It pains us to report that hard times have hit the golf-course design industry. Projects have dried up, architects are laying off staff and closing offices. If the end is near, well, at least it's going out with a Big Bang.
The brightest starburst is America's Best New Public Course of 2008, Chambers Bay in suburban Tacoma, Wash., a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-Bruce Charlton design that has already been named to host the 2015 U.S. Open and the 2010 U.S. Amateur. It's the second Best New win for the partners in the past three years, the sixth overall for Jones, and their first design to host an Open.
Nearly equal in luminescence is the year's Best New Private Course, Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club overlooking Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene, a Tom Fazio design that stresses backwoods beauty over cosmopolitan opulence.
Our North Star this year is Tobiano Golf Course, a captivating Thomas McBroom layout west of Kamloops, British Columbia, our first Best New Canadian selection from that province since 1999 and McBroom's sixth victory in this category since 1994.
Also burning bright is the Best New Remodel of 2008, Saucon Valley Country Club's Old Course in Bethlehem, Pa., which Fazio and company refurbished in time for the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. Coupled with Gozzer Ranch, this marks the 13th and 14th Best New wins for Fazio, who continues to lead the field by a couple of light-years.
As usual, Golf Digest's annual survey of America's Best New Courses was based on evaluations filed by our national panel of more than 900 male and female golfers who judged each course on Shot Values, Design Variety, Resistance to Scoring, Memorability and Aesthetics.
What is different this year is the single competition among public courses. In 1996, we introduced separate Affordable Public and Upscale Public categories, divided by a green fee of $50. In 2006, we raised that limit to $75, which in retrospect was a mistake; in most communities, $75 is not considered an affordable green fee. For 2008, we found it difficult to assemble a competitive field for the lower-price category, and so we have reluctantly combined the two. Rather than fretting about the future, let's celebrate the best and the brightest of the past year's golf architecture.