Friday, October 31, 2014

A Different List

With college football and professional soccer proving a constant disappointment, I chose to not wallow in my depression, but instead reflect on the pleasure that another sport has provided me this past year - not as a spectator, but as a participant.

Through some luck and some planning, I've had the opportunity to play some great golf courses in 2014.  Here are my top ten favorites:

     1.  Jasper Park. Jasper, Alberta, Canada. A great Stanley Thompson layout in South Central Alberta. Far from a mere resort course, it is both a great test of golf and a tribute to the surroundings, with bunkers mimicking the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies. My favorite hole was the fourteenth, an uphill dogleg par 4 with a carry off the tee over the bright blue waters of Lac Beauvert.

The second shot to the elevated green of the 14th at Jasper.

     2.  Arcadia Bluffs.  Arcadia, Michigan. A links course in the sense that it has few trees and has many holes nestled alongside of or with a view of Lake Michigan. Criticized by some because it is not "natural" (the moguls, dips, hills, and valleys were largely man-made), it is nonetheless a beautiful course with several testing holes. My favorite was the par 5 eleventh, which goes uphill from the tee and then works its way down to the Lake. Arcadia also gets my vote for the friendliest, most accommodating staff (at the course and the hotel) of any that I experienced this year.

Looking back to Arcadia's 11th from a knoll.

     3.  Banff Springs. Banff, Alberta, Canada. I was admittedly underwhelmed the first time I played Banff two years ago, but liked it much more the second time around. Overall, the golf is just a half-notch below that of Jasper, but the memorable holes are spectacular. It's hard to choose between Banff's two signature holes - the par 3 fourth, The "Devil's Cauldron," and the 470 yard par 4 fourteenth (which was the original starting hole) as my favorite.

The Devil's Cauldron. (photo courtesy of Nathan Spencer)

The 14th tee at Banff. (photo courtesy of Nathan Spencer)

     4.  Forest Dunes. Roscommon, Michigan. My experience and that of my playing partner Charlie was tempered somewhat by the twosome we were paired with for our first 18 and boorish golfers around us on the second loop, but on reflection we both really liked the course. Not exactly a links course, but there are some links-like holes that wind through the dunes, particularly on the second nine. My favorite hole was probably the tenth, a par 4 that's not particularly long, but has both its fairway and green split by bunkers, without having a "tricked up" feel to it. 

View of Forest Dunes from off of the putting green.

     5.  The Old White (TPC) Course at The Greenbrier. White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. I last played this course probably 20 years ago, before the renovations. Then it was just another short, vanilla resort course, albeit one with a long history and distinguished pedigree. Restored to C.B. MacDonald's original vision, it's now a great track and visually much more appealing. It's still a resort course in that it's highly playable, especially from the white tees (which I wussed out and hit from). Favorite holes include the "Redan" par 3 eighth (having actually played the original Redan hole at North Berwick I'm particularly fond of them) and the dogleg par 4 sixteenth.

The Old White's 16th hole.

     6.  The Blue Monster. Doral GC, Miami, Florida. I've never played on a course with as much groomed sand as The Blue Monster. Hard as heck, but in great shape and an interesting layout. Don't know if I can say it's my favorite but the most memorable hole for me was the dogleg par 4 tenth, which requires a 180 yard carry over a lake to hit the fairway, with bunkers behind and a tight out-of-bounds on the right. I hit the fairway (laying three after I blocked the first one OB on the right).

The view from the 10th tee at Doral.

     7. Stewart Creek. Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Unlike Banff, I didn't like this course quite as much as when we played it two years ago. May be due to the extensive flooding which damaged the course, or the fact that the staff didn't seem nearly as welcoming as the first time. Still a beautiful course with spectacular views. Built around an old mine site, the front nine hugs the ridges of the mountains while the back is more pastoral. The course reminds me of the Pete Dye Course in Bridgeport, West Virginia, but the Canadian Rockies provide a more dramatic backdrop. While the front is pretty and tough, the hole I remember most clearly is the tenth, a dog leg par 4 which starts in a meadow with a wide landing area, then narrows to a small green nestled in a pine grove with traps on all sides but the left back.

A good place to start - the view from the 1st tee at Stewart Creek.

     8.  Edgewood Country Club. Sissonville, West Virginia. Yeah, it's my home course and, yeah, I'm biased. But I think it's a well-maintained course and a fine layout in the hollows of Appalachia. There are some tough par 3s and playable par 5s. The most memorable hole is the tough seventeenth, with a big dip from the fairway to the green and water lurking on the left. My favorite is probably the par 4 third, which winds its way around a ridge to an elevated, multi-tiered green. A straight tee shot leaves you feeling good about the second, but missing the green, or even hitting the wrong level, can lead to headaches.

A view across the water to the green of the
risk/reward dogleg par 5 5th at Edgewood.

     9.  Harding Park TPC. San Francisco, California. Unfortunately, I was playing Harding Park as part of a group outing and only got to complete 13 holes because of the "golfers" in front of us. It would probably rank higher if we had been able to complete our round. Still, it was a great municipal course (when you got over being startled by the firing at the nearby rifle range).  The uphill par 3 third, surrounded by cypress trees and the green surrounded by sand, was among my favorites, although apparently the fourteenth through eighteenth are the stars.

The 3rd (I think) at Harding Park.

     10. Country Club of Jackson (Woods/Marsh). Jackson, Michigan. The course I grew up playing and got to play twice this summer. Twenty-seven holes, only the first 18 (the Pines and Woods nines) were there when I lived in Jackson. The newer Marsh has some great holes and a few space fillers, but overall is probably my favorite nine now. The course is always impeccably maintained. My favorite hole on the Marsh is the par 5 third, a big uphill dogleg left with marsh to the left and mounding in the fairway.

From the 3rd tee on the Marsh course.
 The green is somewhere way off to the left.

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