My year in golf: Beth Ann Baldry

Beth Ann Baldry walks down the fairway at No. 12 at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. Baldry: "It's called 'infinity' for obvious reasons."

Editor's note: Over the final two weeks of 2013, our staff will reflect on where the world of golf took them this year. Stay tuned each morning for the next installment of the series. And Happy Holidays from all of us at Golfweek!

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Let’s just start by saying this will likely go down as the best year of my life. I got engaged in January, will be married on Dec. 21, and in between those two events played Augusta National, fell in love with New Zealand and traveled to St. Andrews to watch the world’s best player chase the elusive Grand Slam.

Epic, right?

And so, without further ado, the blessed details of My Year in Golf:

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Round 1: The day my fiance Ben Nichols proposed, we played golf together for the first time. He had taken a golf class at Michigan State years ago and played a few rounds with friends, but never had his own set of clubs. So last Christmas I gave him a golf bag with clubs my dad had built for him (along with shoes, tees, balls and a glove), and on Jan. 12 we teed it up at Winter Park Country Club, a nine-hole course we affectionately call “The Muni.”

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Beth Ann Baldry and her fiance Ben Nichols during their first round together.

Ben leaked his first tee shot right, but managed to avoid hitting any luxury cars passing by on the neighboring road. This was his first time walking a golf course and, after I hit, he picked up his bag by the top handle and walked off the tee box, carrying his clubs like a suitcase. I laughed, and then gently showed him how to work the straps.

Ben had declared at the start of the round that if he made par on a hole, he’d propose. He missed a 6-footer on No. 1 and a 4-footer on the seventh. I had to wait until that evening, when he popped the question in the middle of a park under a canopy of a million lights.

I’ll probably never know if he missed those putts on purpose.

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Kiwi crazy: I somehow managed to convince the boss to send me to New Zealand in February to watch Lydia Ko play in her national open. She’ll probably win, I said, and then held my breath for three rounds as Ko managed to squeak out a one-stroke victory.

There’s covering a player in a press room, and then there’s getting in the car with a wunderkind and her mom in Christchurch and setting out to find their favorite Teppanyaki restaurant. The latter is what makes what we do at Golfweek so authentic.

From there I traveled to the North Island of New Zealand to have breakfast with a billionaire and check out two of the most breath-taking courses in the world: Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs.

“All I knew really was I saw a lot of coastline out there and I saw the price-tag,” said former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson of Kauri Cliffs, “which was the price-tag of a very modest New York apartment.”

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A view from the lodge at Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand.

Robertson, the owner of both lodges, has the ultimate playground at his disposal. There are so many postcard moments at these two properties that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the perfect shot (as in camera) and miss the sheer splendor of it all.

Score is secondary at both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs. The joy is found in the fact that this game can take us to places of untold beauty, like the view from the par-5 15th at Cape Kidnappers.

You’ll never want to leave.

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Amen and Hallelujah: When you have a tee time at Augusta National, the nerves start cranking before your head even hits the pillow the night before. I woke up early on Monday after the Masters, packed and, like any good Southern girl, grabbed a chicken biscuit from Chick fil-A on Washington Road and called my dad. I don’t know which of us was more excited.

I was so over-the-moon driving down Magnolia Lane that I left my socks in the car and had to flag down the valet on Founders Circle. I changed my shoes in the Champions Locker Room and then headed down to the range, where I met Tillie, my caddie and savior.

Tillie, a master green reader, probably saved me at least 10 strokes that day. After I plunked my approach into the pond on No. 11, Tillie handed over a lob wedge in the drop area and reminded me to finish my swing.

When I somehow managed to land it softly pin high, Tillie turned and said, “Now honey, are you going to listen to that new husband of yours as well as you listen to me?”

I smiled, shook my head and said, “Probably not.”

Final tally from the member’s tees: 86.

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Grand expectations: I’ve been writing about Inbee Park since one of my earliest assignments at Golfweek – the 2002 U.S. Girls Junior at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, N.J. Park was stroke-play medalist that week and won the championship.

Eleven years later I’m still writing about Inbee and not much has changed. Except, of course, for the fact that she won three consecutive majors this year and set up a potential Grand Slam at the Home of Golf. Doesn’t get more sacred than that.

Park teed off at 7:03 a.m. in a typical Scottish mist and rolled in miles of putts over the front nine of the Old Course. She was 6 under through 10 and scripting her own fairytale.

And then the unthinkable happened.

Park three-putted two consecutive holes.

“No way,” said Paula Creamer, speaking for all of us.

She fell out of the lead and off the radar, leaving the stage to Stacy Lewis, who hit a 5-iron so pure on the Road Hole Sunday they’re probably still talking about it over a pint at the Jigger Inn.

A grand finish, indeed.

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Last round as a single: My final round of 2013 will be at Lone Palm Golf Club, our home course when I played golf for Florida Southern College. The Wedding Invitational, a two-person scramble, will have a field of 36 and take place the day before we tie the knot.

All of the people who shaped my game and, in turn, my life, will be there.

I can hardly wait.

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