Our Top Golf Experiences of 2015
05 Jan 2016
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

Setting up for the inaugural shot at The Links at Petco Park
Setting up for the inaugural shot at The Links at Petco Park

At AmateurGolf.com, we’ve been treated to amazing experiences as part of our relationships with industry-leading sponsors like Titleist, Callaway, and Ping, plus tournaments like the Stocker Cup, and the World Amateur.

Add to that the top-100 courses our team has had a chance to play over the years – it’s not a bad gig! Here are a few of my favorites from 2015, in no particular order. They were all great.

Playing golf in a baseball stadium.

When I first heard about the Callaway Golf and San Diego Padres collaboration called “The Links at Petco Park” I was intrigued. But it wasn’t until I heard that a week of starting times had sold out to the public in three hours that I realized my chance to lead things off with a 7:00am tee time on Media Day was going to be epic. After getting the red carpet treatment at check-in, and walking through the Padres clubhouse, time seemed to accelerate and there I was, standing on home plate looking at a cameraman setting up to put my inaugural shot on the Jumbotron. Sure, the green in centerfield was just over 100 yards away, and I was hitting off a mat, but I was nervous.

As I fished through a Callaway staff bag to find the right wedge for the shot Johnny Rodriguez of Callaway (their graphics ace know as “J- Rod”) tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a 48 degree MD-3 wedge. “Here, use this one,” he said, and immediately I felt like I had a tour caddie. The weight of the shot lifted, I put it on the green, pin high, 10 feet. My most fun shot of the year, without a doubt. And the rest of the day, hitting from all around the stadium to distances of 60-135 yards was something any baseball and golf fan would love. Prediction: This concept will hit stadiums around the U.S. in 2016.

Attending the Myrtle Beach World Amateur for the first time.

Make the final round of the World Am, and you feel like you're at a Tour event

AGC has had a partnership with the World Am – which is by far the largest field for a simultaneously held tournament in the world – for many years. Who better to point avid tournament golfers towards Myrtle Beach to compete at every level than the leading tournament website? Our program includes a booth at “The world’s largest 19th hole” held every night at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. But I had never played myself, sending our web editor to cover the action while competing. And we had never actually done a booth at the 19th hole, where most of the 3500 tournament players -- that’s right, 3500 competing at 50- plus courses -- hang out every night. 

In 2014, I was invited to represent the World Am in a friendly competition against a team of players from China (they license the World Am concept there) called the Sino-USA Matches. The camaraderie with my teammates and the fervor of the Chinese players to qualify to play in the U.S. version really helped me internalize the bigger picture of the tournament. Taking your game to the next level matters, whether you’re a scratch golfer or 36 handicap. The World Am adding a scratch division in 2014 was the final straw. I wasn't going to miss 2015.

The scratch players competed at four really good courses, all stretching out to 7000 yards, and all with at least a few scary holes. I played very well the first two rounds with 76-74 and while I struggled to an 81 on the last day, that course was the toughest and I really could have benefitted from a practice round. The joke among my friends is that I finished 13th in the World. While that might not mean too much in just the second year of scratch division play, I see the tournament growing in this area very soon. The top 10 players, who get invited to play in the championship round, were really solid.

Presenting at the 19th hole gave me a good feel for the players, many of whom bring their spouses – a good portion of those spouses entering the tournament themselves. As live acts like Taylor Hicks (American Idol) and John Daly entertained the crowd in a large auditorium, golfers could “walk the floor” of the 19th hole, where all varieties of golf companies exhibited, complimentary food was offered, and large electronic leaderboards showed the flight-by- flight scores. Katrek and Maginnes “On Tap” broadcast their PGA Tour Radio show live from the show floor, and I even got a chance to be interviewed, which left my phone flooded with texts afterwards.
What a week, join me next year!

Listening to Titleist Ambassador Jordan Spieth present to an audience of PGA professionals in January at the PGA Merchandise show, then watching him have one of the best years in golf history.

Jordan Spieth at the PGA Merchandise Show in January (NEGM photo)

Each year Titleist gathers golf professionals and the media for a wonderful presentation in a large auditorium at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando during the PGA show. In 2015, Jordan Spieth was the featured speaker.  All of us knew how great he was going to be, but didn’t realize it would happen so…quickly! During each of those wins I thought back to January, and how perfect Jordan Spieth is for Titleist’s brand. We all gave a laugh that day when he talked about being part of the Titleist program from an early age. “I haven’t paid for a golf ball since I was 15,” he quipped.

Of course, we’ve followed Jordan since his junior golf days, when he scored a T16 finish at the Byron Nelson Classic as a high school golfer and won the U.S. Junior for the second time (just one other player has done that – you know who). He played the Walker Cup that year (2011) and when he left University of Texas to turn pro in 2013 I was there watching him try and qualify for the Farmers (Torrey) at my home course at the time – El Camino. It was just me, Jordan, and two members of his group at 7:30am when he teed off. And mind you, this was the PRE qualifying. After birdieing three of the first four holes, he shot 66 and made it through, but didn’t make it through the regular qualifying after posting 68 a week later. The tournament committee gave him an exemption anyway, and I don’t think he ever had to qualify again.

So watching him succeed at the game throughout 2014 was not a big surprise, although we all know there is no guarantee. But 2015, well, that was a different year entirely. Back to the PGA Show I witnessed the poise and respect that young Jordan Spieth displayed as he thanked those that helped him along the way – including of course Titleist. He’s a loyal guy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks with Titleist throughout his career. When he won the Masters, followed that with a dramatic win at the U.S. Open (in the home state of his caddie, who he met at the 2011 U.S. Junior) talk of a grand slam ensued, and all of the sudden the weight of the world was upon him. How did he respond? By almost winning the British Open, grabbing the Fedex Cup and Tour Championship, and in my eyes scoring one of the top five seasons in the history of professional golf.

Returning to Pine Needles.

Being alone for an afternoon round at Pine Needles - priceless!

There is something about the place that feels like home. I’m talking about Pine Needles – Mid Pines Resort, a little slice of Southern charm where the service and hospitality are from a day gone by, and the golf is timeless. The Resort’s two Donald Ross courses are flanked by the headquarters of the Carolinas Golf Association. And they host dozens of competitive amateur and professional events each year. Does it get any more “AmateurGolf.com style” than that? This year I only managed a brief “stop by” trip, but managed to get two rounds of golf at Pine Needles, while the Moore County Amateur was taking place at Mid Pines (believe me I was tempted to try and enter).

Pine Needles is open to resort and member play, and at the classic 19th hole I met a member who offered me a game the next morning. The two of us went out and played a spirited match in three hours, leaving me plenty of time to relax, change, and head for the Charlotte Airport. There are very few places I visit where I seriously contemplate living there, and the Sandhills of North Carolina is one of them. And since I feel so strongly about it, I think I’m going to enquire about making Pine Needles – Mid Pines the “Official Resort of AmateurGolf.com.”



Trip to the Melbourne Sandbelt Region of Australia, and Tasmania to boot.

Sometimes schedules don’t allow us to take part in epic adventures. That happened to me back in Tiger Woods’ prime, when I was invited to join his then-caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan and some friends to Scotland. Work called, I had just started a new job, and I declined. Oh well. They were only treated like royalty everywhere they went. (Being the caddie of the best player in the world means something in the Home of Golf!)

Fast forward to late 2015 and my friend Greg, an Australian native living in San Francisco, asked me to join him on a trip to what many argue is the finest golf region in the world – the Australian Sandbelt. So in March we’re going to play Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, and more, before heading to Tasmania where we will play the Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm courses. I’ll be shooting video/photos and documenting our epic journey.

Visiting PING world headquarters in Phoenix, AZ.

AmateurGolf.com has been fortunate to count PING as one of our sponsors the last two years, but I have yet to make the trip to their headquarters. I aim to fix that in early 2016. Over 50 years since Karsten Solheim first invented heel and toe balanced putters in his Redwood City, Calif. garage, PING has been marching to their own drummer. If they believe something can help players improve, they make it happen. And they stand behind their products and fitting system. Beyond just getting the grand tour and walking through their process, I look forward to seeing their putter museum (they have a replica of every putter that has won a professional event) and other historic items. And Phoenix/Scottsdale has a few hundred pretty decent courses as well!

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