My 2011 golf travel awards part 1: Chasing great golf
The year 2011 will go down as one for the records books in my golf game.
This fall, I shot the lowest round of my life, a 76 at Royal St. Kitts. I finally become a “real” golfer this past summer, getting my index to single digits at 9.2. And to top it all off, I sank my first hole in one.
How can I follow all that up? Next summer, I turn 40 and frankly, my handicap has already ballooned its way back up again to 11.5.
I guess I’ll just have to go back to playing bad golf at some really cool places. There could be worse curses in life, I guess. This year, I dug up divots throughout Michigan (including the Upper Peninsula), New York, Miami, San Diego, L.A., Maui, Virginia, Las Vegas, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin. My passport got a workout and a 10-year renewal, traveling to Ireland, St. Kitts and the Dominican Republic. I surpassed 500 career courses played and even checked off 10 courses ranked among the top 100 public courses in the country by Golf Digest.
There’s so much to write about from my travels that I broke my awards column into three stories. Today’s version focuses on the golf. Part II will be all about the resorts and the final recap a tasty tour of the food I sampled. Here goes:
* Nationally ranked public courses played: Forest Dunes (No. 18) in Roscommon, Mich.; Wolf Creek (No. 20) in Mesquite, Nev.; The Plantation course (No. 28) at Kapalua Resort in Maui; The Dunes Golf & Beach Club (No. 38) in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Cascata (No. 49) in Boulder City, Nev.; Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (No. 66) in Pawleys Island, S.C.; The Gailes at Lakewood Shores Resort (No. 69) in Oscoda, Mich.; The Gold course at the Wailea Golf Club (No. 90) on Maui; The TPC Blue Monster at Doral Golf Resort & Spa (No. 94) in Miami and The Fazio course at Barefoot Resort & Golf (No. 96) in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
* Best U.S. course: For pure design elements and playability, I’d have to say Forest Dunes (see photo above). For sheer drama and vistas, it’s the canyons and waterfalls of Wolf Creek (see photo below). Runners-up: Cascata, Caledonia and Kapalua.
* Best International course: I’m a sucker for coastal courses and Punta Espada Golf Club in the Dominican Republic was the most memorable I’ve played, even better than Pebble Beach Golf Links. Runners-up: Corales at the PUNTACANA Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic, The Palmer course at The K Club in Ireland.
* Best links course: The Island Golf Club outside Dublin in Ireland. Wow, those dunes were inspiring. Too bad the three-club wind ruined my score. Runners-up: Portmarnock Golf Club, Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links.
* Best private course: Crystal Downs in Frankfort, Mich. I played it with architect Tom Doak, one of the biggest names in golf. Cool right? Runner-up: Point O’ Woods Golf & Country Club in Benton Harbor, Mich. This historic former host of the Western Amateur can now be picked off by booking a golf package through the Golf Club at Harbor Shores.
* Best Casino course: Atunyote at Turningstone Resort & Casino in New York felt like a private club. Runners-up: Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas, Nev.; Cascata in Boulder City, Nev.; Shenendoah at Turningstone, Sweetgrass at the Island Resort & Casino in Harris, Mich.
* Most scenic course: Punta Espada wins with eight seaside holes, but Ocean South at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Coast, Calif., runs a close second. It gets picturesque with three holes right on the Pacific Ocean. Runners-up: The Island, Corales, Ocean North at Pelican Hill, Wolf Creek, Cascata.
* Biggest surprise course: There are lots of choices here. I knew nothing about Corales and Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links and came away blown away by both. The same could be said of Royal St. Kitts Golf Club.
* Best PGA Tour venue: The Plantation course at Kapalua Resort. The PGA Tour’s annual season opener looks even better in person. Runner-up: The TPC Blue Monster. I played it for the third time and that Bermuda rough is still too tough for this northerner.
* Best Champions Tour venue: It will be interesting to see how the old guys handle the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., the site of the 2012 and 2014 Senior PGA Championships.
* Best U.S. destination: San Diego. It was my first time visiting, and I’m smitten with its charms. The combination of the ocean, the weather and things to do can’t be beat. Runners-up: Northern Michigan. Las Vegas. Miami.
* Best international destination: Ireland. It’s my favorite place in the world. No more needs to be said. Runner-up: The Dominican Republic.
* Best Eagle: It was such a rush to watch my 141-yard pitching wedge take two bounces and disappear on the 12th hole at The Gailes at Lakewood Shores Resort. It was a great hole-in-one experience on a nationally ranked course.
* Best birdie: I hit a great drive over the ocean inlet on the par-4 17th at Punta Espada. With a breeze in my face, my caddie said one word: “Ocho.” It was music to my ears. I hit an 8 iron, my favorite club, to 10 feet and made the putt.
* Biggest blunder: I had to pick up after a Tin Cup moment in a greenside bunker on the first hole, a par 5, at True Blue Plantation, another great Mike Strantz course in Pawleys Island, S.C.
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