bounds...and those that have played St. Andrews know that's practically impossible.

I've also never been more nervous on an 18th hole drive or approach either but thankfully played both shots well. In the end, I played mediocre golf, making one birdie in a round of 81 (with 41 putts!) but you couldn't wipe the smile off my face the whole morning. The history and setting is magnificent and unrivaled in all of golf.

Simply a magical round with incredible friends and yet another in a line of the greatest experiences in the game.

We weren't done for the day, however, as we had a late afternoon tee time set at Elie, also known as the Golf House Club.

The clubhouse at the Golf House Club at Elie, with their famous periscope protruding out of the starter's shack near the first tee
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

There are few better walks in the game than what you experience at delightful Elie
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

Andrew, Ed and I at twilight on the 18th hole at Elie
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

I didn't know an awful lot about Elie prior to the trip - I was aware that they have a working periscope that was salvaged from a Naval submarine in 1964 or so and is used by the starter to see if the group has played their second shots on the first hole, which is hidden from players teeing off below the ridge. It's incredibly cool!

Now that I've had the pleasure of playing these links, you can look up "hidden gem" in the dictionary and a photo of Elie surely should be there.

It's just a wonderful walk, with 16 par fours, two par threes and no par fives, all with a dramatic seaside setting. We carried our own bags and played seven club matches here (Andrew and Matt S played a two-club match!!). It was great fun and just thinking of my day at Elie brings a huge smile to my face.

If I ever find myself in the Kingdom of Fife again, Elie will definitely be on the itinerary. I shot 76 with seven clubs...the most fun you can have with your pants on!!!

We had dinner that night back in St. Andrews at the famous Jigger Inn and I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine from St. Catharines and a fellow member of my home club, Adam S, meet up with me for a couple drinks, as he had just arrived in Scotland earlier that day with his family for their own trip.

We checked out of the Hazelbank the next morning and made our way to our final destination, one of the most decorated modern links in Scotland, Kingsbarns Golf Links!

The gorgeous Kingsbarns Golf Links, just outside of St. Andrews
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

Steve, Andrew, Ed and Howard on the beautiful par five 12th hole at Kingsbarns
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Another Kingsbarns stunner - the par three 15th hole

This Kyle Phillips masterpiece opened in 2000 to rave reviews and now is part of the Dunhill Cup rotation along with the Old Course and Carnoustie.

My thoughts on Kingsbarns have improved somewhat over time. It's unquestionably an excellent golf course with incredible views but there was a very corporate and American feel to the place and it simply didn't "move" me like the other eight courses we saw.

Still, it was a great day that saw me and Matt S eke out a match play win over Chris and Dan to earn signed Kingbarns flags. I also won a great bottle of scotch in a closest to the flag competition on the lovely and tough par 3 15th, with the scotch a lovely donation from the owners of the Hazelbank Hotel. We'd crack the bottle open and share it among the whole group on the drive back to Edinburgh for our final night in Scotland before heading home.

To the winner goes the spoils! Celebrating my closest to the hole win on the 15th at Kingsbarns

#Auldsod2017 was now just a memory. Here's a little trip summary for your reading pleasure:

Total rounds played: 12
Alternate shots rounds played: 1
Eagles made: 2
Birdies made: 14
Lost balls: only 5!!
Left-handed bunker shots: 1
Total pints consumed: Too many to count
Total amount of Scotch consumed: more in these eight days than the rest of my life
Times getting lost at night in town of St. Andrews: 1 (quite a story but not to be told here)
iPhone near deaths: 1 (fell into the sink with two days left in trip and needed two days in a bag of rice to rise from the ashes

Favourite 3 days -
1A. St. Andrews Old/Elie 36 hole day
1B. The Muirfield experience (36 and lunch!)
3. Turnberry (The Wee Links/Ailsa combo)

Toughest Tests:
1. Western Gailes w/4 club winds
2. Carnoustie
3. Muirfield

Most Picturesque:
1. Turnberry Ailsa
2. Kingsbarns
3. North Berwick/Elie tie

Quirkiest:
1. Prestwick (by far...charmingly though!)
2. North Berwick West
3. Elie

Most Fun:
1. St. Andrews Old Course
2. North Berwick West
3. Elie (with seven clubs!)

Favourite Par 3:
#11 at St. Andrews Old (Eden hole)
Himalayas hole at Prestwick
#9 at Turnberry (from back tee)

Favourite Par 4:
#13 at North Berwick West (Pit hole)
#13 at Elie
#1 & #18 at St. Andrews Old

Favourite Par 5:
#17 at Muirfield
#6 at Western Gailes
#12 at Kingsbarns
#6 at Carnoustie (Hogan's Alley)
#14 at St. Andrews

This was simply an amazing trip that is unlikely to be matched for as long as I live.

The whole gang at the famous Dunvegan Hotel near the end of our time in St. Andrews

My thanks and appreciation to Chris, Howard, Andrew, Matt, Ed, Steve and Dan for welcoming me with open arms and for allowing me to join them on this trip of a lifetime! I feel I have seven friends for life after this incredible experience.

The year didn't end there, as I'd still visit three other courses near home before I put the clubs away for the season.

First, I ventured to one of Canada's best courses, Hamilton Golf & Country Club in Ancaster, Ontario.

David Davis teeing off on the downhill par four 10th hole at Hamilton G&CC
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

The approach shot into the 18th hole at Hamilton
(Photo - Now on the Tee)

A friend from Golf Club Atlas, David Davis, was visiting Canada from the Netherlands and we were able to arrange our first game together at Hamilton G&CC, a Harry Colt design that has hosted a number of Canadian Opens and will be returning there again in 2019. We had a beautiful day for our game and the course was in excellent condition as well. We had a fun little match play game and I was able to prevail on the 18th hole after a late run of birdies on #16 and #17.

I've profiled Hamilton in the past and you can check out that detailed post right here.

I'd play two more late season rounds away from my home club, with one on the Battlefield Course at Legends on the Niagara and the other at Niagara Frontier Country Club in Youngstown, New York.

I've played a number of times at the Battlefield, a Doug Carrick design from 2002. Lots of width, lots of water but a modest piece of land and little of interest architecturally.

Interestingly enough, Carrick also recently touched up Niagara Frontier, which is a reciprocal club to my home course in St. Catharines. Frontier was short but interesting, with tiny little green complexes and some pretty solid land. I'm guessing we'll return one day.

In all, including my home club at St. Catharines G&CC, I was able to play 16 different golf courses in 2017, with a whopping twelve of them being first time visits.

2017 will be a very tough year to top. Once again, my thanks to everyone who helped make this one of the great years in my golfing life.



Thursday, February 15, 2018

This Week on the PGA Tour - The Genesis Open

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 2018 Genesis Open started 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.

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.



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2017 Year in Review Part One - The Game

2017 proved to be much more interesting on the course than I could ever have imagined, mostly due to a fateful post made in late July on a golf course architecture website I frequent that alerted me to an open spot on a "trip of a lifetime". More on that in my next post...

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 2018.

The Game

I started 2017 with a 2.4 index and by mid-season, I was playing well enough to get down to a 1.4, easily the lowest factor I've had in years. The aforementioned "trip of a lifetime" put a slight dent in my index but I'd still end the season at a very respectable 2.9. I played a lot of good golf in 2017 - I didn't break par but I did shoot 72 on two occasions and broke 80 forty-three times during the year, basically about two thirds of my total rounds. My home club recently added a golf simulator studio and the ability to hit the ball during the winter months definitely was a help to my game.

I posted 63 scores this year, up four from my 2016 total and about average with my normal round count on a yearly basis. I played 48 of the 63 rounds at my home club of St. Catharines G&CC, down three "home course" rounds from the year before but still much higher than normal due to only taking one golf trip in 2017 versus my normal two trips.

2017 was to be the tenth straight year my wife's uncle Henry and I played in the St. Catharines G&CC Gentlemen's Invitational, our three-day member guest event that takes place in mid-June. However, Henry's wife Diane passed away after a long struggle with cancer just days before the event took place. I'm sure we'll both look forward to coming back in 2018 and trying to win one for Diane.

The club match play events at St. Catharines have always been a big deal to me but despite a good run in one of them in 2017, both the Langley Cup and Scratch Cup continue to elude me.

After years of flopping in the Langley Cup competition, a 0-7 handicap event with full strokes from the back tees, I actually went deep into the competition in 2017, winning three matches (over friends Adam H, Yogi M and Coleman D) before ultimately bowing out in the semifinals to Brad B in a thrilling 21 hole marathon. I birdied the 18th hole when I was one down to send the match to extras then holed long putts for par on both the first and second extra holes before ultimately losing to a birdie on the third playoff hole to drop the match. Definitely one I'll remember for a long time.

Interestingly enough, I've had some decent success in the club's Scratch Match Play event over the past number of years despite being at a distinct disadvantage to the plus handicappers in the competition. I made it to the semis twice in the past four years but last year I got dropped in the round of 16 by my friend Colin P.

The importance of the Club Championship at St. Catharines has diminished in recent years for yours truly, as I can't really compete in the main gross club championship and the remaining "flighted" competitions are now netted down, giving the sandbaggers the best opportunity for victory.

Still, I'm nothing if not a competitor so I signed up for the main club championship and shot very respectable rounds of 78 and 76 but that still missed the 36 hole cut by three shots.

For the fifth 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 a whopping 56 players take part in 2017, up from 44 players the previous year, 39 players in 2015 and only 17 (!!) in 2014. TaylorMade returned for a third consecutive year as our league sponsor as well.

After finishing in 14th place (out of 16) the year before playing against the flat bellies in the back tee competition in 2016, I moved down to the Blue Division in 2017 and ended up finishing in 3rd place (out of 23 players), winning a nice chunk of change as a result. It will be interesting to see how things change in 2018 - we've lost a number of players who participated in our Senior flight and I may have to make some changes to balance out the divisions.

Finally, the last major event on my schedule is the Turkey Two Ball Invitational that I run on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. We ended up having to postpone the 2017 event due to heavy rains and the rescheduled event had a shortened field of 32 players. I teamed up with my buddy Ryan B to shoot 70 (-2) in the two man best ball event and that was good enough to finish in a tie for 3rd place (out of 16 teams). We'd also win a skin for my first hole birdie and combined with our third place finish allowed us to take home a nice little payout.


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!

As indicated earlier, I did not have the good fortune of breaking par in 2017 but did shoot two rounds of 72 - one was an even par round at my home club and the other was a rather spectacular one over par 72 shot at one of the great golf courses in the world, Muirfield GC in Scotland!

It may be four shots higher than my lifetime lowest score but my 72 at Muirfield GC in Scotland ranks as one of my most thrilling rounds ever

A front nine eagle and four back nine birdies, including #17 and #18? Needless to say, it was a pretty emotional walk up that famous 18th fairway.

All in all, a pretty solid year of golfing my ball!

COMING SOON:

2017 Year in Review Part Two - The Courses
2017 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead




Monday, January 22, 2018

Rejuvenated

Happy new year to those of you still reading!

I uploaded a post yesterday that was meant to be published back in early August, just before my incredible golf trip to Scotland. The reasons why it didn't get posted five months ago are, at best, boring and at worst incriminating so I'll just simply point you to the post right here and ask that you give it a quick read - http://nowonthetee.blogspot.ca/2018/01/auldsod2017-scotland-beckons.html.

Another place to visit is Now on the Tee's new Instagram page. I'm attempting to post a new picture at least once a day and the vast majority will be golf related so feel free to visit my page and give us a follow. You can find us right here: https://www.instagram.com/nowontheteemb/

We are smack dab in the middle of winter here in Niagara, a good nine or ten weeks away from the start of our golf season. It's been the coldest and snowiest winter in many years but thankfully we're in the middle of an ever-so-brief warm spell at the moment and my mind, naturally, drifts to golf.

Coming up later this week will be part one of my 2017 Year in Review, which will go over the status of my golf game and the tournaments/leagues I took part in.

Part two will follow and I promise that will be much more interesting, as I recap the courses I was fortunate enough to visit last year, including those on my first ever overseas trip.

From there, I'm motivated to get working on a number of course reviews in an attempt to shake the considerable amount of cobwebs off the site.

I hope everyone is staying warm! Best wishes to all on a great 2018.