When I tapped in on an Arkansas course last year, I'd finally done it: I'd fulfilled a decades-long quest to play golf in all 50 states. From Maine to Hawaii, here's my No. 1 memory from each one.
My maiden round on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail was pure “wow.” Grand National's Lake course, in Opelika, has classic Trent Jones tattered-edge bunkers, huge, elevated greens and water hazards galore. I left convinced that the Jones Trail is the poster boy for superior value. ($46-$81; 800-949-4444, rtjgolf.com)
Strange looks from the airline-counter lady happen when you check clubs to Alaska. Granted, playing my own sticks was not imperative on the then-primitive fairways of North Star Golf Club in Fairbanks -- America's northernmost USGA-rated course -- where muddy, rutted landing areas and moose sightings were the norm. ($35-$50; 907- 457-4653, northstargolf.com)
So many highlights from my home state. Still, my first ace tops my list. It came during a Memorial Day game with my dad at Desert Canyon (formerly Fountain Hills). I knew I'd pured my 5-iron on the semi-blind, 155-yard 4th (now the 13th), and after a brief search, I peeked into the hole -- and felt the greatest emotional rush golf can yield. That day, Fountain Hills was as great as Pine Valley. ($65-$90; 480-837-1173, desertcanyongolf.com)
It took me 40 years to play all 50 states. When I dropped a final putt at the pleasant Park course at Hot Springs Country Club last October, with my wife Betsy on the flag, I'd done it! Few Willie Park Jr. design features are left, but it's a nice round of golf, and a great place to make (personal) history. ($95; 501-624-4981, hotspringscc.com)
Pebble. Torrey. Pasatiempo. Great courses, all. Yet for years after my first, magical round at Cypress Point Club, if I was having trouble sleeping, I'd replay it in my mind, hole by hole. No other course made me feel so privileged to be a golfer.
I played a long-ago game with my brother John at Singletree (now called Sonnenalp), a Jay Morrish/ Bob Cupp design set at nearly 8,000 feet. My brother pounded 4-wood, 4-wood to reach the 560-yard opening hole in two, and we were left exhilarated, and a little punchy, by the altitude. Sadly, a May snowstorm sent us packing after 10 entertaining holes. ($85-$160; 970-477- 5372, sonnenalpgolfclub.com)
A tip of the cap to graceful old Woodway Country Club in Darien, with its 1918 Willie Park Jr. design, for being in the forefront of the burgeoning environmental movement. The enhanced wetlands and purple martin boxes dotting the restored native roughs left a lasting impression on me that golf and the environment could thrive together.
My wife and I accompanied my mother-in-law Peggy for a nine-hole jaunt on her 90th birthday at the Rookery in Milton. She would have gone another nine, but we had 30 guests, cake, and ice cream waiting at the house. ($30-$70; 302-684- 3000, rookerygolf.com)
It was an early March outing at the Breakers Ocean course in Palm Beach with my 84-year-old grandfather. We battled wind and rain at the historic course, which is drenched in charm and lore. I gave Gramps a couple of chances to bag it, but we pressed on, grinning all the way to the 19th hole.
Yes, I've played Augusta. Once. I arrived 45 minutes early, not to hit balls but to soak up the ambience. Our caddie knew the greens and guided me to an 84, with one 3-putt. I almost aced the 12th with a 6-iron, but it lipped out -- as did my birdie putt. Augusta National is the hardest tee time in golf, but I'm not greedy. One and done is fine with me.
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island is the best golf resort in North America. Talk about service. They not only replace the fresh fruit in your room daily, they ask you which fruits you prefer. Jack Nicklaus's friendliest design seals the deal. My perception may have been influenced by my pro-am pairing in the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi event. When his name was drawn for my group, all I could think was: “I'm playing 18 holes with my idol, Tom Watson!” When I told him I ranked courses for Golf Magazine, he replied: “Courses should be played, not ranked.” Vintage Watson! He was oh-so-gracious, offering me personalized chipping tips as we walked up 18. As my dad once said, “They pay you to do that?” Sometimes they do, Dad. ($250; 808-325-8000, fourseasons.com/hualalai)
One of my favorite gimmicks in golf is the floating par-3 island green at the Coeur d'Alene Resort. I've made par both times I've played there in summer. Even better was a January 1992 attempt when the course and green were closed. To meet a deadline, I was allowed to take driver -- yes, driver -- and rip balls at the isolated target, moored for the winter at 270 yards out. With my usual warning-track power and the 20-degree temps, I never came close, but it was fun trying. ($150-$220; 208- 667-4653, cdaresort.com)
The intoxicating auras of history and exclusivity swirl at Chicago Golf Club. As my heady day unfolded with one charming C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor hole after another, it was like Christmas morning, with 18 presents under the tree, including a “Redan,” an “Eden” and a “Biarritz.”
I first played French Lick's Donald Ross course on a 96-degree scorcher in 1996 and came away warm but wowed by the green contouring. I intended to play the resort's new Pete Dye course on my return, but Dye had it aerated that morning. I settled for a wonderful return round on the Ross, which featured a superb recent restoration by Hoosier State native Lee Schmidt. ($90-$120; 888- 936-9360, frenchlick.com)
I haven't teed it up in the Hawkeye State since Hall & Oates roamed the earth, but I recall 1941 Iowa Open and three-time PGA Tour host Sioux City Boat Club as an engaging, member-friendly, tree-lined track with small, quick greens.
Until I finally reach Prairie Dunes, I'll go with a pleasant trip around Arthur B. Sim Park Golf Course, near downtown Wichita, a busy, ancient muni beloved by locals. ($13.50-$34.50; 316- 337-9100, golfwichita.com)
Camped out in the Bluegrass State for the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, I snuck away to the private Olde Stone in Bowling Green, with its dramatic elevation changes on the back nine, golden fescue grasses, fast bentgrass greens, and wrist-fracturing rough.
No course in the country embodies its city's spirit like New Orleans's Audubon Park, which is accessible by streetcar. Reconfigured in 2002 by Denis Griffiths, this 114-year-old track is now a 4,220-yard, par-62 that's loaded with character. Lagoons, bunkers, and gnarled live oaks spice up play. Best of all, this feels like a genuine urban park. I played the par-3 15th alongside a sea of Rollerbladers and families with strollers. ($30-$40; 504-212-5290, auduboninstitute.org)