Before I get started, please understand this list is NOT a golf ranking, which is a staple with many blogs, websites, magazines and newsletters. I consider most rankings too unscientific and marketing driven and essentially worthless.
Months or years after a round, however, most players remember the total experience, not just the course. Oftentimes, friendly starters and rangers, ice cold beer on the beverage cart, well-maintained course conditions, an exotic setting, phenomenal weather, scoring low, camaraderie and other factors are main contributors to the total golf experience.
That said, here are my most memorable golf experiences:
Kingsbarns Golf Links, Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland
Located 15 minutes from St. Andrews, Kingsbarns is Scotland’s answer to Pebble Beach. What do I remember: Wide fairways, fantastic greens with great movement and contours, the smell of the sea air and the sound of the waves on the rocks and beach. A man-made links course designed by Mark Parsinnen and Kyle Phillips in 2000, Kingsbarns has a special place in my heart. I’ll always remember standing on the 2nd hole, a 190-yard par-3, and high-fiving my playing partners: my teenage son and 11-year old daughter. We were all thinking the same thing: Can you believe we’re standing here? Are we lucky or what?
Mission Hills Resort Course, Shenzhen, China
I scored a hole-in-one on no. 13 on the Olazabal course. Or at least I think it was the Olazabal course. Geez, this sprawling, mega golf complex has twelve golf courses so it’s hard to keep up with all of them. Yes, I just checked my hole-in-one certificate and it was the Olazabal. It was at the end of a long day and we were playing in the dark and could barely see the flag. While my playing partners insist a player from the group ahead dropped one through his pant leg into the hole, I strongly dispute that story as they were under the influence of a few too many Tsingtao Chinese beers. Regardless, the resort rewarded me and my group with a fabulous bottle of champagne after the round and every time I see Jose Maria on T.V. I make a silent toast and thank him for designing the course that has made me infamous with several other golf writers.
Eden Course, St. Andrews, Scotland
What about the Old Course? The truth is I’ve been to St. Andrews three times in my life and I’ve never played the Old Course. On previous trips, a series of schedule changes and snafus have denied me the opportunity to play what many rate as the best course in the world. I’ll never forget the misty morning my son and I played the Eden Course, however. While most golfers pay passing interest to the Eden because of its short yardages (only 6,250 yards), it was a thoroughly enjoyable links golf experience. I’m a struggling mid-handicapper and I had a great round by staying in play and putting well. My son, who was 17 at the time and an accomplished junior player, absolutely loved all the shotmaking opportunities. If you can’t play the Old, play the Eden for a fun challenge where you can score well on this par 70 gem. It’s more forgiving than the three courses on the seaward side. It opened for play in 1914 and was designed by Harry S. Colt and later received some alterations by Donald Steele