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  • Writer's pictureDooner

The Golf Crusade's Best of 2023

We were yet again shined on by the Golf Gods - adding nearly thirty more courses to the Crusade, while revisiting another baker's dozen, many of which had some exciting updates. The golf industry continues to add speed to its upswing, and we're just fine with that!

pete dye, colleton river, hilton head golf
Started the year with a bang at the glorious Pete Dye creation at Colleton River Club

Of the thirty-six different clubs we visited this year (if you're checking the arithmetic, consider some clubs had more than one course!), a third of them have had major renovations in the past three years. That is the highest percentage we've seen since we formally began The Golf Crusade (2018). Of course, some of those are replays that we intentionally sought out to play because of said upgrades, but that's the point, isn't it? We feel like we've heard something like that in a movie before...

"People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

While we've not played any 'new new' courses lately, playing a course that has invested in itself to make the experience better for its guests automatically goes to the top of our to-do list, especially when its close to home. In all honesty, we saw so many great places this year across the board that it's made our fake end of year awards choices extremely difficult.

It also happens that the course that is probably most responsible for The Golf Crusade becoming what it has, received new life - and that we were in a position to help re-release it into the wild via our Iron Maverick event - made it all the more special.

Tot Hill Farm, Mike Strantz, sunrise, golf course
A new day has dawned at Mike Strantz's Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro, NC

PSA: If you're new here, we are big Mike Strantz guys. If you need a primer on who that is and what kind of courses he created, please check out our Strantz page after you're done with this story. Even if you're not new here, go check out the Ciriculum Vitae project we posted this year - which includes every course 'The Maverick' ever worked on!

When we found out Tot Hill Farm was for sale a few years ago, we hoped it would fall into the hands of someone that would steward the course back into incredible place it was when we first discovered it back in the very early 2000s. We told anyone that would listen how great it COULD be. Sadly, most anyone that had played it in the past 10+ years never got to see what the place SHOULD have looked like.

Thankfully, we no longer have to live in the 'should-a/could-a' world. Gratefully, the course fell into the hands of just the right people.

Thanks to the efforts of new ownership, Strantz's mountain masterpiece in Asheboro, NC is back and we're happy to report, it's BETTER than its ever been! We've already writen up (in granular detail) all the work they've completed to date, so head over to the Iron Maverick III Recap for more tasty pics and tidbits on the restoration at Tot Hill Farm. , Dy

With that primer behind us, let's get into our traditional year-end fake awards show! Per usual, we have our featured categories as well as a superlative round which lists the best of the year that was in a number of different ways (keep reading, you'll see).

Best New Public Course

Best New Private Course

Best Alternative Golf Facility

Macho Man 180 Award Best Replay Rapid Fire Round

The two 'Best New' & the 'Best Alternative Golf Facility' (catch-all for executive, range, mini, indoor, par 3, short, etc) categories are only open to the courses we played in 2023 that were 'New to Us'. We typically add a category to fit the theme of the year - this year being about the amount of reinvestment in courses. We thought a "Most Improved" would fit the bill, but a couple courses did a complete 180. You'll see why the Macho Man gets involved below. Best Replay speaks for itself we hope.

When it comes to the Rapid Fire Round, we open that up to any course we played this year, not just new courses. Some of those superlatives get one winner, some we each pick one, some we list a bunch if so many were worthy.

After all, the whole point of this is to share the best - even if there was a lot of it to go around!

Lastly, a photo viewing note: you may click on any photo for a full screen view. It will also scroll through them all from there. While any one of our stories can be viewed on a phone, it's best consumed on a larger screen!

So, in the words of the late, great & honorable Mills Lane... "Let's get it on!"

Best New Public Course

George Wright | Sequoyah National | Dye Course at Barefoot Resort

A very rare triple-header here, and it's warranted because the courses are as different in their nature as they are high in quality of design. When we say nature, we mean it.

George Wright Golf Course is the famed (and rightfully celebrated) Donald Ross municipal course in Boston. The terrain is so extreme, Ross famously said you'd need "either a million dollars or an earthquake" to build a golf course on it. Thankfully, enough dynamite and a little over a cool million bucks were available to eventually build this treasure of a golf course. Boston residents are one lucky bunch to get a course like this!

On even more extreme topography - deep in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, lies Sequoyah National. Why this RTJ2 course is an amenity of Harrah's Cherokee Casino, you don't need luck to hit the jackpot here. This course is the best truly public offering between North Central Georgia and the Pinehurst area. Bring. A. Camera.

Lastly, the master of moving dirt, Pete Dye, took a flat(ish) piece of property near the beach and created one of Myrtle Beach's best layouts. Boasts four full 18-hole loops, The Dye Course at Barefoot Resort is arguably the most celebrated of thelot. While the conditions weren't all that should be expected for the green fee tag, the layout is too good to ignore.

other nominees: Canaan Valley, Olde Homeplace

Best New Private Course

Nicklaus Course at Colleton River | Haig Point (Calibogue Course)

HOT TAKE: While we expected the Dye Course at Colleton River to steal the show - after all, along with the Ocean Course at Kiawah - it's kind of the star of the movie in The Legend of Bagger Vance. Turns out - and its possible the weather we played in (warm, but cloudy) tamped down the high expectations. Day two took us on a journey (by ferry!) over to Daufuskie Island for an all-time great day at Haig Point (gallery below). After that was followed up on getaway day with the Nicklaus Course at Colleton River (shown in gallery above), we all looked at each other and decided the 'rank' would be the reverse order of play. Never thought we'd rank a Nicklaus or a Rees Jones track ahead of a Dye, but we did.

A quick look through these photos and maybe you'd agree too!?

other nominees: The International, Colleton River (Dye), The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

Macho Man 180 Award

Waynesville Inn & Golf Club | Tot Hill Farm

other nominees: Johnson City CC, Holston Hills (VA)

In honor of the greatest wrestling promo/interview of all-time, we've named the 'Most Improved Course/Club' nod after the Macho Man Randy Savage. If you've not seen this cocaine/steroid induced rollercoaster, click here before continuing!

Holston Hills (Marion, VA) and Johnson City CC (TN) deserve mention here. JCCC has been an annual improver the past 2-3 years as it continues its throwback to its 1919 Tillinghast course roots. Meanwhile, Holston Hills underwent a bunker reno that made it feel and play like new.

Sometimes its the simple things that delight - and both of these courses would be winners in any other year.

However, this was not any other year when it came to reclamation projects. Waynesville Inn & Golf Club was on its last breath of life support when Raines Co. stepped up in 2021 and unveiled plans for a COMPLETE overhaul of course, club, resort and real estate. The results that Raines Co. turned in on the resort - combined with the artistic flair of Bobby Weed's resto/reno of the golf course - resulted in a must-play and must-stay experience. We profiled this property in great detail a couple months ago - discover it now while you can!

And as you'd expect, we've got three words for ya... Tot. Hill. Farm. In nine months, the entire place has turned around a full 180 degrees (AND THEN ANOTHER 360 for those that have seen the full interview from which the GIF of Macho Man & Mean Gene comes)! To view some of the mid-reno photos and throwbacks to the early 2000s on our Iron Maverick III release story, but also just go see both of these places as soon as possible!

Best New Alternative Golf Facility

Stone Meadow Golf | The Iron Maverick Course at Tot Hill Farm

In what has become one of our favorite pleasures, we love to look for short courses, high-end par-3 tracks and otherwise overlooked alternatives to the traditional 18-hole round. It also helps in the course collection department, as these 'golf snacks' can be consumed in much less than four hours!

Our first winner is Stone Meadow Golf - home to a character-filled, stand alone 9-hole short course in the greater Boston area. It was a delight to pop off the interstate during rush hour and spend that time here versus the bumper-2-bumper crowd on the evening commute. It's got an expansive range with it to work on the full game, but this shorty steals the show!

The other winner was one we had been pining to uncover for the past five years.

After playing the El Camino routing at Tobacco Road in 2018, we immediately began planning a similar, yet far more unconventional routing for the other NC Strantz course. Over the years, we figured it'd only be a dream, but thanks to the incredible restoration (see above), we were able to piece together 21 holes of mostly half-par holes (see scorecard in Rapid Fire Round below) for our third installment of The Iron Maverick. We went through many ideas for names for this routing, but decided to name it after the event that was created to celebrate the man who made it all possible.

As you can see - if you're familiar with the course - there are some wild tee locations on The Iron Maverick Course at Tot Hill Farm! They even yielded a couple of Aces!

Best Replay

Grandfather Golf & Country Club | Tot Hill Farm

other nominees: The Cradle, The Muni, Johnson City CC

Tot Hill was an obvious choice here and is our first ever 3-category winner. Waynesville Inn, while incredible, had a large amount of newness with the renovation, so it's not entirely a replay. That paved with way for the venerable Grandfather Golf & Country Club to pick up a prime category. Another Bobby Weed-stewarded property, the Ellis Maples design really REALLY shined. Updates to the world class 8th and 13th par fours, plus the addition of new tee boxes on 16 and the tree removal on 17 and 18, the latter also receiving other upgrades, make the closing stretch one of the most intriguing in golf.

The grounds and professional staff at GGCC have an incredible legacy of excellence - validated yet again on our late October visit (and then some).


Best Opening Hole

Canaan Valley | Tot Hill Farm

Best Par 3

Seabrook 13th | Barefoot Dye 6th | Colleton River Dye 6th

Best Collection of Par 3s

Tot Hill Farm | George Wright

Best Par 4

Grandfather 13th | Colleton River Nicklaus 16th

Best Short Par 4

Waynesville Inn 2nd | Colleton River Dye 12th

Best Par 5

12th Waynesville Inn | 13th at Dunes Golf & Beach Club

Worst Golf Hole

14th at Lake Junaluska

Best Tee Shot

Tot Hill Farm 5th | Sequoyah National 5th | Colleton River Dye 9th

Best Clubhouse (view of)

Colleton River (Nicklaus) | George Wright

Best Clubhouse (view from)

Canaan Valley | Grandfather

Best Food

Haig Point | Pig Pickin' at IM3 by Black Powder Smokehouse

Pics coming soon!

Best Bunkering (modern)

Colleton River Dye

Best Bunkering (classic)

George Wright | Waynesville Inn | Johnson City CC

Biggest Surprise

SRS Links - a 6-hole private short course at the Shaker Road School in Concord, NH

Pics coming soon!

Best Overall Course Conditions


Best Hole Signs

Waynesville Inn | Tot Hill Farm | The Cradle

Best Tee Markers

Iron Maverick Course | Tot Hill Farm (Bourbon Barrel Staves) | Haig Point

Best Flags

Waynesville Inn | Haig Point | Tot Hill Farm | IM3

Best Scorecard

The Iron Maverick Course at Tot Hill Farm

Mike Strantz, Tot Hill Farm, Golf Scorecard, Makers Mark
Peep the Maker's Mark label too!

(Yeah ok, so we're a little biased on this one. But as part of IM3, we gifted a few hundred of these cards, along with the tees we made, so Tot Hill could use this routing again if they so choose! Thank you to Robbie Wooten & Impact Golf Marketing for making a dream reality!)

Most Unique Experience

Ferry Ride to Haig Point | Dave Baysden's Live Painting at IM3

Best Quirk

First Tee on the Event Lawn at Waynesville Inn

Waynesville Inn and golf club, bobby weed, donald ross, hotel, stay and play

Best Stay & Play Destination (on-site lodging)

Waynesville Inn

Best Hazard

Calibogue Sound/Atlantic Ocean at Haig Point | "Pit of Doom" at Holston Hills (VA)

Best Golf Stairs

(pics coming soon)

Best Mascot/Logo on Course

Bear Paw Bunker on 18th at Sequoyah National

Waynesville Inn (Mountains silhouette in logo on bear's back)

Olde Homeplace Silo/Barn

Weirdest Thing on a Course

Fountain in middle of 1 Fairway at Cedar Hill (Blind from the tee no less!)

Cedar Hill, par 4, fountain, worst golf holes

Best Risk/Reward Hole

Hole 19 on Iron Maverick Course at THF

Tot Hill Farm, Mike Strantz, Iron Maverick, Golf Course Architecture
Playing as a 4 1/2 par hole from adjacent the 4th green (up & to right), 'Westminster' tumbles down hard & doglegs into the world class 3rd green at Tot Hill Farm's newly discovered Reverse Routing!

Coolest Thing on a Course

Waterfall hole at Tot Hill Farm

Most Difficult Course

Haig Point | Colleton River Nicklaus

Best Value

Olde Homeplace $32 | Santee National $45

Best Golf Purchase

Our Aerial Squadron - DJI Air 3 (left) & DJI Mini SE

DJI, Drone, Air 3, Mini SE

Best Driving Range

Sequoyah National

Best Practice Area

Colleton River Nicklaus

Best "Golf Snacks"

Waynesville Inn (Himalayas putting course w/ lights & 5-hole Wedge Park)

Best Sign

Iron Maverick III Barn Sign | Warning Colleton River Nicklaus

Best Course Wildlife

Swan at Ruggles Ferry | Turkeys at George Wright Dinosaur at Haig Point

Best Non-Golf Photos - Banff, NWS, JC

NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Tannery Knobs & Downtown Johnson City, TN Banff, Alberta, Canada - an entire site is needed for that place!

Best Closing Stretch (min 3 holes)

Grandfather (16-18) | Colleton River Nicklaus (15-18)

Colleton River Nicklaus (15-18)

Best Finishing Hole

The International | Colleton River Nicklaus

Our sincerest gratitude goes out to all who we welcomed into the Crusade this year, as well as a special thank you to those who keep coming back! We keep saying every year, "we're not sure how we can top that one?" Well, it's true again this year. To have the opportunity to run The Iron Maverick at Tot Hill - and to meet/work with the new leadership there to make it as amazing as it was - was not just a highlight to the year, but one of the very top few of our respective golf careers.

We're really not sure how all that gets topped, but if it can be done - we will give it a try.

We can't wait to see what 2024 holds for golf and all of us! We hope to see you on the course!

Sincerely Fores,

BMAC & Dooner

Your Golf Crusaders

As a very special Post Script, we're honored to share the videos the guys at Chasing Fowl Photography put together as a 'trailers' of the highlights at Iron Maverick III. Huge thanks to our friends at Tot Hill Farm for hosting our 170+ guests and for featuring the focus on fun!

(the video starts out on a black screen - hence the black box only. Follow them on IG at @chasingfowlphotography)

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