Thursday, January 10, 2019

2018 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead

The thrilling tee shot on the opening hole at Lookout Point Country Club in Fonthill, Ontario
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

For the first time in three years, I actually have a golf trip planned well in advance and it's looking like it will be something special.

There is quite a lot to look forward to in 2019. Lets get to it!

Looking Ahead

I've alluded to this in previous posts but after over 30 years of membership at St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, I resigned in October 2018 and decided to join Lookout Point Country Club (shown above) in nearby Fonthill for the 2019 season and beyond.

This Walter Travis designed gem opened for play in 1922 and features stunning vistas of neighbouring Niagara Falls, excellent rolling topography and phenomenal green complexes, a Travis trademark. I couldn't be more excited about this big change in my life and I'm looking forward to playing in a ton of club events and getting integrated into the membership at Lookout.

If any of my readers find themselves in Niagara and want to see what Lookout Point is all about, reach out to me and I'll be happy to host if the timing works.

As far as golf trips go, I have one planned and it looks like it will be absolutely epic.

In early August, I'll be heading back to Scotland for the second time in three years, with an incredible 15 rounds of golf scheduled over a ten day period.

My trip begins with a red-eye out of Toronto and an early, next morning arrival in Glasgow. I'll meet up with three friends for the "Pre-Trip" portion of the trip and we'll immediately depart for Royal Troon Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

A shot of the clubhouse and 18th green at Royal Troon Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

In 2017, our group stayed at the Marine Hotel in Troon right alongside the 18th fairway but we did not play the course on that trip. The Old Course at Troon has hosted The Open Championship nine times, most recently in 2016 when Henrik Stenson came out on top in a thrilling final round shootout over Phil Mickelson. The par three eighth hole, known as "The Postage Stamp", is one of the most famous and notorious holes in the game.

From there, our foursome will head north into the Scottish Highlands, where 36 holes await us at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Old Tom Morris is given credit for overhauling the original nine hole design and converting it into the 18 hole Championship Course in the late 1880s. It is known as one of the greatest golf courses in the world, currently sitting 15th on Golf Magazine's 2017 list of the world's best and I've been desperately hoping to experience the course and the town of Dornoch ever since reading Lorne Rubenstein's wonderful book, "A Season in Dornoch", which gets my highest recommendation.

The next day, we will head about a half hour north to Brora Golf Club.

James Braid laid out the links at Brora in 1891 and I'm a big fan of his after our round in 2017 at Elie, another charming Braid design just outside of St. Andrews. Brora is known for the sheep that roam and graze on the property and the electric fences that surround many of the putting surfaces to keep them off the greens. The club is a bit off the beaten path, so to speak but I'm a big fan of hidden gems and I'm guessing that our day at Brora will be one of the highlights of the trip.

We plan on doing a distillery tour after our round at Brora and we will then wrap up our time in the Highlands with a round on the modern masterpiece, Castle Stuart Golf Club.

The brainchild of developer Mark Parsinen, who also brought Kingsbarns Golf Links to life, Castle Stuart overlooks the Moray Firth and was co-designed by Gil Hanse, a noted American architect, with the course opening for play in 2009. Castle Stuart already sits within the top 100 courses in the world and has hosted the Scottish Open an incredible four times.

From there, we will head four hours south and meet up with the other four members of our group in East Lothian. Their trip begins with a round at Gullane #1 but us "Pre-Trippers" will miss out on that while making the trek from the Highlands. The eight of us will all meet up for the first time after their round and the next day, we'll be playing 36 holes at the phenomenal North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

The Children's Course runs alongside the famous West Links at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland, as seen from the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

We enjoyed a 36 hole day at North Berwick back in 2017 so this is the first course that we felt compelled to see again on this trip - simply put, it's that good!

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. 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 and can't wait to see it again this year.

We have our second and final repeat viewing the next day, as the group once again heads back to one of the greatest clubs in the world, the famed Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

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

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. 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 once again, we will be lucky enough to play 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.

I'm especially excited to get back to Muirfield due to the fact I played one of my finest rounds of golf ever there in my first trip, making an eagle and four birdies, including the 17th and 18th holes, to shoot an incredible 72. A day I'll never forget...

Our final day in East Lothian sees us visit Tom Doak's only Scottish design, The Renaissance Club.

Jerry Sarvadi, an American businessman, played a lead role in developing the course and would eventually move to North Berwick with his family to run the day-to-day operations of the club, which opened for play in 2008. We will be playing Renaissance only three days after the conclusion of the Ladies Scottish Open, one of the premier events on the LPGA Tour so I'm guessing the course will be in magnificent shape. The 2019 Mens Scottish Open is also taking place at Renaissance in early July so it's a big year for the club - two major world tour events and hosting our itinerant group of eight golf fanatics. Not bad!

After our round, we head north for the final leg of our amazing trip, setting our anchor in the city of Aberdeen. Our first round the next morning is at Murcar Golf Club, another hidden gem from what I'm told.

Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson in 1909 and revised by James Braid in the 1930s. The course is located on a classic stretch of links land with massive sand dunes, undulating fairways and is covered in whins and heather with some magnificent views across the North Sea.

Later that afternoon, we will head a few miles south for a game at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club's Balgownie Course.

Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is considered to be the 6th oldest club in the world. The club relocated in the late 1800s and the Balgownie Course, designed by Archie and Robert Simpson, opened for play in 1888. The club has hosted many great events over the years and is well known for their immense dunes, among the largest in the country, that must be navigated during the round.

I'm also very excited about the following day, where we will play two rounds at Cruden Bay Golf Club.

Long known as one of the great hidden gems in Scotland, wide acclaim over recent years has propelled Cruden Bay on to many World Top 100 lists and as a result, the course is a preferred stop on most Scottish itineraries. A few guys in the group played Cruden Bay in 2017 but I wasn't one of them so I'm greatly looking forward to the day. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson designed the course in 1899 and like Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay features massive dunes and a glorious seaside setting. This is one of the most anticipated days of the trip for yours truly.

We conclude this epic adventure with a round at the controversial Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen.

The course was designed by Martin Hawtree and opened for play in 2012 but the development was heavily scrutinized by many conservationists throughout the process and that scrutiny continues to this day, with the fires fanned even more due to Trump's time in the White House. As a result, I will admit this is the course I'm least looking forward to on our trip but perhaps that's not entirely fair - I've heard plenty of accolades from people I greatly respect about the experience and even those who aren't effusive in their praise say they respect the course quite a bit. The landscape is supposed to be as dramatic as any in the world of golf so I will give it a fair chance. That said, it's the last course we see on our trip and for the sake of comparison, I came away feeling lukewarm about Kingsbarns in 2017 when it was the last course on that vacation so perhaps there will be some parallels in 2019.

15 rounds in 10 days...I may not be able to walk when I get back to Canada! I literally can't wait for this trip.

I don't have any other trips planned but hope to take some days off work here and there to see some courses in Ontario and in Western New York.

On my radar in Ontario would be hopeful first time visits to Redtail Golf Course near St. Thomas, Toronto Golf Club, the nine holes at Toronto Hunt Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club and Summit Golf Club, among many others.

As far as Western New York, I've long wanted to play Country Club of Buffalo and also hope to visit Park Country Club and Crag Burn Golf Club.

The great thing about golf is that surprises seem to come every year. There is absolutely no chance I get to see all of those courses this year but I guarantee there will be other places I get the chance to visit that will surprise and delight. Hopefully I get the chance to play with some of my readers next year.

As for Now on the Tee, you can expect to see much more content in 2019, with my goal being an article every week.

That's right - I plan on writing 52 different pieces in 2019!

Despite my lack of output in 2018, pageviews were up almost 10% over 2017, our first increase since 2013. That said, we used to drive much more traffic to the site between 2007 and 2015, back when I posted more frequently.

The bulk of the content I have planned in 2019 will come in the form of golf course profiles. I have thousands of golf course photos in my archives that haven't seen the light of day and it's time to share them with my readers. I haven't profiled any of the Scottish courses I visited in 2017 so I'm going to start there, writing about my first-ever overseas round that took place at Western Gailes Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

From there, I plan on going to my readers to ask what you want to see - I'll likely put up polls on the Now on the Tee Twitter page so keep your eye out for that in the coming days.

I recently bought Luminar 3, the new photo editing software from Skylum that was on sale over Christmas. It's a very sophisticated program but pretty "newb" friendly, which is why I went in that direction over the seemingly more complex and robust Affinity Photo. The picture at the top of the page of Lookout Point was one of my first efforts using the new software and I think that photo came out looking pretty damn good! I'm really looking forward to going through my extensive library of photos and touching them all up before uploading them here for my course profiles.

I'm also planning to put a lot more work into my personal fitness, diet and my golf game in 2019. I'm turning 46 in April so improving flexibility, strength and endurance is going to be vital going forward. My handicap index is sitting at 4.8 right now and I want to start working on that - I'm thinking of signing up for lessons at my new club and taking advantage of the great practice facility at Lookout Point as well. I'm going to be getting fit for a new driver this year (special thanks to my old crew at St. Catharines G&CC for the amazing going away gift!) and may look into some other clubs, specifically a driving iron.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. As indicated, you can look forward to seeing new content weekly here at Now on the Tee and I hope you come back often to read about my exploits.

I can't wait to see what 2019 brings!



No comments:

Post a Comment