The inaugural Travelin' Joe Year-End Awards

The inaugural Travelin’ Joe Year-End Awards

The opening hole on Portstewart's Strand Course.
Larry Lambrecht

The previous 12 months have taken me everywhere from South Korea to Myrtle Beach. Here are the Top 10 memories registered along the way.

1. New development I'd retire to (if I had real money): Baker's Bay, Great Guana Cay, Bahamas. Inspired Fazio land sculpting, the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Abaco along part of the course, and the now classic Discovery Land on-course "comfort stations" make this paradise found.

2. Worst beatdown at a resort course: Orlando's Reunion Resort Nicklaus course. Not the place to shake off winter rust. A 140 slope from the white tees, at 6,260 yards? Come on, Jack—that's un-Bear-able.

3. Best hotel room with a view: Room 137, Macdonald Marine Hotel, North Berwick, Scotland, which overlooks one of golf's goofiest greens, the double-plateau 16th at North Berwick's West Links, and offers a wonderful long view of the previous hole, the infamous Redan.

4. My most satisfying par: A tie between the par-5 13th at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, S.C., which doglegs 110-degrees around alligator-infested Lake Singleton; and the par-3 14th at Royal Portrush, a 210-yarder known as Calamity, on a day that was so rainy and windy that even Rory McIlroy canceled his tee time.

5. Most palpable golf aura: Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia oozes golf pheromones. The 2013 U.S. Open venue is an astonishingly great piece of architecture on a tiny site. It overwhelms, with wicker basket flags, prehistoric (yet perfect) raincloud showerheads, and the lurking ghosts of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan.

6. Surprising ocean-free marvel: Brian Curley's 2011 design of the C course (Leaders' Peak) for Stoneforest International Country Club in Kunming, Yunnan, China slips past Augusta National for me as the World's Wonder Inland Course. Still, an approach over one of the jagged limestone pillars filling the fairways could cause the coolest customer to choke.

7. Most boring closer ever honors: The single dullest 18th hole in Ryder Cup history will be the par-5 18th at Gleneagles PGA Centenary, site of the 2014 matches. Flattish, with nary a speck of drama, this hole is begging to be altered. The dress crab appetizer with mustard cress that I had at the resort's Strathearn restaurant was more exciting.

8. Unexpected eye-opener: Portstewart Golf Club's Strand course in Northern Ireland is a wildly uneven ride with moments both forgettable and unforgettable. Chief among the latter is the beach and dune panorama from high atop the first tee. After your king-of-the-world drive, you may as well turn around, because there's nothing better in the next four hours.

9. Most underrated hole on the PGA Tour: The drivable par-4 17th at the TPC Scottsdale's Stadium course gets overlooked because it's next door to the circus-like 16th, and because it's neither as historic nor as hewn to its landscape as Riviera's 10th. Still, it's the rarest of things: a risk/reward hole that's fun and fair for all classes. I've played it a dozen times and still can't figure out the prudent play.

10. Favorite architecture moment: Who needs to spend time and money with an overabundance of hazards when a simple firm fairway dip in front of the green will do? I was greenside at this year's Scottish Open and saw Darren Clarke butcher the easiest hole on the Castle Stuart course, the drivable par-4 16th, by flubbing a pair of pitches in the left-front hollow. One day later, I followed suit.