My Year in Golf: Martin Kaufmann

Editor's note: For our entire "My Year in Golf" series, click here.

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I have this colleague who makes aces the way most guys order beers at happy hour. OK, I’m exaggerating – slightly. It only seems as though this fellow, Armand, has a new hole-in-one story every time I see him.

A few weeks ago I was knocking back Coronas with Armand and two other colleagues at this new Mexican place near the office when one of the guys starting talking about a recent trip to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Wow, the hail was coming in sideways. Armand, what hole did you have that hole-in-one on? Hey, Armand, show Marty a picture of that girl who caddied for you.

Wait; I’m sorry. Back up a second. What did you say about an ace? Turns out Armand had christened Bandon Preserve.

One time, a particularly tedious dinner companion was droning on about his first visit to San Francisco Golf Club. Have you been there, he asked? “Yeah,” Armand said casually, “I had a hole-in-one there.”

Then there was the time a few years ago when I was telling him about this amazing par 3 – 240 yards of sheer terror across a bottomless pit – that I’d seen at The Golf Club at Ravenna, south of Denver. Armand just smiled. Yep, he’d done the 1 there as well.

When Armand isn’t giving me the 411 on his latest 1, he’s usually chiding me about my job, which often entails playing a lot of mediocre golf in a lot of really nice places. That’s the point where I remind him that he’s the one who’s engaged in a cross-country Ace-a-Thon.

But I can’t argue his point. For a kid who wasn’t sure he’d ever leave rural Maryland, my job as Golfweek's travel editor has afforded me the chance to see a fair portion of the world, or at least those parts where good golf is to be had.

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The 14th hole at Costa Baja.

For my first story of 2012, I returned to La Paz, Mexico, to see the course that Gary Player had designed at CostaBaja Resort. I first visited CostaBaja in 2008, and the image that stuck in my memory was that of a line of dump trucks hauling rocks off of the hillside construction site. When I mentioned that to Player in a recent phone interview, he laughed. That had been a tough construction job, which made the final result all the more impressive. This trip to La Paz gave me another lasting memory: snorkeling amidst a pack of 30,000-pound whale sharks in the Bay of Cortez. Which brings me to Kaufmann’s First Rule of Golf Travel: We might travel to play golf, but there’s an emptiness to those experiences if we don’t set aside time to truly experience the places we visit.

Visitors to Mexico routinely are given a stern warning by locals: Don’t drive at night because of cattle that wander across the highways. Even in broad daylight, a motorist needs to keep his head on a swivel. The cattle scrounging for food along Mexico’s Highway 1 between La Paz and San Jose del Cabo are a constant hazard. But if you arrive safely, continue down the Transpeninsular roadway to Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where, on a cloudless winter day, you might have the transcendent experience of playing the back nine to the siren’s call of whales migrating south.

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Until this year, practical considerations had prevented me from visiting Hawaii. I always dreaded the 12-hour flight from Golfweek's home base in Orlando, so I usually passed along those assignments to freelance writers in California. This year I finally found out what I had been missing with a visit to Kauai. I’ve heard Hawaii described as “the world’s most beautiful prison,” and I don’t doubt the reality of island fever. But if my experience is any indication – some really fine golf in stunning settings, the glorious sunsets on the North Shore, and the majesty of Waimea Canyon, often called Hawaii’s Grand Canyon – all I can say is: I’m guilty. Lock me up and throw away the key.

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Speaking of which: Another place that somehow had fallen through the cracks of my various travel itineraries was the Grand Canyon. Modesty aside, I deftly persuaded my boss to fund a golf road trip from Scottsdale, Ariz., to the canyon. Now, technically speaking, there’s no golf between the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and Williams, Ariz., 55 miles to the south. No matter – in my business, we refer to this as “writing around” a hole in the story, which in this case was pretty easy given that the “hole” in question is one of the world’s natural wonders.

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Jodi Lutz

Sights aside, so much of what we do is about the people we meet. So here are a few with whom I had the good fortune to cross paths in 2012.

There was the aptly named and voluble Jodi Lutz, the one-time figure skater who knew next to nothing about golf, yet had plowed some early commercial real estate profits back into a sandy piece of land in Frankston, Texas, a remote outpost previously best known for having produced ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard. The result, Pine Dunes Resort & Golf Club, is the unlikely perennial No. 1 on Golfweek's Best Courses You Can Play in Texas. After visiting and writing about Pine Dunes, I received an email and photo from Lutz, who told me that my story had prompted an infinitely more famous golfer, former President George W. Bush, to make the drive down to Frankston.

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There was Alan Maloney, the burly proprietor of Mount Falcon in Ballina, along Ireland’s northwest coast. Maloney didn’t have a hotel background when he bought Mount Falcon a decade ago, but he had a vision, wonderfully executed, and a showman’s flair for hospitality. The result is one of the finest hospitality operations I’ve ever encountered – off-the-charts ambience and endless amenities, including private fishing and a new practice range for golfers visiting the area’s great links, which include Enniscrone, Carne and County Sligo.

There was Lewis Keller, Sam Snead’s life-long pal, who, at the Slammer’s urging, had restored the hickory-only nine-holer, Oakhurst Links, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., only to fall on hard times financially with his 90th birthday approaching. He was bailed out, as is seemingly everyone in West Virginia, by The Greenbrier’s owner, Jim Justice, who clearly didn’t covet Oakhurst Links, but had too big of a heart to see the fate of Keller and his historic little course left dangling in such difficult circumstances.

There was my friend Paul Schock, who has created one of my favorite golf destinations, The Prairie Club, near the Sandhills town of Valentine, Neb. If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and plan a visit. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was there during my July visit; apparently the Sandhills is a good place to go if you want a respite from questions about Bountygate.

And there was Ben Cowan-Dewar, the young Canadian who had persuaded Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser to try to replicate that triumph on Cape Breton, along the banks of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The result, Cabot Links, arguably was the most significant course opening of 2012.

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The 16th hole at Cabot Links.

Cabot Links also produced the year’s most memorable round, on July 1, a Chamber of Commerce morning, just the third day that the entire 18 holes had been open for play. I got to share the round with my old pal, Evan Rothman, who was enjoying a working vacation with his wife, the saintly Lorraine, and his precocious son Ike, who’s 5 years old and already has a better short game than his father. When we worked together in New York more than a decade ago, I sometimes would ferry Evan out to Belle Mead, N.J., where we would play a low-budget course called Mattawang – or simply “The Wanger,” as we called it.

Evan had seen me smack countless squirrelly shots in those days, but on that Sunday morning at Cabot Links, he kept remarking, with surprise bordering on condescension, about how well I was hitting it. Never better, as it turned out, than on the par-3 12th, when a comfortable 8-iron landed a few feet in front of the hole and tracked, pure as a Luke Donald putt, into the cup for the course’s first-ever ace. It was a rare triumph in an otherwise forgettable golf career.

Beat that, Armand.

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