Despite an extended absence of Tiger Woods, 2014 was a memorable year in golf for many reasons: Rory McIlroy became the first player in six seasons to win two majors, new courses actually opened, and the R&A admitted women. Our slogan at LINKS is "The Best of Golf," so without further ado we present the Best of Golf Awards.
Best New Course (Public)
The accolades are still piling in for David Kidd's stellar work at Gamble Sands in Brewster, Wash., three hours east of Seattle (top photo). The links layout, which debuted in August, sits above the Columbia River and its massively wide fairways play firm and fast.
Best New Course (Private)
At The Cliffs at Mountain Park in South Carolina, Gary Player created a memorable layout distinct from the six others at The Cliffs Communities: a front nine built around the Saluda River and a back nine that exudes a links feel. An abundance of bunkers throughout adds to the challenge on this walkable and fun layout.
Best Renovation (Private)
Three decades after completing the original design at The Ford Plantation in Georgia, Pete Dye returned to lead a $7 million renovation. The project included increasing green sizes, new irrigation and new turf, making one of the best private clubs in the Southeast even better.
Best Renovation (Public)
Poppy Hills had long been the forgotten child in The Del Monte Forest on the Monterey Peninsula thanks to high profile public-access neighbors including Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. That's changed after Robert Trent Jones Jr. completely remade his 1986 design, an effort highlighted by improved conditions, the removal of rough and the easing of green contours.
Best Driving Range
Top Golf, the high-tech driving range/entertainment complex, has had more success at getting non-golfers to swing a club in 2014 than any other effort. Why? It's fun, doesn't take long, and is a cool way to get newbies hitting a ball. And it's one of the hottest golf business ventures going, with new locations in nine states planned for next year.
Best Major (Men)
The PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in August had last-minute drama in the gloaming and the most controversial finish in a major since...well, like never before. Pairing up with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler on the 72nd hole, Rory McIlroy captured his second major of the year.
Best Major (Women)
In June 24-year-old Michelle Wie finally did what so many had predicted for her: win a major. She overcame a double bogey on the 70th hole to win the U.S. Women's Open by two strokes over Stacy Lewis at Pinehurst No. 2, providing a bit more drama than Martin Kaymer's runaway eight-stroke victory in the U.S. Open the previous week. In other words, No. 2 was No. 1 on No. 2.
Twenty-one-year-old Jordan Spieth's wind-swept final round 63 to win the Emirates Australian Open by six strokes in November was mighty enough to impress even world No. 1 Rory McIlory, who tweeted afterwards: "You could give me another 100 rounds today at The Australian and I wouldn't sniff 63...Well done."
Many golfers probably feel like it should be the mid-term elections, but it's not. Instead it came in September when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing female members a mere 260 years after it was founded. There's no word yet on who will be the first to receive an invite.
Best Birdie Streak
There was no hotter putter in a final round this year than Kevin Streelman, who closed with seven consecutive birdies—a PGA Tour record—in the final round to win the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
A 240-yard 3-wood on the 18th hole that hit the flagstick and led to an eagle at Royal Birkdale to win your first ever LPGA event? Oh and it also happened to be this year's Women's British Open? Here's to you Mo Martin and your shot of the year.
By: Tom Mackin