As we dream about new golf courses we might be lucky enough to play in 2019, “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch wrap up their Year in Review episodes with a list of favorite golf courses they played for the first time in 2018.
They get the ball rolling, so to speak, with three heralded short courses, each of which are leading the way into a new era of creative less-than-full-scale tracks. Mitch begins with his experience at Winter Park Golf Course in Florida, the nine-hole, community-centered gem reworked by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns into a true template short-course experience. A par-35, 2,470-yard layout that features brilliant greens complexes, Winter Park provides an opportunity for every skill level and age to enjoy the game — quickly and cheaply — with a maximum of fun.
Next comes memories of the Phoenix-Scottsdale region of Arizona with Mountain Shadows — and 18-hole (or is it 18 1/2?) par-3 beauty designed by Forrest Richardson in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. Though they played the Short Course on separate trips, both came away with the same love for the experience, which provides an abundance of shotmaking options and design elements, physical beauty, and even a 17.5 hole for bet-settling.
South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is the home of Sweetens Cove, another short course that has taken the golf world by storm in a very short time. Though the King-Collins design features a traditional nine-hole routing, it is anything but traditional in the creativity column. Darin details his marathon of playing more than 60 holes over a 24-hour period, his discussion with designer Rob Collins on the influence of Mike Strantz and other creative golf architects, and why you could spend days replaying this nine-holer over and over again without it ever feeling repetitive.
Bunch continues his first-time-played list with the joys of Scottish golf to be found at Dunaverty Golf Club on the Kintyre Peninsula and Western Gailes Golf Club, across the Firth of Clyde in Ayshire. He shares the completely different seaside experiences at each, noting that Dunaverty features glorious blind shots rewarded by bowl-style greens complexes as well as beautiful views, while Western Gailes combines a rich golf history with its unusual layout of seaside holes and holes alongside the railroad tracks. Combine that with a sublime setting and you’ll understand why Darin calls Western Gailes the “biggest surprise” of his most-recent Scotland trip.
Laurance then adds to his list with a description of Aiken Golf Club in South Carolina, a course where the long and complex history dates back to 1912 and adds to the unique, captivating quality of the round. Mitch explains how a track that plays only 5,800 yards from the tips should be considered one of the best tests of your game, full of challenging shots and strategy requirements, as well as a pure setting that made his walk one of the most enjoyable ever.
Next up, Darin highlights FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in Alabama. With incredible conditioning, owing to the Pursell family’s background in fertilizer and turfgrass, this intriguing design by the Hurzdan-Fry team features beautiful holes in the flatlands and a collection of rollercoaster drop-shot 3-pars. And now that Pursell Farms’ ever-growing list of amenities and activities include a newly-opened hotel that makes it a full-blown resort, it’s easy to see why FarmLinks is high on Darin’s year-end list.
Meanwhile, Hobbs, New Mexico, might seem like an unlikely spot for Darin’s next choice, but as he describes why Rockwind Community Links should be on everyone’s play-list, it’s clear that there’s something special about Andy Staples’ reworking of the city’s pre-existing municipal course. Staples (who also had a hand in the terrific Sand Hollow in St. George, Utah) took an ultra-creative approach to his design and turned Rockwind into a fun, affordable and interesting golf experience — one that Darin believes should be mentioned in the same breath as Winter Park and other much-heralded community golf projects across the country.
Continuing with another on his out-of-the-way-but-totally-worth-it list, Bunch heads up to North Dakota and explains why Jim Engh’s artistic design at Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck is worth a visit. From its high-point clubhouse, Hawktree winds its way up and down through valleys and foothills, and features pure variety — water hazards, holes on plateaus, doglegs, black-sand bunkers and other dramatic elements, all of which add to Engh’s reputation as one of the game’s most distinctive architects.
Laurance then chimes in with a repeat description of his summer journey to the Boyne Resorts gems in Upper Michigan (you can hear more on Episode 115) and explains why three of the four courses at Boyne Highlands — the Heather, the Hills Course and the Donald Ross Memorial Course — deserve to be on his year-ender.
Darin also adds a re-mention of his round at Rams Hill Golf Club in Borrego Springs, California (which he, Mitch and Re-Gripped’s Peter Flanigan recently detailed in Episode 119) and then dives into his time at The Retreat, Links & Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch in Eastern Oregon. Darin discusses the uniqueness of architect Dan Hixson’s design — a 27-green reversible routing that plays as two separate 18-hole tracks, (teh Hankins and the Craddock, named after local historical figures) and then details how the crazy-fun hilltop-to-hilltop shotmaking of the seven-hole McVeigh’s Gauntlet, now made famous because of its use of goats as caddies, makes Silvis Valley Ranch an experience like no other he’s found in the golf world.
Saving the largest-canvas layout for last, Bunch concludes this supersized episode with memories of his two-day, three-round exploration of David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes course at Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin. He explains why the addition of Mammoth Dunes to the Coore-Crenshaw Sand Valley course and their Sandbox 17-hole layout has elevated this up-and-coming resort one of the pre-eminent destinations in American golf.