By Kevin Kenney
From his earliest days, it’s always been about golf for Matt Ginella.
Growing up in Santa Rosa, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco, he worked at local courses throughout high school – mowing greens, picking ranges, changing grips. He applied to agronomy school at Penn State, thinking he might become a superintendent somewhere, before a broadcasting degree from St. Mary’s College landed him an internship at Sports Illustrated and, eventually, the job of golf photo editor in 1996.
As fortune would have it, Ginella got that gig the very same week Tiger Woods turned pro – and two careers were born.
The Bucket List Question
We asked Ginella an almost impossible-to-answer question: Of the 2,500 or so courses he’s played, could he name some of his favorites, his absolute must-plays — his bucket list for the avid amateur to check off before retiring to that great 19th hole in the sky
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Another example, Ginella says, of one destination that can beget visits to multiple courses. But it begins with the legendary links course, host to five U.S. Opens, with another set for next year, the course’s 100th anniversary.
“Pebble Beach is No. 1 in the United States for me,’’ Ginella says. “Yes, it’s expensive ($525 for a round), but Pebble Beach is the crown jewel of golf in America.
“It’s one of the greatest walks in all of golf. If you start on that fourth hole, which runs along Stillwater Cove, and you wrap around for 4, 5, 6, 7 — and then up to 8, which is one of the greatest par 4’s in the world, then you hit 9 and 10, going along that very popular and famous beach there along the ocean.
“Then you come around and finish on 17 out on the water, and 18 is one of the great par-5 finishes in all of golf.”
“How many courses can say that seven or eight of the greatest holes in the world are within 18 holes? “To be able to walk that land and play golf and interact in that way, it’s mesmerizing.’’
(Key tip: Unlike St. Andrews, you can show up at Pebble Beach the day you want to play and likely get a tee time. “You can simply pay the greens-fee price … but not have to pay to stay in the resort,’’ says Ginella.
Royal County Down Golf Club
“Kind of like a cross between the Old Course and Pebble Beach … (with) the Mountains of Mourne in the backdrop,’’ says Ginella.
“It’s kind of generally considered the best of UK and Ireland. It’s the best of the best over there, other than the Old Course.’’
Ginella also recommends the nearby Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portstewart Golf Club and Ardglass Golf Club.
“I think of those three places – Old Course, Pebble Beach and Royal County Down – if you hit those three destinations, you will have lived an amazing golfing life,’’ says Ginella.
“Awesome,’’ says Ginella. “You would never go and play one with playing the other.’’
“Inverness (was) a bedraggled little former coal-mining town that had lost its way, and along comes (developer/owner) Mike Keiser on what was a dump site and spectacular coastline, and he builds Cabot Links first, with a native Canadian architect in Rod Whitman, and he does a great first course. “
And then come (designers Bill) Coore and (Ben) Crenshaw, on this dramatic mile and a half worth of Nova Scotia coastline, and (Keiser) builds…what debuted by Golf Digest standards as No. 19 in the world the first day it opened.
“So you take the greatest architects probably in the modern era in Coore-Crenshaw, and the greatest developer in the modern era in Mike Keiser, and you take a great piece of land like that in Nova Scotia, and you mix them all together at kind of the height of their powers, and you get Cabot Cliffs.
“You’re never going to see a bad hole, you’re never going to have a bad moment…at both Links and Cliffs – they complement each other very well.’’