Stop the presses!
There is really big news in America. No it’s not about a wall and it’s not about the attendance numbers at the presidential inauguration.
It’s about the overtaking of Augusta National as the number one course in America. Lowly, unheralded Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey has climbed to the top of the ratings.
Before you issue a signal for the Royal Entrance Fanfare or weep in sorrow for that great bastion of society located in Georgia that must be devastated by the news, perhaps we should study the matter.
Beginning in 1966, the well-known golf publication, Golf Digest, introduced a rating system to determine who they felt had a golf course product worthy of being named (in order) on a list of the top 100 courses in America.
Similarly, in Canada, we have a golf publication called ScoreGolf that purports to produce a Canadian list.
According to Golf Digest, a panel of judges plays the courses and reports their findings. To qualify, a course must receive at least 45 ratings within an eight-year time frame.
A course is rated on seven criteria and an average scores from each category are totaled, doubling shot values. Other criteria include resistance to scoring, design variety, memorability, aesthetics, conditioning and ambience.
Golf Digest and Golf Magazine have different-sized panels and vary on those who comprise them. Of course these variables contribute to the inconsistent results. However, the top three courses tend to fluctuate between Augusta National, Pine Valley and Cypress Point.
You naturally wonder about access to exclusive private clubs, how many courses aren’t considered and therefore overlooked, who the raters play with and is there an opportunity for collusion or favoritism, travel budgets and other legitimate questions.
What if the best course in America is a par 27? I thought I heard you snicker at me. I’ve walked the Augusta National Par 3 (Par 27) and I can honestly say if it was the only course I had to play for the rest of my life, I’d be very happy. Not even mentioned in the Top 100 is a great nine-hole course in Michigan called the Dunes Club. It is every bit as good as Pine Valley.
This whole inconsistent exercise in futility does nothing more than massage a few egos and sell magazines. It does provide a legitimate record of which courses should be on your bucket list, but it isn’t the sole reliable source.
You can’t beat word-of-mouth, particularly if you simply walk into your favourite pro shop and ask the golf professional which courses he/she would recommend. While you’re at it, ask the course superintendent too.
There is a certain segment in the golf community who regard the results of these surveys as gospel. I seriously doubt much time or effort is spent in the name of competing for the No. 1 spot.
The clubs who qualify more than likely live in their own world. If they wish to buy a subdivision and remove the buildings to build a parking lot for their patrons, they do it. If they wish to conceal their unobtrusive gates just past an old drug store (Pine Valley), they do it.
However, the clubs that make the list in the positions surrounding 100 to 25 do spend time and money based on the rankings. Boards of directors and club managers put a lot of stock in these contests. They take pride in having their clubs recognized, as do their members and guests.
Unfortunately, many a superintendent has lost his/her job or been subjected to wild ambitious dreams of volunteer committees in the name of moving up or making the list. Proponents argue the resources consumed ultimately provide a more enjoyable golf experience. Detractors say they are running like gerbils in a spinning cage.
Regardless of the outcome and who does or does not make the list or the No. 1 ranking, there cannot possibly be a fair or equitable way to rate courses.
Where I think it could provide a benefit is in the methodology use in the selection criteria. Instead of including such limiting items as resistance to scoring, aesthetics and conditioning, why not include difficulty to walk (distance for green to tee), length of time to play, challenge vs. fun and desire to return?
Not every club has an ocean.
In an era when the masses are following the leaders in a rush to build the most difficult, longest courses maintained in conditions that nobody has the skill to play, why not encourage a different direction?
Difficult isn’t better. Fun is better.
Instead of rewarding stimp readings of 12 and 13, course slopes of 150 and membership dues that require mortgages, let the contest reflect those things we all want to see more of in golf – more affordable, less time to play and more fun.
I think rankings miss the point. St. Andrews looks like the public course it is, but who in their right mind would refuse a starting time there?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is a top 100 list.