MY TOP TIGER MOMENT: It's tough to top talking architecture with Tiger Woods at Diamante's El Cardonal, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, slated to be Tiger's first completed design when it opens in 2014. His emphasis on walkability and playability for all was refreshing, but I confess: I enjoyed talking Pac-12 football with the guy as much as I did talking shop.
2 of 13Courtesy of Joe Passov
BEST 19TH HOLE: No club celebrates wine like Mayacama, in Santa Rosa, Calif. It boasts 33 vintner-members, including the folks who produce Cakebread, Chalk Hill and Silver Oak. Each vintner provides special tastings each year -- the better to help members cope with a Jack Nicklaus design that's tough enough to drive anyone to pop a second cork.
3 of 13Courtesy of Shanqin Bay Golf Club
DESIGN NERD MOMENT OF THE YEAR: A tie: playing Shanqin Bay on Hainan Island, China (pictured), with its designer, Bill Coore, and tackling Streamsong (Blue) in Florida with its creator, Tom Doak. Every time I think I know something about architecture, these two remind me that I'm just scratching the surface.
4 of 13Larry Lambrecht
The Tom Doak-designed Streamsong (Blue) in Florida.
5 of 13Courtesy of Joe Passov
MOST SATISFYING PUTTING DUEL: After talking rapid acceleration at dinner with Ferrari fanatic Ian Poulter, then getting my first chance to drive one from CordeValle to Quail Lodge, I didn't think life could get much better. The next day, I teed it up with Poults on the speedy greens of Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore course. I rolled in two birdies on the back nine. Poulter made five. Wow.
6 of 13Michael Slear
MOST UNDERRATED HOLE [MYRTLE BEACH DIVISION]: I thought I knew Myrtle pretty well, but I hadn't played Grande Dunes until August. Architect Roger Rulewich did an excellent job, and totally surprised me with the pulse-quickening 220-yard, par-3 14th. Downhill tee shot, massive green, gargantuan bunker, superb interaction with the Intracoastal Waterway -- impressive.
7 of 13Courtesy of Claudia Silva
STRANGEST SPOT FOR A GOLF RESORT: I'll bet that even the globe-trotting David McLay Kidd never expected to design a course on the southwest coast of Nicaragua, a country better known for political strife than par 5s. But the Guacalito de la Isla course at Mukul Resort was a delightful surprise, right down to the screeching monkeys that mock mis-hits on the beachside par-3 18th.
8 of 13Kevin Frisch / Fusion Media Strategies
MOST "KING OF THE WORLD" MOMENTS IN NINE HOLES: Talk about hang time: Seven of the nine holes at Rick Smith's Threetops, the tiny star of Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich., have steep drops, paced by a 145-foot plunge at the third and a nine-story descent at the seventh. Altitude sickness aside, I managed a 3-over-par 30 and wobbled away.
9 of 13Courtesy of Joe Passov
Joe Passov gets ready to face a 145-foot plunge on the third at Threetops.
10 of 13Courtesy of Royal Links Golf Club
BEST LINKS MOMENT [IN LAS VEGAS]: I'd played Walters Golf's Royal Links before, and while I admired the design homage to holes on the British Open rota, it was always too hot and green for me to think I was anywhere but Vegas. This past March, on a dark, drizzly day, I had a change of heart. If I hadn't had to check my NCAA bracket, I would have gladly stayed in my own private Scotland until nightfall.
11 of 13Taku Miyamoto
GREATEST COURSE IN NEED OF A CHAINSAW: Thirty years after I saw my first photo of Kawana Hotel's Fuji course, the 1936 C.H. Alison design ranked No. 71 in Golf Magazine's 2013 World rankings, I finally played it. It's a fun and strategic track. My beef? Decades of tree growth obscure the course's amazing Pacific views. Call Paul Bunyan and watch Kawana climb.
12 of 13Brian Morgan
This is the view Travelin' Joe wants.
13 of 13Brian Morgan
THE NO. 1 COURSE THAT'S ALWAYS NO. 1: After 14 years, I made it back to Pine Valley, our No. 1 course for almost 30 years. It's still No. 1 simply because it has more great holes than any other single course. Some say it shouldn't be because it's private. But, hey: Car buffs read about Ferraris even if they'll never own one. (Of course, this year, I did drive my first...)
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