Let's just recognize it for what it is: A golden year for golf.
Why?Because 2005 is being defined by the exploits of a Golden Gun and a Golden Gal and by the exit of a Golden Bear. But even without Tiger's cup-hanger at the Masters, Annika's shiny string of victories or what's sure to be a glittering moment when Jack crosses the Swilken Bridge one last time, there is much in golf that is positively glowing this year.
Consider the way the Big Four—Tiger, Vijay, Ernie and Phil—have been vying for supremacy in the most startling display of firepower and finesse the game has ever witnessed.
Consider the return of the world's greatest championships to vintage venues, all designed by master architects at the height of their powers. Augusta National (Alister MacKenzie, 1933) is a perennial, but this year the U.S. Open was at Pinehurst No. 2 (Donald Ross, 1907), the PGA will be at Baltusrol (A.W. Tillinghast, 1922) and the British Open returns to the Old Course at St. Andrews (Hand of God, date unknown). Throw in the men's U.S. Amateur at Merion (Hugh Wilson, 1912), the Walker Cup at Chicago Golf Club (C.B. MacDonald, 1895) and the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills (William Flynn, 1923), and you've got a year when Augusta is the youngest course on the major-event scene.
And speaking of Augusta, let us take note that 2005 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of Bobby Jones's grand slam. For the record, two of the courses he conquered in that feat were the Old Course and Merion. It seems that in golf this year, everything old is new again, and all of it is golden.
HOT TREND: Indian Reservation Courses
You don't always need a reservation to play golf, but these Native American properties are proving that it can help—a lot. Some thirty-five tribal councils now operate about fifty courses on their resort and casino properties, most built within the past five years. Among the best: the Yavapai's We-Ko-Pa, near Scottsdale; the Oneida's three-course parlay at Turning Stone Resort Casino, in upstate New York; and the Barona Band of Mission Indians' Barona Creek, near San Diego.
"You're always hearing there's no good land left," says Barona Creek's architect, Todd Eckenrode, formerly of Baird Design. "That might be true around the city centers, but tribal lands are more remote, open and even magical."
Perhaps more magical is that since the tribes are not in the real estate business, their courses aren't just excuses to grow houses. And because the tribes already own the land, that's one cost they don't have to pass along in greens fees, allowing their courses to be priced competitively. Scout one out sometime.
STILL HOT: Whistling Straits
Is anyone whistling a happier tune these days than Herb Kohler, owner of the American Club?It's been only seven short years since he opened Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan, but the Straits course has firmly established itself as a major championship venue for years to come. That's a rare feat for a layout so young. Riding the crest of last year's thrilling PGA, the course will host the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, while the PGA will return in both 2010 and 2015—and ultimately the Ryder Cup in 2020.
"I was just trying to create a seaside course and have it play like Ballybunion," says Whistling Straits' designer, Pete Dye. Emphasis on "create"—the site was formerly an airfield, and it took an earthmoving effort of Herculean proportions to craft every feature. The result is a triumph of engineering, as Dye's genius produced a course that has withstood the best that the world's top stars could throw at it and given the rest of us a memorable eighteen.
HOT ARCHITECT: Gil Hanse
He has never won a major championship, nor is his surname Dye, Fazio or Jones. But among contemporary golf architects, no one's star is rising faster than that of Gil Hanse—and deservedly so. Hanse, who studied landscape architecture at Cornell, begins by honoring the natural contours of the land and pays close attention to what he calls the "finer brush strokes," not only driving a bulldozer alongside his design partner, Jim Wagner, but also shaping bunker edges and greens by hand. "The guy whose name goes on the project," he says, "is the last guy who's raking the contours of every putting surface. You can't get any finer than that."
Hanse is enjoying a busy schedule these days. His latest work, the private Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Massachusetts, features tumbling fairways, old stone walls and three holes that incorporate a former sand quarry. This fall he expects to break ground on two new projects: Castle Stuart, in Inverness, Scotland, with Kingsbarns developer Mark Parsinen; and the Prairie Club, in the Nebraska sandhills, with Geoff Shackelford.
HOT PROPERTIES: Residence Clubs
At The Rocks, a luxury residence club tucked into a private canyon in Scottsdale, every new member is offered a gift: a set of golf clubs of their choice. To someone who has spent $335,000 to purchase a one-seventh share of a four-bedroom villa, it may seem a token gesture. But given the role golf is playing in the proliferation of these residence clubs, the perk is not at all surprising.