America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses/2007-08
Even the best courses keep getting better, and our latest lists show the spectacular results
Yes, America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses get torn up once in a while. More frequently than one might expect, for even the best courses wear out. A few years back, the American Society of Golf Course Architects compiled a list of expected expiration dates for the various components of a golf course: Greens need replacement every 15 to 30 years, tees every 15 to 20 years, bunker sand every five to seven years. That means even a stalwart like Pine Valley, No. 1 on Golf Digest's 2007-'08 list and approaching its 90th year of play, occasionally needs upgrading. So it has seven new back tees, a trio of rebuilt greens and far fewer trees to provide more sunlight and air. Pines, cedars and underbrush were also removed to reclaim bunkers that had been engulfed by vegetation. One controversial improvement: There's now the occasional rake pulled through its legendary bunkers.
No club is immune from the quest for perfection. Some are renovated to lure a major championship. Others are retrofitted with the latest irrigation and drainage. Some are restored to reclaim the luster of an original architect. Such efforts aren't done primarily in search of a ranking. But an improved ranking on America's 100 Greatest is often the result. Because our biennial survey is based on a collection of evaluations accumulated and retained for 10 years, not all changes to all courses are immediately reflected in the next ranking. True, Medinah's No. 3 Course, totally remodeled by Rees Jones prior to the 2006 PGA Championship, is probably the best it has ever been in conditioning, strategy and continuity of style, moving to No. 11 on this year's list after being 15th in 2005. But there's also Crystal Downs in Michigan, which moved into the top 10 this year (up one spot from 2005) without the aid of a massive renovation. And it replaced the National Golf Links of America, which dropped to 13th despite an intensive restoration project during a number of years by former superintendent Karl Olson, who oversaw the removal of nearly 5,000 trees (including 3,000 on one hole!) to recapture the links characteristics of its groundbreaking C.B. Macdonald design. (OK, No. 13 in the nation isn't bad.) Crystal Downs, by the way, is a marvelously quirky Alister Mackenzie design. With No. 3 Augusta National and No. 4 Cypress Point, that makes three Mackenzie courses in the elite First 10, the most for any architect since the 1975 ranking, which had three Donald Ross designs in the first 10: Oakland Hills, Pinehurst No. 2 and Seminole. (This year, Seminole is ninth, Oakland Hills is 17th and Pinehurst 19th.) Any wonder that clubs want to preserve and protect the works of legendary designers like Mackenzie and Ross?
A lot of improvement master-planning is done by modern-day master architects like Jones, who is the Rembrandt of re-dos. His remodeling of Bethpage Black led to its return to America's 100 Greatest in 2001. It ranks 26th this year. He made subtle changes to Pinehurst No. 2 before the 2005 U.S. Open and just completed an extensive renovation of Oakland Hills in preparation for the 2008 PGA Championship. Oakland Hills underwent previous nips and tucks, by architect Arthur Hills, before the 2004 Ryder Cup.