(Editor’s note: Keith Kanouse has been a member of Golfweek’s course-ratings panel since 2005. This column is adapted from his conversation with Golfweek’s Martin Kaufmann.)
This year I achieved a goal that I set at least a quarter century ago. On June 29, I played the 1,000th different golf course of my lifetime.
When I walked off the 18th hole at Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore., that day, there weren’t any celebrations or toasts or even a high-five exchanged to mark the occasion. I don’t even recall mentioning the milestone to my playing partners. I low-keyed the occasion. Still, it was pretty satisfying to join the 1,000-course club. It’s not clear how many golfers are in that club, but I know it’s a small membership.
This has been a long time coming. I fell in love with golf 55 years ago, when I was 14. I grew up on the south side of Chicago playing baseball and other sports, but not golf. My dad’s family was from South Bend, Ind., and we were visiting them one summer. My uncle, AJ, took me to Studebaker Park Golf Course, a nine-holer with three par 4s and six par 3s. You could play all day for something like 50 cents. The first time I played golf, I immediately fell in love with it. That Christmas, I asked Santa to bring me golf clubs. I got a half set of Sears Signature golf clubs. I had to wait until the next Christmas to fill out the set.
As a kid, I usually played at Marquette Park, a Chicago nine-holer where we hit off black mats because there were no grass tees. I looked like the biggest dork in the world lugging my clubs and a pull cart on and off of two buses to reach Marquette, but it was worth it.
In the mid-1990s, I got the idea to shoot for 1,000 courses. When I traveled for business, I began bringing my clubs and came one day earlier or one day later to play golf on a course I never played before. By the time I became a Golfweek course rater in 2005, I already had more than 700 courses under my belt.
I was never a great player, but always a passionate one. My handicap once got as low as 5.1, but now, at age 69, it’s more than double that. I still have a stressful job running a law firm focused on franchise law, and there’s no better escape for me than being on the golf course.
I’ve tried to share my love of golf with my five children. When each turned 5 years old, I gave them a set of golf clubs. They took to the game with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The star of the family is my youngest, Laura, who had a good junior career and walked on at the University of Florida, while studying biomedical engineering. Laura hasn’t played much recently because she’s now in law school, but she still has plenty of game. This past spring she posted a 72 from the men’s tees at Corales Golf Club in the Dominican Republic, the week before the PGA Tour arrived.
I often say that I practice law to support my golf habit, and my wife, Susan, is happy to indulge my addiction. She doesn’t play, but when we’re traveling, as we often do, she has no problem finding things to do while I’m at the golf course. I live in Boca Raton, Fla., and have played all over the Sunshine State. We have a few great courses in Florida, but not many. I like hills and elevation changes, and they’re hard to find in Florida.
Not surprisingly, the question I’m asked most often is, “What’s your favorite golf course?” I’m probably a bit of a contrarian on this subject. I have a lot of favorites: Tobacco Road, the River Course in Kohler, Wis., the Creek Club at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Kingsbarns in Scotland and Pinnacle Point in South Africa. But I’m sure I look at this question much differently than most course raters.
Most of the raters think Donald Ross walks on water. I’m just not a big fan of Ross or much of the classical architecture from the early 20th century. I know that makes me a heretic, but so be it. When rating courses for Golfweek, my average rating for modern courses – those built since 1960 – is a full point higher than for classic courses. I often play some of the classics and walk away thinking they didn’t live up to their reputation. But there are exceptions. Merion, for example, is a great course – everything I had heard it would be and more.
I love desert golf. One of my sleeper destinations is Mesquite, Nev., and neighboring St. George, Utah. When I suggested to Susan that we vacation there, she gave me a strange look, but I just had to play Wolf Creek. It quickly became one of my favorites.
Playing 1,000 courses was a goal, not an end point. Since that round at Pacific Dunes, I continue to add to my total – most recently, two in Nashville while attending an American Bar Association annual conference on franchise law. Next year’s ABA franchise conference is in Denver. I’m already thinking about where I’ll play on that trip.
When people ask if I plan to retire, my wife has a ready response: “What, and move to Florida and play golf all the time? He’s been doing that for 40 years.” And I hope to be doing it for many more. It’s on to 2,000! Gwk