My 2010 in golf

There is little question that 2010 was a better golf year for me than 2009. After all, there were multiple rounds of golf played in March in Minneapolis. How can you go wrong with that?

The quick overview for me: I had more fun playing, I gained a better understanding of what I want out of my golf experience and I played more. Or at least I’m pretty sure that I did. I wanted to track just how much golf I played. That lasted about a month and then I quit paying attention. Maybe that can be a goal for 2011.

Here is where I played and some of the moments that stood out:

Courses played (in reasonable chronological order):

1. Mendakota Country Club, Mendota Heights, MN

2. Burl Oaks Golf Club, Minnetrista, MN

3. Deacon’s Lodge, Pequot Lakes, MN

4. The Classic, Brainerd, MN

5. TPC Twin Cities, Blaine, MN

6. Windsong Farm, Independence, MN

7. The Wilds, Prior Lake, MN

8. Oak Ridge Country Club, Hopkins, MN

9. Blackberry Ridge GC, Sartell, MN

10. Shepherds Crook, Zion, IL

11. Northville Hills Golf Club, Northville, MI

12. Timber Ridge Golf Club, East Lansing, MI

13. StoneRidge Golf Club, Stillwater, MN

14. Hillcrest Golf Club, St. Paul, MN

15. Town and Country Club, St. Paul, MN

16. Troy Burne Golf Club, Hudson, WI

17. Minnesota Valley Country Club, Bloomington, MN

18. Southview Country Club, West St. Paul, MN

19. Falcon Dunes Golf Club, Waddell, AZ

20. Trilogy at Vistancia, Peoria, AZ

21. Wickenberg Country Club, Wickenberg, AZ

22. Union Hills Country Club, Sun City, AZ

That’s 22 courses in five states. Eight are new to the Unique courses played since 2002 list. Five of the new courses are in Minnesota, meaning I have played 66 Minnesota courses since the start of the 2002 season.

How does that compare to past years? It is better than last year’s 16 courses, but a bit shy of my high-water mark of 37 different courses in 2005. That, however, when I was traveling much more for work and would play three of four new courses each year at the Final Four.

Biggest surprise of the year: Without question it was Minnesota Valley. I knew the course was a Seth Raynor design, but I had never played it previously. I expected that it would be decent, but was thrilled with how much fun the golf course is. It is only 6,787 yards from the back tees (par 73), but that doesn’t matter. This is a great second shot golf course. It is generous off the tee, but there are some spots where if you don’t hit the green, you are going to find your ball in a deep, flat-bottomed bunker about seven or eight feet below the putting surface. And that’s if your ball doesn’t hit the downslope and kick into some real trouble.

It doesn’t hurt that I played pretty well that day (I hit the first green in two for an easy birdie and birdied 18), but I just thought it was cool. I’m a sucker for classic courses and I really like the work they have done out there. It doesn’t beat you up, but it is great fun. Plus the super is doing a great job there since coming over from Hillcrest.

Worst course of the year: This one is just as easy. I like to say that life is too short to play bad golf courses. People think I’m kidding, but I’m not. There are enough good to great courses out there to waste time playing a place that sucks. That’s why Wickenberg Country Club was such a mess. I had made it until almost the end of the course. My parents’ neighbor wanted to go up there and play. When we got there, we found that only greens and tees had been overseeded — not the fairways. And the greens were super, super slow. Throw in a layout that is borderline unfair with how tight it is and it wasn’t a great day. The upside was that the course does feature an interesting collection of par 3s. But I won’t be back.

Best day of the year: I went to Brainerd for a few nights on the week before Memorial Day. It was great timing. Kids were still in school, the place was quiet, but golf courses had had enough time to get into good shape. I had a spectacular day at The Classic. I teed off about 9 a.m. on a beautiful late May morning. I played by myself and saw one other group the rest of the day. While it isn’t good for the course to get so little play, it was awesome to basically have the place to myself. The Classic is about as good as it gets and is, in my opinion, THE BEST course in the Brainerd area.

A step back in time: In August, I got an invite to play at the Town and Country Club in St. Paul. I had driven past the place tons of times, but had never played there. Built in 1888, it is a golf course from another world. There are tons of blind shots out there and some cool holes. I know there are people who think it is too quirky and I get that, but I had a wonderful day. That there are five par 5s on the course — including three in a row from 15-17 — is very fun. And the view of the Minneapolis skyline from the ninth fairway is pretty awesome. The other good news is that I avoided hooking any balls onto Cretin Avenue.

The best value: On a trip to Chicago this summer, I played with several guys who also post on Golf Club Atlas at Shepherds Crook, a cool Keith Foster course just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin border. This place is really good. I am a big fan of Keith Foster’s work and have played several of his courses including The HarvesterTexas Star and Gateway National. I like that he incorporates some cool design elements and builds interesting green complexes while also not going so over the top that the mass public hates it.

We played on a Saturday morning at pretty much peak time and the rate to walk was $42. That is awesome in so many ways. First, you can walk. Second, the golf course is cool. Third, it is all about golf. There’s a small bar in a modest clubhouse and a small banquet room, but the place is about golf instead of weddings and the like. I haven’t played everywhere in Chicago, but this might be dollar-for-dollar the best value in a city filled with $100 green fees.

Biggest disappointment: For some reason, Golf Digest has traditionally rated Timber Ridge Golf Club in East Lansing quite high. I had a round of golf at the Country Club of Lansing fall through at the last minute, so I was scrambling. I had played Eagle Eye just north of EL previously and wanted to try something else. What a mistake. Timber Ridge isn’t awful, but it just isn’t good either. You know it is not the greatest place when you can only remember holes with weird greens and not any of the good holes.

My shot of the year: Earlier this summer, I blogged about my club’s match play club championship. In that post, I said this of my consolation semifinal match where I was 1 up on the 17th tee:

The 17th hole might have been one of the most satisfying experiences on a course in quite a while. I smoked a drive down the middle of the fairway that left me with 110 yards to the front edge. With the pin up front, I try to cut a little 9-iron into the pin. The result was pretty damn perfect. High with a slight cut, the ball landed just short of the pin and ended up about 18 inches from the cut. Nothing like a birdie to win the match.

I wish that I could say I had a hole in one or something, but no such like. I’ll take a great shot under pressure to win a match.

Craziest round: I don’t exactly make eagles by the bucket full. But one night after work, I hit a short par 5 in two and made the putt for eagle. And I followed it up by chipping in from about 40 yards for eagle on the 12th hole. I had a chance to finish under par, but I think I trainwrecked it coming in and finished at even or 1 over.

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