Golf Shots - The Best of 2014

At risk of sounding like a braggart, 2014 was one heck of a great year for me and the game of golf. The previous 3 years have taken me to many major championship and bucket list courses, and while I didn't come away from 2014 with bag tags from Pinehurst or Pebble Beach, I close out the year with an abundance of something far more valuable... Great memories of great golf with great friends and family.

The year began at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Tour's self proclaimed "5th Major," where I joined seven other golf geeks for a weekend at one of the great venues of the game. The round was filled with several bright spots - birdies at holes 7, 8 & 11 - before the Stadium course eventually took its due. A pair of ProV1s found the water on the iconic 17th hole leading to a quintuple-bogey 8. The card was wrecked, so too were my dreams of a career round at a world-ranked course, but the rest of the festivities soon washed away the pain I encountered at the island green.

Highlight: Dinner and ping pong in the Champion's Locker Room.

A Weekend with The King

From the home of the PGA Tour to that of The King, the next stop in 2014 was a father-sons outing at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge. We teed it up at Arnie's place just a few weeks before the Tour came to town, and the course could not have been in any better condition. Of course, that also means it was playing exponentially harder, and my scorecard reflected it. In the end, I was soundly defeated by my brother, RJ, however given the glorious day that we had, it was hard to be too upset over the loss.

Highlight: RJ clanging his tee shot off a grandstand on #17 and bouncing nearly onto the green.

Black Diamond Ranch

Next up was the Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch. A mainstay on my list, but an invite I had never been able to score, Black Diamond's Stay & Play package made this infamous Tom Fazio design available to me for the first time.  My regular foursome made the trip to tiny Lecanto, Florida and spent the better part of an afternoon with our jaws wide open. The quarry holes at Black Diamond are unlike anything else in the state of Florida, and made for easily the most memorable round of golf we had experienced together. Naturally, I lost to RJ again, but at least I didn't get the label of "thumbs up guy."

Highlight: A 6-iron to 6 feet on the 13th (See: thumbs up pic).

Sawgrass Re-Dux

In April it was back to Sawgrass, where RJ and I hoped to settle a score that was nearly a decade in the making. We split our two previous matches here with one win apiece, and 9 long years had passed since the two of us had teed it Sawgrass together. I came into the round confident, assuming my two rounds on the Stadium within the last year would give me a decided advantage. The match came down to the final putt on the final hole, but one of the best birdies of my life could only earn me a tie.

Highlight: French toast and Starbucks on the clubhouse terrace, and the birdie on 18th.

A Trip to Sam's Farm

Back in the mid-1980's, carpet baron Bob Shaw purchased a dramatic piece of property in the hills of north Georgia so that his Golden Retriever, Sam, would have a place to get some exercise. The property was called Sam's Farm, and after the faithful retriever retired to that dog park in the sky, Shaw decided the property - now called The Farm - would make a perfect location for a golf club. He was right...

After hearing story after story about The Farm from my dad following his regular trips to the area, it was finally my turn to tag along and experience the club first hand. At first, it seemed the trip would be a bust thanks to roughly 12 hours of solid rain. But the Golf Gods tossed me a bone and cleared the skies just minutes before our tee time. To say Tom Fazio's course is spectacular is a definite understatement, but it's the property itself which will prove most memorable.

Highlight: A post-round chat with Bob Shaw after watching the last flecks of daylight over the 18th green.

At long last...Streamsong.

I can remember as if it was yesterday the press release announcing the Streamsong Resort arriving to my inbox. A luxury golf retreat in Florida featuring courses by Coore & Crenshaw and Tom Doak built on an abandoned phosphate mine sounded like my particular brand of vodka. When I pulled up the location on Goggle Maps, however, my opinion quickly changed. Frankly, I thought they were nuts...

A golf resort 40 miles from the nearest thing resembling civilization sounded like a bad idea. But the developers charged ahead, and with every unbelievable update on the construction my fascination with the resort grew more and more. At long last, some 4 years after reading that first press release, I was finally able to experience Streamsong first hand. Let's just say, it didn't disappoint.

Highlight: All of it...literally.

The Snake Pit

The finale of sorts for the year took my foursome of golf buddies to the Innisbrook Resort, home to the Tour's Valspar Championship. We were there to celebrate RJ's 30th birthday, and I planned to give him his first loss of the year as a gift. 

After a tune-up round on the surprisingly awesome Island course, the next morning's bleary eyed trek for iced coffee was met with a gorgeous sunrise and high hopes for that long awaited victory. Let's just say I'm still waiting. Not only did I lose yet again to RJ, he managed to beat me with an eleven on his scorecard. In the end, I finished the year 0-3-1 in our golf travels together. On the bright side, that's probably good enough to earn a Captain's Pick at the next Ryder Cup.

Highlight: Gathered around the resort's firepit with glasses in hand and exaggerated stories at the ready.

Finally, no telling of my year in golf travel would be complete without a mention of those memories made close to home. First, I started walking my home course more as opposed to taking a cart, many times with just 5 or 6 clubs. It's amazing how many new things you see on a course you've played your entire life when you're on foot as opposed to driving by it all. In addition, by leaving half the bag in the car it forces me to be more imaginative in what shot I hit, instead of the same old boring shots round after round. Whether either of these will help improve my record against RJ in 2015 remains to be seen.

As much as I enjoyed seeing my home course in a new light, it was even more fulfilling watching my nephew, Old Sport, see it for the first time. He tagged along for many late evening matches between his dad and I, and I'm pretty sure his indoctrination into the game is going just as planned. 

Although I didn't come away from 2014 with bag tags from a host of major championship venues, this year in golf felt every bit as fulfilling. As I look back on the year and what made it memorable, a pair of common themes seemed to be at work. The first is my brother's "lucky shirt"...  Make no mistake, that faded sage green polo he's wearing in most of these photos strikes subconscious fear in my golf game every time I see it. The "lucky shirt" only makes an appearance when we play at renowned courses, and my strategy is to get it so much use that it eventually falls to shreds. 

The real common theme to the year, however, is really quite simple... People. Aside from Streamsong, all of these experiences involved family and friends, both old and new. As memorable as my visits to places like Pinehurst, Kiawah, and Pebble Beach might have been, they were all done alone. Golf at its core is a social sport, and this year I learned that few things that can top a great course paired with some of the people that mean the most to you.

Cheers to you, and here's hoping your 2015 is filled with plenty of fairways & greens.

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