I am often asked if a golf course gains or loses Top 50 points for tangential or peripheral attributes. “Does free wi-fi in the men’s locker room make a difference?” asks a housewife from Kansas City, Mo. “Do you deduct points for a greenkeeper who plays polka music at ear-splitting volumes in the maintenance shed?” asks a 28-handicapper, also from Kansas City.
To the first question, the answer is a resounding no. The presence or absence of clubhouse filigree has no bearing on the merits of an architect’s design or the quality of a course’s upkeep.
To the second question, the answer is also no. The Top 50 algorithm adds points for boisterous greenkeepers.* (Shyness and quietude, although desirable in a librarian, are red flags when you’re hiring a course superintendent. It’s the mousy guy who is out at dawn, spreading fertilizer in the rough and mowing greens until they’re unputtable.)
*I use the term “greenkeeper” because that’s what the first greenkeeper, Old Tom Morris, called himself. He was “the keeper of the [town] green” at Prestwick, Scotland, and later at St. Andrews, in addition to his golf professional duties. Modern-day pedants insist that the term is “greenskeeper” because there are nine or more greens on a golf course. I, for one, am not going to lose a minute’s sleep over the distinction.
To the larger question, I reply: “Hell, yes!” A course ranking system is only as good as the data fed into it, and my Top 50 taps into more data streams than the other six major surveys combined. Do the Golf Digest raters count the ball washers on a course? No, they simply assume that there will be one on every hole. Do Golfweek’s experts make a distinction between curbed and curbless cart paths? I think not. And when these self-styled critics attempt to factor in the intangibles, they invariably get it wrong. Golf Magazine’s raters, for instance, will not give Top 100 status to a course that offers an aqua range.
How do you account for such obstinacy? Personally, I fell in love with aqua ranges during my “Mats Only” period, when I spent a lot of time working on my golf game. Contrary to what my swing gurus told me — that hitting hundreds of floaters into a pond would train me to hit balls into water hazards during actual rounds — I found that the aqua range desensitized me to the distant plunk or sploosh of a ball landing in water. Over time, I lost my fear of water hazards and lowered my handicap by nine or ten strokes.
My favorite aqua ranges? I’d give the nod to the tree-lined water range at the Dolce Chantilly Golf Club and Hotel, just north of Paris, France. Second place goes to the Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club in Guangdong Province, China, where the surrounding mountains look so fetching in the reflected waters of the club’s target pond. (After a good practice session, hundreds of floater balls bob like corks in the murky water — a sight as beautiful as any algal bloom.)
P.S. Assuming that we can get the possum out of the basement without calling an exterminator, the new Top 50 list will be posted on Tuesday, Feb. 9.