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A year in review: Ireland, Oakmont, Cape Breton and breaking stories

There is little doubt that, for me at least, 2011 was a busy, productive year full of interesting stories and fascinating golf. Over the  the year I visited the west of Ireland, Cape Breton (twice), British Columbia and Pittsburgh to see new courses. I created a new magazine, developed another, worked on my fifth book (to be completed in January), got my handicap down to a 5, and was recognized witha  couple of writing awards at the Golf Journalists Association event in Vancouver in July. A good year, all in all.

Highlights included:

  • Heading to Ireland in May to see Ballybunion, drink Tim Hortons on the Ring of Kerry, and get the opportunity to play Lahinch twice, though the second time was cut short because we followed a slow group of — gulp — Canadians. In the post-2008 time frame, Ireland has become an affordable golf destination, with rates cut at basically every course and the Euro at a fair exchange versus the dollar. Biggest surprise in Ireland aside from the fact the bartenders didn’t know how to make a Black Velvet, which I had mistakenly believed to be a local drink? Then there was Enniscrone — a course that probably deserves to be in the Top 100 in the world, and which was a delightful feast for the senses and a clever test of your game, even in a high wind. North-West Ireland (Carne, Enniscrone, Sligo) all deserve greater recognition.
  • CPGA Centennial: I directed the editorial on the PGA of Canada’s centennial magazine, and had a chance to attend their celebrations in Ottawa during the summer. Royal Ottawa, where the organization was formed, is very cool, and the party was great fun.
  • Cabot Links: Already heralded by many as Canada’s next great course, I headed to Cape Breton in July knowing it would

    The 16th green at Cabot Links

    have ocean views and hopeful that designer Rod Whitman would deliver on the site’s promise. He did, and I think when Cabot opens fully next summer it will the rarest of Canadian courses that earns a spot in the debate over the best courses in the country. Expect it to enter the Top 100 in the world — it is that good. A second course just north of the first is being seriously discussed, and on-site lodging will be completed for the grand opening.

  • Highlands Links: A storm that hammered the course in late 2010 turned out to be a blessing — allowing the course’s management to have Ian Andrew and a crew of workers repair the damage done by the weather and ham-fisted previous attempts to renovate Stanley Thompson’s master work. The course – with the exception of the 6th hole that was particularly hard hit by the storm — was in great shape when I saw in in October, which was nice since Highlands is my favourite place in Canada to play golf.
  • Mike Weir: I walked the front nine of Shaughnessy G&CC with Weir during the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open. I’ve never seen a worse display of driving by a PGA Tour pro, or for that matter, better scrambling. Weir hooked hybrids into trees and managed to get up and down from 100 yards out over and over. The next day he announced he had re-injured his right elbow and would undergo surgery.
  • Oakmont: A kind member invited me to play this course — the last of the world Top 10 that I had not experienced.  On a cold

    The opener at Oakmont in Pittsburgh.

    fall day with a strong wind pounding, we zipped around in three hours and had a delightful time. Tough as nails, but ultimately quite fair, I was thrilled to see the course and have been able to dine in the incredibly historic clubhouse the night prior to our round.

  • I interviewed the oldest living PGA of Canada member, Bill Ogle. He’d played courses I had only heard about or seen in crumpled old postcards. Fascinating.
  • Breaking stories: Managed to get some nice tips throughout the year, including RBC reupping on the Canadian Open (which was done in July but still hasn’t been  officially announced); the struggles of the Canadian Tour and its deal with the PGA Tour; the announcement of a new LPGA tournament in Waterloo; Mike Weir’s return to work — at least briefly — with the purveyors of stack and tilt; the sudden removal of Golf Town founder Stephen Bebis from the business; and the federal government’s decision to put money into Highlands Links.
  • Fave Canadian courses I played in 2011: Tarandowah (Avon, Ont.), Eagles Nest (Maple, Ont.); Sagebrush (Merritt, BC), St. Thomas, Redtail, Devil’s Paintbrush, Copper Creek GC (Kleinburg), Hamilton G&CC, St. George’s, Highlands Links, Cabot Links, National GC of Canada.
  • Biggest golf course disappoint: Marine Drive GC. Too tight, with few shot options. Like playing golf on a bowling lane in places. And yes, that’s not my strength, but I just don’t see this one as great.
  • Biggest surprise: Kahkwa GC (Erie, Penn). An old Donald Ross course with great greens, tumbling land, and some quirky bits. Played it in 2.5 hours. Great fun.
  • Memoriam: 2011 saw the passing of my friend, noted golf historian Jim Barclay; businessman John Tory Sr., and Angus Glen owner Gordon Stollery. Oh, and OG Magazine, which I had contributed to for a decade, also passed. Not the same, I recongize, but it made me sad nonetheless.
  • Special thanks on the year to my Ireland travel companions for their driving ability and patience; John W., still one of the most interesting playing partners in golf; Ted McIntyre, former editor of OG; Jason Logan at Score; Matt Parkinson, sports editor at Sympatico; Graham and Ben in Cape Breton for letting me hack up their fine courses. And for Ben and George at Oakmont, and anyone else who joined me or hosted me at their club over the course of the year — many thanks.

Finally, to the few hundred thousand readers that turned up on the site this year to read, offer their opinions and insights or tell me I was off my rocker — thanks.

Have a great holiday.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, thank you for your work on the blog this year. I always enjoy reading your items and especially your course reviews. All the best for 2012.

  • RT:

    What is the site of the top picture with you leaning against the fence. Not the back nine at Ballybunion by chance (17th tee if memory serves me correctly)?

    Wishing you and your family a Happy Holiday season.

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