Every Top 100 Course in a Year: The Story of Jimmie James

As golf nuts go, Jimmie James qualifies as extra nutty. In candy bar terms, he’s somewhere between a Snickers and an Oh Henry! James, 59, accomplished a rare feat, playing the entire 2017–18 Golf Digest Top 100 U.S. course list in a single year.

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James at Laurel Valley (Photo courtesy of Jimmie James)

James spent 33 years at ExxonMobil, retiring May 31, 2017 as manager of Americas fuel operations. He didn’t take up golf until age 45. Over dinner one night, the vice president of his division told him of a promotion and a move to Beaumont, Texas. “You need to start shooting something—either par or animals,” James recalls being told. His wife bought him a set of Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear golf clubs the next day, and he was soon hooked. When he set off on this quixotic quest, James had only played four of the Top 100 (he played them all again).

How did he get from four to 100? For starters, he says there are 12 resort courses, including Pebble Beach Golf Links and the four courses at Bandon Dunes Resort, and one municipal course (Bethpage Black) for which the only requirement is that your credit card isn’t declined. Access to America’s cathedrals of golf is another story, and James gets emotional as he details how he gained admission to so many exclusive, members-only courses.

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James with Jimmy Dunne at Shinnecock Hills (Photo courtesy of Jimmie James)

 

“To me, the real story is about the golf community and how so many people came together to make this possible,” says James, noting that caddies helped him get on four courses, including Oak Hill and Old Sandwich. “As I paired up with fellow golfers, I shared my story and they wanted to help. People knew people who knew people and it snowballed from there.” (The exception being Milwaukee Country Club, where he struggled to find a host. But, yet again, a chance encounter on a driving range led to a member happy to arrange a round.)

Still, there were many hurdles along the way. The brother-in-law of his sponsor at Shinnecock Hills in Long Island passed away one week before their golf date. It was only a month before the club hosted the U.S. Open in June; members were permitted to bring only so many guests before the Open and most had used their allotment. That’s when member Jimmy Dunne came to the rescue: He flew back to New York from his college reunion at Notre Dame and hosted James on June 3, the final day guest play was allowed before the Open. 

James squeezed in 29 courses in the last 34 days of his “golf year,” flying to Idaho to play the Golf Club at Black Rock and Gozzer Ranch the same week he played Shinnecock and Pine Valley.

“Whenever I told anyone what I was doing, the reflex response was to wonder how they could help,” he says.

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James at Wade Hampton (Photo courtesy of Jimmie James)

For example, getting ready to play Merion on July 25, 2017, his 12th course on his way to the century club, James met John Sokol at the club’s short-game practice area. When James detailed his goal, Sokol shot back, “That’s the stupidest thing in the world. You should’ve talked to me first. I would’ve told you the bottom 50 aren’t worth your time. But since you’re doing such a dumb, stupid thing, I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you, I’m going to host you at the four clubs I belong to in Ohio.”

Which he did, arranging for members to host James at Scioto Country Club (9/30/17), The Golf Club (10/1/17), Double Eagle Club (4/13), and Muirfield Village Golf Club (10/1/17).

“He said all of this before he ever asked me my name,” James recalls.

It took six trips to California to play its 12 courses. The toughest get was No. 80, Valley Club of Montecito, after the region was devastated by mudslides.

James planned to save the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, where he owns a second home and membership in the Governors Club, for the finale, but fate intervened again. Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C., which had been closed for 10 months for a renovation, said members could bring guests starting on June 11—which was the last day of James’s quest year. So The Ocean Course became No. 99 and Wade Hampton the end.

“Had I known as hard as it was while I was doing it, I never would have set it as a goal,” he says.

James at Laurel Valley (Photo courtesy of Jimmie James)

Some sticklers might point out that James’s quest should carry a Roger Maris-like asterisk: He played Augusta National in May 2017, shortly before his retirement, and didn’t officially begin his pursuit of the remaining 99 courses until June 12 (at Kinloch Golf Club in Virginia). “The judges will allow it,” ruled Golf Digest. Others will quibble that due to the front nine of Winged Foot’s West Course (No. 10) being under renovation, James had to play a composite 19 holes with the East Course (No. 62). The verdict was the same from up high at Golf Digest, “but not without some grumbling,” editorial director Max Adler wrote.

We salute James for completing what is a lifetime goal for many in 365 days. He’s a certifiable golf nut, but he’s one of our favorite types.

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