The Primordial Hunt For Great Golf
Ken DeLago is the creative director of Golf Digest. This means he's responsible for the design of all our content, from the print magazine to the digital edition you now hold. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and formerly worked in the art departments at Rolling Stone and GQ. If you want to know what he looks like, close your eyes and picture the Argentine professional Angel Cabrera without a green jacket.
Thump-thump-thump. That is DeLago walking down the hallway hitting the floor with a golf club in his hand. On the golf course, he takes practice swings -- thump-thump-thump -- as he waits to hit, after he hits, while he's walking down the fairway. You can tell he loves the game by the gusto of his practice swings.
It's a fact that DeLago is the best golfing art director in the world. I remember the first time I played with him in a departmental outing. I said, "Ken, that's the longest drive I've ever seen an art director hit." Then, "Ken, that's the closest iron shot I've ever seen an art director hit." This was followed by art-director records for chips, pitches, bunker shots and putts. OK, the pool is not deep with golfing art directors.
I asked him recently to name the five top American courses that he's played. He replied artfully, "In no particular order, Bethpage Black, Cypress Point, L.A. North, Oakmont and Pine Valley." All five are on America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses, three in the First 10.
You should also know he's a companionable partner on a buddies trip. This summer we went to St. Andrews for a long weekend that began with lunch in the Royal and Ancient clubhouse: toad in the hole and mince with poached egg washed down with a bottle of the house red -- in lieu of practice balls, it was the perfect preparation for an afternoon round on the Old Course (No. 2 on Golf Digest's Top 50 Links of Great Britain and Ireland). Ken hit a cracker down the middle and lofted a wedge to six feet on the first hole. He missed the putt, but it was the best par 4 ever made by an art director on the first hole of the Old Course. (Surprising us, standing on the second tee when we arrived was Contributing Editor Dean Knuth, who is the statistician for Golf Digest's course rankings and who happened to be in Scotland playing golf with his wife, Suzanne. "I saw your name on the ballot for tomorrow and wanted to say hello," he said. Such is the serendipity of golf in the homeland! I kept looking around for Architecture Editor Ron Whitten, but he must have been working on another list.)
The next day, after taking in the St. Andrews castle and cathedral ruins, the graves of Old and Young Tom Morris, and the British Golf Museum sitting low like a pot bunker behind the clubhouse, we teed it up again on the Old Course. Ken very nearly "caned the loop" -- a Scottish expression referring to a score of two under par on the middle stretch of six holes in the configuration of a shepherd's crook. This two under came on an abbreviated loop of the ninth, 10th and 11th, with 3-3-3 in succession. The caddies used to say, "If you can nae cane the loop, you can nae play St. Andrews."
Finally, on our last day we took a 15-minute taxi ride from the Auld Grey Toon to Kingsbarns, No. 12 on our Top Links list. You have to like a course that has a heliport, even if you've never used one. It portends good things about the economy that some golfers prefer helicopters over cabs. Ken later quoted a line from Tommy's Honor, the Kevin Cook book on the Morrises he was reading on the trip: "Like the hunt, golf was a pursuit for prosperous fellows who wanted to stretch their muscles a bit before they fell into overstuffed chairs in chandeliered rooms to eat duck, pheasant, mutton and beef and drink claret and gin while they smoked and told stories. As some writers had noted, the game was an abstract of the primordial hunt: a pack of men journeys into a perilous land & getting home safely by nightfall to gather by the fire."
Just the spectacle of Kingsbarns invigorated our weekend. R&A Secretary Peter Dawson once had told me it was the second-best course in the St. Andrews area. The Old is better, but Kingsbarns is more dramatic. As we walked from the fifth green onto a rise at the sixth tee looking across this lunarscape to the sea imagining ourselves the prosperous fellows of perilous land, a smile formed on Ken's face. The essence of Golf Digest's rankings in this digital edition was revealed. "Who needs Cypress Point?" he whispered.
Besides the crashing of waves, the only sound I could hear was thump-thump-thump.