After the year I had last season, I was waiting for the inevitable let down this year. I did what I could to stave it off, starting the year off at Bandon. And after Bandon, as the one year anniversary came from when I set foot at Pine Valley for the first time, I took a moment to think back on every where I’ve been in that one year span. How much I had learned and experienced; it was almost surreal.
How to keep it going? I don’t mean simply playing ultra exclusive top rated courses, yes that is beyond terrific, but I mean – I wanted to keep learning and experiencing, becoming a more enlightened golfer. Every course I play, every hole I play, I learn more and more about the game, how it’s evolved, what has remained over time and why, what appeals to me and why. Then taking that and trying to put in words and trying to figure out how it affects what I thought before that round. To me, that is one of the most rewarding parts of playing golf.
So, I just kept playing. I realized I really hadn’t scratched the surface on the all world golf in my own area, so I played a lot of those courses. And really, that was the theme of this year. Staying fairly local and playing courses I have wanted to for years. Getting to know a little more about Golfadelphia.
It turned out that 2018 was the. Best hangover ever. 24 new courses played with 3 cracking my top 10, 16 local courses played and reviewed (or will be reviewed, more on that later). While the weather, work and everything else seemed to limit the total rounds I ended up playing this year, I always felt like I was playing soon enough and it was definitely quality over quantity (I really need to go back and see how many times I’ve used this phrase in these year in review posts). Seriously though, that quality ended up with more reviews in a season than ever before. To date, 20 reviews posted this year and for the first time ever, there are 4 – 6 courses still left to review. I’ve never had that kind of back up, but the courses I was able to play this season were all top notch, so there was a lot to write about. The education continues, never ending.
This last couple of years, golf course architecture seems to have risen in popularity. Now more than ever, there is really good content out there. Guys are doing things I wish I could pull off, taking videos of playing courses, getting aerial footage, narrating and music over the video, making golf course architecture….cool. Podcasts with designers, talking about their courses. There’s a lot of material out there to learn about design, both modern and classic, I mean beyond the iconic Golfadelphia, and I try to take advantage of all of it. With the rise in popularity has been a rise in opinions, and some trying to dictate what is “good” architecture and what is “bad.” If I have learned anything, it’s that everyone should play what they like. Sure there’s some styles that are trending right now, but like any form of art, golf course design evolves and what may be considered bad today is tomorrow’s masterpiece. It’s something that has happened time after time in golf course architecture. So I have learned to appreciate it all. If there’s something I don’t like, I try to explain why I don’t like it, but I’ll always appreciate diversity. Otherwise, all courses start to homogenize and have the same type of look, which dulls the limitless potential of this art. An art that reaches us all in different ways, making many of us fall in love with the game. Variety is the spice of life, or something like that. So learn all you can, experience all you can and appreciate it all!
In terms of playing, it was an up and down year. I started off with visions of grandeur, playing better than I ever have and wondering if I could finally get to a single digit handicap, but by late Spring I was trying to simply find my swing again. With every slump, though, comes more awareness of my swing and by later in the Summer, I came out of said slump a more knowledgeable golfer. Scoring wise, I feel I am on the cusp of breaking out. My ball striking is as solid as ever and so is my length. I had some of the lower nine hole scores ever, but couldn’t put two of them together in the same round. Considering how frequently and easily some of those lower scores came though, it’s coming. While it’s never been about scores for me, I’m committing this off season to lessons, as improving and seeing just how good you can get at this game is always part of the fun. It’s time to break the barrier of my scoring range and start to get lower!
There were other areas, however, where I was absolutely terrible. I looked at my 2018 preview post and it turns out I did maybe 1% of the things I said I was going to. And in terms of new states played, that would be one (for the second year in a row). I did finally get to another Philadelphia municipal course, so there’s that. But the season moves fast and this season in particular was tough with the weather, so logistics, selecting courses to play and everything else get in the way that by the end of the season, you realize that all the courses you played didn’t include a lot of the ones you planned on getting to. With the forgiveness and ambivalence of my wife and family even having limits, some courses will have to wait until next season. But I will get there….one of these days.
The season started at Bandon Dunes, the third day of January. Getting up while it was still dark, we walked to the pro shop at Bandon Dunes as the sun was rising, with Shoe telling us it was an “8” day.
The last round of that trip was with my brother, playing Bandon Preserve, visiting the drink shack frequently and having a blast with the course all to ourselves. Fast forward to the last round of the season, a brisk and windy day at LedgeRock, walking the course for some modicum of activity. Starting off decent, I finally hit my stride towards the back nine, stringing par after par together, missing birdie putts by inches and feeling like I should probably sign up for a Mid-Am qualifier. Getting to the Fourteenth, a par 3 with water along the left side, I hit what in my mind is a tour caliber draw into the green. It has no choice but to go in the hole. What a way to end the year!
Instead, the wind got a hold of it, pushes it left, and I watch it hit the left side of the green before tumbling down the side of the hill…into the water. Even when you hit it as well as you can, things happen. So I chuckled to myself, and soldiered on. That’s how I see golf for us all. Whether you’re Tiger, finally returning to glory after years of set backs, or you’re some out of shape schmoe getting excited at a bunch of pars, we all solider on to the next, having a blast along the way. So here’s to soldiering on to 2019 – and hole in ones for everyone!
For your consideration, some highlights of 2018.
Total rounds played: 55 – 60, 70 max.
States played in:
|Naturalism at its finest|
Best combination of challenge and fun.
Congaree. The review of this course isn’t up yet, but it quickly became one of my favorites ever. Located in South Carolina, it’s a fairly new course by Tom Fazio that reminds me of a lot of different places for different reasons. A combination of Pine Valley, Pinehurst and Royal Melbourne, playing very fast and firm, with sweeping sand dunes and trees that Fazio literally placed full grown to create strategic hazards. It’s easily my favorite Fazio played and like I said, in my upper echelon. I did not score well, but would score well on certain holes, seeing this as a great match play course. It is an extremely challenging course, yet the firm and fast conditions and slopes make it equally fun. In turn, it’s easy to have fun out here without realizing, or caring, what the score is. The surface of this place is just being scratched but at the end of the day, I see it as a top 10-20. Also, it just won Best New Course in 2018 by Golf Digest.
Applebrook Golf Club. Like last year, I don’t mean most improved for course conditions or even the course, but Applebrook definitely improved my perception of Gil Hanse. I enjoyed Rustic Canyon when I played it, but Applebrook has a very unique complexity to it and while it presented very much as a modern course, played like a classic. I have a newfound appreciation of Hanse after playing Applebrook. Strategy abounds and very walkable, it’s one of those courses I could play for a week straight and stay intrigued the entire time.
Honorable mention goes to Huntsville Golf Club. For the same reason as Applebrook, Huntsville showed how adroit Rees Jones can be with his courses. The review is not yet up but I played a lot of great courses during the Fall and have yet to catch up on my reviews. Huntsville was ahead of its time. Opening in 1994 during the housing development/golf course boom with the harder is better mantra infiltrating popular golf course design, Huntsville is set on hilly terrain making its way in and out of the woods. Not a house in site, walkable and a very flexible course with various options and the ground game very much in play, with a lot of greens open to the fairway and slopes to use, the course has always been ranked as one of the top courses in Pennsylvania on Golf Digest’s rankings. Huntsville remains a unique course today and reminded me of LedgeRock, which Rees designed twelve years later.
Somerset Hills Country Club. Just a fascinating course. The character and charm of the course and club remains unchanged in a lot of ways from its original design, which was one of Tillinghast’s earlier works. The terrain was used masterfully and there’s so many different looks to the course as you make your way around. The green complexes were all world, again with so many different types and movements. The personalities of each set of nine holes contrast yet compliment each other. From being the first one at the range in the morning to putting out on the Eighteenth later in the afternoon, it was the highlight of the season.
Honorable mention goes to Congaree. I was really blown away by this course. It’s firm and fast done right, but there’s a lot of challenge and difficulty compelling the aerial game. There are so many fun shots here, as well as so many you need to think carefully about. The sweeping nature of the course and fun of the greens were also memorable. Congaree will only get better and that’s one of the more exciting things to me as far as golf course design goes right now.
Courses played this year for the first time I would be more than happy if I had to play only that course forever.
2018 golf milestones
Best shot of the year
The 10 foot putt for birdie at the Sixteenth of Bandon Dunes. An iconic hole, spectacular view and not playing all that well, I rose to the occasion for one of my more memorable birdies.
My 320 yard drive on the Sixth at Old Mac. Yes the (strong) wind was to my back and yes I got a ton of roll, but I don’t care. It felt great at impact and I was left with a second shot into the green on this par 5.
LedgeRock, Sixth hole, second shot. My tee shot went right and I was on a severe side slope, in rough, blind to the green, in the playoffs of my men’s league. 180 yards out, I lined it up and hit it to within five feet.
My two eagle putts, one at Forsgate Banks and one at Manufacturers’ after great approach shots. Both missed!
Worst shot of the year
Always the most fun and disastrous part of the season to recall. This could probably take up an entire post, but the worst of the worst include:
Crushing my tee shot at the Fourth at Bandon Dunes, leaving me with a short approach into the green as the ocean starts coming into view. A cold shank sent the ball off the hillside near the ocean. I guess the majesty of the ocean was too much for my senses.
Fifteen foot birdie putt at the Sixteenth at Whitemarsh. I was above the hole and even though the member told me to tap it, I put too much on it, watching it roll past the hole, off the green and 15 feet below the green. Walked away with a triple.
Topped tee shot at the Ninth of Applebrook, with my match tied at that point, walked away with triple.
Pretty much every shot at Maidstone.
Courses I played that I didn’t review:
Only one this year, Trump National at Colt’s Neck.
It’s early January and thus far, the weather is holding up for some golf. Still though, the season of the warm sun and lively fairways is a few months off. The 2019 Preview will be coming soon as I try to figure out how to play every golf course in the universe. Have a fun offseason, get out and play when you can, go some where warm if you can and above all else, enjoy yourself out there!