When I'm 90 and looking back at my golf career, I want that satisfaction of knowing I checked off everything on my bucket list.
No, that doesn't mean playing the world's Top 100 courses or begging my way onto Augusta National -- two foolish pursuits, if you ask me. I'm referring to the dreams every golf fan should make reality: traveling overseas, walking a round with a caddie, making an ace and so on. These tasks are doable for any die hard fan of the game.
My list of the "top 25 things every golfer should experience" isn't about how rich you are or how well you play, although there's a little bit of each involved. It's more about enjoying this wonderful game to the fullest. I haven't accomplished a few of these tasks yet, so even a guy who has played 800 courses in 15 countries has some work to do.
1. Discover links golf overseas
Your view about golf will change forever once you get a taste of links golf in Scotland or Ireland. Everybody plays -- husbands, wives, old folk and young children -- and everybody walks.
They play fast, even if they don't play well. You'll battle wind and wild terrain along the shore. The ball will bounce like a ping pong on the firm, sandy turf. It's the way golf began, and the way it should be played today. Best of all, most golfers stop at the 19th hole for a pint.
2. Maintain a legit handicap
I know plenty of golf-industry professionals who don't keep a valid handicap. It's a travesty.
Having a legitimate handicap makes playing matches fun and fair. It's easy to get. Just pay the annual dues to your local golf association (usually less than $75). Apps and web sites make it easier than ever to post scores. Ideally, you reach single digits at some point.
3. Break 80
I didn't write "breaking par" for a reason. I've never done it. Does that mean I suck? Hardly.
Breaking 80 is a legitimate goal for everybody. I've played with plenty of PGA club pros who didn't break 80 during our round together.
4. Take a series of lessons
I've gotten lessons from various teachers over the years, but I've never committed to a long-term relationship with one I could trust. I regret it.
My game -- and passion for playing golf -- has at times stagnated because of it. Lessons might seem expensive until you start shooting lower scores. Then they're priceless.
5. Play Pebble Beach Golf Links
I've only included one must-play course on this list. I don't think you need to go out and spend thousands of dollars playing all the "name" courses. As much as I love Whistling Straits, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and other American favorites, Pebble Beach Golf Links is the gold standard of bucket-list golf. There's so much history and prestige associated with the course and the resort. Every golfer should live it once.
6. Savor a buddies trip to Myrtle Beach
Just like Pebble Beach is the ultimate course, this South Carolina golf mecca delivers the quintessential buddies golf trip, where you play too much golf, eat and drink too much and sleep too little. The affordability and convenience of booking a package makes planning a breeze.
7. Play more than 36 holes in a day
Whether it's for fun or a good cause, a marathon golf day of more than 36 holes will teach you some real life lessons. The first being there is such a thing as too much golf.
8. Compete in a tournament
Most golfers will never play in any sort of meaningful tournament. Why not try? Putting everything out and playing by the rules means pressure.
You might actually savor the shot of adrenaline. Even if you're not a great player, there are places to compete. The Golf Channel Am Tour accepts everybody, low and high handicappers. Or you can also seek out events run by local golf associations or courses themselves.
9. Buy a set of custom-built clubs
My game took a turn for the better about a decade ago when I bought a driver custom-fit by Hot Stix Golf, a club-fitting company based in Arizona. Now a days, I put every new driver on a Trackman launch monitor to make sure I'm putting up decent numbers (spin rates, launch angle, carry distance, etc.) before I put it in play.
I'm currently using my first set of custom-fit irons, but their successes have been more hit and miss than my driver.
10. Join a golf club and play in the club championship
Notice, I wrote join a "golf club," not specifically a private club. You don't have to sign up for the fanciest country club in town to get the full member experience, and you don't have to stay at the same place a lifetime, either.
Even public courses have season passes with the perks that make buying a membership attractive: a club championship, a permanent locker in the locker room, discounts in the pro shop and restaurant and an interesting cast of regulars to interact with.
11. Volunteer at a tournament
Volunteering at a tournament -- like a U.S. Amateur or U.S. Open -- might sound glamorous, but chances are it will actually feel like work. Look at it this way: There is no better way to give back to the game.
12. Attend a major
This item was originally titled "Attend the Masters" until I realized that not everybody thinks the Masters is the best major. Personally, I'd probably choose an Open Championship over Augusta National.
13. Support the Stars & Stripes in a Team Match (Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup/Solheim Cup)
I've been to both a Ryder Cup (in 2004 in Michigan) and Solheim Cup (in 2011 in Ireland). The electric atmosphere energized by patriotism and the team component can't be replicated at any other tournament.
Unless you have access to a corporate suite at the Ryder Cup, I'd steer toward the Solheim Cup, where the crowds are smaller. You'll see more golf live.
14. Sink a hole in one
Okay, there's obviously a bit of luck and skill involved. I've met PGA Professionals who don't have one yet. Watching the ball disappear is a joy I wish everybody could experience. I've got two, so I apologize to the golfer whose ace I stole.
15. Walk with a caddie
Modern course design has destroyed the chance to walk at many places. You generally have to seek out a traditional private club to get the opportunity to walk with a caddie, unless you hit premier resort courses like Whistling Straits, Pinehurst No. 2, Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Ocean course at Kiawah Island and Bandon Dunes. It's worth the expense.
16. Make an eagle
There are lots of ways to make eagles: Reaching a par 5 in two, driving a short par 4 or dunking one from the fairway.
Since I'm not a long hitter -- or all that accurate with my approaches, either -- it took me a decade before I made my first eagle. I've still only made a handful of them. It's certainly not as easy as the pros make it look.
17. Introduce someone to the game
Golf is an intimidating game for new players. Do your non-golfing friends and children a favor by introducing them to the game. Be patient. Teach them etiquette and make them feel comfortable on the course.
If none of the players you are mentoring get hooked, recruit someone else. You'll eventually find another a potential future playing partner who loves the game as much as you.
18. Dedicate a full summer/season to the game
This has always been my dream, a summer with no children or work sucking away at my time and energy. I'd love to see how sweet my best scorecards would look if I played every day, and maybe put some more effort into practice and preparation.
19. Caddie in a tournament
Volunteering as a caddie for your buddy in his club championship or at local tournament will give you a whole new perspective on golf and how you should treat a looper. You'll get some great exercise and probably learn a thing or two about rules, course manners and club selection.
20. Play in a pro-am
You don't have to spend big money to join a pro-am on the PGA Tour. One of my most favorite pro-ams was before the Hawaii State Open, hardly a high-profile event. There are plenty of opportunities to buy into the pro-am of your state men's or women's Opens or a smaller event on the Symetra Tour or Web.com Tour. You might even draw a future star.
21. Play a round with three generations of family
I've played numerous World Top 100 selections, but one of my favorite rounds ever came at a scruffy nine-holer in Washington state when I teed it up with my dad and my young son. Children grow up and move away. Grandparents pass away. Cherish these moments because they won't last forever.
22. Visit a golf museum
No sport celebrates its past more than golf. Tip your cap to the legends of the game by visiting the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., or the United States Golf Association Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History in Far Hills, N.J., or the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews, Scotland. Even the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, N.C., or the Heritage of Golf Museum at Gullane Golf Club in Scotland could apply.
23. Sign up for a charity scramble
This is another nod to the give-back-to-the-game motif. Charity scrambles are often five-hour rounds with non-golfers just happy to get out of the office.
At least your money is going to a good cause. The savvy charity scrambler signs up to play at a private club he/she wouldn't normally be able to play. A tax-deductible round at Winged Foot? Yes, please.
24. Go old school with hickory clubs
My only round with hickory clubs was quite epic -- nine holes on the oldest golf course still in existence, the Old Course at Musselburgh Links in Scotland. Chances to play hickories are hard to come by, so if you get one, don't pass it up.
25. Play a PGA Tour venue before or after a tournament
I still recall the torture of playing the South Course at Oakland Hills Country Club before the 2002 U.S. Amateur, the 2004 Ryder Cup and the 2008 PGA Championship. Balls just a foot off the fairway would disappear into ankle-deep rough. Playing a "championship course" in "tournament condition" will give you a better appreciation of the old mantra, "These guys are good."
Others to consider
Attempt a round with just three clubs ... Play a "tournament" venue from the tips ... Play in different ecosystems (mountain, jungle, forest, desert, coastal, tropics) ... Mess around with a golf board/golf bike/Segway ... Play a course backward or cross country (where you play from one hole to a different hole) ... Play a "tough man" contest where the course is set up with impossible pin locations and heavy rough ... Be the first tee time of the day ... Take the last tee time of the day/finish a round in the dark ... Play 18 holes in the rain ... Find a regular foursome that keeps the same tee time on the same course every week ... Attempt that ultimate do-or-die swing on the original island green 17th on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass ... Win a golf trophy ... Play a course from the red tees ...