A reader from Stone Harbor, N.J., asks if we conduct our course ratings in secrecy. “Do you travel under aliases? Do you inform a course’s staff that you are evaluating their facility and plan to publish an assessment that could be damaging to their reputations and bottom line? Do you go about your business whistling with a smile* while actually twisting your knife in the backs of honest businessmen who are merely trying to provide fun and recreation?”
* This is anatomically impossible, unless you whistle through your teeth; but we do try to project a certain cheeriness.
The e-mail is signed “Diogenes,” so I assume the writer is Greek. And before I address the substance of his letter, I’d just like to say how sorry I am about his country’s sovereign debt crisis and for the shocking deterioration of the 7th-ranked Parthenon and other public buildings. Things look bleak, I know, but a century or so of austerity should square the Greeks’ accounts and get them back out on the golf course.
Anyway, Di asked about “secrecy.” My answer is a flat “No.” We don’t sneak onto golf courses in Zorro masks and capes, and we don’t hide our clipboards and cameras in gym bags. To the contrary, the arrival of a Top 50 rater tends to be a civic happening replete with bunting, ceremony and intemperate drinking. It’s the democratic nature of the Top 50, in fact, that makes it so much fun. What other course-rating system has gallery members draw lots for a chance to evaluate the par-3s? Who but the Top 50 would let the head pro appeal for a better score in return for logoed caps and golf balls?
Besides, if we snuck in and out of venues, would we get so much publicity? Not to be immodest, but my recent rating trip to England got almost as much media attention as the Open Championship at 186th-ranked Royal Lytham & St. Annes. First it was Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck, who took participatory journalism to a new level by following me around 17th-ranked Royal Birkdale dressed in my clothes. (“If you can learn about someone by walking in their shoes,” he said afterwards, “it has to be even better to walk around in their baggy polo shirts and Dockers.”) Shipnuck’s reverential report can be seen here.
Also following me at Birkdale was Michael Bamberger, author of To the Linksland and inventor of the E-Club. In appreciation, I let him rate the 200-yard fourth hole, where each of us missed an ace by a matter of inches. (“Challenging to the extreme,” he concluded, “but brilliant!”) Bamberger then popped up a couple of evenings later as I rated St. Annes Old Links (49). He wrote about it for Golf.com, as did Golf Digest’s Cameron Morfit, whose astute critique of St. Annes can be read here.
To sum up, the Top 50 — far from being secretive — is the most transparent of all the leading course-rating systems. Diogenes may not accept that, but I infer that he’s bitter about some perceived slight or life-destroying tort that he associates with golf course critics. That’s unfortunate, but it has nothing to do with us.
Unless, that is, he is referring to our sister company, America’s Worst Golf Courses (LLC). Our AWGC raters do conceal their identities, and they usually prevaricate when asked why they are dipping test strips into the ball washers or taking core samples from the greens. “When things get hairy,” I tell them, “it’s best to lie.”
Different company, of course.
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the London Olympics reminds us that golf returns to the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the summer of 2016. That should focus attention on 51st-ranked Glen Echo Country Club of St. Louis, Mo., which was an Olympic venue in conjunction with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. I played Glen Echo some weeks ago and found it to be in tip-top shape and fully capable of hosting the Olympics again, should the Gil Hanse-designed Rio course be thwarted by local politicians. (Glen Echo still has a commuter line running alongside its first hole, so transportation will be a snap.)