Even the best of your golf buddies doesn't appreciate it when you take them all 18. Which is to say, the shot-for-shot recap of a memorable round is best left for the great file drawers in your heart.
But in this case, as I reflect on yet another year of 200-plus days on the road, I offer 18 visual and spiritual highlights of my travels, which includes cherished municipals, renovated classics, and intimate time with icons like Player, Crenshaw and The King.
No. 1: Lahinch in Ireland
One course in Ireland for the rest of my life? Because of holes, views and walks to the greens like this one, the 166-yard par-3 8th, Lahinch is on a very short list of possible answers. (Royal County Down and Waterville are also contenders.) A true links experience, which combines fair, fun, quirk and plenty of challenge, my appreciation for Lahinch is also about the surrounding town, the people who live there, the neighboring surf school and the feeling you get when you leave: I can't wait to go back.
No. 2: The Loop at Forest Dunes
Maybe the simplest way of seeing and explaining Tom Doak's complex Loop at Forest Dunes—one course that can be played in two directions—is this picture of the ninth green (far left), which can be played from two different fairways (top and bottom). Credit goes to Doak and everyone else involved for designing and devising a clever and innovative way to maximize the use of gently rolling topography, tucked into a national forest, which officially opens in late-Spring.
More: The making of The Loop
No. 3: Streamsong's newest course
There's nothing I appreciate more than a thoughtful architect willing to walk and talk me through their design, introduce me to their team and share the strategy of a golf course in the making. This is Gil Hanse, and we are in one of many impressive bunker structures that will defend Streamsong's Black course, which is scheduled to open in the Fall.
No. 4: The fight to Save Muny in Austin
As the game continues to adjust, and the pack of courses available to the golfer in America continues to fall prey to the laws of Natural Selection, in which not every course will survive, there are those worth a fight and worth saving. For example: Lions Muny in Austin, Texas. Not only is it where there was desegregation before the country was desegregating, it's also where Ben Crenshaw grew up, learned the game and won his first tournament. To walk this course, and hear Crenshaw's reflections, perspective and passion for why it should survive was a highlight of my year, and career.
No. 5: Oakmont Country Club's tree removal
Oakmont Country Club is a special place for so many reasons: The father-son founders, history, respect, toughness from tee to green, the number of major championships (nine U.S. Opens) and the tenuous relationship the course has had with trees. In telling the story of Oakmont's tree removal, along with a talented crew and producer Adrienne Gallagher, I had the opportunity to spend time with the likes of long-time pro and legend, Bob Ford, former president of the club, Banks Smith, and people like the time-conscious spotter, Reed Clarke, who took me down to the tree cemetery behind the 16th tee. As John Zimmers, Oakmont's Director of Grounds, explained: "We don't run out of fire wood around here."
No. 6: The Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National
People often ask: What's your favorite tournament to attend? I always say the Ryder Cup, and after this year, in which the biennial event only seems to be growing in interest, energy, popularity and volume, it was easy to see why.
No. 7: Morocco is making Birdies
What's better than stumbling upon a grow-the-game initiative in America? Stumbling upon one in Morocco, where the Birdies program educates 70 kids on not only how to play the game, but how to manage the business of the game. They learn languages, best pro-shop practices and insights into agronomy.
No. 8: My flight with The Black Knight
I've always appreciated Gary Player's passion for the game, fitness and travel. And when I had the chance to fly with him to see his new par-3 course at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., I was privy to countless stories on all of the above. From his 31 aces (“only one was lucky”), Bobby Locke's putting prowess, Churchill's leadership and why he thinks Jack Nicklaus is The Greatest of All Time, my time with Mr. Player was a treat.
No. 9 – Embarking on my greatest journey
The ninth hole of this year's visual scorecard marks the turn of my life. It might not be a golf picture, but my marriage to Katie in October was at Big Cedar Lodge's Top of The Rock, a Jack Nicklaus par-3 course used in the annual Bass Pro Shop's Legends event (held in April). The view, crew, setting and ceremony was all we could've asked for, and she's The One I've been waiting for.
No. 10: Opening day of Cabot Cliffs
On Canada Day (July 1), it was opening day of Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, which debuted on Golf Digest's list of the 100 Greatest Courses in the World at No. 19. Not only was I fortunate to be there with (from left to right) Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser, but I also appreciate the four-year behind-the-curtain access to the building of such a special course on such a spectacular piece of land. The "Pebble Beach of Canada" is a nice compliment to Rod Whitman's Cabot Links, which opened in 2012.
No. 11: Social indulgence at Cabot's Sweet 16th
One might say my "work wife" at Golf Digest was Ashley Mayo, but she is much more like a little sister. And on opening weekend of Cliffs, anticipating a clearing in the weather, Mayo and I headed out for a late-afternoon back-nine round where we simply stopped after the 15th green and waited for the golden light on the 16th tee. Needless to say, it was worth the wait. We moved benches, tee markers, used cell phones, Go Pros, took selfies and hit a variety of shots, all in the spirit of sunsets and social media.
No. 12: Renovating Winter Park
From Cabot Cliffs, where Keith Rhebb (far right) and Riley Johns (third from right) worked on Coore and Crenshaw's crew, the two young and talented architects dug in and rebuilt a 101-year-old mini municipal in Winter Park, Fla. They were on time (the course reopened in October) and under budget ($1.2 million) and they couldn't have done it without the support of the city, the Winter Park mayor, Steve Leary (second from right), irrigation detail by Don Mahaffey (forth from right) and the energy and expertise of Blake Conant (third from left). John Ashworth, (second from left), who had recently finished his restoration of Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, Calif., stopped by several times to share lessons learned and to appreciate yet another investment of a small community into a golf course playable and affordable for everyone.
No. 13: When golf is so much more than just a game
In July, my best friend, Todd Curran and I, were invited to Oakland Hills for the Detroit Select fundraising event benefitting the American Cancer Society. Curran and I told the story about playing Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes when he received a text from his wife that he was cancer free. Curran has battled stage three bladder cancer and in 2013 was given six to 12 months to live. The event raised $250,000, and after four CAT scans in two and a half years, he remains cancer free. This picture, by Katie Ginella, was Curran receiving a much-deserved standing ovation by the assembled crowd.
No. 14: Mike Keiser strikes again at Sand Valley
It hasn't officially opened yet, but what Keiser and his sons, Michael Jr. and Chris, are piecing together in Central Wisconsin is going to be yet another bucket-list destination. The first course by Coore and Crenshaw (pictured), will open in 2017, and there will be limited preview play on at least six of David McLay Kidd's course as well. Much like Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links, Sand Valley will be about great golf and a better hang with thoughtful lodging, short courses, service with a smile and a memorable menu.
No. 15: Carr Golf Travel's Father & Son Tournament at Waterville never disappoints
From mass at the Mass Hole, the competition, course and characters from all over the world, the 27th annual event along the Southwest Coast of Ireland is the healthy intersection of generational camaraderie and memories that last lifetimes. As for this pic, it's my partner, John Ashworth, utilizing one of golf's great “out” houses behind the 17th tee.
No. 16: The golden hour at Pinehurst
There aren't a lot of water hazards in the Sandhills of North Carolina, but off the 16th tee of Pinehurst's No. 2, Rex Lint, a key member of the crew who works on Ginella's Journeys, snapped this reflection of a memorable round chasing the sun on an iconic course.
No. 17: The Uncle Tony Invitational
There are so many reasons I look forward to my annual buddies trip to Bandon Dunes—friends, setting, camaraderie, competition, meals, wine, dice games, fire pits, traditions, the trophy, and of course, Uncle Tony—but it's moments and rounds like this one, the opening eightsomes at Bandon Preserve, sunset, looking over to the 17th tee at Bandon Dunes, that I specifically wish would never end.
No. 18: A final visit with the King
During an unexpected break in Morning Drive scheduling the week of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, colleagues Gary Williams, Damon Hack and I drove to Latrobe to see Arnold Palmer. He invited us to stay for lunch, where we were joined by, among a few others, Doc Giffin, Palmer's loyal friend and consigliere. After lunch, Giffin invited us back to the office for a tour and stories of a life well lived, which led us into Palmer's office, where he was reading the paper behind a sizable and distinguished desk. As we walked in, Palmer put the paper down and encouraged us to get comfortable. Throughout the day, Palmer had commented on a Jason Day chunked chip ("I lost a U.S. Open on a chip like that"), Phil Mickelson's strategy to lay up all four days on the drivable par-4 17th ("Well, it sounds like he'll have seven second-place finishes in the U.S. Open"), but the most notable story was in his office, about an egotistical match play with a cocky Roger Maris in 1960. After a mic-drop moment, in which Palmer gets the best of the baseball player (8&7), we all shared one more long laugh. A drive, day, story and man I will never forget.