Two golfers I met this year remain lodged in my memory as 2018 sees itself out, but you won’t find their names in an accounting of FedEx Cup points or on Ryder Cup team rosters.
I met Mark Hensby for dinner in Scottsdale last February. He was four months into a well-documented suspension from the PGA Tour that left him feeling frustrated, angry and anxious to resume his career. In July, I sat beneath the R&A Clubhouse in St. Andrews with Vicente Fernandez, who had traveled from his home in Buenos Aires and successfully qualified for the British Senior Open at the age of 72. He was charming in his old-school manners, thankful for one last shot at golf’s most iconic venue.
They could not be more opposite in disposition, Hensby and Fernandez, but golf has a way of acting like connective tissue to link otherwise wildly disparate people and places. Hensby and Fernandez were two guys who just wanted to play golf.
Tom Doak waited more than 35 years for the opportunity that was presented to him this summer, ever since he first saw Swinley Forest and Rye. Those two Harry Colt courses in England – renowned for being short on yardage but long on challenge – are the genesis of Sedge Valley, Doak’s recently announced course at Wisconsin’s Sand Valley Resort.
Great architecture exposes weaknesses in skill or judgment, and Doak’s proposed design probes the psyche even before a shot is struck. Sedge Valley is just 6,100 yards, par 68, guaranteeing that some will dismiss it sight unseen as too short to bother with, while others will assume it’s a pushover.
David McLay Kidd was at the pinnacle of the golf course architecture world a decade ago when he realized that his work was winning more awards than fans. He grew weary of hearing bruised golfers say they wouldn’t hasten back.
“Owners want me to build these things but when I consider my end user — the average golfer is my retail client, no matter who gets in the middle — he’s not having that much fun,” Kidd says. “That’s a recipe for failure. I had to figure out where I came off the path and my way back to it.”
Like many of the small vacation towns that dot Scotland’s coast, Troon seems an awfully bleak place to anyone who isn’t Scottish. The once-thriving shipbuilding industry has long since departed, leaving behind a charmless port trafficked mainly by ferries and freight containers. But only the visitors seem to notice the biting wind and stormy squalls that rip in off the North Atlantic and across the Firth of Clyde with a dispiriting predictability. And that’s in summer.
In winter, it is so desolate you can hear dogs barking in Reykjavik.