How to Create Your “Golf Life List”

Approximately 60 percent of U.S. golfers live north of the Sun Belt. That means that the majority of us aren’t lucky enough (or perhaps smart enough) to live in a region with year-round golf.

Based in the Northeast, I’ve grown accustomed to putting the clubs away for extended stretches, outside of occasional golf trips to warm-weather climates during the winter months. It’s why several years ago, while my backyard and local golf courses were covered by several inches of snow, I was inspired by a fellow golf nut to create my “Golf Life List.”

Bayonne (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

Quite simply, this is a comprehensive rundown of every course you’ve ever played.
It’s makes for a nice distraction from a long, depressing offseason without playing golf. Compiling a life list allows you to relive rounds, memories, courses, and great shots while reconnecting with family and friends. It’s a fun stroll down memory lane while the thought of green grass and golf shorts themselves seem a distant memory. You also might just realize that you’ve played a lot more courses than you initially thought.

So, where to start?

The reality is that most golf is played close to home. In fact, 80 percent of rounds are played within an hour of one’s house, according to the National Golf Foundation, so that makes the perfect jumping-off point. It’s like retracing your steps, only in this case you’re following the soft spikes.

Golf Life List
Pine Valley has yet to be checked off my Golf Life List (Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

First, I wrote down all the golf courses I’d played in my county or neighboring counties, going through local facility directories, if necessary. Then I pulled up a list of all the courses in New Jersey and started checking off names. To date, I’ve played just over one-third of the roughly 330 Garden State courses, although Pine Valley remains an agonizingly notable omission no matter how big that number grows. I moved on to neighboring states like Pennsylvania and New York, then expanded my search even further afield.

Of course, unless you have a photographic memory or incredible long-term recall, your recollection of individual rounds at a course played years ago might be woefully lacking. This is where we need to rely on others.

I enlisted the help of my dad, who was able to better remember some of the courses I’d visited as a youngster, when I was more focused on how far I was hitting the ball than where I was playing. “Pops” also took up the life list challenge and reached out to an old friend, with whom he hadn’t spoken in several years, to figure out the name of the military golf course that we played while visiting family in Chicago several decades earlier. It was a bittersweet discovery, as I also learned that course was one of several on my list that has since closed down.

I emailed my uncle who lives 3,000 miles away to get the names of the courses we’d played on family vacations in Washington state. I reconnected with high school buddies to refresh my memory about the course we played during a bachelor party near Richmond, Va. I touched base with former colleagues to see if they remembered the public layouts we tackled during a work assignment years ago in Georgia.

There were a number of stories similar to those and I shared my life list pursuit with every person I contacted. Each step of the way, I rehashed remembrances from rounds of yesteryear. That was part of the fun, especially at a time when actually playing golf was out of the question. Every couple of months, I update my Golf Life List, which is up to almost 350 courses spread across half the U.S. states and seven foreign countries. I have it in an Excel spreadsheet and it always makes it that much more special when you’re playing somewhere new.

Golf Life List
Pasatiempo alongside my father (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

The Golf Life List is personal and unique. It’s an all-encompassing snapshot of your golf experiences. For some, golf memories are tied to collectibles—logo balls, scorecards, pencils, ball markers, bag tags—and I’ve got plenty of each of those, too. But I know I don’t have a keepsake from every course I’ve ever played. My life list, though? After a long stroll down memory lane, that’s not missing a single one.