Top 50 Has Stones to Challenge Malcolm Gladwell on Rankings

It’s been a while since we answered anonymous voice-mail questions, so here goes.

When can we expect your Top 50 list of Russian courses?

How about when Russia has fifty courses? Or forty. Or thirty. Or ten.

Sorry, I meant China.

The Chinese Top 50 was ready for posting in January, but the staff here at Catch Basin put it on hold pending investigation of our Yunnan Province course-rating team. The Yunnan division raised eyebrows when it touted a new 54-hole country club outside Kunming, the provincial capital. Three courses, allegedly designed by Schmidt-Curley Design of Scottsdale, Az., were supposedly threaded through a primordial landscape of karst peaks, pines and lakes. Playing as long as 7,565 yards, the Leaders Peak course was reported to have no bunkers (implausible) and an island green surrounded by rock instead of water (an impossibility). One of the architects was quoted as saying, “We wanted the stone to be the show.”

12th Hole at Stone Forest, China

Stone Forest: China's answer to Rocky Road ice cream?

Unfortunately, that quote was translated into Mandarin and back into English, so it came to us as “We got stoned at a show.” Horrified, we promptly fired our Yunnan course raters and hired a second-rater from Hong Kong, who now informs us that the original report was accurate in its particulars, if sloppy in its expression. The new golf complex, Stone Forest International Country Club, recently opened for play, and it does, indeed, provide a rocky experience for golfers of all abilities — all within a stone’s throw of Kunming, a city of nearly 6 million at the northern edge of Dian Lake.

Anyway, we’re ready to release our Chinese Top 50 — once our second-rater decides which of the three Stone Forest courses is the best.

Malcolm Gladwell, in a recent New Yorker, makes a devastating critique of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guide and, by extension, all service-journalism rankings. Do you think your pseudo-scientific golf course list is any better than the Consumer Reports and Car and Driver ratings that he demolishes?

Funny you should ask. I, myself, have debunked all three of those sloppy, self-serving lists, and I did so when Gladwell, as a barefoot boy in Hampshire, was still learning to use a curling iron. Three decades ago, for instance, I blew gaping holes in a “Most Livable Cities” survey that had Honolulu ranked 47th among American metropolises, 27 rungs lower than [drum roll} … Warren, Ohio! To correct their error, I recommended that they simply add the category, “Public and Private Garage and Parking Lot Landscaping.” I assume they took my advice, because the following year’s rankings had Honolulu somewhere in the top ten, while Warren was no longer recognized as an American city.

But to answer your question, my Top 50 has nothing in common with the flawed surveys in Gladwell’s article. That’s because it is unassailably “my” Top 50 — not yours, not GOLF Magazine’s and certainly not Gladwell’s.

I hear that Pinehurst No. 2 is reopening after a renovation by the Crenshaw-Coore design team. Will their changes boost the greatest of all Donald Ross courses into the Top 50?

I thought No. 2 was in my Top 50, but the boys in the computer room tell me that it dropped to 111th when I penalized it 400 points for having mats on the driving range. (Sorry, Pinehurst.) I’m a big fan of Crenshaw-Coore’s work, so I wouldn’t be surprised if No. 2 moves up dramatically before it hosts the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. I definitely like the natural “dunes look” of the rebuilt bunkers. I just wish they had thrown in a few of Ross’s old “chocolate drop” mounds; that was a swell way of concealing construction debris without having to pay someone to truck it off to the dump.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but features a “Behind the Mic” video of Sir Nick Faldo forecasting this year’s Masters, “where the real drama starts.” Faldo correctly points out that intermediate and short-iron play will be the key to winning at Augusta National, along with putting (‘blistering-quick greens”) and driving (“very important”). Rut-iron play, in other words, will not be a factor.

1 Comment

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One response to “Top 50 Has Stones to Challenge Malcolm Gladwell on Rankings

  1. How can you not put a single golf course in Asia Pacific in this list? Could it be you have never visited the region to cast an opinion?

    I think your course list is very good, but to not have any courses from APAC is incorrect.

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