What's a golf nut to do when stuck in the middle of a Canadian winter? Only two things: look ahead to far-off future games, look back on all the great golf experiences from the year past.
I can take a lot of comfort in knowing that my first games of 2013 will come early – later this month in Florida – and take place at bucket-list kind of courses.
Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill and Streamsong, hyped as Florida's answer to Bandon Dunes, are on my schedule.
But before then, there's lots of time to remember fondly the great courses I played in 2012. Here is a list of 12 that I loved and played for the first time.
I visited many of them on an epic road trip from Jupiter, Fla., to Toronto last spring, but others were closer to home.
Seminole Golf Club, North Palm Beach, Fla.
The ultra-exclusive club has an Augusta National-like mystique but it's the course itself that really wowed me. Loved the Donald Ross minimalist design, its firm and fast conditions and its devilish difficult green sites. It put my meager game through the ringer but always stayed fair and fun. Thanks again to former club president Barry van Gerbig for introducing me to this American classic.
Pinehurst No 2, Pinehurst, N.C.
Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore's tasteful restoration has stripped the course back to its original design. Takes confident architects to put the course's integrity ahead of their own egos. Looks ruggedly handsome now, plays tough. Will be a good test at the 2014 U.S. Opens (men and women).
Dormie Club, West End, N.C.
Speaking of Crenshaw and Coore, their own creation near Pinehurst is pure golf enjoyment – great holes in a great natural setting.
Toronto Golf Club, Mississauga
Speaking of tasteful restorations, Martin Hawtree has done a lovely job giving this aging beauty with great bones a facelift. Will keep the course relevant for years to come.
Georgian Bay Club, Collingwood, Ont.
Surprised by how much I enjoyed this sprawling course. Had watched Web.com Tour pros tear it apart a couple of years ago at the Gretzky Classic and figured it was weak, but found it far trickier and strategic playing my own ball. Would be nice if it was actually closer to the bay, but its property is still interesting all the same.
Deer Ridge, Kitchener, Ont.
One of Tom McBroom's early designs, it's a superb member's course with a nice routing and mix of holes through a secluded valley. Tough enough but still very playable.
Troon North (Monument), Scottsdale, Ariz.
The best of the four courses I played in my latest stop in Arizona, it's a quintessential desert course with plenty of strong holes, some tight fairways to keep you alert and some stunning vistas. My experience was greatly enhanced by my caddy Jon, a transplanted Albertan. We talked hockey, he pulled all my clubs, I broke 90. That's a good day.
Osprey Valley (Hoot), Caledon, Ont.
Finally got to play the third of the three courses at Osprey Valley. This is the rugged one that has plenty of waste bunkers and a Carolinian forest feel. Loved the look and playability. Confirmed in my mind that Osprey Valley, which also has the Toot and the Healthlands layouts, is the best three-course club in Canada.
Loxahatchee Club, Jupiter, Fla.
Florida golf can be uninspiring because of the mostly flat landscape, but links-flavoured Lox, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is proof it doesn't have to be. It's a fun shot maker's course.
King Valley, King City, Ont.
The original flagship course in the ClubLink chain has undergone some renovations recently to improve its drainage, among other things. But a couple of things remain intact: Doug Carrick 's enjoyable design and the beauty of its natural setting.
Rideau View, Ottawa
The golf course was born in the 1960s but has the traditional feel and tidy routing of tracks built decades earlier. It's a strong course. But what I recall most about the club was its friendly vibe and the easy interaction of its members. That's what you join a private club for.
Fieldstone, Greenville, Del.
A few of the holes felt a bit gimmicky, a victim of some of the extreme land the course is built on. But it's still a fantastic, dynamic course and the 180-acre property is undoubtedly eye-popping.