The Travelin’ Joe Awards: The best in courses and travel from 2017

December 26, 2017

A Tiger, three eagles and a Cherry on top highlight Travel Editor Joe Passov’s last 12 months of road trips and expense reports. The TJs return to honor the best (and the rest) in this year’s travel.

Best Hosel Rocket Moment

Paired with Kenny Perry in the Tucson Conquistadores Classic Pro-Am, a PGA Tour Champions event, I raise my eyebrows as Perry shanks his opening tee shot on Omni Tucson National Resort’s Catalina course. “That’s a professional golfer, folks,” announced Scott Hoch, waiting to tee off in the group behind us. Perry, who couldn’t have been nicer and whose game recovered quickly, enjoyed the last laugh. Hoch shanked his own shot three holes later and was forced to dutifully report that to Perry on the ninth tee.

Top Spot for a Summer Home

Of the private golf communities I experienced this year, my favorite was Snake River Sporting Club, in Jackson, Wyo. Among the prime enticements: a Tom Weiskopf design that melts into its mountain-meadow surroundings, stunning Teton scenery, and fishing for fine-spotted cutthroat trout on the adjacent Snake River. I didn’t record an eagle through the first nine months of 2017, but I saw three in flight within 20 minutes at the Sporting Club.

Ultimate Arnold Homage

Few reminders of Arnold Palmer’s competitive legacy are as meaningful as the first tee at Denver’s Cherry Hills, where a plaque affixed to a brick wall describes the King’s monumental feat of driving the green at this par 4 in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open. Palmer’s two-putt birdie led to “the charge”—a career-defining comeback win. After being assigned Arnie’s locker to use before my round this year at Cherry Hills, I found the fairway—not the green—with my tee shot on number one, and eventually two-putted for a career-defining bogey.

Days of Wine and Bogeys Award

Every luxury cruise from Kalos Golf is the equivalent of a floating country club. A May river trip in France confirmed it. Sailing the AmaDolce from Biarritz to Bordeaux was so kick-back great I didn’t want to leave the ship. But wine tasting in the Medoc region, a truffle-hunting run and a castle tour beckoned, as did 18 on layouts classic (Colt, Simpson) and modern (Coore, Doak). Whiling away the hours never felt so good.

Second Fiddle in Monterey Award

In September, research led me to back-to-back rounds at Pebble Beach. Terrible gig, I know. The recent changes that softened the 14th and 17th green complexes elevated Pebble for me, and the new Fairway One at The Lodge accommodations are outstanding. But we know Pebble is great. So great (along with neighbor Cypress Point) that nearby layouts Spyglass Hill and The Preserve are overshadowed. I sampled Spyglass for the first time in 22 years and it proved as eye-catching and testing as ever—and in much better shape than I remembered. The private Preserve boasts a stunning, tranquil setting in the 20,000-acre Santa Lucia Preserve high above Carmel. Pebble remains King of the Monterey Peninsula, but Spyglass and The Preserve are royal too.

Most Prophetic Medical Alert

My first trip to Big Cedar Lodge just south of Branson, Mo., furnished compelling stories. Among them were preview play on Gary Player’s new 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course and a glimpse at a new Coore-Crenshaw layout. Still, the hype surrounded a rare Tiger Woods appearance, to announce his design plans for Big Cedar’s next course. Tiger hit two short irons to a makeshift par 3, the first falling woefully short, then winced as he climbed into a getaway SUV. The next day’s announcement from Tiger’s camp disclosed that he would be undergoing another back surgery—that very day. Ouch!

Lifetime Achievement Award

The last thing my father ever saw were the otherworldly red rocks that backdrop Sedona Golf Resort in northern Arizona. Dad, a starter and ranger at Sedona, passed away at age 77, in November 2016, while playing Sedona’s par-5 ninth. At a memorial charity event for my father in September 2017, I was touched to see how the club honored him—with a plaque and flower arrangement in a juniper tree along the left side of the ninth fairway. There’s no one who loved golf more than my pop, and there was no more enjoyable playing partner. The arboreal tribute sends a potent message: Play more golf with your dad, your mom and your kids, and stop to take in the scenery along the way.