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No. 5 at Trump National Doral Miami Blue Monster / Courtesy of Trump National Doral
The TJs are back! From Donald Ross to Donald Trump, let us honor Travelin' Joe Passov's absolute best in travel from the past 12 months, like Doral's Blue Monster.
Design Nerd Moment of the Year
I played with 14 different architects this past year. Most enlightening was a Gil Hanse pairing during the February opening of his Trump National Doral Miami Blue Monster. Hanse proved to be one of the nicest guys in the business and one of the most talented as well, successfully restoring the fangs to the Monster without sacrificing its original integrity. We discussed the Olympics course project in Rio, and he explained how it's possible to make a course tough for the pros but playable for amateurs (Augusta National is the model). Sheepishly, I admit to enjoying seeing Gil trapped in bunkers of his own design at the par-5 eighth.
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Most Impressive Set of Greens on the Most Surprising Course
Ayodhya Links in Ayutthaya, Thailand, would have cracked our World Top 100 in 2013 had enough panelists been able to see it. I can see what appealed to the few intrepid travelers who made the journey. The existing terrain and surrounds are pretty tame, but the perfectly conditioned greens are anything but. As a test of golf, Ayodhya and its world-class conditioning are so superb that you'll want to stay put instead of opting for a Hangover-style excursion into downtown Bangkok.
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No. 18 at Seminole Golf Club / Larry Lambrecht
Best Locker Room at a Bucket-List Course
It's not difficult to find accolades for Florida's Seminole Golf Club. Many reviewers have made the case that Seminole is the definitive Donald Ross creation because of the way Ross cleverly incorporated two dune ridges into the design. And Ben Hogan once called the par-4 sixth the best par 4 in the world. Many in-the-know folk have also touted a feature that's not even on the course: the locker room. After finally teeing it up here, I can't say that I share the Hawk's fondness for the sixth, but the moose and elk heads and famous names -- Nelson, Palmer, Bing Crosby, et al. -- that populate the locker-room walls live up to the billing. Then again, so does the rest of the course -- the greens are some of the most ingeniously contoured I've ever played.
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No. 12 at Formby Golf Club / Eric Hepworth
Best Course That's Neither Fish Nor Fowl
Formby Golf Club on England's Lancashire Coast boasts serious history. Its legendary asparagus was served on the Titanic, and it witnessed a titanic British Amateur final in 1984, when José María Olazábal downed Colin Montgomerie. While many respected critics call it a links, thanks to its sandy soil and proximity to the sea, pines bracket most of its holes. However you categorize it, it's simply terrific.
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Courtesy of Terranea Resort
Most Enticing Par-3 Course
Terranea's inspired collection of one-shotters serves up a totally satisfying golf experience in about an hour and 15 minutes. Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf Design crafted a walking-only, oceanside gem 17 miles south of LAX that demands a full arsenal of short shots, thanks to steady breezes, a variety of contours on the greens and a surprisingly sophisticated set of bunkers.
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No. 4 at the Course at Sewanee / Lawson Whitaker
Best 9-Hole Course to Play with an Old Pal
Gil Hanse saw a gap in his schedule just prior to winning bids to create the Rio Olympics course and to remake Doral's Blue Monster. He decided to fill it with a renovation of the University of the South's Course at Sewanee, a nearly century-old nine-hole public-access layout set in the woods of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau, near the Georgia border. Hanse redid green complexes, added 28 strategically placed bunkers and removed trees to open up the mountain vistas. I met an old friend of mine, Dr. Adam Blum, at the course, and he used the occasion to ace the 165-yard, par-3 third—his first-ever hole-in-one.
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No. 1 at The Patriot Golf Club / Bryan Cooper
Most Patriotic Course
I've been lucky enough to see a lot of great courses in all my golf travels, so it takes a lot to impress me. Well, The Patriot Golf Club in Owasso, Oklahoma, made me stand at attention. Robert Trent Jones Jr., Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi sculpted this private suburban Tulsa layout out of dense forest, lowland marshes and limestone canyons. It's a superb track, with surprising but exciting elevation changes. Its founder is Major Dan Rooney, a Class A PGA pro -- and a first-class guy -- who also founded the Folds of Honor Foundation, which benefits the families of American troops who were killed or disabled while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Major Dan, I salute you, your course and your cause.
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No. 9 at Wailea Golf Club (Emerald) / Evan Schiller
Most Couples-Friendly Course
Gazing at the downhill plunge that greets golfers at the first tee of Wailea Golf Club's Emerald course, you can feel the stress melt away. The entire Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation delights at every turn. There are more dramatic elevation changes and fewer forced carries than on its tougher Gold sibling, along with ocean panoramas, shallower bunkers, plenty of run in the wide fairways, and beautiful floral displays, such as the profusion of colors left of the 11th tee. While hardly a pushover—the course has a 135 slope from the tips—Wailea Emerald is the perfect Maui spot to entertain yourself, your significant other and your best friends.
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No. 8 at Sunningdale (Old) / David Cannon, Getty Images
Best Halfway House Amid a 36-Hole Dream Day
I knocked off a bucket-list item when I finished my round last May at Sunningdale (Old) in suburban London. The course instantly made my list of golf's most charming courses, alongside Cypress Point and France's Morfontaine. I also dueled with the New, an equally worthy test that let me sample the legendary sausages (doused with brown HP Sauce, a British favorite of mine) at the wooden halfway house. The feast was good for research purposes, though not so good for my waistline. At least we walked all 36!
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No. 18 at Bandon Dunes (Punchbowl) / Wood Sabold
Most Fun with a Flatstick
Golf's ultimate amusement park, Bandon Dunes, upped the happy factor again in 2014 with the debut of the Punchbowl, a gigantic, wildly undulating putting ground co-designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina. Thirty-six possible holes are cut into the green, with 18 in play on any given day. Play is free, drink-holders await at most tees, and there's actually cocktail service from the adjacent Pacific Grill. Three-putting has never been so much fun.
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No. 1 at Whistler Golf Club / Courtesy of Whistler Golf Club
Best Wildlife Encounter
I could fill a zoo with animals I've come across on golf courses. It took me until July 2014, however, to see a bear. As I stood on the par-3 fifth at British Columbia's Whistler Golf Club in the Canadian Rockies, a handsome if somewhat tight Arnold Palmer design, I heard a commotion at the next hole. Bingo, Yogi's here! I maneuvered my cart into prime (but not too prime) position and watched him frolic. Eventually, he plunged into a pond between the sixth and 10th holes and went for a swim. "I'm not sure I've ever seen that before here," said Whistler GM Alan Kristmanson. I'm not sure whether he was referring to the swimming bear or my follow-through on the previous hole.
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No. 5 at Mid Ocean / John and Jeannine Henebry
Best C.B. Macdonald Private Course You Can Actually Play
C.B. Macdonald created über-exclusive haunts such as National Golf Links of America, Piping Rock Club and Sleepy Hollow -- posh spots where you'll need your prep school or investment-banking connections to get in. Yet on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, little ol' you can still tee it up at Bermuda's Mid Ocean, where you'll enjoy superb greens, ocean vistas and the fabulous par-4 fifth, called "Cape." For my money, it's the best course on the island.
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No. 8 at Emirates Golf Club (Majlis) / David Cannon, Getty Images
My Best Imitation of Rory McIlroy
The earth will spin out of its orbit before I'm able to swing like Rory McIlroy. But this year I got the chance to be like Rory in one way. I played the par-4 eighth hole at Emirates Golf Club's Majlis course in Dubai. That's the hole on which the World No. 1 filmed his "Standing in the Hall of Fame" Omega watch commercial. (Did you catch the ad? I did -- about 900 times.) The dramatic hole is an uphill, dogleg right with a tee shot over desert scrub, with a backdrop of skyscrapers. The setting is surreal. Rather than playing on an actual course, I felt like I was experiencing a real-life game of Golden Tee.
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Best Reason to Join a Michigan Private Club
Northern Michigan offers a smorgasbord of top public tracks, but because the region's location in the upper Great Lakes makes for an abbreviated golf season, prime tee times can be hard to come by. If you've got the coin for a private club, check out True North, a spirited, hilly and very playable Jim Engh design that wends through a veritable nature preserve of woods and wetlands in Harbor Springs. Short though the playing season may be, it's hard to beat the area's temperate summer climate, long daylight hours and enviable location near Little Traverse Bay. And if you're a fan of excellent practice facilities, empty tee sheets, and wild turkeys roaming the grounds, make a trek to True North.
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No. 10 at Barefoot Resort (Norman) / Great White Shark Enterprises
Best Back-to-Back Myrtle Beach Holes I Didn't Know About
The Greg Norman course at Barefoot Resort is ranked behind Barefoot's other entries, the Dye, the Fazio and the Love. That doesn't mean there's not a lot to like at this Shark design. Notably, the par-5 ninth stands out, with its jungle-like hazard fronting the green, followed by the fantastic long par-3 10th, which plays to a green framed by bunkers and the Intracoastal Waterway. I made 7 at the ninth and 2 at the 10th. Yep, that sums up my summer play perfectly.