For the first four months of this year, I was in California on duty with the Coast Guard. I was able to play some spectacular golf during that time; don't go crazy about your tax dollars not being used efficiently, even the Coast Guard gets off (some) afternoons and (some) weekends. The highlights of the trip, in order, were the John Daly designed Sevillano Links, Rustic Canyon, Bandon Dunes Resort with the GolfClubAtlas guys, Pebble Beach (highlight of the year, certainly), Harding Park and Edgewood Tahoe.
When I went to Sevillano Links, I didn't have very high expectations. I went there solely because the course was over 7,800 yards from the back tees, something like going to see the World's Largest Alligator at the State Fair. But what I saw there was very good. Good movement in the fairways, top class greens and a stern but fair challenge. It certainly exceeded my expectations.
Rustic Canyon came with higher expectations. It was partly a let-down, but more of an exposure to a new type of golf course, one which I had not seen before. The course very much resembles the courses at Bandon in that everything about it is rather understated, but none of the holes come in as below average. Overall, this is a very good golf course, and certainly worth the drive I made to see it.
Next came the trip to Bandon Dunes for the King's Putter match. This was a fantastic trip. The first round of the trip was at the newest course at the resort, Old Macdonald. This is an awesome course, and the course I would recommend people play first on their first trip to the resort. The view from the third fairway after cresting the hill is incredible. In this match, I teamed up with Joel Zuckerman from South Carolina against the team of Alex Stavrides and Evan Fleisher. After falling behind in the match early, Joel and I came back strong with Joel making some tough par's and birdie's along the way, and me making back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15. We closed out the match on 17, coming home with a win.
The afternoon round came at Bandon Trails with myself and Micheal Whittaker teaming up to play Joel Lahrman and Matt Bosela. This course is very good, not quite as good as Old Macdonald, but still top class. This course works through three different types of terrain, starting with dunesland for the first two holes and eighteenth, moving to a rolling meadow and then to a dense forest parkland. The routing makes the transitions seamlessly. The holes out here are very good individually with not a weak hole among them. It does an exceptional job with the par 3's, having holes requiring shots from 9 iron to 3 wood. Speaking of the 3 wood par 3, the 242 yard 12th hole, it was there that one of the funniest things I have ever seen on a golf course happened. Matt hooked his tee shot into the trees left of the hole. He went into the trees to look for his ball, after all, $4 Titleist ProV1's are worth looking for. As he was in there, according to him, he heard a large rustling in the trees and a large black creature lumbering towards him slowly. He comes running like a madman out of the woods, white as a ghost, and says "guys, I think there's a bear in the woods!" As he says that, the "bear" comes out of the trees, except its not a bear, it is a rather large Bandon player assistant, holding up a golf ball, saying "one of you guys hit a Titleist 8?" We all started laughing quite a bit, completely failing to really play out the hole. On the next hole I made the longest putt I've made in a few years, probably 40 feet or more, about 2/3's the way across the green, to bring Mike and I to 4 up with 5 to play in our match. On 16, our friendly marshal made another appearance, this time from up on top of the hill to the right of the fairway, yelling down to us where one of our tee shots had wound up. After that, I called him the Bandon Ninja Ranger. I closed out the 18th with my best shot of the week, a sand wedge to about 3 feet and made the putt for birdie.
The dinner that night was spectacular, hanging out with numerous guys from all over the world, Bill McBride a former Navy man from Florida, Matt Bosela from Canada, Little Joel from South Carolina, Big Joel from Cincinnati, Mike Hendren from Tennessee, a bloke from Australia whose name I can't for the life of me recall (since said to be David Elvins) but who was wearing a shirt with pictures of courses such as Oakmont, Augusta National, Golden Horseshoe (???) and others. What a great group of guys.
The final round of the weekend came at Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak's masterpiece on the ocean. I think the ancient definition of Masterpiece is more suited to this course than the current one. The ancient definition means a work that was done by a apprentice or journeyman to prove his skill in order to become a Master craftsman. Looking at Tom's high quality, but modest work done before Pacific Dunes, and his work after Pacific, to include Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers and others, it is apparent that Pacific Dunes was the work that elevated him from a skilled journeyman to a Master Craftsman in his field. Onto the match...This match pitted me against Alex Stavrides with whom I had played on Saturday morning. Big Joel and Little Joel filled out our group with their match. Pacific Dunes is a tremendous golf course, but on this day, the course got the best of me and I lost my match to Alex. But it was a great match on an even greater golf course. After a quick bite to eat, I had to leave in order to make it back to California for class for class on Monday, but what a weekend this was.
However, I must admit, that the Bandon weekend was topped just a couple of weekends later when I was able to play Pebble Beach. Pebble was all I thought it could be and more. Its very difficult for a course to exceed such incredibly high expectations, but Pebble did. This was a top quality trip, I went down on Saturday morning with a friend of mine, Nik Faulk (who was, prior to joining the Coast Guard, a professional bull rider) and made a full day of it. I played Pebble, he rode around, took some awesome pictures, and we ate at a top notch Japanese Steakhouse and it was a heck of a day.
After playing Pebble, the quality of courses played obviously decreased, and to be frank, I may never see another course as good as Pebble Beach. A little while after Pebble, I met up with some guys from GolfClubAtlas again for a little outing that Joel Lahrman and myself put together at Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland. That was another fantastic get together with those guys. This event was originally intended to be played at Callippe Preserve, that did not happen, but I managed to play over there a couple of weeks later. Both those courses were good courses, not great, but good, well priced golf options for the area.
The next real top quality course I played was Harding Park in San Francisco. This course has hosted its fair share of professional events and has a great routing. The movement in the land is very good, the views from the lakeside holes are very good. With a better set of greens, this course could be stunning. This is another fantastic municipal golf course that the citizens of San Francisco (well, the golfing citizens) should feel privileged to have.
The final really good course of the trip was Edgewood Tahoe. I finished school on a Wednesday, my wife had flown out to see my school graduation, and we decided to go to Lake Tahoe for that weekend; it was the next weekend after Mother's Day if I recall, and her first. So, on Thursday, we had a good time at lunch and I went to the golf course, teeing off at about 3pm. This golf course is very good, and could be even better with some winter tree removal. Some of the trees are so dense as to prevent proper turf growth, the encroach into some of the holes, making aerial hazards, and some holes, especially the 11th, have nearly unplayable corridors through the trees. But overall, the course is exceptional. The 18th hole gets all the press, but in my opinion, the 16th is a better par 5. This course is a real treat to play. My trade-off for being able to play Edgewood was a trip to the Spa in Harrah's for my wife; I think it was quite a fair trade-off.
I played some other courses in between these, Northwood was a good one, a 9 hole Mackenzie design. Chardonnay in Napa was fair, the 8th green has been featured in Golf Digest as some superlative, and its interesting I suppose, something like 100 yards wide, 6 tiers and so forth. But its quite out of character with the rest of the course. Wildhorse in Davis, a Jeff Brauer design was also rather interesting, if not exceptional.
Overall, this was a wonderful working golf trip. I played 25 total courses, 3 in Oregon, 1 in Nevada, 1 in Wyoming and Kentucky on the drive back to Virginia, and 19 in California. I doubt the volume or especially the quality of courses seen in the first 4 months of 2011 will be equaled soon, if ever.