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|The craziest hole of 2008: Nefyn & District's complicated, wacky 11th. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)|
From the best golf courses of Hawaii to Europe and Asia, plus catching the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, here's Brandon Tucker's golf travel awards for 2008.
This year brought me to the reaches of the golfing world near and far, from dozens of golf courses in Myrtle Beach to places like Wales, Morocco, Germany and Malaysia.
I saw some great golf courses, hit a few decent shots, met some rather friendly blokes and had more than my share of refreshing pints.
So before planning the 2009 travel schedule, it's only fitting to look back at the best of the past year. From golf courses to hotels, restaurants and watering holes, here are some of my "Best Ofs" for 2008.
Prettiest golf course: (Tie) Poipu Bay, Kauai and Nefyn & District, Wales. Both offer a wealth of coastal scenery, perched on cliffs high above the water, where your camera is as important as any club in your bag. Keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day (though that's a far easier wish on Kauai than in north Wales).
Their beauty comes with a price: these are two of the windiest golf courses you'll ever play.
Friendliest golf club: Royal North Devon, England. I think you have to be a little off in order to be a member at Royal North Devon, considering the hundreds of wandering sheep, poisonous Great Sea rush plants and occasional horse stampede.
But they've also got England's oldest links club, dating to 1864, and they're mighty proud of it. They'll take on a guest in their group in a heartbeat and are great fun along the course and in the most character-filled 19th hole.
Toughest golf course: Prince Course, Princeville. Off the first tee, my drive landed in position, and as I drove down the fairway I was fully confident I'd be able to tackle this notorious beast on Kauai.
Then I bladed my approach shot into the weeds, carded a quadruple bogey, and by the back nine was a battered and beaten man who could barely put the ball in the air.
But I will be back. Oh yes, I will be back...
Best Ryder Cup Moment: It was Boo Weekley and Paul Azinger's week at Valhalla, so when the two stood on the balcony, spraying champagne all over each other in front of a frenzied crowd, it was only natural for 'Zinger to grab Boo and give him a hearty smooch on the cheek, much to the U.S. team and the masses' delight.
Craziest hole: The 11th hole at Nefyn & District has to be the wildest, busiest hole in golf. You have to navigate through a public road (with parked cars sitting next to the fairway) and pedestrians entirely oblivious to the hazards of walking on the right side of a fairway, an ever-growing "blowhole" to the left that will swallow balls into the sea below, the 16th green left of the fairway and the cliffs even farther left but still in play.
It's probably best the tee shot is almost entirely blind over a dune so you can't see any of this. Ignorance is bliss.
Best conditioned greens: Bear's Best in Las Vegas. Having done most of my golf in the Midwest, Southeast and United Kingdom, I didn't think I would find bent grass greens in the desert. Alas, the best-conditioned greens I played on all year were at Bear's Best in Las Vegas, which had beautiful, speedy bent greens even in late July. When greens are this true, you think you can make every 30-footer you line up.
Best gimmick: In northern Germany, the Fleesensee Golf Resort's Coca-Cola Family Course has a refreshing twist: Golf holes about a foot in diameter. Be warned, though, this can be confidence-building and ruining at the same time.
Best dessert: They make a huckleberry cobbler at the new Teton Springs Resort near Jackson Hole that you wouldn't believe.
Or head for a Malaysian open market and have someone cook you up a piping hot fried banana.
Best watering hole: If you're in Portland, Oregon, spend a night at the British-style Horse Brass Pub. They've got scores of beers on tap, both local (Portland excels at microbrews) and international. You'll never meet such beer-savvy waitresses anywhere in the world, and you can even enjoy U.K. pub fare like a Scotch egg.
Best par of 2008: This came at Holyhead Golf Club's par-4 seventh hole. How's this for a par? A tee shot into the weeds, thus resulting in hitting three from the tee into the right rough. From there, a 165-yard 7-iron dunked into the cup. Next.
Best comeback: Big things are happening at the French Lick Springs Resort in southern Indiana. New owners have pumped about $500 million into their two fabulous spa hotels (West Baden Springs' giant dome center is awe-inspiring), they renovated the original Donald Ross course, are adding a Pete Dye design in 2009, and there is a casino and loads more to do. The best part: a free shuttle service will take you anywhere you want to go 24/7.
Best-timed golf trip: Somehow I found myself in Berlin during the Euro Cup semis and finals, and Germany was still in the tournament. It resulted in absolute mayhem in the main train station, there were parties in the streets after the semi-final victory over Turkey, and after the Germans lost in the finals to Spain, the populous seemed to unload enough firecrackers to bring down the Reichstag.
Best golf academy: In Bend, Oregon, Pronghorn Golf Club's Nicklaus Academy is about as futuristic as it gets with golf instruction, with an array of 3-D and video tools, flack jackets and more to keep you busy all day. They even have a program that plays soothing classical music if you're swing is proper and stops should you get off track.
The pros there say it's done wonders for the membership handicap, and I believe it.
Most anticipated new courses of 2009: Three courses have caught my fancy leading into next season: Pine Lakes International, the "Granddaddy" of Myrtle Beach golf is set to re-open as a top-shelf offering. Pete Dye's new French Lick course will stretch to over 8,000 yards and is set on some of southern Indiana's highest elevation. Later in 2009, Princeville will open the newly renovated Makai Course, which, thanks to its oceanfront locale, has the potential to become one of Hawaii's best, and the Princeville Resort will re-open with a shiny new look too.
December 17, 2008
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
The sun came out over Wales Monday, and Senior Writer Brandon Tucker ditched the final round of Ryder Cup play for 18 holes at nearby Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club. As the Americans rallied and ultimately fell short, Tucker offers his unique perspective on the European victory and the celebration that ensued.
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