My 2009 golf travel awards: A year to remember
As I look back at 2009, to call it a banner year would be a ludicrous understatement.
It’s been a year of a lifetime really. I was fortunate enough to play five of the top 100 golf courses in the world and three others on the top 100 in the U.S. Last year, I played two of that caliber. I even shot a career-low 77. How about that?
The great courses from adventures in Ireland, Mexico, New Mexico, Alabama, Florida, Seattle and California are too many to list … even stellar golf haunts like Cabo Real in Mexico, Paa Ko Ridge and Twin Warriors in New Mexico, The Members Club at Aldarra in Washington, Royal Dublin Golf Club in Ireland and The Shoals and Limestone Springs in Alabama don’t make it into this story.
Because I traveled so frequently, winning my 2009 travel awards was much tougher than last year. I hope you have as much fun reading this as I did writing it.
Best course: Pebble Beach Golf Links. Simple … the history, the scenery, the challenge and three of the best holes in the world (the par-3 seventh, the par-four eighth and the par-5 18th). Runners-up: Whistling Straights, the Ocean course at Kiawah Island, Lahinch, Tralee, Chambers Bay.
Best Links course: Lahinch normally takes a back seat to the Old course at Ballybunion but not for me. It’s the ultimate links test with that loveable dune in the middle of the fourth and fifth holes. Runners-up: Ballybunion, Doonbeg, Tralee, Dooks.
Best U.S. Resort: Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, anchored by two grand staircases and two-story murals on the wall, delivers understated luxury. Runners-up: The Inn at Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach and The American Club.
Best International Resort (tie): The Lodge at Doonbeg and Dromoland Castle in southwest Ireland. Both offer five-star luxury in a country known for a simplistic lifestyle. Runner-up: The Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort, and the Playa Grande Resort and Spa, both in Mexico.
Best U.S. Golf Destination: Northern California. I’ve visited five times in the last seven years and still not seen all of its great courses. Runners-up: The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, Santa Fe Golf Trail in New Mexico, Gaylord Golf Mecca in Michigan.
Best International Golf Destination: (tie) Southwest Ireland and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Ireland is my favorite place to play in the world, but seeing Cabo San Lucas for the first time pushed it into a tie. These destinations are such polar opposites, but one thing is consistent - soul-stirring golf along the shore.
Best U.S. private club experience: Past three gates and eight miles of hairpin turns overlooking California’s scenic Santa Lucia Mountains lies the hidden oasis of The Preserve Golf Club, one of Tom Fazio’s best efforts. Guests are greeted with a locker bearing their name. Kenny, the caddie, read some of the toughest greens I’ve putted with ease. Runners-up: Sahalee Country Club and Tumble Creek at Suncadia, both in Washington.
Best International private club experience: Querencia in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This private club boasts a men’s and women’s members spa to rival any major resort and a Fazio course some consider the best in Mexico. The beverage station in the middle of the course is an all-you-can-carry snack station complete with slurpees to combat the hot sun.
Best Spa: The Kohler Waters Spa seems perfect. It has better massage therapists than any spa I’ve ever experienced, and that was a lot of them this year. Runners-up: The Sanctuary Spa at Kiawah Island and The Crystal Spa at Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan.
Most Scenic Course: Tralee Golf Club in Ireland. Miles of beach and dunes, along with ruins of a castle, make this links a knockout. Runners-up: Pebble Beach and The Ocean course at Kiawah Island.
Toughest Golf Course: The Ocean course at Kiawah Island. I had one of the best days of my life driving the ball in a rare light breeze and still barely beat my handicap on this beastly Pete Dye layout. Runner-up: Whistling Straights, another devilish Dye design.
Biggest Surprise Course: (tie) Dooks Golf Club and the Fazio course at Treetops. Dooks in southwest Ireland doesn’t have the monster dunes of Lahinch and Ballybunion, but the setting is surreal and the course so fun to play. The Fazio shoots to the top of my favorites among four outstanding courses at Treetops Resort in Gaylord.
Biggest Surprise Resort: (tie) Hyatt Regency Tamaya in New Mexico and Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Washington. The view out the back of the new Lodge at Suncadia might be the best non-ocean view I’ve ever seen at a golf resort. Tamaya, at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, feels almost too romantic for a golf resort, but I love its vibe. Runner-up: The Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, Wash.
Best PGA Tour Venue besides Pebble Beach: I played Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando right before the greens renovation that will have PGA Tour players raving at the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational March 22-28. Runner-up: The Tiburon Gold course, home of the Shark Shootout every December.
Best Champions Tour Venue besides Pebble Beach: The TPC of Snoqualmie Ridge in Washington, home of the Boeing Classic Aug. 27-29, sits on a fantastic piece of land with some spectacular holes. Runners-up: Ross Bridge in Hoover, Alabama, home of the Regions Charity Classic May 14-16; and The Quarry in Naples, home of the ACE Group Classic Feb. 12-14.
Best Nationwide Tour Venue: The TPC San Francisco Bay, home of the Stonebrae Classic April 2-5, overlooks San Francisco, providing stellar views. NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice will tee it up this year.
Best European Tour Venue: Sunshine greeted my foursome as we walked the delightful Killeen course at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, host of the 2010 3 Irish Open.
Best birdie: Hitting a shot two inches from the cup for a near hole-in-one at Tom Doak’s excellent Black Forest Golf Course in Gaylord, Michigan. Runner-up: A miracle chip-in at Grand National, an RTJ course in Opelika, named by Golf Digest the No. 1 golf city in the country a few years back.
Best par: Holing a wedge from 110 yards after a tee shot that went O.B. on The Home Course in DuPont, Washington, site of the 2010 U.S. Amateur along with Chambers Bay. Runners-up: Saving par on the 18th hole at Kiawah Island to cap a magical round.
Biggest blunders: Two bunkers I just couldn’t get out of in 2009 - a brutal pot bunker at Ballybunion’s eighth hole and another at The Quarry in Naples. Here’s a cheers to staying out of the sand in 2010. Happy New Year!
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You’ve’ really hit a spot for me right now reading your blog.
Matter of fact, I am going to take pen to paper right now and write
down some of the golf courses I would love to play, starting with my
home town the Gold Coast, Australia. Then when I make some serious
money and start travelling, I’ll be sure to go to the golf course you
mention in your blog…A dream list …that’s it a dream list.
I look forwd to hearing more of your travels in 2010.
Have a Golfdazzling year…