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!       

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