“You know what I hate about course rankings?” asks a reader from Branson, Mo. “A course has to be a so-called ‘championship’ course to be rated. You can have the greatest 18 holes in golf, but if it’s a par 64 it’s an ‘executive course’ — strictly for kids and old folks. I, for one, am tired of it. That’s why I don’t even read the rankings.”
Well, reader from Branson, it’s obvious you haven’t read the adjoining list. The current Top 50 includes two classic Scottish courses, Kinghorn and Balcomie Links, which are par 65 and 69, respectively. Our course raters, at their 40-day training camps, are taught to disregard a course’s par.* The only par-related point deductions are for arithmetic errors — e.g., when the sum of the individual holes is incorrect on the scorecard.
* We don’t even accept the convention of allocating two putts per hole. If a green has a visible trough leading to the flagstick, we consider one stroke to be “par.”
Our correspondent, by the way, plays most of his golf at Branson’s Thousand Hills Golf Resort, currently ranked 178th in the Top 50. Thousand Hills, designed by Bob Cupp, is a 5,111-yard, par-64 track just off the famous Branson strip of big-time entertainment venues. The favorite haunt of music headliners like Marty Haggard and Shoji Tabuchi, Thousand Hills is a two-time winner of “Best Branson Golf Course.” Golf Digest gave it four stars in its “Best Places to Play” issue.
Not bad for a course with nine par 3s.
I drove down to Branson last week to check out Thousand Hills, my curiosity piqued by the course rater’s claim that he had spotted Ann Margaret and the Blues Brothers fighting over logoed merchandise in the pro shop. I promptly ran into Haggard, who pulled out his guitar and sang me a five-star version of his father Merle’s hit, “Silver Wings.”*
* I am not making this up. If a single asks to join you at Thousand Hills, he or she will almost certainly possess a platinum record or two, be an accomplished adagio dancer, or be capable of performing handstands on a wobbling chair balanced upon Andy Williams’s forehead.
Anyway, I found Thousand Hills to be anything but an executive course. Only two of the par 3s are shorter than 160 yards from the tips, and two of them measure more than 200 — and that’s with creeks, ponds, ravines, and stone outcroppings to negotiate. The 425-yard, par-4 16th, with its marshside green, is as strong a hole as you’ll find in the Ozarks, and the finishing hole is a 533-yard par-5 lined with Nashville agents and Chinese-acrobat groupies.
Putting on my golf architect’s hat (and pants), I’ll just point out that Cupp made wise use of the mountainous terrain. He could have dynamited some escarpments to create longer holes, but he chose to flesh out the obtainable par 3s, much as Michelangelo chipped away the pieces of marble that weren’t David to create “David.” Cupp also proved himself a smart cookie by providing a three-hour round of golf that aging crooners — and their fans — can squeeze in between matinee and evening performances.
Fear not, reader from Branson. The Top 50 recognizes that short sometimes beats long.
Top 50 on TV: The Players Championship (with a nine-hole cameo by Tiger Woods) is being contested at 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “The layout will swallow you up and spit you out if you don’t bring a complete game,” says the 2011 edition of Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play.” That’s more or less an insinuation that you are indigestible — but I try not to second-guess my competition.