Travel Editor Brandon Tucker looks back on the best new courses he visited in 2012:
There isn't much new golf being built these days. But the projects that are opening are pretty spectacular. Here's a recap of new courses I visited in 2012:
Cabot Links in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
To golfers, the tale sounds familiar: a remote village whose most industrious days seemed long gone, until a fairy god-bankroller named Mike Keiser is willing to bet some of his greeting cards coin on a small piece of seaside dunesland.
The comparisons of Bandon Dunes to Cabot Links, located on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, are aplenty. But Cabot has its own allure: a playable-yet-spectacular and raw links, set on a spectacularly natural island that is easily accessible to east coasters than the Pacific northwest or Scotland.
And here's another big sell that Cabot Links has to golfers that Bandon doesn't: Highlands Links, a Stanley Thompson-designed, golden era masterpiece located in a national park that delivers holes in both dense forest and exposed, rolling ground high above the water.
The two courses are linked by the Cabot Trail, one of the world's great coastal roads and makes for Canada's best old-and-new, yin-and-yang golf course combo.
Red and Blue at Streamsong Resort, Central Florida
It seems like a niche that's needed to be filled for awhile now: links-inspired golf for the winter months, where you can still wear bermuda shorts and get a suntan when Scotland or Bandon is chilly and dark.
Streamsong Resort officially opened Dec. 21st of 2011 and is a long-awaited addition to the Florida golf scene. Tom Doak's Red? course and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw's Blue have side-by-side, sandy layouts full of Irish-esque towering dunes, plus small lakes and ponds lining other holes to create a most unique canvas.
Bay Course at Costa Navarino, Greece
Though the Bay Course at Costa Navarino had a soft opening in the fall of 2011, this was the first full year for a big new addition to the continental European golf scene. Located on the southwest corner of Greece, the Bay course joins the existing Dunes Course.
Greece may be a newbie to elite golf resorts, but Troon Golf-operated with two side-by-side luxury Starwood-brand hotel properties onsite, Navarino is an experience that stacks up with the best of North American resort golf. But north American courses don't have the thousands of olive trees and other floral aromas that waft throughout both courses, not to mention elaborate Greek lunches in an open-air restaurant and a fascinating, and land with a thousands-of-years-old history, so score one for the Greeks.
Summit Rock, Horseshoe Bay Resort
In the Texas Hill Country just west of Austin, Summit Rock's timing couldn't have coincided with the economic meltdown of 2008 any worse. But unlike the many golf and residential projects throughout the world that were shuttered for good, Horseshoe Bay found a way to make the newest Jack Nicklaus signature course on U.S. soil work - and its long-awaited grand opening was held this fall.
The fourth course at Horseshoe Bay, Summit Rock is fully private with amenities that top the already stellar offerings at the three Robert Trent Jones Sr. courses.
Royal Isabela, Puerto Rico
The poster child of Puerto Rico's surge into ultra-high-end scene is Royal Isabela. The course, perched on high bluffs above the Caribbean Sea, has been quasi-open for a couple years now offering 'preview play', but the brainchild of tennis stars Stanley and Charlie Pasarell (with a design assist from former Pete Dye associate David Pfaff) finally had its grand opening this summer and is now complete with new, luxurious villas.
Royal Isabela was, unquestionably, the most interesting round, if not imperfect, round of golf I played this year. It includes perhaps my favorite hole of the year: the par-5 13th, which has a wide fairway splattered with tall, skinny, coconut palm trees. From where your drive lands, you almost have to carve a shot around one or more towards the green. I speak with a lot of golf writers who thought this hole was silly. Not me, it's hole that warrants a great mix of skill and luck.