In Anticipation of a Golf Trip

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The weather this past week in Toronto has been all sorts of weird: the hottest days of the year in early September, leading into high teens (Celsius) for the latter half of the week, bringing a roughly 20+ degree swing. It feels cold, and the overcast skies do not help. It might as well be late October, but in my world, everything is blue sky and sunny, summer days.

The reasoning? I am off on a proper golf trip next week; one that includes taking holiday and spending time with friends, and not the other kind where I run around with a chicken with my head cut off to squeeze in as much golf as possible in my two days off (I love those as well, but). This trip includes Sand Valley, Whistling Straits, and Marquette’s Greywalls, a wide variety of modern architecture that includes Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, Mike DeVries, Pete Dye, David McLay Kidd, and Tom Doak C.B. Macdonald. If only there was a Gil Hanse and a Rod Whitman… I would have the greatest architects in the past 40 years in one trip!

Mike DeVries’ Greywalls, a rocky adventure in the UP, is on this trip. Photo credit: Marquette Golf Club

The trip always exceeds expectations—the internet, and this website & our contemporaries can never show you what to truly expect—but planning the trip, and the build up, sure makes the weeks leading into the trip fun. Especially when the trip contains the heavy-hitters this upcoming one does, with an assortment of rock and sand eye-candy, high-profile architects, and a new region to dive into. It feels a bit like Jenga: trying to slot everything in to make sure you can see everything and do everything you want. Inevitably, everything does not fall into place: Lawsonia Links, the other one on the trip we all wanted to play, is hosting a sectional PGA tournament on Tuesday. Even with one miss, jockeying tee times and texting the group chat with confirmed times makes you feel like an Avenger before they demolish the city. At that single moment, the one where you say “we have a tee time at ____,” you might as well be the biggest celebrity on the planet. You are ‘that guy’ at that moment, and the more you do it, the more people rely on you to book the trip. It seems my role has shape-shifted into the planner as a result: where we stay, where we golf, and where we eat. I love a good Chic-Fil-A sandwich on the road, but also love to splurge on one or two meals if you find yourself in a nice area or restaurant (hello, Aldo’s). Golf is expensive, so a Days Inn or Best Western never hurt anyone (as long as everyone agrees on that quality). I’m 25: there is no Fairmont or Four Seasons in my immediate future, but perhaps it is better that way.

The priority is always golf and that is where most of the budget allocation goes towards: caddies, guest fees, and any associated merchandise. Given the priorities of my friend group, I suspect that is how I ended up being the planner. In middle September, daylight is a fleeting commodity, so 36 holes is no easy task to squeeze in… but we’ll do it three days in a row. We are all young and like to walk, usually meaning that after a trip, the days following are chill and relaxing. That post-golf trip hangover, laced with discussions and debates, favourite holes and those all-time moments of hole-outs and birdies or eagles, is just as good as planning a trip, but that is for another article.

Mammoth Dunes, my third David McLay Kidd design, is our first 18 hole course at Sand Valley. Photo credit: Golf Magazine

On such trips, with a fairly well-documented itinerary, it is pretty easy to have preconceived notions on how each course will stack up against each other. As it stands, Whistling Straits is the front-runner, with Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, and Greywalls trailing—at least as far as rankings go. The Sandbox, our first stop on the trip as any good buddies trip to one of the numerous modern resorts should start, has echoes of “the best par 3 course in the world” ringing through my texts and DM’s. This is not represented on Golfweek’s new Top 40 Short Course ranking, but 10th is nonetheless an impressive ranking. If it’s better than The Quarry at La Quinta’s short course or The Park’s Lit 9, then it will be good golf. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw rarely build anything less-than, and from photos, friends, and various discussion, the Sandbox is a charming introduction. I’ve seen Bandon Preserve, The 21 at Cabot Citrus Farms, and The Nest at Cabot Cape Breton, so rounding out the Dream Golf offerings in North America will be a fun discussion it itself, as well as the big courses (I am smelling an article coming).

For my tastes, I almost get more joy out of the controversial courses than the universally loved ones. Expectations can rarely live up to how good a Pacific Dunes or Cabot Links is, but seeing Old Macdonald, the controversial course at Bandon Dunes, and throwing your hat in the discussion, is (in my opinion) equally as enjoyable as playing the #1 course on property. On one hand, you have Matt Ginella ranking it worse than Punchbowl, while others think it’s the best at the resort. That pre-trip dilemma is fascinating, and the post-round discourse is equally as engaging. Where everyone in the group stands on Old Macdonald or Streamsong Black makes for a wild ride, as long as everything is said in jest.

Old Macdonald’s Maiden green

At Sand Valley, that storyline exists as well. Nobody really complains about the Coore/Crenshaw namesake course at the resort, but Mammoth Dunes, the David McLay Kidd rebirth course, is, at least in my circles, controversial. On one hand, a close friend—whose wedding is the reason for a Wisconsin voyage—thinks it is brilliant. On Twitter, it is a very popular choice for many’s favourite golf courses they have ever played. I see it ranking highly on personal lists and magazine lists alike. However, architects and… let’s call them critics, claim the golf course is like going bowling with the bumpers up; catering, of sorts, to let people shoot their best score. In a similar way people rag on Old Macdonald, perhaps the most intriguing course on the trip. I, for one, love Gamble Sands in Washington, which people compare it to and is from the same McLay Kidd era. Old Macdonald got better with my visit in March, so Mammoth Dunes is a highly anticipated round of golf for me.

Pete Dye courses tend to have that affect as well, but purely because of his architectural and visual flair. Overzealous and dramatic, Dye’s courses are generally a bit too much… but strategically, they set the groundwork for Tom Doak, Bill Coore, and others in that school of architecture. To play a Pete Dye course is to read the source material and see the concepts passed through generations. Whistling Straits is Dye’s third-best golf course on Golf Magazine‘s list, and I enjoyed both Kiawah and Sawgrass thoroughly (the former blew me away). His architecture is one that always seems to grip me in ways others cannot, even at his worst, and each golf course I begin to develop a curiosity for.

Whistling Straits par 4, 12th, where I hope to get that crazy back right flag. Photo credit: Carlos Amoedo

All this for a golf trip. The feels, emotions, planning and prep for a trip that comes and goes soon enough. Packing your favourite shirts and hats is the final box to tick before the trip begins, and suddenly, it is nonstop until it ends. I’ll end up writing about a few of the courses, but what I enjoy the most is exploring a new region with friends. Part of the fun of completing Canada’s Top 100, for me, was being able to see the country. With this trip, middle Wisconsin’s frontier suddenly brightens on a map like a new world in Super Mario World. The Upper Peninsula, a region checked off previously undiscovered.

The anticipation of a golf trip is not quite to the same excitement of actually enjoying the trip, but to me, a golf trip is spread out over weeks leading up to it, and a week or so after it. Even more so considering the trip leads into Beyond The Contour‘s second and final event of the year at Grand-Mere, where golfers will be introduced to Canada’s forgotten great golf course. The hangover from Wisconsin is only four days and we’re back at it: not enough time to cool down, but just enough to digest what I saw and what I played. Right back into it, but that’s the way I like it.

Grand-Mere’s 18th (left) and 9th (right)


  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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