Rating courses need not be a tedious, joyless process — “a good walk spoiled.” I try to set an example for my course raters by leaving Top 50 headquarters from time to time to play golf on the world’s finest layouts. That was the case last week when I squeezed in a few rounds on the Monterey Peninsula while attending the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.* Two of the courses I played are in my recently-updated Top 50, and the third, Preserve Golf Club of Carmel, Calif., is No. 51 with a bullet.
*Our panel of experts is still reviewing Graeme McDowell’s slapdown of Ernie, Tiger and Phil to see if Pebble’s No. 7 ranking needs to be re-evaluated. We will examine Woods’s complaint about the greens (“The holes weren’t cut where I rolled my putts”) and Dustin Johnson’s observation that “the second hole has too many left-handed bunkers,” and if we reach a consensus, we’ll post it.
Tuesday morning’s round at magnificent Monterey Peninsula Country Club, No. 49, was arranged by Sports Illustrated senior writer Alan Shipnuck and MPCC member Steve John. The foursome consisted of myself, John (not myself), SI senior writer Damon Hack and Stephanie Wei, author of the popular “Wei Below Par” golf blog. None of us, I’m happy to report, hit a bad shot all day.
We played the Shore Course, which was recently restored to the three-course rota of the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Peach, and I share the opinion of the pros who played it in February: The Shore is a definite upgrade from unranked Poppy Hills Golf Course and a worthy successor to scenic Cypress Point Golf Club, No. 13. In fact, the only explanation I can offer for its 49th-place ranking is a prohibited payoff from partisans of the nearby Spyglass Hill Golf Course.*
*Payments to my course raters are not tolerated. Inducements to me are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
To cite just one example, the view from the halfway house at MPCC is second-to-none. The snack bar itself — manned, I believe, by a winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen reality show — is currently No. 14 on the Junk Food Network’s America’s Top Frankfurters list. (My hot dog came split and grilled on a buttered-and-toasted bun. Magnifique!) Best of all, the grill man packed our sandwiches in seagull-resistant cardboard carriers that fit perfectly into the dashboard compartments of our golf carts. As a result, MPCC gets 180 bonus points for its cypress trees and an additional 50 points for the halfway house.
Top 50 Note: Last week, the USGA announced that it had awarded the 2017 U.S. Open to Erin Hills Golf Course of Erin, Wisc. I am head-over-heels happy for the co-designers, my good friends Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and (especially) Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten, who proved that writers can hold their own against the top designers when given an adequate budget and unlimited authority. But I don’t understand how a new golf course, which just recently broke into my top 100, got the Open over perennial Wisconsin trendsetters Whistling Straits, No. 18, and New Richmond Golf Club, No. 25. I’m not crying foul, but I invite David Fay & Co. to consult me before they extend any more invitations to untested golf courses. (Keep the faith, Medicine Hole!)