In 2018, I played around 100 rounds or so (that's actually a little down from my average over the past decade). Most of the rounds are a bit of a blur, of course, but a handful really stand out.
What makes them memorable is a combination of factors, but I always start with the folks in my group. It's the people first and foremost, but the golf course, the setting, weather, and of course, how you play that all factor into how much you enjoy a round.
In fact, I've never really enjoyed playing alone. I'd rather just practice if that were the case. You don't have to wait behind groups when you practice.
I like to play with folks who know their way around the golf course and don't take the game too seriously. Club throwing (which, I'm embarrassed to say, I did once or twice a long time ago) is a total buzz-kill.
Most of all, I love all the back and forth banter on the golf course, the trash talking when we're playing Round Robins or skins, the observations about architecture and the discussions about sports, especially baseball. But not politics, thank you.
As I look back on 2018, I realize how important these encounters are. They are what I'll remember in my social security years. What follows are my six most memorable rounds of 2018 and exactly what made them so unforgettable.
The Summit Golf Club, Summerlin, Nevada – March
While I certainly anticipated playing this latest course by Tom Fazio in a spectacular mountain setting in the Las Vegas area, the experience was more about who I played with than where I played – though The Summit Golf Club was pretty special, of course. As a longtime Houstonian, I've known The Summit's director of golf, Paul Marchand, for years, but this was the first time I got to spend four hours with him on the golf course. He couldn't have been a better host. Marchand, who was Fred Couples' teammate at the University of Houston and his longtime coach on tour, gave me a couple of tips while I was on the course. Even more importantly, though, we talked about everything that day – from our common friends back in Houston to the state of the game. I also got to sample some of the best soup I've ever had at one of the Summit's chef-staffed comfort stations. In the world of PGA professionals, Paul is a big deal, but that day he made me feel like a big deal. (He even picked me up from Caesars Palace to drive me to the course). Oh, and by the way, Paul is still a great player.
Ardglass Golf Club, Northern Ireland - May
I got to play many great golf courses on my trip to Northern Ireland and northwest Ireland, but my most enjoyable round came at Ardglass Golf Club. We had just played a bucket-list course, the Championship Links at Royal County Down, the day before in miserable conditions. The day we played Ardglass, the sun came out, it wasn't too windy and temps were in the mid-50s - a vast improvement from the day before. I loved everything about the course, from the ocean views on the first few holes to the fifteenth-century castle clubhouse behind the 18th green. I also enjoyed my group, which included Tom Coyne, author of A Course Called Ireland, A Course Called Scotland, and Paper Tiger, among others. This was the first time I ever met Tom, a terrific golfer and even better storyteller, much less played golf with him. As it turned out, I got to play with him three times (four rounds). At Ardglass, we had a match where I was actually four up with six to play and wound up having to win the 18th hole just to get the push. A couple of days later, Coyne routed me in 36 holes at Portstewart, but I enjoyed every minute of it just like I did at Ardglass.
Mistwood Golf Club, Romeoville, Ill. – June
I loved everything about this golf experience – the round, the course, the amenities, the food and beverage and mostly, the people. In fact, I wrote that the Chicago area's Mistwood Golf Club is a great model for daily fee facilities everywhere, basically because it pretty much checks all the boxes. On this day, I played this wonderfully enjoyable Ray Hearn design with a fun group that included the facility's director of golf, Andy Mickelson, who is quite a player and quite a person. Andy actually won the 2015 Assistant PGA Professional Championship, which is a pretty difficult tourney to win because a lot of great young players compete in it. At Mistwood, Andy heads up a staff that makes sure customer service is priority one. All of that starts with Mistwood's owner, Jim McWethy, for whom McWethy's Tavern at Mistwood is named. You can follow your round with incredible food and a selection or two from the Tavern's impressive collection of whiskeys and draft beers. All in all, the golf experience at Mistwood is hard to beat.
Sea Pines Country Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C. – October
This may have been my favorite round of the year, and it came totally unexpectedly. It was an add-on to a wonderful trip to Hilton Head Island. On getaway day, I snuck out to Sea Pines Country Club on Hilton Head to play with the private club's general manager, Robbie Ames. What I didn't realize beforehand is that Robbie, who has an incredibly great sense of humor, is the brother of former PGA Tour player Stephen Ames. First off, we had this wonderful golf course to ourselves, but Robbie's stories were golden. Telling them in his unique Trinidadian accent made it even better. A terrific player himself, Robbie was on the bag for Stephen's infamous 9-and-8 loss to Tiger Woods in the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. While everyone remembers how embarrassing that was for the Ames pair (only 10 and 8 could have been worse), Ames reminded me that Stephen bounced back quickly. A couple of weeks later, the pair was together again as Ames redeemed himself nicely with a victory at the 2006 PLAYERS Championship at the TPC Sawgrass. As for our round together, this was the week I started playing without a glove, mostly inspired by the fact that Robbie doesn't play with one. His explanation for why he doesn't wear one (I can't share that here) has me committed to playing gloveless for the rest of my life.
Bobby Jones Municipal Golf Course, Atlanta - October
This round was special in so many ways. While I played with a nice group of fellow journalists, this was about the history of the course, the genius of the late Bob Cupp and a trend I'm seeing in municipal golf that is giving public golfers better places to play. I even got to meet the grandson of the great Bobby Jones, Robert Tyre Jones IV, who hit the ceremonial first tee shot. What's unique about the new Bobby Jones Golf Course is that Cupp took a cramped 18-hole layout and turned it into a reversible 9-hole beauty that's fun to play, imaginative and different from almost anything else I've ever seen. The course actually has eight sets of tees, so not only does it suit any level of player, but it also presents endless possibilities for changing things up. In fact, when we played the course in reverse, these magnificent greens looked totally different coming in from the other sides. My cart partner and I played a match in which the winner of each hole got to choose the teeing ground for the next hole. I could play this course every week.
TPC Scottsdale (Ariz.), Champions Course - December
The most spectacular weather and course conditions combined to produce a near-perfect round for me. The fact that this was my low round of the year (75) might have something to do with this selection, but this was definitely about the group I played with on this day as well. We were all colleagues, but also friends. First off, I had forgotten how enjoyable The Champions at the TPC Scottsdale is. Overshadowed by the Stadium Course across the street, the Champions Course, redesigned by Randy Heckenkemper in 2007, is simply a straightforward, enjoyable golf experience with exceptional conditions and service in the clubhouse. Our group, which included part-time Symetra Tour player Chelsea Pezzola, also enjoyed watching the low-flying aircraft landing at the Scottsdale Airport next door. The hot dogs and beer were pretty good, too, and we played a skins game (did I mention I like competing?). I was held off the board for much of the front nine despite eight pars, but I got a few skins on the back nine.