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My Year In Review

Highlights of 2012, a very good golf year

By: James A. Frank

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell. But before it does go, I hope you’ll indulge me as I look back on the places that made 2012 a golf year to remember.

I was lucky to see more than my fair share of terrific courses both new and old. Among the new, few compared with Tom Doak’s Blue and Coore/Crenshaw’s Red courses at Steamsong, the just-opened resort built on an old phosphate mine somewhere in the middle of Florida between Orlando and Tampa. Streamsong is the next Bandon Dunes, the must-visit golf destination of the new year. (You'll be able to read more about it, and see it, in the next issue of LINKS Magazine, out soon.)

The other notable opening I saw was Cabot Links on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This true links, hard to get to from just about anywhere, is worth the trip. The resort is adding another course along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, sure to enhance what is already a great experience. Golfers on Cape Breton also should play the revitalized Highland Links, a Stanley Thompson original located near the island’s northeast tip.

Other renovated courses that caught my eye included New Jersey’s Mountain Ridge, which Donald Ross laid out in the late ‘20s and hosted the USGA’s Men’s Senior Amateur this past fall after having hundreds of trees removed and undergoing a minor facelift at the very capable hands of architect Ron Prichard. Outside of San Francisco, California Golf Club, an Alister MacKenzie design, received a similarly respectful and fun renovation from Kyle Phillips.

teethofdogAmong the destinations I visited for the first time in 2012 was Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. I’m not sure how I’d missed the Caribbean’s finest golf resort and Pete Dye’s outstanding Teeth of the Dog (left). The other courses at Casa de Campo, particularly the cliff-top 27 holes called Dye Fore, are worth playing, too. But its Teeth that one wants to play again and again.

Ojai Valley Inn, about two hours north of Los Angeles, was another first-timer I can’t wait to revisit. The resort (which recently underwent a $90 million renovation) features a course designed by George Thomas, who also did Riviera and Bel-Air. Ojai is short in yardage but long on fun and excitement, with two “lost” holes—16 and 17—that were restored in the late 1990s and show off Thomas’ genius.

Sorry to rub it in, but I also visited both Scotland and Ireland in 2012. I enjoyed David McLay Kidd’s recent crafting of Machrihanish Dunes on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula, and of course loved returning to the original Machrihanish next door, which Tom Morris laid out in the 1870s and stands the test of time.

Another side-by-side tandem of golf greatness was found south of Glasgow at Kyle Phillips’ Dundonald, about 10 years old, and Western Gailes, about 110 years old. Western Gailes was one of the year’s high points, not only for the incredible links stretching across dunes lining the Firth of Clyde but also for the warmth of the members who wouldn’t let us leave their cozy clubhouse until we’d seen every inch and left few drams undrunk.

In Ireland, Ballybunion—which recently received some minor tweaks from hot architect Martin Hawtree—shone as always, although I’m still hoping to play it in hospitable weather someday. Also on the west coast, Lahinch remained a charmer, while Tralee (shown at the top of this page) was a surprise, sitting on some of the most exciting and beautiful golf land I’d ever seen.

On my first visit to Dublin I walked the lovely city then walked four outstanding courses. Pat Ruddy’s European Club is a “modern links” of worthy renown. I fell in love with Royal Dublin, a classic out-and-back links, and had the pleasure of being the first player off on a chilly, dewy morning at Portmarnock, another classic. The Island is a funky, roller-coaster ride that alternates between charming and churlish.

But my favorite experience of the year was a round at San Francisco Golf Club (below). Every hole was a lesson in architecture given by A.W. Tillinghast. I stood on some holes admiring the wonderful routing and brilliant bunkering, just nodding and smiling. The clubhouse was equally special, famous for its old locker room, warmed by a fireplace and a membership that appreciates just how lucky they are.

Almost as lucky as I am.

Next week I’ll review my favorite golf products of 2012.

Photographs of Tralee and San Francisco GC copyright L.C. Lambrecht

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