The 2009 golf picture of the year goes to Henrik Stenson, the professional Swedish golfer. For those not familiar with Henrik, he's no hack. In fact, when he hit this shot he was the #6 ranked player in the world and he stripped down to his underwear to play a shot out of the mud at Doral. My kind of guy.
The 15th at Cypress Point - The sexiest hole in golf
One of the things that makes my year end review post my favorite of the year is that I get to summarize and highlight reader comments from my adoring fans. Thank you to all those who have sent me email or comments, I appreciate the feedback. 2009 was once again a good year for readers to comment, beginning with one who disagreed with my assessment of both Royal Birkdale, which I despise, and Royal Liverpool, which I love. His advice to me, "If you want to see the sea, go to the beach, if you want to play golf then Birkdale is it in the purist form. Royal Liverpool does not even come close to this beauty."
For those readers who have been trashing Carnoustie as a "dog track and waste of money," I say simply: humbug, you imbeciles!
I receive an equal amount of encouraging and vituperative feedback and am always happy to receive emails such as, "This is so addictive. We hackers and dreamers can all live our Walter Mitty lives through you."
I am also looking forward to my spring trip to Australia since all comments I receive from those down under are friendly, optimistic and full of good cheer.
It wouldn't be a year-end review post without fresh comments attacking me on my accurate and well thought-out Fishers Island write-up. The Fishers Island comments are always caustic. The latest, "I had to stop reading when you started describing the course, so I'm not sure if you mentioned your handicap, or when you started playing. I am 47 years old and have been playing for 40 of them, I am also a 3 handicap, and have played many of the great courses in the USA, Cypress, Pebble,Spy, Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Somerset,National, etc etc. I am going to bet you took up the game a little later in life, and you probably try to match your shoes with your shirt. Wake up, Fishers is on a par with Cypress, end of conversation!"
Wow. So much to respond to in that little screed. Let me take your arguments point by point. Maybe the writer is speaking of the golf course at Cypress High School, because Fishers certainly isn't on a par with Cypress Point Golf Club; they are as different as chalk and cheese. And let me make sure I understand this, because you took up the game at a young age and have a low handicap, you're a genius. Congratulations on being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. I'm sure you're the same variety of well-heeled character that went to Yale because grand-daddy did and that having a lot of money makes you better than those that don't. For the record, Alister Mackenzie took up golf when he was 28 and was never more than a mid-level handicapper. Let's see, he designed Cypress, Augusta, Royal Melbourne and more top 100 courses than anyone who has ever lived. Need I say more? Golf handicap and the ability to make an intelligent judgment about a course have no correlation. Good luck playing with your aristocratic, patrician friends in your little bubble. Be careful not to scratch your Patek Philippe watches.
And no, I don't wear Sergio Garcia style matching shoes, but I do wear pink shorts from time to time, because they really show off my legs to great affect. It's time for the charade about Fishers Island to end once and for all - it is over-rated as the #29th ranked course in the world.
I much prefer a shorter, to the point attack, such as this one from a former assistant pro at Fishers Island, "It is a legacy club meaning you have to be born into the club there are no 12 letters to get you in. I would appreciate that if you dont have the facts you don;t speak. By the way how in the hell did they let you play anyway." I wonder that myself, how the hell did they let me play without checking that my ancestors came across on the Mayflower?
Royal Troon remains one of the most commented on of my course write-ups (and has my favorite lead-off picture). There is a real art to politely telling someone to bugger off and I genuinely give credit to the Scots for elevating it to a high art, as in this comment, from a Troon caddy, speaking about the previous caddie master "...he detested New Yorkers, but at other times could be a fantastic character. As a caddy I will say that I've only ever fallen out with two players in over 20 years. Both were New Yorkers. Most New Yorkers are fine, but the North-East, ie New York and Boston, does seem to have a life-style that seems at odds with the Scottish outlook on life. Maybe it's a certain arrogance?" I honestly love the Scots.
Thank you as well to the Troon reader who compared me to Richard Nixon, something I've long aspired to.
'Charlie', remarking on Muirfield, criticized my comment that none of the holes are that memorable: "That made me LOL. Seriously? This course has incredible, world-class holes. I commend you for this blog and your efforts to play these courses, but I question whether you are a golfer or dilettante." I must admit I had to break out the dictionary for that one, a dilettante is "an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge." I commend Charlie on his word choice but ask my readers to name one memorable hole at Muirfield off the top of their head. Pick almost any other course ranked in the top 50 and I can rattle off three or four holes at least, from memory. I can't, and I would argue most people can't, as it pertains to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
I rest my case, which is based on Muirfield being over-rated as the #3 ranked course in the world. Having said that, any golf club founded before Mozart was born holds a revered position in the game. The Honourable Company occupies an unassailable position in the golf world for upholding tradition. That's a whole lot different than the course being memorable. So if Muirfield's world ranking is based on tradition and not the course, I can begin to understand it. Unlike Birkdale or Medinah, I actually look forward to returning to Muirfield one day, playing alternate shot and enjoying the atmosphere and clubhouse.
I would sleep better at night if Birkdale and Medinah were removed from the world rankings, and Muirfield and Fishers Island took on lower rankings, say #28 or #52, which would now be available in my bawdry little golf universe.
The Cabo del Sol (Ocean) course in Mexico doesn't get much notoriety. A commenter left the following, "If this course is number 68 in the world I'll eat my hat. Very average at best. I certainly wouldn't pay to play it again. If you must, just go straight to the champ tee at 17, hit your 6 iron, putt out and leave. You've seen the best this course has to offer. I'd rather have a long brunch with my mother-in-law. This place is strictly for hungover hacks on vacation." Although I like the course better than he does, I believe I have found a kindred spirit on the mother-in-law front.
Returning to Long Island, a reader left the following comment and course rankings regarding my Friar's Head write-up, "You can't do a review of Friar's Head without commenting on the playground they have for a practice area. 2nd to none. NGLA > Shinny > Sebonack > BP Black > Garden City > Friar's Head > Fishers Island > Maidstone, Deepdale, Piping, Meadow Brook, The Creek, Gardiner's Bay." His ranking there with the brackets of Long Island courses isn't too dissimilar to mine, although I do rank Maidstone higher. Clearly he hasn't seen the practice area at Trump Bedminster, which is the best in the world ;)
Another Long Island reader left an extremely insightful comment, "Rather than say something disparaging about a course that can be beloved by many, many people, as Walter Hagen once said, "Its the best course of its kind I've ever played." He's right. I take back my rude comments about Medinah. Medinah is the best course of its kind I've ever played. Hopefully this will stop the hate mail from Chicago.
The most frequent question I get is: How do you get on all these courses? The simple answer is by networking and asking.
To the reader who stated, "you also fail to mention how the Winged Foot west course green complexes are the best in the world." Fuhgeddaboudit. I failed to mention it because the green "complexes" at Augusta, Pine Valley, Crystal Downs, Pinehurst #2, Cypress Point, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills and the Old Course are all better. Winged Foot West has difficult greens; but they lack variety, they all basically slope back to front and are very fast. Hard and 'the best' are not the same thing.
The remainder of my golfing year
Playing any course after Cypress is going to be a letdown and playing the Rees Jones designed Ocean Forest in Sea Island Georgia didn't generate the excitement I expect from top ranked courses.
My globe trotting continued in the spring and found me back in Beverly Hills. I lusted to play Los Angeles Country Club but alas had no time. My visit to South Beach left no time for a trip up to Seminole and I lamented the fact that on my short trip to Tokyo I never left Roppongi Hills and was wistful to play Naruo and Hirono. My return trip to Spain did feature golf and Valderrama was a real treat. Playing among the cork trees proved a unique experience on the quest. My spontaneous second round there, playing a top ranked course with no one else in sight as the sun was setting, is hard to top. 2009 was also a year of new discoveries, especially the delightful below-the-radar Whippoorwill Club in Westchester County, NY.
The first fairway at Valderrama
I fell in love with Scotland once again after visiting Loch Lomond, one of the prettiest places on the planet.
Loch Lomond's clubhouse - Rossdhu House
My summer visit to Cherry Hills in Denver was ideal and I was very surprised at how much feedback I got about my comments on Eisenhower. Let the record reflect the fact that Ike was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame shortly after I mentioned his case. My summer visit to golf rich Columbus, Ohio featured more good weather with the double header of two top-fifty courses: the Pete Dye designed Golf Club and Jack Nicklaus's Muirfield Village. A recent commenter disagreed with my assessment of the course; he wrote: "Most over-rated notable course in America. Without Jack, TV and the Memorial, it would be just another housing track."
Considering that it rained almost every day in the New York area in 2009 I was lucky to have a return visit to the Tillinghast treasure Somerset Hills and I was reminded why it is unquestionably one of the best golf courses in the world. Tillinghast so effectively camoflauged the bunkers, you can't see many of them until you walk right up in front of them, and, it has one of the best routings in the world. I was stunned at the comment I received in 2009 about Somerset from a golfing heretic, "Played it twice and was disappointed both times. Sadly, it's nowhere near its Top 100 peers. The locker room is small, old, and underfurnished. The driving range is a mown tee box on a hillside overlooking some front 9 holes. The front 9 is wide open, short, and otherwise bland. Truth is "Redans" are more controversial than enjoyable when the green is running at 12. SHGC is a $40 muni, only in a quiet old money town with PJ Boatwright's name on the wall." A few more comments like that and I shall have to shut the site down!
I finished off the year at Camargo, completing my required five courses in Ohio. Unfortunately, my witty and discerning write-up of the course will have to wait for early next year.
All in all, it was another spectacular year. I look forward to continuing my pursuits next year and crashing the world's top courses with my cultivated air of modesty.
Happy New Year.
Looking forward to a healthy and prosperous 2010 and keep your comments coming!