Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 in Review: My Top 18 Courses Played

2013 in Review: My Top 18 Courses Played

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get in my role as President of the PGA of America is “What is your favorite golf course?” It’s a tough question for me to answer because I am lucky enough to play great courses everywhere I travel. In 2013, my PGA duties put me on the road 194 days and it even amazed me as to the great golfing venues that I experienced this year. 
Truthfully, it’s easy to lose track of the magnitude of where I play and as I compiled a list for this story, it was very eye opening. It’s safe to say that my travels in 2013 gave me a lifetime of great memories in one year. Here is my list, in order of “My Top 18 Courses of 2013.”
1.     Augusta National Golf Club: I have been fortunate to play here five times and it never gets old because each round could potentially be your last at the most exclusive venue in the world. As I walk down the hill on #11 to the green and look squarely into Amen Corner, I am reminded that his is the most hallowed spot in all of golf.
2.     The Old Course at St. Andrews: This is the oldest golf course in the world. Standing on the first tee and thinking about everyone from Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods who have hit tee shots here is intimidating. It’s quirky and most golfers either love it or hate it because of its nuances. The Old Course has 14 double greens. Need I say more?
3.     Pine Valley Golf Club: The course celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. It is widely recognized as the most difficult course in the world. Gene Littler once took 13 shots on the par 3, 5th Hole. It took five years to build with horse and plow. Architect George Crump committed suicide before it was finished.    
4.     Bethpage Black Course: Designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1936, a sign on the 1st Tee reads, “The Black Course is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only for Highly Skilled Golfers.” It will host the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup. An argument could be made that The Black is tougher than Pine Valley.
5.     Oak Hill Country Club: This course has hosted more major championships and Ryder Cups than any course in America. The East Course is the gem of the 36-hole layout, but the West can hold its own. In 2013, Jason Dufner became Oak Hill’s latest major champion and set up his PGA Championship win with a record-tying 63 on Friday.
6.     North Berwick GC- West Course: Founded in 1832, it is the third oldest course in the world still playing the same fairways it had when it opened. Just as quirky as Prestwick, it features the world’s first ‘Redan’ hole which means the green is wider than deep running away from the tee box. I drove the 18th hole, a par 4, and made the putt for 2.
7.     Oakmont: This venue near Pittsburgh has hosted numerous major championships. My round here was a payoff to ESPN’s Mike Greenberg (“Mike & Mike In the Morning”) on a bet involving the Colts and Jets the year that Peyton Manning got hurt. It was the most enjoyable round of my 2013.
8.     Liberty National GC: Site of the Barclay’s overlooking Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty several hundred yards off shore. This round featured a day with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The course was impressive, but Giuliani even more so.
9.     Bellerive CC: Another of the old classics in America. Site of this year’s Senior PGA and the 2018 PGA Championship. My round here was with Roger Chapman, the gracious Englishman who defended his Sr. PGA title.
10.  Old Memorial: This Tampa golf course stacks up with any in the U.S. It is the brainchild of Chris Sullivan, owner of Outback Steakhouses. Old Memorial has plenty of bunkers and water to test anyone, but the monument on the #10 green memorializing two members killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 leave a lasting mark on any golfer.
11.  Gleneagles King’s Course: This is the site of the inaugural International Matches held in 1921 which later led to the Ryder Cup. One of its sister courses, The Centenary, will host the 2014 Ryder Cup matches.
12.  The Bear’s Club: Built by Jack Nicklaus and home to many PGA TOUR players in Palm Beach, this place reeks of quality. The best hot dog in all of golf- a Hebrew National grilled and served on a toasted bun at the half way house.
13.  Torrey Pines: The best course in Southern California and host of many U.S. Opens and the Farmers Insurance Classic. I enjoyed this round with Trevor Hoffman, former great closer for the Padres and the all-time saves leader in the National League.
14.  The Olympic Club: Another multiple U.S. Open site. Billy Casper stormed back from seven shots on his final nine holes to beat Arnold Palmer in 1966. The Olympic Club and its downtown athletic club have over 9,000 members.
15.  Trump International: Designed by Jim Fazio, who also did The Legends GC; this stately Palm Beach course reflects the personality of its owner- Donald Trump. While I played the course, Trump landed his helicopter on the clubhouse lawn and came out to say hello while I was on the 13th green. That’s hospitality!
16.  Pete Dye Course at French Lick: The best golf destination in Indiana. The West Baden Hotel and all things French Lick make this a must for anybody who loves golf.
17.  Dunbar GC: Located on Scotland’s Golf Coast and in its ‘Cradle of Golf’, the course was built in 1856. It is one of Scotland’s true links courses, which means it is a seaside location with nine holes out and nine back in. A wall built by 17th Century French prisoners of war winds throughout the course. Anonymous to many, but a must to play.
18.  St. Andrews Golf Club: The “other” Saint Andrews located in Westchester County and America’s oldest golf club celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2013. One of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association.

Not a bad year. Actually, not a bad lifetime for many. I am very fortunate!       

The Most Impressive 18 People of 2013

Years come and go. Some are more memorable than others. Human nature always causes for some sentimental reflections every December as another page on the calendar of life gets turned. For the sport of golf, 2013 may very well be one of the most memorable in modern day history.
This year was laced with controversies from anchoring to rules infractions. Governing bodies disagreed publicly for the first time in the history of the game, which resulted in divisiveness among some, but unity among others. On the course, the major championships produced their own unforgettable drama.
My perch for this historic and sometimes tumultuous year was from inside the cage. Some would say that I contributed to the controversy, the mayhem and at times poured gasoline on the chaos that was golf in 2013. I never viewed it that way. As President of the PGA of America it is my sole responsibility to represent the thoughts and opinions of the majority of my 27,000 constituents. The PGA was heard on views that dealt with the Rules of Golf, inclusion, growing the game and championship site selections.
The most profound memories that I have from this year are more about the people who left an impression on me. Some might surprise you. Others may not.  So, here we go, the Most Impressive 18 People of 2013- in no particular order.

Glen Nager: USGA President
History will forever link the two of us because of the anchoring controversy. Often our relationship was testy to say the least. The fact of the matter was that Nager represented his constituency while I did the same. Never in golf had a rule change impacted the enjoyment of the game and therein was the problem.
In many ways, you could not find two more opposite people than Glen and me. He is a high profile lawyer in a top Washington DC firm. He has tried numerous cases in the Supreme Court. His world is not mine. But, his passion for an issue or belief that is best for his faction is equal to mine.
I spent two days with Nager at Augusta National Golf Club back in February when we organized the Drive, Chip and Putt competition between the PGA, USGA and Augusta National. We stayed in the same cabin, dined together and actually teamed up to win a competition on the Masters course. These two days fell during the peak of the 90-day comment period on anchoring. It was an unlikely retreat and some would have viewed it as golf’s version of Sleeping with the Enemy.
On that first night at ANGC, I climbed out of a van that was taking us to dinner. I placed my right hand on the seat back for a brace. As I stepped out of the van, my hand came in contact with Nager’s face and I knocked his glasses off his face. He quipped, “Wait until the media gets a hold of this. Ted Bishop strikes Glen Nager and knocks his glasses to the ground.”
I remember Nager making a birdie on the 15th hole the following day. He is apologetic about his the quality of his game, which he shouldn’t be. He shot a 77 at Pine Valley’s Centennial in June.  As you might expect, he is a grinder and a tough competitor. That, we have in common.  
When his time is said and done in February, Nager will have left a profound mark on the USGA. Whether you agree with what he did or how he did it, the fact is that he negotiated the largest television contract in the history of golf and forever solidified the financial position of the USGA. He stood down the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR on the anchoring ban. Nager risked his reputation, his popularity and even his status at the USGA for principals that he believed in. For that, Glen Nager has to be a formidable person in the 2013 world of golf.

Rory McIlroy: Major Champion
At 24 years old, Rory McIlroy has experienced more than most do in a lifetime. He has won two major championships by record setting margins. Earlier this year, he signed a huge contract with Nike. But, 2013 was a year to forget for the popular kid from Northern Ireland. He did not win a tournament until late in the year when he went down under to beat Adam Scott at the Australian Open.
Through it all, McIlroy handled the adversity pretty well other than an abrupt WD at the Honda Classic when an inflamed wisdom tooth overcame another poor round of ball striking. As defending champion of the PGA Championship, he was stellar. It started in March when he showed up at PGA HQ to receive the 2012 PGA of America Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy awards.
He arrived at the PGA Championship Media Day in June in the early morning hours after the Memorial Tournament. McIlroy spent the day playing with Craig Harmon, Oak Hill pro and me. It was his first look at the venue he would defend on. He was a star at the afternoon press conference and later spent time in downtown Rochester at the PGA Championship display. His dad, Jerry, was at his side. The interaction between father and son was impressive.
In August, Rory hosted the Champions Dinner attended by a record number of former PGA Championship winners. That was a personal testimony to McIlroy. In a sour year of golf, his disposition was anything but that. He was dignified, humble and handled himself with class. Don’t forget this guy is only 24 years old and his best days are ahead. The 2014 Comeback Player of the Year? Rory McIlroy.      

The Mickelson Family
It was another tough U.S. Open in 2013 for Phil Mickelson. His sixth runner-up in the national championship came at Merion GC in Philadelphia. One more blown opportunity for Lefty. It looked like this could his final chance to win a major.
Mickelson went home. He hibernated for a few days and then showed up at the Scottish Open. Links golf was not his forte and he surprised everyone with a win at Castle Stuart. At 43 years old, what were the chances of Phil winning two weeks in a row when he went to Muirfield for the Open Championship? The rest is history. The finest two weeks of Mickelson’s career.
Less than a month later, Amy Mickelson showed up at 168 Whitney Street in Rochester, NY with her three kids and parents. She was there to participate in a Habitat for Humanity work day as part of an effort between PGA of America wives and PGA TOUR wives. She rolled her sleeves up, laid sod and performed manual labor. All the while, her son, Evan hung out with 8-year old Elisha Galletti whose family was the recipient of the house.
As she was leaving, Amy asked me if it was okay for Evan to give Elisha his cell phone number so the two could stay in touch. That’s Amy Mickelson. Genuine, caring and sincere. She is truly the woman behind a great man.

Paul Miller, PGA Pro
Sometime after Christmas in 2012, I received a call from Paul Miller the PGA pro at the Newtown Country Club in Newtown, CT. He asked if I could help get something donated from the PGA of America that would be given to first responders at Sandy Hook Elementary for a fundraiser he was conducting in May of 2013. His request came less than two weeks after the tragic shooting in Newtown rocked our world.  
On May 5 it was my privilege to join Michael Breed from the Golf Channel at the Newtown Country Club. This course is a 9-hole private club with about 175 members- 100 less than it had a few years ago. The day was about healing and forgetting. Fifty-six first responders were treated to a day of golf, a steak and lobster dinner plus each received one of the donated items.
Newtown CC extended complimentary memberships to all surviving Newtown families. Paul Miller was giving his first golf lessons to a Sandy Hook mom and dad on the following Friday. Newtown is a quaint, small town. To think that this tragedy could happen here was unbelievable. But, then again, if it could happen in Newtown it could happen in Anywhere, USA.

Tim Finchem: PGA TOUR Commissioner
I would argue that the Commissioner of the PGA TOUR is the most powerful person in golf today. Some find him to be intimidating. He is methodical, insightful and a visionary who took a foundation built by his predecessor Deane Bemon and expanded it to tremendous proportions.
But, behind the public Finchem is a witty, engaging and very likeable guy. What impressed me most about “The Commish” in 2013 was his passion for recreational amateurs and their overall enjoyment of the game. When the PGA TOUR made its stand on anchoring it looked past its own interests. Finchem saw the big picture and that is why he has become a larger than life figure in golf.

Rudy Giuliani: Former Mayor of New York City
We rode the back nine together during a round of golf in early June at Liberty National, the course overlooking the Manhattan skyline. I commented on how unfair the press had been with its criticism of the President of the United States for playing 80 rounds of golf during his first four years in Office.            
To which the former Mayor of New York City grinned and responded, “I couldn’t agree more. I think the United States would be far better off if President Obama spent more time on the golf course and less time in the White House.”

Paul McGinley: Captain of the European Ryder Cup Team
Sly like a fox is Paul McGinley. He rides comfortably in the shadow of his counterpart, Tom Watson. McGinley speaks publicly about his affection and admiration of Watson. Somehow he has managed to capture the role of underdog in the 2014 Ryder Cup matches in Scotland at Gleneagles despite the Euros winning seven of the last nine matches.
There is nothing not to like about McGinley. He is the man for the commons. He embodies the workmanlike European mentality which has become part of the formula on how to beat the Americans. This week he turned down the opportunity to write a book on his experiences as Ryder Cup Captain.
“I want the players to know that what happens behind the scenes next year stays there and they can be free and open. I won’t write a book,” said McGinley. “We had a team meeting on Saturday night (at Medinah in 2012) which lasted for about 20 minutes and if you had sat and observed a team that was four points behind you would have come out and called your bookie to find out what their odds were. It was not a case of ‘Braveheart’ standing on chairs but there was a feeling in the room that this was achievable.”
That is classic McGinley. Beware Tom Watson.

The Rest of The Most Impressive People of 2013
Billy Payne: Chairman Augusta National GC- “A futuristic change agent.”
Peter Dawson: Royal and Ancient- “A decent man who is in a tough position.”
Donald Trump: Golf Course Owner- “Dynamic, taller than you think and a pleasant surprise.”
Jack Nicklaus: Legend- “His legacy grows. Bigger holes and shorter rounds. Jack gets it.”
Steve Stricker: PGA TOUR player- “He is proving that less can be more. Nicest guy in golf.”
Jason Dufner: PGA Champion- “What you see is what you get. A total chill out!”
Adam Scott: Masters Champion- “Classy. Understands the business of golf. Totally impressive.”
Pete Bevacqua: CEO PGA of America- “Brilliant. Bethpage, International PGA and NBC. All him.”
Arnold Palmer: Legend- “Still the King even though he went from bifurcator to conformist.”
Mark Steinberg: Agent- “Best stable in golf- Woods, Rose and Kuchar. Who’s next?”
Lee Trevino: PGA Distinguished Service Award Winner- “A true classic. THE rags to riches story.”