My 2015 golf season will be remembered as a year of firsts.
My first full year living on the West Coast. My first AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. My first journey to South Africa. My first trip to the Bahamas. My first set of old man clubs with graphite shafts.
Since I played so many cool courses (19 five stars on Golf Advisor) and visited so many exotic resorts, castles, estates and hotels, the competition for my travel awards has never been tougher.
Best U.S. golf course: Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
This was a rare easy selection. Playing the Ocean Course ticks off all the boxes of a great day -- walking with a caddie, ocean views, major championship history and a clubhouse featuring fantastic views and food. Honorable mentions: Cassique at The Kiawah Island Club, Lake Course at The Olympic Club.
Best international course: The Links at Fancourt, George, South Africa
I've never been wetter on a golf course -- I didn't bring rain gear to South Africa -- but that didn't blind me from being mesmerized by this walkers-only inland links, the host of the 2003 Presidents Cup. Honorable mentions: Kingsbarns Golf Links, St. Andrews, Scotland; Championship Course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Scotland.
Most scenic course: Quivira Golf Club, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
If I were writing a story on the 10 most beautiful settings in the world of golf, all five courses would be in the mix. Quivira wins for its cliff-top holes and others through enormous sand dunes, all on the water. Honorable mentions: Sandals Emerald Reef at Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma, Bahamas; Kingsbarns Golf Links, St. Andrews, Scotland; Championship Course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Dornoch, Scotland; The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, Grand Junction, Colo.
Best links: Championship Course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Scotland
If I were picking most fun, I'd go with Castle Stuart. Royal Dornoch isn't my favorite to play, but I am wise enough to acknowledge it is the "best" of the bunch. Scenery, challenge, design -- all the pieces are there. Honorable mentions: Portmarnock Golf Club, County Dublin, Ireland; Enniscone Golf Club, County Sligo, Ireland; Castle Stuart, Inverness, Scotland; Kingsbarns Golf Links, St. Andrews, Scotland.
Best Major Championship venue: Lake Course at The Olympic Club, San Francisco
My first Olympic Club visit featured a drizzly, frozen February round many years ago. This return was triumphant thanks to better weather. The club's decision to trim and remove trees in recent years have opened up holes and improved views of the city.
Best PGA Tour venue: Seaside at Sea Island Resort, Ga.
Seaside deserves a better spot on the PGA Tour calendar than its current fall date. The holes through the marshes are visually and strategically spectacular.
Best new course: Quail Lodge & Golf Club, Calif.
Kudos to Todd Echenrode of Origin Designs for his renovation of a 50-year-old Robert Muir Graves-designed layout that needed to be refreshed. It's short on yardage (6,500 yards) and long on fun.
Oldest course played: Fraserburgh Golf Club, Fraserburgh, Scotland
The seventh oldest club in the world (founded in 1777) was one of my favorite discoveries on a 12-day golf marathon through the Scottish Highlands in June. The Corbie Hill course, dating to 1891, was altered by the great James Braid in 1922.
Most surprising course: Brora Golf Club, Scotland
Brora felt so pure and unpretentious. Tees and greens were simply found, not manufactured. Walking by cows and sheep grazing the fairways made the round extra special. Honorable mentions: Tain Golf Club, Tain, Scotland; Carne Golf Links, Belmullet, Ireland.
Best value course: Any South African course
Good golf in South Africa is so affordable because of the strength of the dollar vs. the Rand. Courses that would cost $100 in the States cost less than $50 in South Africa.
Best casino golf course: Yocha Dehe Golf Club at the Cache Creek Casino Resort, Brooks, Calif.
The valley setting of Yocha Dehe looks lost from civilization. Troon Golf's commitment to impeccable conditioning and service makes it worth the long drive from the Bay Area.
Best municipal course: Vail Golf Club, Vail, Colo.
Vail would be even better if several holes weren't running parallel to the highway. A new clubhouse will open this year. Honorable mention: The Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, Sacramento, Calif.; Sharp Park Golf Course, Pacifico, Calif.
Best private club experience: The Meadow Club, Fairfax, Calif.
Walking this restored Dr. Alister MacKenzie-designed course will probably be the closest feeling I get to playing Augusta National. It was the most at peace I've felt on a golf course in years. Honorable mentions: Cassique Course at The Kiawah Island Club, Kiawah Island, S.C.; Lake Course at The Olympic Club.
Best East Coast golf resort (tie): Kiawah Island Golf Resort, S.C., and Sea Island Resort, Ga.
Kiawah Island has more golf and the premier course. Sea Island counters with better accommodations (because there's two five-star lodges, The Cloister and The Lodge, not just one, like the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island).
Best West Coast golf resort: Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Half Moon Bay's Ocean Course and Old Course are four-star good, but the Ritz is five-star perfect. I can't wait to go back. I don't say that about many places I visit. Honorable mentions: St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif.; Quail Lodge & Golf, Carmel, Calif.
Best island golf resort: Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma, Bahamas
Designed by Greg Norman, the Sandals Emerald Reef Course rivals Punta Espada and the Teeth of the Dog Course in the Dominican Republic for the most gorgeous course in the Caribbean. Honorable mention: Abaco Club, Abaco, Bahamas.
Best international resort: Fancourt, George, South Africa
With three courses of various styles and difficulty in the lush "Garden Route" of South Africa, Fancourt caters to all golfers. The spa, accommodations and fine dining are more first world than African bush. Honorable mention: Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, Ireland.
Best lodge: Mount Falcon Estate, County Mayo, Ireland
A stay at Mount Falcon, followed by golf at Enniscrone a half-hour away, might be my favorite stay-and-play in Ireland.
Best resort meal: St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif.
The Monarch Bay Club, a shuttle ride away from the main five-star hotel, features stunning sunsets and fantastic food, all right on the Pacific Ocean. Honorable mention: Georgian Room at Sea Island Resort.
Best meal outside a resort: Kincardine Castle, Scotland
This Victorian country house surrounded by acres of forest holds exclusive corporate events and dinners for six or more people. Owners Andrew and Nicola Bradford are a delightful couple who love to entertain.
Best resort activity: Game Drive at Jock Safari Lodge, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Seeing lions and hyenas fighting over a kill on the private land of the Jock Safari Lodge was way more exciting than even playing the exclusive Leopard Creek G.C., rated by some as the best course in the country.
Best adventure activity: Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour, Boulder City, Nev.
Papillon Helicopters flies all sorts of tours into the Grand Canyon. My one-and-a-half-hour adventure afforded a bird's eye view of the Colorado River, Hoover Dam and amazing red-rock cliffs and plateaus.
Best natural wonder: Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
I wisely rode the cable car up the awe-inspiring Table Mountain. Hiking would have left me breathless in another way. Honorable mention: Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.
Best tournament attended: AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Pebble Beach, Calif.
When the sun shines, like it did in 2015, there is no better non-major tournament in golf.
Best spa: Sasanqua Spa, Kiawah Island, S.C.
The Sasanqua Spa, overlooking the idyllic marshes of the Kiawah River, is only open to the Kiawah Island Club members and their guests. Membership has its privileges. Honorable mention: Taj Cape Town, South Africa.