The first snowfall of the season has turned the grounds around our Kansas City headquarters into something out of 14th-ranked Currier and Ives, so I have authorized a bonus packet of seasoned apple-cider mix for all hourly staff and sent them outside to build snow forts under a deep-blue sky.
With quiet descending upon Catch Basin, I’m free to thumb the pages of the recently-published second edition of The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses. And when I say “thumb,” I mean it literally.* The Rolex Top 1000 presents as a $35 hardcover book of nearly 1,400 pages — too big to be a pocket guide, too text-heavy to be a coffee-table book, but absolutely perfect for stuffing into your carry bag when your brother-in-law caddies for you at the member-guest. The term “golf atlas” certainly applies, stuffed as it is with maps, travel recommendations, and Lonely Planet-style mini-essays on the favored courses.
*When I say “literally,” I don’t mean that I use only one thumb or fail to deploy the usual eight fingers. I’m using “literally” figuratively, as we all do. My favorite mis-usage of the word is still that BBC documentary voice-over relating how a reluctant Edward David, Prince of Wales, “was literally catapulted onto the throne of England.”
Nevertheless, the nut of the book is the course ranking itself, which was put together by “D’Algue Selection,” one of the stranger noms de plume I’ve encountered in my decades of course ranking. It has something to do with European Tour pioneer Gaetan Mourgue d’Algue, but the freshest fingerprints belong to his daughter Kristel (the 1995 NCAA Champion and a former European Women’s Tour player) and the British Walker Cupper Bruce Critchley, a Sky Sports UK commentator. They have assembled some 200 “independent, yet fully qualified” course raters and turned them loose on the world’s 31,569 golf courses, winnowing their reports down to a not-so-exclusive club of a thousand.
That, of course, is precisely what we do here at Catch Basin — the difference being that we filter out the pulp, the still-straining-for-recognition 950, and serve up the pure juice of the Top 50. So now is probably the time to concede that I find myself in a position analogous to that of John Stewart when reviewing another outfit’s course ranking. Just as Stewart, a purveyor of fake news, hates to break character in front of the Comedy Central cameras, I am loath to admit that my Top 50 is a snide, satirical attack on course rankings in particular and lists in general, even though they be the meat and potatoes of 21st-century media.
Having fully disclosed, I now swear on a pile of used golf gloves that The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses is the ne plus ultra of golf atlases. It is the most comprehensive compendium of laudable links ever committed to print, and it belongs in every golfer’s library between Herbert Warren Wind and P.G. Wodehouse (assuming the shelves are not alphabetized.)
Oh, I have a few quibbles. The Rolex rankings are all wrong, for one. Carnoustie better than Carne? Oh, puleeeeze. Bethpage Black better than Sand Hollow? Nonsense! And where is Medicine Hole? That Black Hills beauty isn’t even listed, suggesting that D’Algue Selection is biased against rock-strewn, nine-hole munis.
But that, as I say, is a quibble. What I love about the Rolex 1000 is its conviction. The editors have taken the reports of their 200 raters and reduced their plethora of impressions and random data to a single number: a score. But unlike the Top 50, which ranks according to Euclid’s “Perfect 10” proposition, Rolex follows the “100 scale” of the American public school system. National Golf Links scores a hundred under this system. Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course, one can only assume, brings up the bottom with a score of 1.
Rolex’s scoring is plainly deficient in one respect: It relies on round numbers. (Top 50 scores are published in hundredths, but our Cal Sci mathematicians round off at six decimals when assembling their master list.) That said, Rolex trumps the Top 50 and all other course rankings with an inspired numerical ploy: rounding to the nearest five! Some courses score 90 (Kapalua Plantation), and some courses score 95 (Kingsbarns), but no course scores 91 or 93.
Why is this ”inspired”? Think about it. The Top 50, thanks to its precision, has a single top-ranked course, Askernish Old, with a membership of 18 golfers struggling to survive on a wind-swept Hebridean island. Rolex, on the other hand, doesn’t name a world’s-best course. It proclaims a 15-way tie of 100-point courses, all of them golf shrines (Augusta National, Cypress Point, St. Andrews Old) with international constituencies eager to gobble up copies of a book naming their track “the world’s best.”
Just thinking about it, I’m tempted to lock up Catch Basin and leave our marketing guys to spend the night in the cold.
Well-played, D’Algue Selection, whoever (or whatever) you are.
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I’ll take a closer look at the Rolex rankings in an upcoming post. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the second edition in golf stores and selected pro shops, as well as on Amazon.com.