Top 50 HQ Faces Further Layoffs

It has been a quiet summer at Catch Basin. The Top 50 staff — those who were not furloughed last spring — spend most of their time in the company cafeteria, sipping tea and reading technical journals. The place typically empties out by 3 p.m., the techies going to their second jobs in the fast-food industry, the golfers bussing out to 30th-ranked Hillcrest Country Club for a few hours of unsupervised recreation. The basement level of the Michael F. Bamberger Computer Center is a sorry sight; the Bomar Brain sits idle, surrounded by stacks of recycled fan-fold paper.

Pennsylvania Run GC

This demanding Kentucky course is mired at T51 in the Top 50 ranking. (John Garrity)

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” I told a local TV crew last night. “If we don’t get some meaningful data by the weekend, we’re probably gonna lose the whole season.”

Why sugar-coat it? It’s nigh on two months since Louisville’s Big Spring Country Club, site of the 1952 PGA Championship and the 2008 Rolex Writers Cup, crept into the Top 50. Since then, there has been absolutely no movement in the rankings. Every one of the thousands of courses we rate, right down to last-place Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course, is right where it was on June 24, when Big Springs replaced Pennsylvania Run Golf Course, Kentucky’s best clover-fairways layout, at No. 50.

“No change — is that even possible?” I asked one of our Cal Sci consultants, Prof. Amazon V. Hachette.

“It’s not just possible,” he texted back. “It’s very possible. You’re too young to remember, but there were whole decades when the course rankings didn’t budge. The Old Course at St. Andrews, for example, was number one for more than three centuries, and there was a week in the 1920s when everybody, for some reason, stopped playing golf.”

Comforting words. But as I told the good professor, quoting John Maynard Keynes, “In the long run we are all dead.”

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are underway at 51st-ranked Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.

Meanwhile, our crack staff of second-raters continues to file reports, even if those reports don’t move the ranking. Our Heart-of-America man, Dr. Gary Abrams, performed an exhausting review of Hillcrest [Donald Ross] and 51st-ranked Swope Memorial Golf Club [A.W. Tillinghast] of Kansas City, Mo. “They’re featuring your Sports Illustrated story at Hillcrest,” Gary begins ….

I was pleased that the condition of the course was better than last year, and it’s still a classic and fun. Swope was amazing. Having not played there for many years, I was blown away by its immaculate condition — as good as any country club.  Uniform rough, great bunkers, greens were tiptop.  Wow.  Can’t wait to go back …. [Fourth-ranked] Prairie Dunes tomorrow …. Love to take you out to Shirkey Golf Club in Richmond, Mo. Think you’ll find it a “primitive” masterpiece.

Shirkey, designed by Golf Course Superintendents Association of America co-founder

Chet Mendenhall, received a 4-1/2-star rating from Golf Digest and is currently ranked No. 304 on our list.

Bruce Selcraig

Journalist/investigator Bruce Selcraig is a giant among links experts. (John Garrity)

And then there’s this from investigative reporter Bruce Selcraig of Austin, Texas, our chief links correspondent, widely-published writer and former staffer for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations  …

Hey, John: Just played Narin & Portnoo Golf Club in County Donegal. Liked it a lot, never noticed that it was just 6,000 yds from the middle tees, only 6,200 from the tips. Lots of gorgeous holes, a huge beach the equal of Portsalon Golf Club’s. An unfortunate caravan park marring #17 and the first tee, but, you know, Loretta Lynn’s got to live somewhere. Fun, challenging.

Bruce adds, “Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age and declining stickhood, but I now think designers who put everything on mountainsides and don’t let you see a natural place for the ball to go are bozos, while designers who want their courses to please people for the next 200 years — Eddie Hackett! — are to be revered. Ahem.”

And this last bit from Bruce:

I walked onto the Old Tom Morris course at Rosapenna Golf Resort at 8 p.m. for some evening golf and had giant fun. Very traditional old links, flat mostly, surrounded by large dunes. The evening light made it memorable.

If you’re keeping score, Narin & Portnoo, Portsalon and Rosapenna’s Old Tom Morris course and Pat Ruddy-designed Sandy Hills links are currently ranked — some would say stuck —  at T117.

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Wallasey Links Lives Up to Its Data

HOYLAKE, ENGLAND — Ben Crane is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour. He’s also a keen judge of golf courses, which is why I fumbled to get my log book open when Ben started gushing about 38th-ranked Wallasey Golf Club. “Does it get any better than this?” he asked on the fourth tee, which rides a dune high above a fairway that follows the shoreline south along the Irish Sea.

Ben Crane at Wallasey GC

“Does it get any better than this?” Ben Crane on the 4th tee at Wallasey GC. (John Garrity)

“This is as good as it gets, isn’t it?” He spread his arms like Moses. “I mean, are you telling me there’s something better than this?”

This was yesterday evening, at the end of a long, sunny day that saw the recent FedEx St. Jude Classic winner fail by a whisker to get into the Open Championship as a first alternate. Many of his peers were still on the course at 51st-ranked Royal Liverpool, a few miles down the coast. “I’d love to have gotten in,” he said, “but I wasn’t going home without playing some links golf.”

For a complete and more nuanced account of gallant Ben’s visit, I give you this by my playing partner and SI colleague, Michael Bamberger. Read it at your leisure, and then come back for my obligatory take on the Wallasey links.

Stock, Crane and Bamberger

A walk on the wild side at Wallasey links with (l to r) caddie Joel Stock, PGA Tour pro Ben Crane and SI senior writer Michael Bamberger. (John Garrity)

Ah, good to have you back. I’ll start by answering Ben’s question: Yes, it does get better than Wallasey. After all, there are 37 higher-ranked courses in the Top 50. But that’s the data talking, and I, like Ben, am suspicious of data, even when it’s cranked out by an instrument as dependable as the Bomar Brain. To be honest, I’ve been uneasy about Wallasey’s high ranking ever since it debuted at No. 48 a few years ago. I pestered my staff with questions: “What can you tell me about the place? Why did you waive the deduction for no drinking fountains? How long should a tick bite remain inflamed before I call a doctor?”

Beyond the raw numbers, all they could tell me was that Wallasey was the home club of Dr. Frank Stableford, the man who invented the Stableford Rules for golf scoring. Well, hoop dee dooI’ve invented more than a dozen scoring protocols, none of which require me to record every stroke I take on a hole.

That said, I found Wallasey to be enchanting. With its big shaggy dunes and glorious sea views, it’s a close cousin to top-ranked Askernish and Carne, my two favorite courses. Furthermore, it is quirky. One fairway crosses directly in front of another tee. There’s a 90-degree dogleg-right par-4 that skirts a grove of trees — trees on a links? — and climbs a steep hill to a blind green. There’s a long par-4 that requires a blind approach shot of around 200 yards into a natural amphitheater that was probably popular with the Druids. Quirky links, to my way of thinking, are the best kind.

Don’t ask me to choose between homely Royal Liverpool and fetching Wallasey, because I’ll take Wallasey every time. And so will Bamberger, who’s right back out there this afternoon with his pal Mike Donald, runner-up to Hale Irwin at the 1990 U.S. Open. “The course is an absolute delight,” Michael B. writes in his Crane piece. He singles out the fifth — “a par 3 that played about 160 yards into the wind off the Irish sea, from an elevated tee” — as “a gem.”

We’ll have to wait for Mike Donald’s take. But if he gives it a thumbs up, Wallasey could ascend a rung or two before I reach Ireland.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Open Championship continues at 51st-ranked Royal Liverpool Golf Club, a curious, small-dunes links with knee-high mole-cricket runs delineating arbitrary out-of-bounds boundaries. It’s no Wallasey, but it possesses an undeniable 19th-century charm. We have advised the R&A that it be kept in the Open rota — only, perhaps, on a less-frequent basis.*

*We provided our recommendation on a pro bono basis and have not yet heard back from the R&A.

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Ross Course Captures World’s Attention

“What’s the hottest course on your list?” asks a reader from Oatmeal, Texas. The answer, I discovered after tapping a few keys on my Bomar Brain, is Furnace Creek Golf Club of Death Valley, Calif., where summer temperatures top out at around 130 degrees with overnight lows of 100. That’s one reason why Furnace Creek has never cracked my Top 50.

Hillcrest's 2nd hole

Hillcrest’s No. 2 is sometimes mistaken for Pinehurst No. 2, but there is a significant difference in elevation. (John Garrity)

“Let’s face it,” writes the author of the 1994 best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses, “on any list of potential golf course sites, Death Valley — at 214 feet below sea level — has to be near the bottom.”

Ask any blade of grass. Summer soil temperatures at Furnace Creek reach 200 degrees: good for baking brownies, but not much help to turfgrass. Perversely, winter temperatures in Death Valley dip well below freezing, nudging the Bermuda grass greens and fairways into dormancy. Rainfall? Less than two inches a year. In these conditions, even sand traps don’t survive. The local sand is so high in mineral content that it hardens like concrete when wet; imported sand blows away in the Valley’s furious windstorms. Consequently, all the bunkers on this desert course are grass.

Furnace Creek’s course rating, according to AWGC, is 67.4. Its USGA Slope? “Pretty much uphill in every direction.” “– And by ‘hottest,’” my desert correspondent continues, “I mean ‘trending’ — as in Billboard’s ‘with a bullet’ designation for songs moving fast up the charts.” This is an example of a reader wasting the Top 50’s time. Was I supposed to read the entire email before answering the question? That’s like asking the dock hand if you can jump the narrow gap to the ferry as it’s pulling away, adding that while you look out of shape now, you were a high-school hurdler and occasional ballroom dancer, and even now you can probably …. oops, too late. But we are here to serve, so I’ll answer the question. The Top 50’s trendiest course is Hillcrest Golf & Country Club of Kansas City, Mo. In the past couple of months, Hillcrest — a 1916 Donald Ross design — has catapulted from 42nd to 30th in the ranking, pushing it past better-known Ross masterpieces such as  Mid-Pines Inn & Golf Club (No. 32), Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club (No. 42), and 51st-ranked Pinehurst No. 2, site of the upcoming men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. The Top 50 isn’t alone in singing Hillcrest’s praises. Last week, Sports Illustrated devoted four pages and the talents of esteemed golf photographer Kohjiro Kinno to a Hillcrest feature titled BACK ON COURSE. (“Once given up for dead,” reads the subhead, “a challenging Donald Ross layout in the heartland is thriving again.”) SI singles out Hillcrest’s “infamous 1st hole, a 243-yard par-3 that Ray Floyd once called the toughest opening hole that he had ever played.” Also mentioned: the fact that Arnold Palmer once went around Hillcrest in 83.* “Every so often,” SI’s man writes, “I am reminded that Ross courses are widely revered …”

They’re not all masterpieces, and some of them have had mustaches painted on them by posterity, but playing one of the 399 courses attributed to Ross is like fingerpicking a vintage Martin guitar. Something of the designer is inevitably expressed, something sings … and you don’t need a lot of talent to appreciate the craftsmanship.

How true! On the strength of that paragraph alone, I and the entire Top 50 staff promptly signed up to receive the new SI Golf+ Digital e-magazine, which is free to humans and delivered weekly via email, app or Golf.com. *Full disclosure: I wrote the story.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the above-mentioned Pinehurst No. 2 will hog our screens for the next fortnight. No. 2, too, has gotten the attention of various Sports Illustrated platforms. You can start with photographer Bob McNeely’s black-and-white renderings of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course tweaks in the SI Golf+ U.S. Open Preview. I also recommend the June issue of GOLF Magazine, specifically the comprehensive U.S. Open preview section (“Why Pinehurst Will Be the Toughest Venue Yet”), which includes a clever send-up of Phil Mickelson tournament coverage (“Tomorrow’s News … Today!”)** You’ll split your sides with laughter. **I wrote it.

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Turnberry Deal Risky for Trump

Nothing catches the Top 50 by surprise, so we did little more than spray a mouthful of hot cocoa when we read that Donald Trump has bought third-ranked Turnberry Resort of Ayrshire, Scotland. On the advice of counsel we quickly snapped up some tee times on Turnberry’s famed Ailsa Course, hoping to get in a few rounds before The Donald installs his waterfalls and concrete cart paths. Otherwise, we’ve gone about our business, rating golf courses with scientific rigor and unshakable integrity.

But in the sub-basement of Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters, the excitement is palpable. We’ve fired all the cubicle cuties who handled consumer complaints and replaced them with a corps of hard-edged, Wall Street bond salesmen. These guys, veterans of various pump-and-dump schemes and penny-stock swindles, are already making cold calls to avid core golfers.

Why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Trump — a so-called “business genius” who now owns and operates 17 golf properties — has made the worst decision of his storied career. He has acquired Turnberry’s elegant cliff-top hotel, it’s true, and he now owns the resort’s three golf courses, including the incomparable Open Championship links that hosted 1977’s legendary “Duel in the Sun.” But he didn’t buy Ailsa Craig, the muffin-shaped island that dominates the view from the Turnberry lighthouse.

Trump’s tailor, if he’s sharp, is already embroidering the word “SUCKER” on the lapels of The Donald’s tux.

Turnberry Resort

The Turnberry Resort before its purchase by Donald Trump. Miguel Angel Jimenez and his caddie were not part of the deal. (John Garrity)

If you’re a loyal reader of this post, you know that my Top 50 Charitable Trust plans to purchase Ailsa Craig with funds donated by loyal readers of this post. The eighth Marquess of Ailsa has priced the iconic rock at $2.4 million, which is more than reasonable when you consider that the island is the exclusive source of microgranite for Olympic-class curling stones. Imagine its worth if some genius entrepreneur — not Trump! — captures the international market for game-improvement curling stones.

It was not profit, however, but a desire to preserve the view from Turnberry and protect a hunk of Scottish heritage that motivated our fund-raising drive. But now, with Trump in control of the relevant strip of Ayrshire coastline, we see a greater opportunity. As owners of Ailsa Craig, we will point out to Trump how our property enhances the value of his property and, with that in mind, mention how the perceived value of his Open venue might decline if someone were to erect a giant curtain around the island,* spoiling the view. Knowing how much the Donald detests environmental degradation — proved by his opposition to an offshore wind farm near 51st-ranked Trump International Golf Links of Aberdeenshire — we’re sure he’ll embrace an annual fee of a million bucks for viewing rights to Ailsa Craig. Or, if he’s so inclined, he can buy the island from us at a modest markup — say, $20 million?

*Recognizing that it would be costly to erect an actual fabric curtain around a 1,100-foot-tall island, we envision a World War II-style smoke screen laid down by speedy patrol boats. On many days, of course, the Scottish weather renders the island invisible at no additional cost.

We still have some work to do. As of 5 p.m. Thursday we’re roughly $2.399 million shy of our goal. That’s why it’s so important that you answer your phone, even when the screen says “No Caller I.D.” It could be one of our boiler-room boys, calling to get your pledge to our TRUMP TRUMP FOR THE GOOD OF SCOTLAND campaign.

And remember: No contribution is too small.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship is winding up at the 51st-ranked Quail Hollow Club, site of the 2017 PGA Championship. Quail Hollow’s Tom Fazio course, recently renovated by Tom Fazio, has long been a personal favorite, although I have never had the pleasure of playing it. Next week’s venue, 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass, has never been a personal favorite, but I have had the pleasure of playing it. Coincidence?

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Masters Icon Gets Top-50 Treatment

AUGUSTA, GA. — This week’s post may be too technical for some readers, but we are the most scientific course ranking, so there. And while it’s common knowledge that we employ advanced metrics, a Cal Sci algorithm and the mega-computing powers of the Bomar Brain, it’s less well known that we yoke our inputs to to various independent and proprietary data bases, not limiting ourselves to authorized sources. This week, for example, our Kansas City headquarters has a real-time link to the trove of Masters statistics generated by the Augusta National Golf Club.

Augusta National's 16th

The 16th green of Augusta National with the late, lamented Eisenhower Tree barely visible at far left. (John Garrity)

Some of this data is too arcane to be of much use — cumulative ATM fees! — but much of it is germane. A few weeks ago, our Catch Basin second-raters* were about to penalize Augusta National a tenth of a point for the ice-storm death of its so-called Eisenhower Tree. “That tree was one of the game’s most-recognized icons,” said the guy in a white lab coat whose name I can never remember. “It dictated how the 17th was played. Imagine the Road Hole without the Road Hole Bunker, or the Valley of Sin without legalized prostitution.”

*”Second-raters” is not meant to be pejorative. Our field evaluators are called “first-raters” because they collect their data on course visits. 

Fortunately, a cooler head prevailed. “Speed is important,” I told my basement staff, “but nobody of importance will play Augusta National between now and the Masters. Why don’t we just wait until the tournament starts and then adjust our ranking with the aid of fresh statistics — which is, after all, what we do.”

My words made a strong impression on the paid employees, particularly the ones with children and mortgages. Anyway, Augusta National began today, April 11, in sixth place, the same position it held when branches started breaking. I, meanwhile, have set up a command center in Row F of the Masters press building, right next to Gary Van Sickle, the Top 50’s v.p. and executive course rater.

Here’s the Masters stat we’re keeping our eyes on: scoring average by hole. Between 1942 and 2013, the 17th, “Nandina,” was the tournament’s tenth most difficult hole, yielding an average of 4.15 strokes per player per round. It played easiest (3.9485) in 1996, due to the premier of Howard Stern’s radio show in Texas, and most difficult (4.3480) in 1951, following the spying convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Last year, No. 17 was, predictably, the tenth most difficult hole at 4.22.

But now we’re watching as post-Eisenhower-Tree data streams in. As of 4:51 p.m. EDT, No. 17 ranks eleventh in difficulty with an average of 4.172 pppr. In language the layman will understand, this means that the 17th has dropped a full 1.0 in seasonally-adjusted difficulty, relative to the other 17 holes. Put another way, it means the hole is easier than before.

Easier is better than harder — ask any weekend golfer — so I have directed the Catch Basin staff to credit Augusta National with a “fun credit” of .05 points. This will not affect its current ranking, but we’ll be monitoring the National’s metrics all week and making adjustments as necessary.

(Thanks to SI senior writer Alan Shipnuck for his helpful advice about carrying numbers. We’ll look into it.)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters, as usual, is being played at sixth-ranked Augusta National Golf Club. It’s a little-known fact that when the first Masters was played, in 1934, the club was too poor to pay Horton Smith his victor’s prize. Instead, they offered him a friends-and-family discount on future rounds of golf, which he foolishly declined.

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Shoulder Pain Benches Top 50 CEO

“There are many rumors circulating on the internet regarding your shoulder injury,” writes a Top 50 fan from Sequoia Heights, Fla. “The silliest so far blames frozen golf balls, but Drudge is peddling some conspiracy theory going back to your college-radical days at Stanford. I’m guessing you’re keeping mum on purpose, to drum up more publicity. Am I right?”

John Garrity

Top 50 Founder and CEO John Garrity (right) at Madrid Central Station before his injury. (Photo by Edoardo Molinari)

Van — may I call you Van? — you couldn’t be more right. When I saw how much attention Tiger Woods gets for his career-threatening injuries, I decided to milk my recently-torn labrum for all it’s worth. Here’s how it works: Whenever a fellow journalist asks me why my right arm is dangling like an adventitious prop root, I smile enigmatically and walk away. This has gotten me front-page coverage in more than a hundred newspapers and three different citations on Bill Maher’s HBO program.

Frankly, it’s too easy — which is why I’m calling an end to it right now. Here’s the complete story, as revealed in my exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle:

Q: Do you, in fact, have an injured shoulder?

A: Yes.

Q: Which shoulder?

A: I … [unintelligible] … agreement that we wouldn’t talk about that. You [redacted] only when ….

Q: How did you hurt it?

A: Actually, that’s kind of a funny story. In February, we had a brief thaw in Kansas City, so I went out to play a few holes at [42nd-ranked] Hillcrest. It was a breezy day, temperature in the fifties, the sun popped out now and again. However — and this makes me laugh ‘til my arm hurts — I didn’t consider the fact that my bag, and the golf balls in it, had been stored in an unheated garage at Catch Basin.But I noticed that none of my shots were flying more than a few feet off the ground — even the wedges! Naturally, I tried to hit them harder, but I got the same results. It wasn’t until I plopped three balls onto the iced-over pond on No. 14 that it hit me: I was playing with frozen golf balls! Hilarious, right? The next morning, of course, I woke up to the sensation of my shoulder caught in a bear trap.

Q: Your right shoulder?

A: Listen, if you’re going to [redacted] this bull—- [unintelligible] ….

Q: Fine. I’m out of here.

A: [Unintelligible] Right shoulder, yeah.

Q: What are you doing in the way of rehab?

A: I’m working with a trainer/therapist at my local 24 Hour Fitness. Most of the exercises involve gentle stretching to the sound of snapping ligaments and ripping muscle fibers.

Q: Is this your first shoulder injury?

A: No. Ten or fifteen years ago I shredded my left rotator cuff in a putting accident.

Q: A what?

A: I was playing [51st-ranked] Haig Point with some SI colleagues. What happened was, my cart was parked just off the green, so I was pulling my putter out of the bag while starting to walk toward my ball. Unfortunately, the putter grip got caught between some other shafts and didn’t clear the top of the bag. I called attention to it by screaming and falling to the ground.

Q: Did you finish the hole?

A: I think I’ve said enough on this subject.

Q: What impact will your injury have on Top 50 operations? Will course rating continue?

A: Of course not. You and the rest of the staff are furloughed until further notice.

Q: Well, [redacted] you. [unintelligible] …

A: My pleasure, Gary.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Arnold Palmer Invitational Starring Adam Scott is being played at 51st-ranked Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Bay Hill, Fla. Tiger Woods withdrew early in the week, sidelined by persistent back pain, and former Masters champ Bubba Watson withdrew after a first-round 83, citing allergies.

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Top 50 Veep Tours Fiesta Lakes

To our readers: Immediately upon hearing that Gary Van Sickle had taken a coveted first prize in the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest, our founder and CEO stormed out of Catch Basin, leaving this note on his office door: “Mr. Hot-Shot Golf Writer can handle the posts until further notice.” Here, then, is a recent course evaluation from the Top 50’s popular executive vice-president and chief course rater:

Fiesta Lakes Scorecard

FLGC’s scorecard was worth .045 Top-50 points. (Gary Van Sickle)

Mesa, Ariz.—You can tell a great golf course by its scorecard. Fiftieth-ranked Fiesta Lakes Golf Club’s card is on pale blue, non-glossy, sturdy paper with black ink. It’s a 3-by-4 card, probably because 3-by-5 would be a cliché.

All nine holes are listed with yardage and par, totaling a massive 1,533 yards and par 29. There are lined blanks for four players’ scores, in case you have any friends (though I kind of doubt it). There, beneath the last line, is what makes FLGC (as insiders at the adjacent Mesa Hilton know it) a must-stop. Three helpful tips: Tee off between markers. Let faster players pass. Replace divots.

Thanks to the card’s message, I avoided the common first-tee mistake of teeing off outside the markers, in front of the markers or, even worse, diagonal to the markers. Also, I walked up to the tee past a lone gazebo—the course’s signature hole, except for the fact that it’s just a gazebo, not a hole. I was a single, having just signed in at the fabulous clubhouse… trailer… shack. A gentleman and his young son were lollygagging on the first tee, looking like total beginners. Maybe they weren’t, though, or maybe they read the scorecard because they invited me to play through on the opening tee ball.

I’m pretty sure they were impressed when I teed off between the markers, depositing a 9-iron shot just off the right fringe on a monstrous 130-yard hole that was mostly wide open. It could be that getting the ball airborne was what impressed them because as I watched them from the second tee, after two-putting for an easy par, airborne shots weren’t really their strong suits. But I was glad they were there. This is what golf is all about, bringing your kid to a course and introducing him or her to the game. No better place for that than an easy par-3 track.

The second hole cleverly went back by the first tee, but a devilish pin position on the kitchen-table-sized green cost me a bogey. The third hole, also in keeping with the ingenious back-and-forth routing, was the strongest thus far, 168 yards, kind of downhill and guarded by some trees on the right. Fiesta Lakes is all grass and trees, a nice shady respite from the typical Phoenix-area desert golf. I holed a nice par-saving eight-foot putt while a waiting threesome watched from the fourth tee.

Probably impressed by my repeated airborne shots, they, too, waved me through. It was three college-aged players, two guys and a girl. Those scorecard instructions really work! Four holes on a par 3 course, and I’ve already played through two groups. Veteran golfers at real clubs aren’t this agreeable. I bumped a 4-iron down the right side of the fairway, since this was a 274-yard par 4, dogleg right, and without a rangefinder a large pond beyond the fairway’s bend looked like it might be in play. A wedge and two putts and I was off to the fifth.

The blue card said 155, but it didn’t appear that long, and apparently wasn’t because my choked-down 8-iron flew the green, hit some firm ground and bounded up onto the next tee box beneath some towering trees. A stupid-lucky bump-and-run chip led to an undeserved par.

The fourth through seventh holes play counterclockwise around the lake. The eighth, like the arm on the letter G played back toward it and is the most dangerous on the course for those of us who play the game from the air. I’m sure that fifth hole, with its forced carry over the lake, claims a lot of victims. A tee shot just right of the green looked usable. Upon arrival, no ball. The ground was firm and (a first time Fiesta Lakester learned) the water sneaked in around the green’s right side. My ball wasn’t on the fringe, it was under water. Well, at least I’d had the good sense to tee off between the markers. So call me crazy. That was a bogey.

The eighth hole was a secretive little bitch, but the ninth, ah, now here was a signature hole (unlike the gazebo) that actually came with a hole included. The card said it was 255 yards, par 4. Drivable? Yes, especially if you’ve got the red-ass after hitting the fringe and finding the lake on the previous hole. The problem was, it was a dogleg right, toward the clubhouse, and several huge trees on the dogleg corner blocked the angle of attack.

Well, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like common sense keep me from my only chance to hit driver at Fiesta Lakes. I had to tee up near the left tee marker (still between them, being the rules-stickler that I am) and stand off to the side of the tee box, lower than the ball, to have a go. This is not conducive to hitting the fade I need. Neither is my swing. I see draws and hit draws. My fade usually turns out to be a straight ball, if I’m lucky. No matter the odds, though, I wait for another threesome I’ve caught to clear the green, which I can barely make out behind the trees. I’ve got the ball teed up as high as I dare and I make sure to feel like I’m swinging up at it and—whack. The ball barely clears the big trees and looks to be on a pretty good line. That’s all I can see. I hit another one, just for practice and to increase the value I got for my $14 greens fee. This one fades (that’s the polite word for it) and sails over the eighth tee, across the seventh fairway and ends up near the fence that guards the FLGC practice range (and I use that term loosely).

My first ball is 12 feet from the hole. I play the second one, too, because it’s dead, blocked by some smaller trees. I chip a 7-iron low and hard, it bounces left and finds a gap in the trees, runs up the bank and onto the green… to a foot. It’s a ludicrous birdie. The eagle putt breaks sharply at the cup and lips out. It’s a well-earned birdie.

As I head to the parking lot, one of the guys from the group ahead asks, “Did you drive that last green?” I confess that I did. “From the tee?” he wonders. Right between the markers, I said. “Well, I couldn’t believe how soft it landed,” he said. “We didn’t know where it came from.”

I told him I was glad to have a witness for my shot of the day. But where did it come from? From between the markers, man. It says so right on the scorecard. [GVS]

John Garrity with Challenger

Top 50 CEO John Garrity poses beside his Dodge Challenger at Casino Del Sol. (Pat Woodrum)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but our founder and CEO was spotted on the short-game practice green at the spanking-new Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz. He was later seen, with his wife, in the magnificent PY Steakhouse at the adjoining Casino Del Sol Resort. Sewailo, if you missed our earlier accounts, was co-designed by four-time tour-winner Notah Begay and is the new home course for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Garrity’s original review describes it as “17 picturesque, challenging, and surprisingly-water-featured desert holes, along with one over-the-top, freaky-hard par 5 (the tenth), where you can make a desert snowman in less time than it takes a roadrunner to race to the airport.” (The tenth, we’re told by Van Sickle, is where our Founder and CEO scored a hard-earned 8.)

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