Every so often, I’ll pinch myself or smack myself in the head to make sure I’m not dreaming.
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to travel, play golf courses and write about them for a living, and 2017 was a banner year.
A few fellow golfers I know shared their own years-in-review in a similar format as this, so here goes (and I hope you'll weigh in with your own year-in-review in the comments below):
Different Courses Played:
New Courses Played in 2017:
- Mid Ocean Club – I’ve been in love with the work of Charles Blair Macdonald ever since I first stumbled on a photo tour of The Course at Yale some 10 years ago. The bunkering, the scale of the greens and the incredible contours caused me to fall in love with golf course design, and it's a big reason why I do what I do today. Mid Ocean has a lot of similar concepts to Yale but brings them into the gorgeous and totally charming British-Colonial environs of Bermuda, with some of the bluest ocean waters you'll ever see in full view from many holes. My favorite of them all: the stunning "Redan" par-3 17th.
- Punta Espada Golf Club - I don't normally go as gaga as others over oceanfront golf courses, but here we are: two seaside nominations atop the list. Punta Espada is a Jack Nicklaus gem that manages to be pretty playable as long as you choose the right set of tees, and the main oceanfront holes on both the front (2 and 3) and back (13, 17 and 18) are really special.
- Wilshire Country Club - It's hard to overstate just how enjoyable I found Wilshire, a Los Angeles star that few golfers have probably heard of. Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club get the pub, but it's hard to beat Wilshire, laid out on less than 100 acres but never feeling cramped. The channel to the right o the 2nd green and the crescent-shaped par-3 10th green are unlike any golf course features I've seen, and the firm turf and intermittent views of the Hollywood sign, as well as convivial post-round scene on the clubhouse veranda make for a special experience.
- Sand Valley Golf Course - Disappearing behind the central Wisconsin jack pines and into the dunescape of Sand Valley carries more gravitas than the average golf course or resort entrance - it just feels like an event. And loosing the first tee shot onto the first fairway at Sand Valley at the feet of Craig's Porch confirms that the golfer is somewhere uniquely special. I've played the course three times in two different years now, and I can't wait for my next round.
Golf Advisor writers look back on their 2017 in golf
Most Challenging Courses Played
- Erin Hills Golf Course - I had the opportunity to play Erin Hills about a month after the U.S. Open, and I decided to punish myself by playing from about 7,700 yards. I played competently on the front nine before the relentless length and physicality (it's a challenging walk) of the course caught up with me on the inward half. If you play more reasonable tees, though, I think you'll find you can score on a lot of holes, owing to the absolutely pure roll of the greens.
- Chambers Bay Golf Course - The second recent U.S. Open venue I played this summer turned out to be somewhat less fearsome than the first, but not by too much. The wide fairways do provide some relief off the tee, but the firm turf and complicated slopes on and around the greens can make you look silly if you're not careful. This is one of those courses where the caddies are worth every single penny they are paid. It's just about the most fun you'll ever have getting your butt kicked.
- Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club - It doesn't matter that I've played Pawleys about 500 times in my life - it's one of those golf courses where every single shot requires your full attention. Sure, there are a few birdie opportunities scattered about the course, but the live oaks, elusive greens, deep bunkers and windy marshside back nine stretch make the course a complete test. Playing to your handicap here is a special achievement. It hurts so good.
Most Pleasant Surprises
- The Palmer at PGA National - When I played it in early January of 2017, I thought the course was nice enough but didn't have much helping distinguish it from other Florida courses. But having seen it after Brandon Johnson's renovation work in November, I changed my mind, as the green complexes and bunkers are radically improved, and the brand-new grass throughout the course has come in beautifully.
- Deltona Club - This Bobby Weed design a little north and east of Orlando is one of the best-value courses I've seen in recent years. There's not a weak hole on the course and though the conditioning could be a little better (though it certainly wasn't bad, especially for the $28 I paid), it is well worth playing, as it offers more compelling golf than a lot of closer-in Orlando courses that cost two to three times the green fee.
Courses I Most Want to See Again
- Mid Ocean Club – I could play it every day and never tire of it.
- Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort - Playing the Copperhead for real was a long time coming, as I used to "play" the course on the old Links computer games when I was young. Having seen it during a fairly dry stretch in November, prior to the course's traditional pre-Valspar overseeding treatment, I'd be curious to see how differently the course plays around the time the PGA Tour rolls into town.
- 69 (-3) at Fairwinds Golf Course for the second straight day to win the St. Lucie Country Amateur. After a fairly frustrating 2017 on the golf course performance-wise, it was great to get a W.
- 70 (-2) at the Country Club of Winter Haven in the first round of a Florida State Golf Association "Winter Series" tournament.
- 86 (+14) at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club - This was my rock-bottom 2017 round, an absolute nightmare from tee to green. I don't think I could have reliably driven it in the ocean from the beach.
- 82 (+10) at the Country Club of Winter Haven, right after the aforementioned 70. Whoops.
- I think I played (or inhaled, more like) the Dye Course at PGA Village in about 100 minutes one late afternoon this past summer. PGA Village is only half an hour from my house - perfect for a late-day Emergency 18 at any of its three excellent courses.
- The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a chilly one, but I had a blast playing with my dad at Wintonbury Hills, where I played dozens of times in my teens while growing up about 25 minutes away from the course in Avon, Connecticut. An extra interesting wrinkle in the round was that since I hadn't brought my clubs to Connecticut, I cobbled together a set of clubs I would have used about 15 years ago. It wasn't quite playing with hickories, but it was a hoot trying to account for the older equipment, especially my 350-cc TaylorMade r540 driver.
- After my horrendous round at Orchid, I was able to bounce back the following day at Quail Valley Golf Club about 15 minutes away from where I live in Vero Beach. The greens were the fastest I've ever putted on in competition, and were absolutely pure, and I took advantage by making a few long putts. The course itself is a gem: a totally manufactured site that includes a 30-foot high hill where the clubhouse sits and some massive lakes that the course works its way around. If you get the chance to play Quail Valley, don't pass it up.
Best Trip Accommodations
- I can't get enough of the Mid-century Modern furnishings at Sand Valley. The cabinetry, chairs and lighting fixtures would make "Mad Men" main character Don Draper smile.
- While in Bermuda, I stayed at the Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa, which was absolutely delightful. The resort comprises a colony of cottages with pink edifices and trademark white Bermudian stone roofs, which catch and trap rainwater. There are stunning water views in all directions, and the people couldn't be nicer. There's a red board in the main building bearing the names of families who have stayed at the resort multiples of five times. Some have logged more than 100 visits to Cambridge Beaches!
- The Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto resort in Baja California, Mexico, is bound to rise in popularity as the neighboring, brand-new Danzante Bay Golf Club starts to receive its due attention from the golfing public. The all-inclusive resort is splendidly situated on Danzante Bay, with stunning views not just of the water but of the mountains that dominate the coastal area.
Favorite Locker Rooms
- The locker room at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando is special not necessarily for its design or furnishings (which are certainly top-notch), but for the fact that so many pros, like Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, come through the space on a regular basis.
- The locker room just off the pro shop at Erin Hills is one of the most interesting I've seen anywhere, largely because the bright space strikes such a contrast against the dark woods and general richness of the interiors on the property. Erin Hills is one of those places where there's a harmony between the golf course and the accommodations that really elevates the experience.
- The chic, modern clubhouse at The Windsor Club not far from my home in Vero Beach is part of a stunning New Urbanist community that complements the golf course. I was really taken by the peaceful feel of the whole property.
- The PGA National clubhouse, which attaches to the main resort accommodations, is fun to explore, especially the display of bronzed likenesses of influential golf figures in the hallway linking the pro shop to the Bar91 restaurant.
Favorite Grill Rooms / 19th Holes
- For an abundantly chill vibe, it's hard to beat Wilshire Country Club. Enjoying a drink on the veranda after my round with my host and some of his fellow members while watching the sun set was a treat.
- The Blackwolf Run bar and restaurant was a perfect place for lunch before my round at the Meadow Valleys Course A bratwurst and a Spotted Cow beer has got to be worth a couple extra birdies, no?
- It's not a single moment, but spending a few days in Bermuda with fellow golf writers as well as celebrities like former NBA player and coach Byron Scott, former NFL players Billy Joe Tolliver and Jim McMahon as well as NHL great Grant Fuhr - all part of the Hacker Cup, a tournament that showcases the island's offerings in golf and beyond - was delightful.
- The barbecue after the Mike Strantz Memorial tournament at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club was an emotional and special experience. Strantz's widow Heidi, who organizes the event every year with her family, spoke with great gratitude over the attendees' support for the tournament's cause: the Hollings Cancer Center and the Mike Strantz Endowment for Cancer Research.
My apologies if this seems a bit like a humblebrag, but I can't begin to accurately enumerate my blessings. It's a pleasure and an honor to be able to tell people about golf courses and destinations, and I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store.