Memorable golf about more than the score

You'll be hard pressed to find a course closer to the beach than Dominican Republic's Punta Cana.

My most special on-course experiences involve great courses. But to reach the top of the list, these three go beyond anything I’ve seen before.

So many elements add up to creating an unforgettable round of golf. It might be a birdie on the toughest hole, the miraculous putt on 18 for your career best, or the golf course itself. Could even be watching your uncle make four birdies to start the round and caring far less about your match and more about him carding the type of score that made him your golf hero to begin with.

Thanks to my day job as a newspaper editor (and my obsession with playing golf whenever and wherever possible) I’ve had opportunities through the years to play some of the best golf courses in the world. USGA championship media events at Baltusrol and Saucon Valley come quickly to mind as two of the heavyweight classic designs I’ve been lucky to play.

But as much respect and admiration as I have for the classics, I’ve come to realize that to crack into the class of “burned into the memory forever” it takes something beyond simply a great golf course.

It usually means seeing something new, experiencing golf in a way you’ve never previously imagined. Three unique experiences stand out and illustrate exactly how I’d define the formula for truly memorable golf experiences.

In the Wilderness, Among the Wild Life
One of my best golf trips was a tour of the Canadian Rockies, which has to be as peaceful and beautiful as anywhere on Earth. I’ll never forget the bold, classic layout and hotel of the Fairmont Banff Springs or the four-hour drive from one end of the Rockies to the other, through the mountains, into a snow squall that nixed our planned afternoon 18 at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

But thanks to a sunset after 10 p.m., and the sudden clearing skies, we raced out after dinner for five of the most surreal holes of golf in my life. In New Jersey, after a rainy day you might see some deer roaming the vacant landscape. But in Jasper, we saw a family of four bear doing their thing off a tee box. Next was a herd (do you call it a herd?) of a dozen moose that were so impressively built that I couldn’t do anything but gawk. By the time we finished our short golf dessert, we’d seen two more bear and plenty of other critters, on the ground and in the sky.

We played the full 18 the following day, and it was evident why it’s a Top 100 course in the world. But I’ll always remember that night, getting a taste of golf in nature, among the wildlife, far more than any of the great holes.

Desert Golf, on Steroids
My first crack at desert golf came a few years ago when in Las Vegas, with a great experience at Paiute’s 54-hole complex. It was so different than anything I knew from home, with the grass seemingly painted into the rocks and barren terrain. I was so intrigued that I set out for Wolf Creek, about 90 minutes from Las Vegas, for what seemed like the most extreme layout I’d ever heard of.

Wolf Creek didn’t disappoint. I can admit that it’s the only course that I’ve experienced vertigo on a tee box. After playing the first hole with my mouth agape, completely blown away by the landscape, I ascended the 30-40 steps to the second tee box and realized I was standing on the peak of a cliff with a 70-foot rock face behind me and craggily ground in front of me. Looking out at the forced carry of 150 yards to fairway might as well have been 400. We use the word awesome too often in today’s language, but looking out at this hole was absolutely awe inspiring. It continued through all 18 holes.

Unlike many other desert courses, Wolf Creek isn’t just grass among the sand. It’s golf carved into and throughout the peaks and valleys of Mesquite, Nevada, with elevation changes you can’t even fathom (how about a par three with so much drop you can deduct four clubs; or another one-shotter straight up a hill to a flag you can barely see?). Even driving the carts can be an adventure, with speed bumps and railings in place to keep you from bounding off into a ravine should you pay too little attention to what you’re doing.

The beauty of Wolf Creek really hit me on a recent return trip. I’d previously played alone and thought maybe my golf nerdery had me falling in love with the challenge and adventure of the course. But this time I brought three friends who can shoot 90 or 130 on any given day. They didn’t stop talking about the course the entire trip, especially the guy who was happy just to tee off, play it if it was in the fairway, or drop one next to me if not. He probably only played five holes from tee to cup, but said it was one of his most enjoyable days ever spent on a Vegas trip.

I’m often asked about which is the best course I’ve ever played and I always balk before answering. But I typically respond, “I’m not sure if it’s the best course, but absolutely the coolest course I’ve even been on is Wolf Creek.” My second visit confirmed that, and I think it will become a must-play on every future visit to Las Vegas.

Sharing the Experience
My first two examples of memorable golf were about the landscape and the uniqueness of the course. My third is all about sharing something special with someone you love. In this case, it was the opportunity to play Punta Espada, the heralded ocean-side course that hosts the Cap Cana Championship in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and enjoy the day with my brother, Cory.

I can recount tales of wonderful rounds, beautiful settings and magnificent facilities until I’m blue in the face. But nothing can match the look on his face as we made our way through the round, with 15 holes either along the ocean or with a view of it. Add in the fact they came to our resort to pick us up, the caddie who found all the balls we’d have lost on our own, and the way they treated us like we were Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, rather than two schlubs from Jersey made for a magical day. To be able to share that made it all the more special.

Of course, while all the VIP treatment was nice, without a jaw-dropping golf course that has you so close to the ocean that crashing waves send spray onto greens and errant drives on multiple holes will end up on beach, it wouldn’t add up to an absolutely remarkable experience. I’ll never forget my brother (who only gets out once or twice a year and probably shot 110 that day) hit the most gorgeous drawing 5 wood, stopping just a couple feet from the pin.

The golf course, the atmosphere and the ability to share it – and have him be the one with wide eyes telling our wives all about it that night – makes it as special a day on the golf course as anyone could ever wish for.

Ron Varrial is Metro’s Managing Editor, Print and Digital. He is also a regular contributor to, where you can find more of his thoughts on golf.


Train selfie star who got kicked in the…

  A 22-year-old Canadian man who posted a video of himself getting kicked in the head by a train conductor is set to cash in…


Call of Duty hoaxer blamed for $100K SWAT…

A heavilly-armed SWAT team and an army of police officers stormed a Long Island home fearing a grisly double homicide – only to find it…


Minnie Driver tweets naked celebrity snap to 'shut…

Actress Minnie Driver has responded to bitchy critics who sniped about her bikini body by Tweeting a naked picture of herself. The 44-year-old star of…


American middle classes no longer world's richest (guess…

America's middle classes are no longer the richest in the world – having been overtaken in the wealth stakes by their Canadian counterparts. For almost…


John Turturro tags in for Robert De Niro…

The cast of the courtroom drama miniseries has undergone yet another shift. Following Robert De Niro's exit, the cable network has brought in John Turturro…


TV watch list, Tuesday, April 22: 'Glee,' 'Agents…

'Glee' Rachel makes her Broadway debut in "Funny Girl." Remember when she was just a high school drama nerd? FOX, 8PM 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'…

The Word

Lindsay Lohan's big, drunk interview

Lindsay Lohan appears to be completely off the wagon now, if Kode magazine's chronicle of her trip to Coachella is any indication. According to the…

The Word

What we learned from the premiere of 'True…

Does watching someone's marriage implode make for great TV? The show runners at "True Tori" think Tori Spelling's heartbreak is hot stuff indeed.


Lundqvist, Rangers take control as Flyers falter in…

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist turned away 31 Flyers shots to give the Blueshirts the series edge with a 4-1 victory Tuesday nigh


MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers,…

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees surge. The A's, Braves, Rangers, Giants and Rockies are also in the top 10.


Breaking down the Sixers top draft options

With the NBA Playoffs now in full force, there’s only one thing on the mind of Sixers fans at the moment -- the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery.


Metro one-on-one: Q&A with Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere

Charlie Manuel used to say that the Phillies go as Jimmy Rollins goes. Well, Ryne Sandberg might have a new Phillies catalyst, Ben Revere, in his midst.


How to burn off all that Easter candy

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but you can't eat chocolate eggs and Jelly Bellys forever.


Powdered alcohol: 5 things to know about 'Palcohol'

What's the deal with powdered alcohol? Here's what you need to know about Palcohol.


Travel hacks: 6 tips on living out of…

Lynne Martin shares her travel hacks on living out of just two suitcases.


Tough Mudder pro gives tips on conquering a…

Learn hacks from head designer Nolan Kombol.