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.

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!


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