Player of the year: Rory McIlroy
The biggest victory in golf this year goes to the sport itself: Tiger Woods crowned a remarkable comeback by claiming the Masters title, before joining golfing royalty Sam Snead on a record-equalling 82 PGA Tour wins; 20-year-old rookie Hinako Shibuno won the Women’s British Open in her first ever tournament outside of Japan; Jon Rahm became only the second Spaniard after Seve Ballesteros to win the Race to Dubai; Irishman Shane Lowry won the first Open to be hosted in Ireland for almost 70 years; and perhaps the most exciting crop of young male talent for the past decade emerged to lock horns with the world’s best. Golf is as exciting (and newsworthy) as it’s been in the last decade.
At the top of the tree, one of the more interesting storylines to develop was the power struggle between the world’s top two players in the men’s game, Rory McIlroy and the Major-winning machine Brooks Koepka. There’s been barbs thrown by both parties as to who played the best golf this year, but in our opinion it’s the Northern Irishman who is a worthy player of the year.
McIlroy has his remarkable consistency to thank: he racked up a PGA Tour-best 14 top tens in 19 events, including gritty and occasionally jaw-dropping wins at the RBC Canadian Open, the season-ending Tour Championship and ‘the fifth Major’ the Players Championship.
The prize for his efforts this season? A $15m cheque for winning the overall FedEx Cup – becoming the only player other than Tiger Woods to win the championship trophy more than once.
McIlroy racked up a PGA Tour-best 14 top tens in 19 events, including four gritty and occasionally jaw-dropping wins
Koepka may have dominated the PGA Championship again this year, but he has a long way to go to match McIlroy’s level of performance week in, week out – the Holywood native claimed the Byron Nelson Award for the lowest adjusted scoring average (69.057) after a season of sustained brilliance.
Many will look towards McIlroy’s catastrophic first round performance at the Open as cause to dismiss the 30 year old’s efforts in 2019, but missing the cut may prove to be the best failure of the player’s career. After missing the cut, the tears welled up in front of the TV cameras as we witnessed a side to cocksure McIlroy we’d never seen previously. For a player who has had the golfing world at his feet since bursting onto the scene in 2009, perhaps this was a timely reminder of what a harsh mistress golf can be.
If we were to make one prediction for 2020, it would be a humbler McIlory will once again lift a Major trophy – his first for six years. Watch this space.
Young Player of the Year: Joaquin Niemann
If there’s one thing we can take from the 2019 season it’s that the US collegiate golf system continues to be a factory for world-class talent.
Exhibit A through C: the free-swinging Matthew Wolff, the high-flying Collin Morikawa (who rose from 1476th to 68th in the world rankings in just 14 events as a pro in 2019), and this year’s leading amateur at The Masters and US Open, Victor Hovland.
Our young player of the year, however, goes to a golfer who turned pro at the age of 19 and has been quietly building a reputation for himself on the PGA Tour. Chilean Joaquin Niemann picked up his first PGA Tour victory in September with a six-stroke victory at The Greenbrier – a result that has been coming after eight top tens in his first two pro seasons.
He now has a world ranking of 57 – higher than the much-hyped Morikawa (68), Hovland (97) and Wolff (115), in spite of being younger than all but Wolff – and has accrued a mightily impressive $4.2 million in just 46 starts.
Only just turned 21, the world is his oyster.
Best New Course, UK: JCB Golf & Country Club, Staffordshire
JCB blew our socks off when we stepped foot on this private members club in the autumn. From the stunning first hole – a water-strewn par four that delights the eye as it ravishes the scorecard – to the tricky uphill 18th, JCB combines challenge, quirk and fun into a prime spot of Staffordshire countryside.
Created by Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design, half a million tonnes of soil were moved in the build – all done by JCBs, of course – with an extensive drainage system installed beneath the turf to ensure play is firm and fast, in spite of the whims of the British weather. It’s no surprise to hear positive conversations have already taken place with the European Tour; expect to see the world’s best teeing it up here sooner rather than later.
JCB combines challenge, quirk and fun into a prime spot of Staffordshire countryside
We can’t wait to see Rory McIlroy and co tackle the mammoth par-three 17th. From the top of the hill and the back tees, players are faced with a 255-yard shot to reach the centre of an island green. Account for some 30 metres of elevation and it’s probably just a calmly struck long iron than a blast with a wood, but this hole will enchant you even if you walk off with double (or worse…). It’s not an exaggeration to call this the most jaw-dropping individual golf hole in England.
The 17th at TPC Sawgrass will be the natural comparison, but we’re happy to contend that JCB’s version on British soil is superior: the bunkering, the intricate rise and fall of the greens, the beauty of the trees. What a sight. What a golf course.
For more info, jcbgolfandcountryclub.com
Best New Course, Europe: Sigló, Siglufjörður, Iceland
Iceland is perhaps the last place in Europe you’d expect to see a brand-new golf course breaking ground, but in the tiny fishing village of Siglufjörður, 23 miles south of the Arctic Circle, you’ll find exactly that. Sigló golf course is the brainchild of entrepreneur Róbert Gudfinnsson and architect Edwin Roald who have constructed one of the most mind-bendingly beautiful courses on the planet.
Housed in a sweeping valley and loomed over by mountains, this golfing phenomenon was crafted by literal millennia of geological activity and erosion – Roald just added the finishing touches. The result is a harmonious relationship between nature and golf.
The one-two punch of the 6th (an uphill par three shrouded by trees) and the 7th (an island green par three beneath the backdrop of a huge rock) is as good as it gets anywhere.
For more info, siglogolf.is
Best New Course, International: New Giza, Cairo
From ice to the fire: the best course in our international category goes to Egypt’s New Giza layout. No more than a 20 minute drive from the Pyramids of Giza, this idiosyncratic course, from the minds of golf course architects Ross Perrett and Tim Lobb, features a unique layout suitable of its unusual location.
Situated in an old limestone quarry, the vertical walls of the chiseled rock have been retained, and play into the overall strategy of the course: where perhaps you might normally find a bunker, you instead see desert-like waste areas from which you must escape, while the course also features the significant changes in elevation you would expect of a quarry site. As a result, the course feels both natural and extreme in its varied, often surprising, routing.
The 4th hole, a big-drop par three that plays to a vast undulating green, is one of the clear standouts. With the pyramids in view just to the left of the hole, this is surely one of the most picturesque holes you’ll ever play, but the immaculate conditioning and intricate design ensure that this is not just about the postcard, but the performance as well.
For our money, this course has already rocketed into the very best layouts in the Middle East and North Africa.
For more info, newgiza.com
Best Course Renovation: Pinehurst No.4, North Carolina
After the completion of its first full season, it’s safe to say that Gil Hanse’s careful modification of Pinehurst No.4 in North Carolina has found the Goldilocks sweetspot as far as renovations are concerned.
In many ways, No.4 has always been a story of revision. It began as nine holes built by the renowned Donald Ross in 1912, before owner Richard Tufts created a new 18 on the site in the early 1950s. Twenty years later, Robert Trent Jones redesigned the course, and ten years after that, his son Rees was tasked with a further touch up. The course received its final tinkering from Tom Fazio in 1999.
No 4 sits neatly alongside its big brother, Pinehurst No.2 of US Open fame, as the greatest expression of Carolina Sandhills golf
Hanse may be best known for designing the golf course for the Rio Olympics in 2016, but in the last few years he has established himself as the world’s best redesigner – sewing original blueprints to the demands of a modern golf course. His work at big-name tracks like Merion (East), Winged Foot (West and East), Los Angeles Country Club (North and South), and Sleepy Hollow speaks for itself.
Here at Pinehurst No.4, Hanse and his team drew inspiration from Ross’ original design, including a restoration of natural landforms from the Ross era that have been lost over time, as well as creating some new par threes within the preexisting hole corridors.
The course is now a feast for the eyes from tee to green: exposed sand areas, vast cross bunkers and native wire grass meld with the site’s rolling topography and natural ridge lines to create dramatic vistas and strategic options on every hole. It now sits neatly alongside its big brother, Pinehurst No.2 of US Open fame, as the greatest expression of Carolina Sandhills golf.
For more info, pinehurst.com
Best Clubhouse: Wentworth, Surrey
Wentworth is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most well regarded private members clubs in the UK – a brand that retains its luxury status even outside of the world of golf. Under new owners Reignwood, the club is looking to elevate its proposition once again, including an impressive £13m refit of its clubhouse that has been completed in the past 18 months.
Rejuvenating the previously ageing spaces, the beautiful interiors by Thorp Design boast a breezy elegance more akin to London’s dining scene than an established golf club. Importantly, however, Wentworth’s Hall of Fame – its vast collection of historical memorabilia – has been refurbished to connect these modern spaces with the club’s storied past. It’s now as enjoyable to relax before or after your round as it is to experience one of Wentworth’s three championship golf courses.
Elsewhere, members will also have the pleasure of newly designed suites should they wish to spend the night in stylish comfort, as well as access to perhaps the finest health and fitness offering in golf. This includes state-of-the-art eGym fitness equipment, a spa, and a team of therapists – from nutrition and DNA therapy, to acupuncture and physiotherapy – who are on hand for those looking for a 360 approach to their lifestyle.
Wentworth may be synonymous with sporting luxury, but it’s somehow got better.
For more info, wentworthclub.com
Best Resort, UK: Gleneagles
For the second year in a row, we can look no further for the best resort in the UK than Gleneagles. This sporting fantasyland blends luxury accommodation with three spectacular 18-hole championship courses to serve up the perfect bucket-list golf trip. New owner Ennismore has invested millions across the 850-acre estate, including a drop-dead gorgeous renovation of the main spaces and sumptuous bedrooms. 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.
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, but the spotlight this year has been on the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup venue, the PGA Centenary course. Having hosted the biggest team event in the women’s game, you can guarantee it’s as challenging a test as it is enjoyable.
Not to be outdone, The Queen’s course (a personal favourite of the Square Mile team) has undergone several changes in 2019, including work on the par-three 13th and 14th holes. New tee boxes and the introduction of native Scottish heather has taken this corner of the course to the next level. It really doesn’t get better than this in Britain.
For more info, gleneagles.com
Best Resort, International: Sotogrande
It’s hard to believe how much Sotogrande has changed in the last 15 years. The 6,178-acre estate has been the luxurious home of Europe’s elite for decades, but the opening of La Reserva golf course in 2004 – a flashy sibling to former-Ryder Cup venue Valderrama and the exclusive Real Club de Sotogrande – sparked the beginning of an astonishing scale of development that now stands comfortably in excess of €100m in investment.
There isn’t anywhere else in Europe that compares to this giant community of luxury living. Travelling through the hidden complex of multi-million-pound villas is to witness one of the world’s most well put together sports complexes. The pristine polo grounds give way to an elegant marina and swanky beach clubs, while an avant garde lagoon and Spain’s only man-made beach offers watersports and relaxation away from the masses.
There isn’t anywhere else in Europe that compares to Sotogrande's giant community of luxury living
Further into the Andalucian foothills you’ll find three prestige golf courses. Real Club de Sotogrande is the oldest and longest enduring courses on the Costa del Sol, while Valderrama speaks for itself as an icon in world golf. The youngest course, La Reserva Club, continues to grow from strength to strength. The Cabell B Robinson design is an intimidating 7,400 metres (more than 8,000 yards!) long and now features lethally quick greens after a recent renovation – and, better still, the most best conditioning anywhere on the Costa.
As it winds through two intersecting valleys, the layout offers a fair challenge – and, much like its big brother Valderrama, gives you every opportunity to keep a score going, so long as you are accomplished with the driver and can control your spin approaching those lightening, undulating putting surfaces.
The Ladies’ European Tour stopped off at the golf course this season, with rumours of an even bigger event likely to take part next year – no doubt buoyed by the news that the LET and the LPGA have embarked on a joint venture in the hope of growing the women’s game.
There’s an additional 27 holes of golf at Almenara, along with the estate’s luxury hotel. Currently undergoing a £15m development, slated to open next year, it is yet another example of Sotogrande’s commitment to continued improvement.
For more info, lareservaclubsotogrande.com
Up-and-Coming Destination: Vietnam
Away from the glitz and glam of the Middle East and the exciting refurbishment of America’s classic designs, there is perhaps no country on the planet that is investing in golf as much as Vietnam.
The country currently boasts around 45 established courses – including superb layouts like Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, Laguna Lang Co, and Ba Na Hills – but there are as many as 25 currently in various stages of development.
Grassroots initiatives such as the Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College, the first golf-specific enterprise of its kind in Asia, are also a driving force in Vietnam’s development.
The GOMVC is part of Hoiana Quang Nam Vocational Training Centre, located near the city of Hoi An, and teaches young students course maintenance, caddie and hospitality skills specific to the golf industry. Growing the game isn’t just encouraging expats and tourists to come to play, but providing a new job source for locals.
Of course, Vietnam’s long coastline along the South China Sea and stunning mountainous areas makes for the perfect landscape for links and parkland golf alike, while the proliferating luxury resorts add the cherry on the top. Judging by the offering currently available, there’s never been a better to check it out for yourself.
Best Equipment Manufacture: Ping
The Big Four of the golf world – Callaway, Titleist, TaylorMade, and Ping – have continued to push the envelope in club design in 2019, but it’s the latter who comes out on top.
For starters, Ping’s iron releases this year are simply the best collection the manufacturer has ever brought to market – in particular the sleek Hydropearl Chrome finish of the i500s and the i210s. On the subject of the former, a forged iron has been something that Ping fans have been crying out for in recent years, so it’s exciting to see the brand listen to its biggest supporters and create the i500s.
They haven’t done this with haste, however. The handsome blade-like looks of this hollow-head design are the perfect fit for the mid-handicapper – combining explosive distance, with soft feel and a highly responsive face. Strong performance on off-centre strikes and low spin mean that this is a club that also boasts Ping’s trademark forgiveness.
Elsewhere, the Glide 3.0 wedges, complete with the retro Eye2 sole (first seen in the 1980s), were a surprising but welcome throwback, while the G410 Plus driver picks up on last year’s model with great aplomb.
Ping’s latest driver features an adjustable weight for the first time – 15 long years after we first saw this technology in the TaylorMade R7 Quad – giving players the ability to move a 16g perimeter weight to help suit their shot shape. Most impressive, though, is the fact this driver has shown as much as a 10-yard gain on last year’s G400 Max, thanks for the most part to increased ball and clubhead speed.
We’d go as far to say this may be Ping’s most fruitful 12 months in the last five years.
For more info, ping.com
Best Gadget: Garmin Approach G80
Nothing comes close to Garmin’s prowess in the world of portable GPS technology; many have tried, many have come up short. This includes its golf range, which blends industry-leading accuracy with good-looking designs.
The Approach G80 is the latest evolution of its offering, and to say it packs a punch is something of an understatement.
The Garmin Approach G80 is a GPS unit providing you with maps and yardages for more than 41,000 golf courses which have been pre-loaded onto the device, and viewed through a crystal-clear touchscreen display.
However, the most exciting new feature is the integrated radar, which allows golfers to use the G80 as a launch monitor – tracking data parameters relating to their golf swing and the golf ball. Boasting four practice and game modes to help you work on improving your shot consistency, as well as the ability to play a ‘virtual round’, this is an incredible impressive piece of kit.
For more info, garmin.com
Best clothing: Galvin Green
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 12 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.
Top of the range this year is the Ashton Shakedry – an innovative Gore-Tex jacket that weighs a miniscule 174g.
For more info, galvingreen.com
Best Golf Shoes: Footjoy
In an era where sneaker giants Nike and Adidas dominate the feet of most sportsmen, it’s to a great amount of credit that FootJoy continue to be the footwear of choice for many of the world’s most avid golfers. It’s for good reason – and you need only look at the superb line-up of great-looking, high performance shoes the brand released this year to see why.
The Flex, for example, blends a modern trainer-like golf shoe with the grip and comfort we’ve come to expect from FootJoy – a shoe that was vital during the warmer months.
For more info, footjoy.co.uk
Up-and-Coming Golf Brand: Pitch London
Pitch London, in the heart of the City, is the most sophisticated virtual golf club in the UK.
Founded by ex-golf professionals Elliot Godfrey and Chris Ingham, the sleek space looks more like a Shoreditch cocktail bar than any clubhouse you’ve ever seen – and yet that’s exactly the point. Pitch is the perfect intersection between London golfing paradise and casual Friday night entertainment; similar in certain ways to how Flight Club has perfected its ‘social darts’ concept, only in place of the boards you’re using simulators.
The difference here, is Pitch operates as a members-only club where only the lucky few have access to state-of-the-art golf technology, as well as the club’s other facilities, to play, practise and learn.
Where else can a low-handicapper and a total novice have the same amount of fun? This is one Pitch ready to be rolled out nationwide.
For more info, pitchgolf.london