UK player of the year
Few players on the planet come close to Justin Rose for overall consistency. He is the unflappable master of ball striking, a clutch putter and boasts a competitive edge that sees him pull out all the stops at just the right time.
If we thought we’d seen the best of Rosey, the Brit was determined to prove us wrong in 2018 as he raised his game yet again. He finished inside the top ten in a staggering 15 of his 22 starts this year, including wins at the Fort Worth Invitational and defending his Turkish Open title, he tied for second place at The Open, and a 2-2-T4 spell in the final three events of the FedEx Cup saw him take home the $10m winner’s cheque.
Rose has long considered his game a “work in progress” and has worked closely with his inner circle over the last 12 months to refine his swing faults. It’s paid off. Rose missed 21 consecutive cuts after turning pro at the youthful age of 17, now at the age of 38, he is a Ryder Cup legend, FedEx Cup champion, and trading the world number one position on a nigh-on weekly basis with US big-hitter Brooks Koepka. Could there be more to come? Well, Rose certainly wouldn’t look out of place wearing that green jacket…
World player of the year
When Brooks Koepka missed this year’s Masters due to a wrist injury, the media wasn’t asking whether the huge-hitting American could add to his maiden major victory from the 2017 US Open, but how much golf he could play at all.
The answer? Koepka muscled his way to victory at Shinnecock Hills to join an elite club of players to have successfully defended a major – and followed it up by joining an even more exclusive group by winning the PGA Championship in August (only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen have previously won both in the same year).
Koepka’s will to win has made him a fearsome opponent for all who stands in his way, plus he hits it miles, has a deft hand with a wedge and can putt. Yikes.
Best New Course: British Isles
Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland
The scale of Adare Manor’s achievements are very difficult to grasp until you’ve witnessed the immaculate conditioning of the golf course for yourself. Tee boxes perfect enough to putt on, pristine fairways and green surfaces unlike any you’ve ever seen – there’s a lot of talk of this place being the Augusta of Ireland, and by God they’re bang on the money.
The story goes that famed golf architect Tom Fazio was invited to consult on a small bunker restoration project to coincide with Adare Manor’s grand hotel reopening in 2017, but he and Open-winner Padraig Harrington persuaded JP McManus into rebuilding the entire golf course from scratch. As an avid golfer, the Irishman couldn’t help himself: he signed a cheque for some £30m and watched his course transform into one of the world’s most spectacular layouts.
Fazio tore up almost all of the existing Robert Trent Jones Snr course to lay 77,000m of drainage and moved 220,000 tonnes of sand to alter the camber of the fairways. On the greens he laid 007-bentgrass (a tightly knitted turf that makes for a marble-like surface) and installed the first SubAir system in Ireland underneath (essentially, a big vacuum that controls moisture on the greens) to ensure the perfect putting surface in any weather conditions.
Elsewhere, there are primped and preened bentgrass runoff areas – the kind of feature that wreaks havoc on the PGA Tour – and an army of greenskeepers repairing every divot before golfers take to the course each day. It’s unsurprising, really, that the Ryder Cup looks like a certainty in the not-too distant future.
The drama of the water holes, the eye-watering 7,500 yardage, the need to use almost every club in the bag, this course was simply made to host a matchplay tournament – heck, Fazio installed fibre-optic cabling underneath the course ready for TV cameras.
Make no mistake: this is the best new layout on the planet, let alone in the British Isles, and likely to feature on your TV very soon. Pay the eye-watering €340 green fee and the €55 compulsory caddie fee and play it for yourself: this is as good as it gets anywhere. Period.
For more information, adaremanor.com
Make no mistake: this is the best new golf course on the planet, let alone in the British Isles
Best New Course: Europe
Bernadus, North Brabant, The Netherlands
You’ll have to look outside of Europe’s golfing big hitters to find this year’s best new course on the continent. Deep in the Brabant province of the Netherlands, a little over an hour’s drive from both Rotterdam and Amsterdam, you’ll find an exciting Kyle Phillips-designed championship golf course funded by Dutch multi-millionaire Robert van der Wallen.
No expense has been spared (try €50m…) in creating one of the most complete golfing experiences this side of the Atlantic: there’s a state-of-the-art short game area and driving range, an ultra-modern clubhouse that includes a Finnish sauna and steam baths in the locker rooms, and an eight-bedroom boutique lodge opening in early 2019. The course itself is a sprawling heathland design that employs occasional water hazards and gaping bunkers as its main line of defence. But that doesn’t tell the full story. Brabant is typified by open fields, sandy plains, deep forests, and quietly murmuring rivers – it’s a serene pastoral scene that Phillips has carefully incorporated into his course design.
Little touches like the native heather transplanted around the tee boxes, the ragged bunker edges left to grow wild, and the beautifully contoured putting greens transport you away from civilisation into your own golfing paradise. It’s no wonder the European Tour will bring the KLM Open to Bernadus in 2020. This place is special.
For more information, bernardusgolf.com
Best New Course: International
Mammoth Dunes, Wisconsin, USA
David McLay-Kidd may lack the renown of Tom Fazio, Gil Hanse and co, but the Scot is slowly becoming one of the most influential golf architects on the planet. His focus on playability, strategy and environmentally sensitive design has given the world the bucket-list worthy Bandon Dunes in Oregon, USA, and spellbinding Machrihanish Dunes on Scotland’s extreme west coast. More than anything, though, he is bringing fun back into the game in a way few others are exploring.
Kidd’s latest project might be his best to date: the utterly outrageous Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley golf resort in Wisconsin.
The sweeping layout sits on a giant expanse of land that was once an ancient glacial lake, and utilises its rich topography to sculpt a caricature of a golf course, brimming with humongous fairways, unusual green complexes and extreme changes in elevation.
The secret to Mammoth Dunes’s success is that there is more than one way to score well here
Trundling through peaks and valleys, humps and hollows, and arid sandscape, the secret to Mammoth Dunes’s success is that there is more than one way to score well. The par-four 4th, for example, features a fairway that must be 120 yards in width, but the absence of rough doesn’t minimise its difficulty – find the central ‘speed slot’ on this hole, and you’ll gain 20 yards of distance, get an unimpeded view of the flag and bag yourself an ample opportunity for birdie.
Kidd talks passionately about moving away from what he calls “binary golf” – golf that is black and white: you hit it in a bunker, you lose a shot – and, here, he plays with possibilities, always giving the player a chance of redemption after a bad shot. Simply put: the world needs more Mammoth Dunes.
For more information, sandvalley.com
Best Resort: British Isles
Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland
Gleneagles is a fantasy land where luxury accommodation and three 18-hole championship courses serve as the basis for countless bucket-list golf trips a year. In recent years, however, the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup has taken its experience to the next level.
New owner Ennismore has invested millions across the 850-acre estate, including a drop-dead gorgeous renovation of the main spaces and sumptuous bedrooms. A subtle Scottish theme now pervades throughout the iconic hotel: antiques and photographs line the halls with glimpses into Gleneagles’ past, while bedrooms are furnished with fabrics and tweeds from local mills. There’s refinement at every turn: from the Gatsby-esque cocktail bar that opens for the evenings, to the French brasserie (one of four restaurants) that transports you from Perthshire to Paris without missing a beat. Spaces are purposeful and thought out with guest experience in mind.
Set within the sweeping Scottish moorlands, the golf courses themselves are surrounded by mountains and the Ochil Hills. Jewel in the estate’s crown is The King’s course, designed by five-time Open champion James Baird in 1919, while The Queen’s and Ryder Cup venue the PGA Centenary courses are equally well-respected venues. It really doesn’t get better than this in Britain.
For more information, gleneagles.com
Best Resort: Europe
PGA Catalunya, Girona, Spain
PGA Catalunya isn’t just a world-class tournament venue, highly rated by pros and amateurs alike, it’s one of the best resort experiences you’ll find anywhere.
Located an hour north of Barcelona, Catalunya is a self-contained resort, where golfers can while away a few days in luxury without having to drag themselves too far from the hustle and bustle of Catalonia’s capital.
Boasting two championship courses, Stadium and Tour, the former is consistently voted the best course in Spain, while its practice facilities are as you’d expect for a European Tour venue. With fast-running greens, pristine fairways, and a marvellous mix of natural and man-made hazards, the courses are as entertaining as they are challenging.
But the resort refuses to rest on its laurels, investing €53m in everything from the opening of a second hotel to the seeding of a vineyard. Of course, there’s also numerous course improvements and residential developments. The best has simply gotten better.
For more information, pgacatalunya.com
Best Course Renovation
Himalayas Nine, Prince’s Golf Course, Kent
Prince’s is often overshadowed by its Open Championship host neighbour Royal St George’s, but the fantastic redesign of its nine-hole Himalayas course at the hands of Mackenzie & Ebert may soon change that.
Significant upgrades were carried out to the old layout with two brand-new holes, including a signature par three playing towards the English Channel, completely changing its proposition. There are larger green complexes now, while new rough-edged bunkering and the introduction of bare sand areas and naturally fluctuating wetlands ensure the Himalayas sits well within its natural setting as a modern links masterpiece.
Mackenzie & Ebert have a knack for taking a historic gem and applying the right amount of polish to make it shine – they’ve done so again.
For more information, princesgolfclub.co.uk
Up-and-coming destination: Europe
The archipelago of Madeira, situated some 600 miles south west of Europe, may not be the first destination that springs to mind when thinking of prime golfing real estate, but it is an excellent year-round location to tee it up.
These volcanic islands, warmed by the the Gulf Stream, enjoy blazing summers and mild winters, while quaint picturesque villages, stunning vistas, and natural beaches mean there’s plenty to occupy your time off the fairways, as well as three world-class golf destinations that will command your attention.
Porto Santo, Santo de Serra and Palheiro all enjoy picture-perfect coastal views but the former, designed by Seve Bellesteros, is a true hidden gem. Weaving past beaches and two extinct volcanoes, it is one of a kind.
For more information, visitportugal.com
Weaving past beaches and two extinct volcanoes, Porto Santo is a true hidden gem
Up-and-coming destination: International
Jordan, Middle East
The historic nation of Jordan is far behind its Middle Eastern neighbours where golf is concerned. In fact, until recently, it boasted a singular, merely serviceable nine-hole layout (with 18 tees) just a little south of Amman.
Ayla Golf Club looks set to change that entirely. Set on the northern tip of the Red Sea, this massive development has been making slow progress since 2008, but is now open to visitors. It includes a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course, a par-three executive course and a golf academy. Factor in a melting pot of new hotels, residences and shopping areas, and this could be the start of a new Middle Eastern golf love affair.
For more information, ayla.com
Best Tour Operator
Whether it’s a weekend outing in the home counties or jetting off to sun-baked fairways on the other side of the planet, Golfbreaks continues to be the number one tour operator for the everyday UK consumer.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, Golfbreaks offers more than 2,000 courses across its site, as well as providing bespoke access to events like The Masters through the luxury arm of its business, Xclusive Collection.
For more information, golfbreaks.com
Arccos Caddie 2.0
The premise of Arccos Caddie is simple, even if the process to get there is not – using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve your golf game by analysing how far you hit each club and selecting what you should hit next. As the name suggests, this is your brand-new caddie, without human error (or interaction). It’s genius, co-designed by the whizz kids at Microsoft, and is simple to use. Better yet? The software gets ‘smarter’ at helping you the more times you play.
The only modicum of effort required is for you to push a sensor into the top of your clubs and download an app. Is this the future of golf? We’re certainly convinced.
For more information, arccosgolf.com
For the last decade Galvin Green has set the standard for high-performance golf wear suitable to whatever the weather can throw at you. In the last 18 months, however, the brand has renewed its focus on designs that are both practical and fashionable across its collections.
The results speak for themselves: from base layers to 100% waterproof jackets, Galvin Green has created a range that perfectly balances cutting-edge clothing technology with effortless on-course style.
For more information, galvingreen.com
Best Golf Shoes
Scandinavian brand ECCO might not release its golf shoes with quite the same fanfare as super labels Nike and Adidas, but its commitment to creating footwear that blends innovative technology with traditional craftsmanship means that it more than stands up to the big dogs in the industry.
Its greatest recent success is its Biom Hybrid, which continues to be the benchmark on which other spikeless shoes are judged.
For more information, ecco.com
Up-and-coming golf brand
If you haven’t encountered Honma before, you’ll certainly be hearing a lot about them in the coming months. For one, they’ve prized none other than Justin Rose from his club deal with TaylorMade and are set to nab a few more PGA Tour players before the official start of the 2019 season. Why else? Well, this brand has an eye for craftsmanship few others do.
Honma has built golf clubs on Japan’s west coast for more than 60 years – crafting premium metals into some of the finest cast and forged golf clubs on the planet. They’re finally making their play on a global scale, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
For more information, honmagolfeurope.com
Best Equipment Manufacturer
It’s been another year of broken promises from golf club manufacturers: despite claims to the contrary, not every new wood has the ability to cure a slice and adding ten yards to even your drives seems like a bold statement.
Ping, however, has quietly gone about its business – and, in doing so, released a sensational driver in the G400 Max, three sets of very serviceable irons, and a revolutionary Sigma 2 putter range packed with clever player-friendly technology. Impressive stuff.
For more information, ping.com