Snapshots From A Year On The Road

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Snapshots From A Year On The Road

January 09, 2012

Senior Travel Editor Matt Ginella shares pictures and anecdotes from a memorable 2011

My year started with a last-minute invite to play in what was the last Bob Hope Classic. I played with four tour players: Billy Mayfair, D.J. Trahan, Jerry Kelly and rookie Zack Miller. In a week stuffed with memories and nervous swings, it was the round with the alpha-Badger Kelly I will never forget.

I had one of my best friends on the bag at the Hope, and my Dad roamed the gallery for a day. Pops got ambushed by Harpo the Clown.

A moment of silence for the last of the Hope Girls. [Silence.] Goodbye to Bob, Hope and Classic.

Bayonne in New Jersey is a private course that I get to play a few times a year. I like the last 12 holes a lot better than the first six, and I wish I could live in the clubhouse. There was a round in the summer that was worth noting. I teed it up with a colleague and a double-baggin' caddie on a day when it was 108 degrees in the shade. "Only one group has made it all 18," said the starter. After getting a tight chest, spins and nausea, we stopped after 13 holes. In his defense, the strappin' caddie was prepared to keep going.

I had the privilege of playing 36 holes at Fishers Island. This Seth Raynor design was like an 18-hole class in architecture. Every hole was artfully and carefully placed into the scenic setting that offered seemingly endless coastline. After the round, and after more reading about Raynor, he's my new favorite old architect. This is Fishers' 465-yard 8th.

Every year, since I was 18 years old, I've been playing in the Baywood Pro-Am in Arcata, Calif. I make the trek from New York to the land of intimidating trees only to play bad golf caused by narrow fairways, small greens and my weak mind. But it's scenes like this, walking through the fog to the ninth green, that keep me coming back.

I was sure that the opulence of Shadow Creek in Las Vegas was going to make me throw up on my soft spikes. But that wasn't the case. Both on and off the course I had a blast. It's not for everyone, but if you like golf, Tom Fazio, Vegas and you can afford the $500 green fee, believe it or not, it's worth the trip. We did a complete guide to golf in Las Vegas in the December issue.

I turned 40 last summer, and to celebrate I took 11 family and friends to play nine rounds in five days at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. Not only was it the trip of the year, but I definitively sorted out my vote for the best course at the resort: Pacific Dunes. This is the 444-yard 13th, which is one of the toughest and most scenic holes on property. If you ever play the hole, and after you putt out, walk to the back of the green and enjoy the view.

The second best course at the resort, and the most fun to play, is Bandon Dunes. This is the 428-yard 5th hole, another one of my favorites on property.

If Pacific is the best, and Bandon is the most fun, I say Bandon Trails is the most underrated. It also gave me my best scoring round of the year -- I doubled 18 for a 74. Trails might have the best collection of par 3s of the four big courses at Bandon; this is the 180-yard 17th.

If Pacific is the best, Bandon is the most fun and Trails is underrated, then Old Mac is the most overrated. People are raving about the Tom Doak-Jim Urbina-homage to Charles Blair Macdonald. After a few rounds of navigating intense wind, I've decided I would only play Old Mac once every ten rounds at the resort. I'd play Pacific four times, Bandon three times, Trails twice and Old Mac once. That being said, I do like the look of Old Mac. This image is one of the course's many windswept dunes.

As I was finishing the round at Old Mac in a four-club wind, I held up my towel and documented my surrender.

The kicker to the perfect buddies trip was a private tour of Preserve, the 13-hole fifth course, which will open in May. To say it looks sweet wouldn't be doing it justice. This is the sixth hole.

I use benches at Bandon like I use church pews -- as a spot to sit down, reflect and be thankful for all the good things in life. Meet Todd Curran, best buddy from high school. I chronicled my trip to Bandon in a separate slideshow in September.

If you're ever anywhere near Traverse City, Mich., take time to find and play Kingsley Club. I think the annual membership for out-of-state residents is $3,000. I'm seriously thinking about joining. It's that good.

Kingsley's 18th tee reminded me of a scene out of "Shawshank Redemption". I was told to go to the rock wall and discover the buried treasure. Cheers to swing oil.

I ambushed the FootJoy Ambassadors at Medinah Country Club in the fall. Ambassadors are a fun bunch of kicks-lovin' golfers who earned a free round at this year's host of the Ryder Cup for being loyal to the FootJoy brand. One guy has over 80 pairs, many of which he designed himself through their website. I was happy to get the invite to tag along on this outing. The group wasn't just avid about the brand and the shoes, they also loved golf. And the course is a classic: big sweeping fairways, hulking par 4s, knee-shaking par 3s over water. Of which, this is the 17th.

We finished the round at Medinah as the sun was going down, which made for a decent scenic shot of one of the most recognizable clubhouses in golf.

As we were walking back to the bus, I stumbled upon Michael Jordan's locker, which seemed staged, but I took the bait.

On a trip to Michigan I had the chance to play Jim Engh's Tullymore, No. 36 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public. I became enamored with Engh's artistry. The man knows how to build a visually-stunning golf course, but I didn't love it from a player's perspective. There were a few short par 4s that didn't make sense, and the routing was quirky. This is the horseshoe green from behind the 560-yard 15th.

I was fortunate to get an invite to play the McGladrey Classic with Bryce Molder, Jim Cantore (of the Weather Channel) and colleague Tim Rosaforte. "Rosie" is also a close friend and mentor, going back to my days at Sports Illustrated. Any round with Tim (teeing off) is spiritual, but especially at a setting like the Seaside Course.

I also played in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic Pro-Am in Orlando, which is where I witnessed Steven Bowditch shoot a 71 and finish T-16. Bowditch, who has muscled through some adversity in the past, was playing with a broken right hand. How? He had punched a wall. I spent the day staying out of the way.

I've been to Pine Valley three times in my life. This past year accounted for two of those times. Tucked behind an old amusement park in the trees of New Jersey, this is a golf mecca and museum. I can never stop looking around and listening. And everything tastes better at Pine Valley. The snapper soup, for example. On my trip in June I played in the group behind Rory McIlroy only days before he torched the U.S. Open field at Congressional. I hear McIlroy liked Pine Valley, but he was a little disappointed in the lack of female scenery. Single, and a fan of female scenery myself, not even I can agree with the rich and successful Irish hormone. Pine Valley, as you know, is a place for playing pure golf, not for players. This is PV's lower green at the eighth hole.

My round at Whitney Farms in Monroe, Conn., gets a mention, not because of the course, conditions, or my score. This was more about feeling like I stole something -- playing golf in the Northeast in late November -- and there was also a healthy layer of sentiment. My Dad and Craig Bestrom, a colleague and one of my favorite golf buddies, were in my group. We only played nine holes, and we finished in the dark, but it was good to take a few bucks from both, and especially good to have my Dad on the East Coast.

I've played Winged Foot West a few times, but I had never played Winged Foot East. I can see why some people argue they prefer it to playing the West. For one, it's easier. And two, it's easier. This would be my final round of the year in the Northeast, and as the sun was setting on the 18th green, and on that spectacular clubhouse, I made a bomb for birdie to end the match.

I end every year with a trip to Hawaii to see my brother and his family. While I was over there I spent some time on Maui and stayed at Kapalua. I played both courses with Gary Planos, who's considered The Mayor of the resort. I was treated to a lot of great holes, and better stories about Planos' life as the ultimate Hawaiian host to tour players and celebrities. This is the Bay's 18th.

One of the first Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designs, Plantation at Kapalua is one of my favorite courses in the country. As Planos pointed out several times throughout the round, it looks like Coore and Crenshaw spilled buckets of fairways and greens on what is a sweet setting for a golf course. The undulations lead to dramatic views and some nerve-testing swings to fairways and greens protected by extreme island hazards. And if you play from the right tees, it's gettable, which adds to the fun.

I can't be reflecting on images of trips and courses without mentioning my favorite caddie of the year. This is Evans Scholar Jaira Chaiffee of Bandon Dunes, who was the subject of a popular Q&A.

This picture was shot by Cy Cyr, and Tiffany Crystal wasn't a beverage-cart girl at a course I played in 2011, but she's worth some reflection, more pictures and a link to my Q&A with the recent Playboy Cyber Girl of the Week.

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