Course Rankings

Questioning the 100 Greatest

April 26, 2007

__"Fifty percent of the fairways we play on today are better than ninety percent of the greens we played on thirty years ago." Jim Ferree, in the Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations


Our course rankings in the May issue continue to stir the pot. We've received a bunch of letters about the Best in State lists, the latest from a reader in North Carolina decrying the fact that Tanglewood Park, site of the 1974 PGA Championship did not make the Best-in-State list. (It simply did not have the numbers).

Now, from across the Atlantic, comes a provocative column by the London Daily Mail's Derek Lawrenson on the impact of lists such as ours. We like to think our lists have caused golf courses to make themselves better over the years, raised the standards, if you will, and that's good for the average golfer. Derek takes a shot (not posted) at that reasoning.

GOLF DIGEST'S annual survey of the 100 best courses in America caused its usual fuss, including the arguably slanderous tantrum from Donald Trump that the only reason his venue wasn't there was because he hadn't spent big bucks advertising in the magazine.

Far more interesting to me, however, than the usual playground arguments these lists provoke, was the publication's explanation as to why some courses had made dramatic leaps forward. Pointing to the millions these venues had spent, they pompously concluded: 'If you ain't improving, you ain't moving.'

No doubt this was music to the ears of all those involved in golf design and excavation. But I would venture to suggest that most golfers are happiest when their course barely changes from year to year.

Haven't we had enough of seeing greens that had remained flat for decades suddenly altered to resemble an elephant's burial ground?

A bit of a straw man there. Is that really what most renovations are about, adding undulations to greens? We can buy an argument against unnecessary bunkering, bunkers and mounding that don't fit the design, ridiculous lengthening, but elephantine greens? Not a big problem here. But Lawrenson is just warming up:

The millions spent have worked to the extent that they have a place in that all-important top 100. But for a seven-handicapper like me, in terms of simple enjoyment of playing the game, there was no comparison, and that's without taking into consideration value for money.

Give me the course that ain't moving every time.

Not so sure. Our point is, as the poet said, "He not busy being born is busy dying." In the end, it's how the renovation is done. At a nearby Tillinghast layout that has hosted four USGA championships, and is not on the 100 Greatest list, a recent re-do: leveled and added tees, removed trees that didn't belong (firs, high-rooted hard woods, etc.) and re-configured a few bunkers. I think the course is stronger, healthier and tougher because of the refurbishment. Could the club have done without it? No doubt. But the renovation was done without changing the character of the course and most members are pleased with it.

The fact is, a lot of average golfers are pleased they play at courses that strive to make our lists (100 Greatest, 100 Greatest Public, Best-in-State and our reader ratings, Places to Play) because those courses at the very least maintain and condition their courses well.

Love to hear what you think.....of the 100 Greatest and Mr. Lawrenson's view of it.

—Bob Carney