I cannot believe it's time again. How best to look back at the good fortune of another year spent covering golf's courses, destinations and random cool things?
When I tell people my profession, they often tell me it's a "dream job." I find it difficult to argue with them. So I'll try to reflect on the year mostly in photos, via an exercise I've picked up from fellow avid players.
Putting together a 'dream 18' is a fun year-end activity. It's an imaginary golf course made up of 18 different great holes you've seen in a given amount of time - maybe a year, maybe your entire golfing life. The only catch - and part of the fun - is that the hole numbers have to correspond. In other words, the first hole of your 18 must be the first hole on its home course, the second must be a hole number 2 and so on. Since it's 2019, though, I figured I might as well add one more for the sake of numerological harmony.
No. 19. PopStroke (Jackson Trap) - hole 2
I know it's strange to start with the 19th hole, but this new "golfertainment" concept feels like a winner, with a fun atmosphere and some formalized encouragement by Tiger Woods himself. I was sold when, finding my ball in a synthetic turf "bunker," I popped my putt up over the lip, down the contoured carpet and into the hole from about 40 feet away. I wasn't expecting one of my favorite moments in golf for the year to have no grass involved.
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Our @timgavrich visited @popstroke over the weekend. It’s a venue centered on two 18-hole putting courses with all kinds of cool slopes, plus rough and “bunkers” like this one. @tigerwoods and @tgr.design will be designing their future courses. Full review coming soon to Golf Advisor dot com.
No. 1. Pelican Hill Golf Club (Ocean South) - par 4, 443 yards
I was prepared for the course's famous back-to-back oceanside par 3s, but no one told me the Ocean South begins with a full-frontal charge downhill with the Pacific Ocean gleaming out to the horizon.
No. 2. Dumbarnie Links - par 5, 541 yards
Technically this meticulously manufactured links doesn't open until 2020, but I was fortunate to play a preview round, and found the punchbowl second green to be an early standout feature.
No. 3. Lundin Golf Club - par 4, 331 yards
The only hole on this "course" I'd played before, this short two-shotter revealed itself again to me as a perfect example of why length is incidental to the challenge of a great golf hole when things like firm turf, wind and well-placed hazards are on offer.
No. 4. Country Club of Mobile - par 5, 609 yards
The downward tumble of this hole only ramps up (or is it down?) at the green, whose front section is a couple feet higher than the rear, making for a delicate approach.
No. 5. Grand Beach Golf Course - par 5, 545 yards
Sleepy nine-hole Grand Beach in Michigan was the surprise of the summer, with a measure of benign neglect but also its share of undeniably interesting features, like the bowl-like fifth green.
No. 6. Langdon Farms Golf Club - par 3, 122 yards
There's a fine line between inspiration and appropriation, but architect John Fought managed to do the former when sliding this cute little par three in between brawnier tests at this public gem outside Portland, Oregon.
No. 7. Gullane Golf Club (Course No. 1) - par 4, 398 yards
To stand the top of Gullane Hill and see practically all of East Lothian spread before you in all directions is to take in one of the best views in the game.
No. 8. LuLu Country Club - par 4, 419 yards
This early (1912) Ross gem is a bit quirkier than some of his later work, with some true one-off holes like the par-3 4th and this gliding downhill two-shotter past "dolomite" mounds to a sunken green.
No. 9. Mines Golf Course - par 4, 404 yards
Of the three Mike DeVries designs in and around the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, this one has the wildest terrain, and the closing hole on the outward nine is perfectly placed through a valley to a plateau green.
No. 10. Champlain Country Club - par 4, 303 yards
A round with old clubs on the day before my sister's wedding figured to be a hit-and-giggle, but lo and behold, the course's original century-old nine had plenty of worthwhile charm, like this pedestal green.
No. 11. Goat Hill Park - par 3, 161 yards
John Ashworth's conversion of a weird, neglected nine-holer into a stupid-fun 18-hole par 65 has many highlights, but I loved the way the late-afternoon sun rippled across the hollows in front of this green.
No. 12. The Club at New Seabury (Dunes) - par 4, 277 yards
Truly drivable par 4s like this one, courtesy of redesign architect Bruce Hepner, are surprisingly rare, because even though plenty of courses tout their token 335-yard hole as "potentially drivable for long hitters," you and I know better.
No. 13. Old Toccoa Farm - par 5, 626 yards
One of the most exciting new course debuts in recent years, north Georgia's Old Toccoa has 18 memorable holes, including this plunging downhill par five with gorgeous views of the southern Appalachians.
No. 14. Gull Lake View Resort & Golf Club (Stoatin Brae) - par 3, 144 yards
This high meadow masterpiece outside Kalamazoo, Mich., designed by Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf Design team, has a brilliant stretch of up-and-down holes to start the back nine, and this short one-shotter fits into the terrain perfectly.
No. 15. San Clemente Municipal Golf Course - par 3, 193 yards
After 14 holes' worth of teasing peeks, the Pacific Ocean is revealed to golfers at this stunning high-to-high hole in SoCal.
No. 16. North Berwick Golf Club - par 4, 378 yards
The rumpled fairway contours simply continue through the green here, making the putting surface one of the craziest on the planet.
No. 17. Kalispel Golf & Country Club - par 3, 193 yards
I had no idea just how good the golf in Spokane was, and a round at semi-private Kalispel capped off an eye-opening three-day survey.
No. 18. Boca Rio Golf Club - par 4, 421 yards
Few Florida clubs are more exclusive than the 150-member Boca Rio, but this Robert Von Hagge design is opening its fairways to the pros in January for the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA event.
Total: par 71, 6,508 yards