Travelin' Joe Passov has teed it up in all 50 states and 35 different countries.
Award-winning journalist is a living encyclopedia of golf course knowledge
Veteran golf journalist Joe Passov, also known as “Travelin’ Joe,” has spent the last 30 years teeing it up at courses around the world and sharing his insights with readers, listeners and viewers in a fashion that informs and entertains.
Some of the highlights of his career include being a staff editor for Golf Illustrated, a course rater for Golfweek, and for 13 years answering readers’ questions in his “Ask Travelin’ Joe” column at GOLF Magazine and golf.com about where to play, stay and dine. He also has written extensively for the SCGA's FORE Magazine, spotlighting many SoCal courses throughout the region.
Currently a resident of Cave Creek, Arizona, Travelin’ Joe has won multiple writing honors, including the 2019 Donald Ross Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and he currently writes and co-hosts a radio show in Arizona. His website, TravelinJoeGolf.com, highlights an array of golf courses and resorts, as well as golf course history and design. He's covered two dozen major championships and Ryder Cups, and remains the youngest person ever appointed to the Golf Digest National Course Ranking Panel, which he did in 1987 at age 24.
We queried Travelin’ Joe to reveal a little more about himself and to get his opinions about some of the top tracks in the game…
Travelin' Joe has played or toured more than 1,800 golf courses, and has the scorecards to prove it.
How many different courses have you played in your lifetime?
After keeping track for a long time, I let it slide for a few years. Then my old Golf Magazine/Sports Illustrated colleague Gary Van Sickle told me about a new app called GolfPlayed.com. Invented in 2019 by a young South African pro with time on his hands, it lets users check off every course they’ve ever played, keep a running total and be part of a community of like-mind course chasers.
My final count – so far – is 1,339 different courses. I also reckoned that from course tours and attending tournaments, I had walked all or parts of another 500 courses. I have the scorecards to prove it! My total is pretty respectable, but Gary has me beat. He’s at 1,400-plus. However, I’ve got him topped for breadth, having played in all 50 states and in 35 countries.
Travelin' Joe recounts caddying for Jack Nicklaus – until being replaced by a beer-drinking donkey.
What is your most memorable experience on the golf course?
Where do I start? My entire professional career has been an embarrassment of riches. I’ve made three aces, teed it up with 11 major championship winners, caddied for Jack Nicklaus, until I was replaced by a beer-drinking donkey, played with 47 different architects and with a fistful of athletes and celebrities.
But as my 7th grade math teacher told me while I was struggling with a multiple choice test, “Go with your first instinct.” OK, what comes to mind immediately is when I was paired with Tiger Woods for the opening of his first course design, Diamante’s El Cardonal, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I beat him on the first hole. After he hooked his drive into the desert, he wound up lipping out for par. I bunted a drive down the middle, struck a shaky 8-iron to 10 feet and even though I was choking beyond description, I managed to two-putt. I was one up on Tiger Woods after one. It can’t get much better than that.
Augusta National made Travelin' Joe's list of top courses in the U.S. (Augusta National No. 12, courtesy flyosity)
What are your top five courses nationwide and why?
1) Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach, Calif.
Wind, waves, deer, gnarled Cypress trees and near-isolation make walking this layout a spiritual experience.
2) Shinnecock Hills, Southampton, N.Y.
Heaving, links-like undulations, a seaside setting, and a remarkably varied routing make this the greatest tournament course in America.
3) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
The aura of simply playing here is nearly overwhelming, but its friendly width, stunning beauty and risk/reward challenges that make it as enjoyable for the weekend player as for the pros might be impossible to top.
4) Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
With its unparalleled collection of bluff-top oceanside holes, there is no more exhilarating course to play.
5) Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, N.J.
Even though it’s not my favorite to play in my top 5 because of its relentless, target-style difficulty, this is the best course of the bunch in my opinion because it features the greatest number of individually memorable holes.
The West Coast Swing wraps up this week at Riviera Country Club. (Courtesy danperry.com, licensed under CC)
The West Coast Swing is wraps up this week at Riviera Country Club. In a sentence or two each, what makes each of these courses worthy of a PGA Tour event?
PGA West: Pete Dye’s 1986 West Coast answer to Sawgrass is less terror-inducing to the pros than it was in its big-hair ‘80s heyday, but it remains a formidable challenge, thanks to its arsenal of nightmarishly deep bunkers, Vail ski-hill moguls and exacting carries over water and desert.
Torrey Pines: The city-owned, cliff-top South course may boast stunning Pacific Ocean vistas, but it’s the breeze-fueled length of 7,600 yards that renders the layout a straightforward, if brutish quality that severely tests the game’s best players.
TPC Scottsdale: The largest, most raucous galleries on Tour create a circus-like atmosphere that forces players to find another level in order to thrive. It also features two sensational risk-reward holes down the stretch, the island-green, par-5 15th and the drivable par-4 17th that amp up the drama every year.
Pebble Beach: One hundred years of history alone makes it worthy of PGA Tour glory, but it’s the ocean holes and the tiny greens that place a supreme demand on shotmaking that yield one of the greatest tests the pros face.
Riviera: The baffling kikuyu grass that grabs shots like Velcro, the tough holes that play into the afternoon west winds, the Tour’s greatest short risk-reward hole, the par-4 10th and the memorable par-4 18th that concludes in an amphitheater with a spectacular hillside clubhouse make Riviera one of the most loved and respected PGA Tour courses.
In June, the U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines, site of Tiger Woods' historic victory in 2008.
Speaking of Torrey Pines, along with the Farmers it will also host the U.S. Open in 2021. How will the course differ in these two events?
Par will be harder to break in the U.S. Open, for several reasons. First, if the USGA sets it up as they did for the 2008 U.S. Open. Par was shaved from 72 to 71 when they converted the 560-yard, par-5 sixth hole into a 515-yard par-4. Second, for U.S. Open play, the USGA will firm up and speed up the greens, making it tougher on the short game and tougher to hold an approach shot. With extra sunlight and warmer temperatures in June, the ball will fly further and run further once it hits the ground, so the course will play shorter – but not easier. With conditions dried out and firmed up, more drives will run through fairways into the rough.
Can you tell us about your radio show that you co-host, along with what else you’re currently up to these days, including TravelinJoeGolf.com?
In 2019, I joined the team at Backspin the Golf Show, one of the longest running golf-oriented shows in the country. In 2021, Backspin will enter its 28th year of broadcasting. I think it works because my co-hosts bring such diverse but passionate golf backgrounds to every conversation we have with guests, callers and each other. Corey LaRusso, a former college golfer and professional has hosted since the beginning. He sits alongside Bill Huffman, the dean of Arizona golf journalists, and a member of the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame and Rick Levy, “the man from Van’s,” who brings the perspective of a low-handicap golfer, golf scholar and equipment industry insider.
What works so well is that we cover the current issues affecting golf and the PGA Tour in equal measure, but we also give local golf, including juniors, a strong forum, too. Try us some Saturday morning, on the radio or app, iHeart Radio, FOX Sports 910 AM in Phoenix, or listen to any of our shows at any time by going to the Backspin website, backspinthegolfshow.com.
Beyond the radio show, I’m writing freelance stories for organizations such as the USGA, ASGCA and NGF and for publications such as the SCGA’s FORE magazine, the NCGA magazine and for the Morning Read website. I have also written for Troon’s publications and for OB Sports. In addition I write website copy and do editing for corporate clients, and am involved in writing several club history/anniversary books.
In 2021, I plan on spending more time with my website, TravelinJoeGolf.com. There is so much to cover out there, from new courses to design trends to travel opening up again post-pandemic. I definitely want to make my website a go-to place for folks seeking entertaining and informative takes on courses, resorts, history and design.
What is your best round of golf ever and where?
I’m not sure if you mean my favorite round, or my best score. The lowest my handicap ever reached was 6.5, so it was pretty special when I shot 64 on the par-65 (now 66) Sunbird Resort course in Chandler, Arizona. I also count a round at a Pete Dye design near Cleveland, Ohio, called Fowler’s Mill as a singular achievement. In 1996, I sunk an eight-footer for par at the 18th to shoot an even-par 72, a round that included an ace at the third hole! Still, when I consider challenge and aura, I’ll pick my three-over-par 74 at Harbour Town in 1995. With three birdies in the first 14 holes, I was even par. Then I gagged, bogeying 15, 16 and 17. A clutch par at 18, in the shadow of the lighthouse, stopped the bleeding, and gave me a scorecard I could brag about.
My best round overall? Pebble Beach with my dad in 1984.
What is your most treasured golf possession?
I still have my scorecard from my first-ever round of golf, as a 9-year-old in 1971. Playing with my best friend, Danny Leshner (now gone), at the par-3 Locust Grove course (now gone) in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, I posted 54-45, playing the nine-hole loop twice. Clearly, I wasn’t destined to be Tiger Woods, but it was the start of a life-long love affair with a truly great game.
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