I spent more time getting to golf courses than playing them in 2013.
Racking up enough airline miles to become Gold Elite on Delta Airlines might sound glamorous -- the first-class upgrades, the front-of-the-line perks through security -- but the whole airport experience is never fun. It's the final destinations that are worth all the effort.
After my first trip to Oahu in a decade last January, the highlights just kept coming -- my first trips to New Zealand, Kauai, Cape Cod, Quebec, Palm Springs, Atlantic City and Scotland.
The Home of Golf was really kind to me. In April, I took home a nice silver cup for winning media day at Muirfield prior to the Open Championship. Two months later, I sank my second career ace on the 11th hole on Turnberry Resort's Ailsa Course in the shadow of its magnificent lighthouse. Nothing, though, tops New Zealand, where I went jet-boating, panning for gold and hit golf balls off the top of a mountain. I wisely turned down bungee-jumping and sky-diving.
Stops in Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach, Seattle, northern Michigan, Las Vegas, Cleveland and Florida's Hammock Beach Resort and Streamsong Resort would normally be considered A-list golf trips, too. Last year alone, I played nine courses ranked among Golf Digest's Top 100 courses outside the United States and another 14 on the magazine's Top 100 U.S. list, making my annual travel awards tougher than ever to decide. Let's hope 2014 can live off the momentum of last year.
Best Course: Turnberry
The world rankings say Muirfield. My heart says Turnberry's Ailsa Course. That stretch of holes along the rocky coast and lighthouse looks and plays so beautifully.
Most Scenic Course: Kauri Cliffs
A round on Kauri Cliffs, overlooking the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand, will mesmerize anybody.
Best British Open Venue: Muirfield
Playing Muirfield and having the historic clubhouse to ourselves for its famous lunch brunch was a treat.
Best Non-British Open Links (tie): Machrihanish Dunes, West Links at North Berwick
The great short holes and dunes at Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club and the quirky charms of the West Links at North Berwick edge out a strong secondary cast.
Best U.S. Open/U.S. Women's Open Venue: Pinehurst No. 2
Pinehurst No. 2 looks better than ever heading into history with back-to-back USGA majors in June 2014.
Honorable Mention: Three-time U.S. Women's Open host Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in nearby Southern Pines.
Best Ryder Cup Venue: PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles
It's not my favorite, but I'm sure the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles will put on a good show in Scotland in 2014.
Best New Course: Streamsong Blue
Tom Doak's Blue Course at the grand opening of Streamsong Resort is a glamorous inland tribute to links golf in remote central Florida.
Best Desert Course: SilverRock Resort
The water hazards and mountains help SilverRock Resort shine in La Quinta, Calif.
Honorable Mention: The Classic Club in Palm Desert, Calif.
Best Mountain Course: Le Geant
Golfers encounter rocks and wild swings in elevation on Le Geant in Mont Tremblant, the ski destination in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec.
Best Casino Course: Shadow Creek
The $500 price tag of MGM Resorts International's Shadow Creek Golf Club made me feel like a million-dollar man for a day.
Honorable Mention: Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey.
Best Municipal Course: Olympic Course at Gold Mountain
A second round three years later on the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, owned by the city of Bremerton, Wash., helped me appreciate its brilliance even more.
Honorable Mention: SilverRock Resort in La Quinta, Calif.; Sleepy Hollow Golf Course near Cleveland.
Hardest Course: Oahu's Ko'olau Golf Club
Soaring past triple digits at the jungle-infested Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu doesn't belong on this highlight reel.
Honorable Mention: Muirfield, the Prince Course at Princeville, Pines Course at the International Golf Club & Resort outside Boston.
Best Private Club Experience: The Hills Golf Club in New Zealand
Incredible sculpture art shares the spotlight with the backdrop of the Remarkables Mountains at The Hills Golf Club on New Zealand's south island. There's a captivating scene along the 18th fairway, where a swordsman statue fights off an attack of 110 life-size iron wolves.
Biggest Surprise Course: Jack's Point in New Zealand
Jack's Point on the shores of Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand's south island ranks right up with the north island's more heralded duo listed above.
Honorable Mention: Apple Tree Golf Course and its apple-shaped island green in central Washington.
Best Surprise Resort: Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico
The meals, suites and service at the Rosewood Mayakoba along Mexico's Riviera Maya feel so over-the-top luxurious.
Honorable Mention: Suncadia in Washington state.
Best Lodge (tie): Huka Lodge, the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand
In my dreams, I'll take my wife on a romantic getaway to the exclusive Huka Lodge and the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs on New Zealand's north island.
Honorable Mention: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers.
Best U.S. Resort: St. Regis Princeville Resort
Butler service and beautiful views accompany stays at the St. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai.
Honorable Mention: Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa on Oahu.
Best Links Golf Resort: Turnberry
Staying in the Tom Watson suite at Turnberry might have inspired my hole-in-one the next day.
Honorable Mention: The intimacy and history of the Greywalls Hotel next to Muirfield.
Best Non-golf Resort Activity: Surfing lesson at Turtle Bay Resort
Riding the famous North Shore waves during a family surfing lesson at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.
Best bar shenanigans: Putting off the bar in Scotland
Thankfully nobody died while putting golf balls off the bar stool after dinner and drinks at Ducks Kilspindie House Hotel in East Lothian, Scotland.
Most Unique Round: Playing with hickories in East Lothian, Scotland
Playing with hickories in East Lothian, Scotland, on the nine-hole Musselburgh Links, The Old Course, the oldest course in the world.
Honorable Mention: Playing Le Diable in Quebec with a Canadian who only spoke French was awkward at times, especially the introduction on the first tee.
Best Tournament Attended: New Zealand PGA Championship
Watching future legend Lydia Ko, then age 15, play in the same group as Kiwi major champion Bob Charles at the New Zealand PGA Championship.
Best Pro-Am: Monday After the Masters in Myrtle Beach
Hanging out with my childhood heroes -- Dan Marino, Rick Flair and Wayne Gretzky -- at the Monday After the Masters at Barefoot Resort & Golf in North Myrtle Beach.
Best Spa: JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa
Indulging on a traditional Hawaiian "Lomi Lomi" massage inside the Ihalani Spa at the awesome JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa on Oahu.
Honorable Mention: eforea Spa at the Hilton Queenstown.
Best Birdie: 15th hole at North Berwick
Knocking my tee shot inside 8 feet and making the putt on the 15th green at North Berwick, the original Redan hole.