I’m getting changed in a locker room as a guest and happen to look at the locker above mine. Bryant Gumbel. Hey that’s cool. Didn’t realize he played golf. Didn’t think too much about it until a few weeks later, I’m at a course for a couple days and my host tells me to come with him to another room at the clubhouse to meet . . . Bryant Gumbel. What are the odds? Stricken by the serendipity, we talk with him for a while and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. I then see him on the range the next day and we exchange hellos, just like two good old friends.
Later in the year, I show up for a round at a course I was visiting, open my trunk for the bag drop, and no clubs. I forgot them at home, like a rookie. The bag guy asks what I usually play and when I tell him, offers his own set of clubs that he has in his car. Said the look of disappointment on my face was too much, at least with his clubs I’d have a chance out there instead of using the crappy rental sets they had.
An early Sunday morning at Prairie Dunes, I golf the back nine by myself. The course is empty. As I’m walking down the Sixteenth, I feel the history of the place come alive. Those before me walked here, heard these same birds, felt this same heat, the same dew coming off the grass. Zen.
I’m golfing as a guest with a few members at golf course 123. The group in front of us is in some kind of big money game and are playing ssslllloooowww. One of the members in my group finally loses it and launches a shot at them while they’re in their carts, then yells at them to speed the fuck up. Sensing I’m about get caught in some first world gang war, I hang back a bit until everything is smoothed over. I convince myself it’s absolutely wrong to kind of hope I got to see them throw down.
I could go on. These stories typify 2019 for me. Strange coincidences, star struck moments and some how getting in golf amidst a barrage of travel and work, all while acting as comfortable as possible in the moment. I travelled to Minneapolis twice even though I had never been there before. Los Angeles three times. Chicago twice. Oklahoma for the first time. Kansas. Phoenix. My game was all over the place. Both literally and figuratively. But through it all, I met a ton of great people at all these places and discussed what I love discussing most; golf. There were other discussions as well. Many interesting ones with caddies. I discussed the career path of a 14 year old caddie at Skokie, how to bluff in Texas Hold ‘Em with my 13 year old caddie at Butterfield, how to smooth things over after getting caught in bed with his girlfriend by her parents at golf course X. A nice old couple at Rolling Hills asked if I used to play professionally and I laughed out loud, telling them that was the biggest compliment I think I ever got as far as golf goes. Walking Pine Valley with my son, who is 5 years old, who remarked the golf course was so “beautiful.” Having him watch the competitions, a caddie giving him a score card. I got my first Eagle, with my friend telling anyone who was listening it was “wind aided.” (Still driver – 5 wood).
The journey continues and it was all glorious.
Initially, the launch of the web site happened this year. It wasn’t something that was planned all that much in advance, other than the reviews continued to grow and I’ve always wanted to organize them and make it easier to navigate. There’s a lot of other logistical reasons for it, but mainly I like you can now go to golfadelphia.com instead of the longer address on blogspot. It also allows me to do a few other things, like the articles and stories and what not. So looks like a win win all around.
Through it all, there were a lot of new courses this season and because of it, have the biggest backlog I’ve ever had. The new articles have also caused this, just adding more time needed to get to them. As of this writing, I have 15 more to write. I think it may no longer be possible to get all the reviews done by the end of the year, but no matter. They will get done. Remember, I’m just one guy. There’s no team behind me, no contributors, no drones, no sponsors. Just a guy who loves doing this. And hopes people actually read it.
This was the year of distance for me. Distance travelled on the ground and in the air, as well as distance in my swing. Something clicked. Yet getting used to the new yardages has been quite the adjustment and the scoring has been erratic. Still though, the improvement with the ball striking is evident. It will come. Right?
The season started at Ballamor down at the Shore, where I shot a personal best of 83. It continued to Palm Springs, then Oklahoma. As we came out of winter, a blustering and windy round at Lincoln Park, that I happened to love. And so on. My last round of the year was at my home course, by myself. Most rounds this year were solo, due to an unpredictable schedule. As I hit my approach at the Eighteenth and watched it draw slightly to the pin (then land past the green a few yards), I just stopped. I looked around. The course was silent, magnificent in its peacefulness. I could see a lot of it from where I stood. I continued to stand there, I don’t know why. There was a lot of . . . go . . . this year so I guess it felt good to stop altogether. Make it all slow down and take in the serenity. For a while. I then walked to the green and eventually got the ball in the hole. Ending things at the home course after a year of, well, being nomadic. Year of the nomad. And beyond that, the decade of golf is now behind me. And it was the most transformative decade I think I’ll ever have. But more on that later. As for 2019, it was a grand tour. People and places, the road will never end.
Some of the notables of 2019.
Total rounds played: I’d ball park it around 85- 95. I don’t keep track of it for sanity purposes.
States played in:
- New Jersey
It’s only fair, here’s the list of courses on deck for review, all played in 2019:
- Chester Valley
- Black Sheep
- Hamilton Farm
- TPC Jasna Polana
- Huntingdon Valley
- The Ridge at Back Brook
- St. David’s
- Graete Bay
- Commonwealth National
- Green Valley
- Galloway National
- Medford Village
San Gabriel Golf Club. I didn’t know much about the course before the round, but was very impressed how it played and was routed, especially on a tighter piece of property. A spectacular classic.
Galloway National. I was expecting a very well conditioned, challenging layout that I’d enjoy enough. It was that, but was taken aback with the excellent sequencing and diversity of holes all while keeping a constant theme. Great terrain and scenery used intricately well. Now my second favorite Fazio course behind Congaree.
Black Sheep Golf Club. Different from being surprised, these courses were what I was expecting but better. Black Sheep is a prairie or farmland links course, but its natural ruggedness and strategy was meteorically enjoyable. I would want to be a member here for the type of golfer I could become. So much more versatile than I was expecting as well.
St. Davids Golf Club. A Donald Ross course in the Philadelphia area, I have seen a few. More elevation than I was expecting, brawnier and savvier. Great use of the hills; a subtle presentation when it would have been easier to favor severity.
Jeffersonville Golf Club. J-Ville has probably won this each year more than any course winning anything, but the recent changes have continued to advance the place to one of the best public courses in the state. Tree clearing has opened lines of play, which have brought some sophistication. More options, yet now more subject to the whims of the wind and more temptation. I know it so well that I beam with pride talking about it, knowing its evolution.
Lincoln Park Skyway. Has to be a shoe in since the land used to be a Superfund site. The reclamation work and design of the late Roy Case is revitilization done right. Fast, firm, windy, it’s an excellent nine holes that checks all the boxes. It’s a cliche but there needs to be more of these. That’s the answer to golf flourishing and resonating in a modern setting.
Favorite Course Played
Plainfield Country Club. Donald Ross at his finest. A grand tour with a refreshing amount of quirk, an instant favorite.
Rolling Hills Country Club. Really, I could have put this in any of the categories above. It floored me with its concept and shows how firm and fast reaches a much wider class of golfers, giving all of them a panacea of options, fun and challenge. More courses should be like this.
Skokic CC. Sensual green after sensual green. I don’t think I’ve licked my chops so much during a round with all the great shots this course has. Smart fun at its best.
Favorite Public Course
Nemacolin Mystic Rock. The course is indeed one of the better public courses in Pennsylvania, with Dye taking broad strokes on a sweeping landscape. One of the better starting holes I’ve seen in a while.
Lincoln Park. No surprise here. Came away very impressed for a myriad of reasons.
Courses That I Would Be OK Playing Only That One Forever (of the places I played for the first time this year)
- Rolling Hills
- Somerset CC
- Fox Chapel
- Skokie CC
- Black Sheep
- Huntingdon Valley
Firm and Fast (at least when I played it)
- Huntingdon Valley
- Rolling Hills
- Lincoln Park
- Desert Willow
- Black Sheep
Courses I Would Gladly Be a Member
- Rolling Hills
- San Gabriel
- Fox Chapel
- Black Sheep
- Huntingdon Valley
- St. Davids
Best course I can think of using holes I played this season, using the corresponding hole numbers and trying to keep a typical set of different par holes
- Somerset CC 1
- Lincoln Park 2
- Jimmie Austin 3
- Trenton 4
- Fox Chapel 5
- Skokie 6
- Sunnybrook 7
- Medford Village 8
- H valley 9
- San Gabriel 10
- St. David 11
- Green Valley 12
- Butterfield 13
- Ridgewood 14
- Black Sheep 15
- Plainfield 16
- Galloway 17
- Rolling Hills 18
Best shot of the year
Here’s the thing. I don’t know. I remember some chip ins and really good approach shots, landing inches from the hole, and drives that went further than I thought I could hit it rolling and bounding in the fairway, but it all blends together. It feels good, real good, but I give myself a little attaboy and move on. Good or bad, I keep moving, thinking about the next shot, thinking about the course, how I feel about it, what its personality is, what kind of golfer I’d be if I played here – just here – forever. This is my way of saying that the below are the ones I can remember, but I’m certain I’m missing something. You know, probably the really good shots.
Or maybe I didn’t hit any very good ones this year.
Like I said, it was the year of distance for me. Heritage Palms early in the year, I was slashing with reckless abandon. A 260 yard 3 wood off the deck sticks out. It landed in a bunker too, so I’m guessing it’d be more with some roll out. Attainable for many I know, but for me I was pretty happy. Even with the greenside bunker issue.
The 5 wood at Lincoln Park to 7 feet for eagle (wind-aided apparently) is another. I made the putt and thought it was for birdie until my friend told me it was an eagle.
Heck, last round of the year, Seventeenth tee. My beloved 3 wood again. Carved it to the best spot of the fairway, just before it falls off on all sides, for the shortest approach possible to a very elevated green on the other side of a ravine.
I love the fucking draw. I wish I could swing it 30 yards out to the right and watch it track back, landing on the fairway or green with determination before dying exactly where it needs to. One tee shot sticks out in particular, the Eighteenth at Huntingdon Valley. My drive went high and fast above the chasm on that side, tracking back then hitting the fairway, sprinting and somersaulting almost to the end of the fairway. A caddie in our group told me it was over 300 yards. If it was, it’s one of the very few times (with a LOT of roll).
Medford Village. The Twelfth. I had to take a drop after my tee shot went OB. With a long approach that included a forced carry over water to an elevated blind green, I hit it to 5 feet to the dismay of my opponent and got the par. That happens once every 7000 times.
Ok, one of the few iron approach shots I can remember. Bala Golf Club, the Sixth. Approach was with a 9 iron, to 3 feet. Some times the game seems so easy.
And a chip in. Sunnybrook, the Eighteenth. After hitting out of a greenside bunker, I was on the fringe on the back side with a pin towards the front. There was never any doubt. I even have to grind for the pars.
Worst shot of the year
I really should change this to most soul crushing shot of the year, since there are so many terrible ones to choose from. This would help distinguish them out a little.
Desert Forest, the First. After a legendary tee shot that delighted the three members I was playing with, I hooked my approach into the desert, which led to a 9.
Every shot I hit in my Men’s League. Sorry guys!
Remember me bragging about that tee shot from my last round of the year at LedgeRock? So, the approach was topped, into the ravine.
Chunked tee shot at the Third at Plainfield.
A 107 at Ridge at Back Brook for my worst round in 8 years. So many terrible shots. More on that later.
All bunker shots at Huntingdon Valley.
Tee shot at the Fifteenth at Commonwealth National. I couldn’t even get it to where I could drop laterally until the third shot.
So in other words, there’s lots of improvement out there for me.
Courses I played I didn’t review
None. You get them all.
As I get into my second decade with this site, I hope you guys get use out of it. It’s a labor of love for me and while it’s fun to put together, I have no clue how many actually read it, aside from a few of my buddies and whatever bots are out there. Always remember though, whatever I write or rank a course, it’s just a guide. You can like something a lot more than me and vice versa. And that should hold true whatever content is out there. It’s fine to get perspective or insight, but at the end of the day, you’re the one playing the courses. Don’t think course X is awesome because I say so or any other site does and don’t pre judge any designer or course based on what anyone else says either. Go out and play it. One of the great beauties of this game is the dramatic differences in venue, all of it subjective. There are no right or wrong answers and in this age of social media influence, be wary of what seems like PR marketing and what is actual information.
I’ll see you all on the other side. 2020 is upon us and as of now is a blank slate for me. Wherever the next decade takes us, I’ll be out there, swinging away, occasionally swearing at my ball and every now and then, stopping.