If I stretch some 36-hole complexes into two separate courses, I reckon I’ve played about 120 different layouts in my life.
Jimmie James knocked off a century in just 12 months. That wasn’t just any old ton, either. It was Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest – a list including clubs that don’t exactly welcome the public.
James, a retired oil worker from Texas, hit shots round the fairways of Augusta National, Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Shinnecock Hills to name a few.
But his appetite for discovery didn’t end there. Even after clocking up more than 73,000 air miles, 17,500 more by car, 82 nights in hotels, spending $25,000 on green fees and $5,000 on ball markers and caps, the 60-year-old, who only took up golf 15 years ago, set his sights further afield.
“I’m doing the world top 100, but I’m doing it a lot more casually,” he explained. “By playing the top 100 in the US, I’ve got over half the courses in the world top 100.”
This new journey brought him to Britain last summer where, in the space of a week and a half, he played a selection that would satisfy most of us for a lifetime.
The trip was organised with the help of members who’d seen his US exploits and James ticked off Royal Liverpool, Sunningdale Old and New, Royal Porthcawl, Royal St George’s, Swinley Forest and Royal Birkdale – all on the world top 100 list – as well as Wentworth’s West course and Bearwood Lakes in a memorable few days.
“My favourite was Swinley Forest,” James said. “It spoke to me. It has such beautiful views. You are going along and then you get to the 4th hole and it is like ‘wow, this is so nice and pleasant’.
“Of the links, Royal Liverpool was the first I played and I liked that but Royal Birkdale was obviously special.
“The people at Royal Porthcawl made me like the course probably even more, although it was the most challenging as we played in a very stiff wind.
“When I was in the locker room changing shoes, a guy came up to me and introduced himself and said he wanted to take a moment to welcome me to the club.
“He was the president and it happened to be his birthday. We got talking. He found out I had played the top 100 in the US and was really excited.
“He invited us to join him for his celebrations with the other members of the club and I was introduced to the oldest three members – all of them over 90 – and one who had been a member for 75 years. The opportunity to talk about golf and the club with these guys was amazing.”
James still has around 35 of the globe’s best to play and reckoned he’ll complete the task within the next four years.
He said his interest was first piqued at St Andrews 10 years ago. After a friend pulled out of a trip at the last minute, James ended up on his own at the Starter’s Hut on the Old Course hoping for a spare spot.
“[The starter] fitted me into the very first group with these three guys. We had a great time. I couldn’t have imagined a greater experience.
“That gave me the joy of playing golf with strangers and meeting new people through golf.”