The Golf Crusade's 2021 Best of Lists, Picks & Pics
Updated: May 13
It's that most wonderful time of year again! It's a time for memories to be made - just likely not on golf course unless you're really, really lucky. Thankfully, The Golf Crusade never sleeps (though it isn't afraid to hibernate!). Regardless of the state of consciousness you find yourself in at present, it's time to unwrap the presents and reveal the best fake awards column around - the Golf Crusade's annual Best of 2021 Lists!
As compulsive list makers, we are compelled by constantly creating spreadsheets of courses we want to play, ones we've already played, future event ideas, storyboards, movie scripts, etc. Ok maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.
While we're not playing 100 courses a year or anything crazy like that, we probably get to play more than most folks in respective stages of life. While we each count our lucky stars for our wives in that A) we outkicked the coverage and B) they understand the obsession and support the ridiculous dream we possess!
That all said, we had a wildly successful year on and off the course. Here are a few of the milestones and highlights we clicked off in 2021...
First, we reached our annual goal of playing one new course per month per man (24 minimum annual goal for you non-calculus majors). At press time, we've played 26 new courses in '21. It may not sound like much, but now that we've each played out our respective backyards, we've got some lengthy drives to get to new places!
Iron Maverick II - From the minute we announced it, then sold out in less than a minute, before partaking on a nine-month journey to it and shared the experience with 88 golf-obsessed maniacs, our half golf marathon/half Mike Strantz tribute/100% great time at the Strantz-designed trio of True Blue, Caledonia and Bulls Bay in South Carolina was as amazing as it was exhausting. The entire ride was a privilege which introduced us to so many new friends, connected us with old ones and flat out wore us out! We continue to be humbled by the experience, the response and desire by others for us to do it again. We are so thankful to all who supported us and continue to support our host courses and event partners!
Dooner bagged his 300th course played (fittingly at Caledonia @ Iron Maverick II)!
It took until November, but The Golf Crusade reached the turn on the road to 1000 courses! We checked the box on our 500th course played! The Country Club in Morristown, Tenn. got the honors and wowed us with a very original William B. Langford design (only our second ever).
Thanks to a couple late season pickups by BMAC, will (presumably) end the year at 503 courses played! As a reminder, the Crusade Course Counter in the upper right corner of your screen keeps the running tally of our live count. Savvy travelers will recognize where that last course was played by the respective state highway sign the number adorns. (NOTE: the interactive map on the home page and the 'Tracker' tab contains every course we've ever played and is flush with info for all and photos for most course. Many have found it a great resource when scouting where you might seek to play next!)
Alright, let's get into this! Here are the categories...
Best New Public
Best New Private
Best Alternative Golf Facility Best Replay Rapid Fire Round - Random Best in Show Categories
Best Of What's To Come
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 2021 that were 'New to Us'. Best Replay should be simple enough to comprehend.
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. Sorry, Dooner is notorious for making up rules as he goes.
One slight difference this year is that we aren't conforming 100% to the 'we each pick one' methodology. That means you might get one winner per category, sometimes we each pick one, sometimes we throw a bunch at you because they're all worthy. After all, the whole point of this is to share the best - even if there was a lot of it to go around!
So, in the words of the great Miles Lane... "Let's get it on!"
[Photo Viewing Note: Click on any image to expand. Mobile photo viewing experience can vary based on phone, so tablet/laptop/desktop recommended for optimum pleasure]
BEST NEW PUBLIC
BMAC - Aiken Golf Club | Dooner - Old Toccoa Farm
Our two top picks could not be further apart in age - over 100 years apart - yet perhaps share some similar DNA when it comes to design philosophy. That may be up for debate if you've played both, but what's undeniable is they feature some fascinating quirks and severity in the architecture of the greens seldom seen in the U.S. You can take a deeper dive into Old Toccoa Farm on our story from the summer visit. Aiken is a blast from the past and perhaps one of the best bargains on Planet Earth. We won't dive too deep in the descriptions, as they are better left to the photos to do the talking! Regardless, you need to play either or both if you haven't already. Put them on your to do list!
BEST NEW PRIVATE (3-Way Tie) Inverness Club | Barton Hills | Bright's Creek
The former two were played a day apart on the "MI-OH-My" trip. The latter was the first course played after that trip. Talk about a dream you don't want to wake up from!? With Inverness Club, you know what you're going to get - an incredible walk at a historic, major tournament tested Donald Ross design, irrigated with water flowing straight from the fountain of youth thanks to Andrew Green's restoration work. The Solheim Cup showcased exactly what we mean. The USGA capped the year off for Inverness by awarding the venerable course the 2029 U.S. Amateur Championship.
Barton Hills was a late add to the MI-OH-My trip, but yet served as the perfect capstone to the trip. Aside from USGA Championship length at Inverness, it would be difficult to set IC and BHCC apart in a photo lineup. The attention to detail here was on another level (even the trash cans at the tee boxes were sunk into the ground, eliminating the visual messiness they can sometimes create). The whole course is great, but the home hole is a masterclass in strategy, deception and ambiance. Check out a few more we snapped up in Ann Arbor...
Bright's Creek, on the other hand, hasn't been around 100 years like the Ross classics. It's troubled decade-plus past has been cast aside with a new vision for the future of the course Tom Fazio himself calls his best North Carolina design. Look at the gallery below and just imagine this place in a couple years (and ablaze in fall color)!!!
All three were an incredible treat in the week we played them in the Spring. For that reason, we're mentioning the trio in the same sentence today.
BEST ALTERNATIVE GOLF FACILITY
The Schoolhouse Nine
There were some (really) good ones in this category that could have won Best In Class in another year. Ann Arbor Golf & Outing's private 9-hole loop, Lake Hickory CC's Town Course, Jefferson Landing's 4-hole short course or even Palmetto Traverse - a 35,000 square foot, 18-hole natural grass putting course in Santee, SC were all strong contenders. Hell, we even played a mini-golf course that hosted the US Open of mini-golf (and yes, it was long and hard - that's what she said).
However, Schoolhouse Nine is just a cut above the field - and not just in par 3 course speak either. #IYKNY (those that do: you can skip down to the pics and next category. If you don't know, SH9 is a 9-hole par 3 course in a nothing crossroads in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley (no offense Sperryville - you're a destination in our book!). We played it with snow still on the distant peaks and in the shadowy recesses of the bunker lips and would have walked endless loops given more daylight and less time committed elsewhere (which you can do just that for only $25/day mind you)! It's high on our list to revisit with better weather and daylight savings time. Then there's the Headmaster's Pub (more on that later), which just makes the whole experience something every golfer should aspire to connect with.
BEST REPLAY Bulls Bay Golf Club
Even with a return trip to Holston Hills and Blowing Rock CC's on the menu, Bulls Bay was just beyond compare in 2021. Perhaps it was the 9-month build to get there after we announced the Mike Strantz design celebrating it's 20th anniversary would open their bull-skull guarded gates to the field of the Iron Maverick II? Perhaps it was the recent improvements curated by Superintendent Alan Black and The Jones Brothers - two of the main ingredients in Strantz's original designs that have, with the help of the Bulls Bay ownership & leadership teams, reconstituted Maverick Golf Construction? Perhaps it was the company of all 88 Iron Mavericks themselves and the joy of experiencing all of this together? Whatever the reason, it was a day of days! (Note: Last year, Best New Public & Best Replay went to True Blue & Caledonia respectively. Due to those wins, they were not considered for a 'Best Replay' this year, though were every bit as good as they've ever been!)
RAPID FIRE SUPERLATIVES
BEST OPENING HOLE
Inverness Club | Bulls Bay
BEST PAR 3
Bright's Creek #3 | Maggie Valley #11
BEST PAR 4
University of Michigan #6 | Heathland at Legends Resort #15 (Heathland photo courtesy legendsgolf.com)
BEST PAR 5
Old Toccoa Farm #13 | #10 Caledonia
BEST TEE SHOT
Old Toccoa Farm #5 | True Blue #10 (TB photo @ryan.parsons.photography)
BEST @GOLFBARNS, Farms & Silos
pictured top to bottom: Taste Woodfired at The Virginian, Aiken, Waynesville Inn, Tazewell County, SH9 (2), Quarry Ridge (3), Ottawa Park, Old Union, Holston Hills (TN), Graysburg Hills (8), Clinchview (3), Camelot (2), Leslie Park (2), OTF (2)
BEST BUNKERING (MODERN)
Bright's Creek | True Blue
BEST BUNKERING (CLASSIC)
Inverness | Muni
BEST GREENS (ARCHITECTURE)
Old Toccoa Farm | Aiken
BEST GREENS (CONDITIONING)
Jefferson Landing | Bulls Bay
Old Union | Muni
BEST @GOLFBRIDGES (COLLECTIVELY)
Inverness | Bulls Bay
BEST GOLF BRIDGE (SINGULAR)
Bright's Creek trestle | Caledonia floating
BEST OVERALL COURSE CONDITIONS
Jefferson Landing | Bulls Bay
BEST TEE MARKERS
Iron Maverick II: True Blue | Caledonia | Bulls Bay
(view of the clubhouse) - Barton Hills | Bulls Bay
(view from the clubhouse) - Bulls Bay | Caledonia
(amenities in the clubhouse) - Inverness
BEST CLUBHOUSE BAR Schoolhouse Nine | Caledonia (not pictured)
BEST STAY & PLAY (on-site)
BEST STAY & PLAY (off-site)
Georgia Mountain Cabin Rentals at Old Toccoa Farm
MOST UNIQUE STAY & PLAY OPTION
Nicewonder Farm's Luxury Yurts at The Virginian
RENOVATION WE'RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT
The Waynesville Inn
BEST GOLF TRIP HOUSE
The entire course at OTF | Marshes at Charleston National
Renegade Food Truck at Bulls Bay
Schoolhouse Nine | Iron Maverick II
BEST LOGO ON COURSE
MOST DIFFICULT COURSE
OTF | Plantation Course at Edisto
BEST VALUES - Schoolhouse Nine | Muni | Old Union
BEST GOLF PURCHASE
LOMA Bag by Sunday Golf | FootJoy Traditions
BEST PRACTICE GREEN
Old Toccoa Farm | Muni (not pictured)
BEST RANGE "The Ranch" at Bulls Bay
Hinkle Tree at Inverness | Block M at Ann Arbor Golf & Outing
Seafood Bisque at Blowing Rock CC (not pictured) Chowder at Caledonia (photo by Steve Herr)
BEST WILDLIFE Hawk at Inverness | Gators at Bulls Bay/True Blue/Caledonia
BEST GOLF GIFT
Custom Golf Crusade Headcover by Elliot Bag Co. | Door Prizes at IM2
BEST FINISHING HOLE
Inverness | Bulls Bay | Caledonia
Final Caledonia photo credit to @ryan.parson.photography
Thanks to all who we welcomed into the Crusade this year! Can't wait to see what 2022 holds for us and others! We will see you on the course!