“Your chief course rater has been notably absent lately,” complains a reader from Leh, Ladakh. Or should I say “asserts,” since the reader goes on to unfavorably compare Gary Van Sickle’s work to that of our under-the-sea specialist, Aquaman. “Judging from your persistent overlooking of incomparable Pine Valley,” writes the man from the moonscape, “it’s Van Sickle who’s all wet.”
Do I need to defend Gary? He’s covered the PGA Tour for several decades, he’s won countless writing awards for his work at Sports Illustrated and the Top 50, his son Mike is an aspiring tour player, and he’s a scratch golfer himself. Short of getting a degree in landscape architecture or actually designing a course himself, what more can Gary do to enhance his credentials?
Besides, Gary had nothing to do with Pine Valley Golf Club’s 52nd-place ranking. Nor am I responsible for the New Jersey landmark’s inability to crack the Top 50. (How could I be? I’ve never set foot on Pine Valley’s “sacred” soil, or even changed shoes in its highly-regarded parking lot.) The Top 50 is based on the informed judgement of entire teams of course raters, most of them over the age of 18, but no one person dictates the daily ranking. That task belongs to the Top 50 Algorithm, created by the renowned Cal Sci math genius, Charles Eppes.
As for Gary’s whereabouts, he’s neither “absent” nor “lost.” He dropped out of sight for a few months to tackle a really challenging assignment — rating fictional golf courses. He started with The Majesty in Rock Harbor, Wisc., a lakeside stunner that features prominently in the John Haines novel, Danny Mo. “Couldn’t find it,” Gary reported after a week on Door County’s 24th-ranked highway system. He has had subsequent difficulty finding Michael Murphy’s Burningbush Golf Links, Dan Jenkins’ Goat Hills Golf Course, and Caddieshack’s Bushwood County Club.
“I was starting to think these golf courses weren’t real,” Gary told me in a recent call, “until I flew down to Texas to rate Turk Pipkin’s Pedernales Golf Club. It’s a 9-holer in Spicewood, and the locals call it Willie Nelson’s Cut-N-Putt. I give it four jalapeños!”
But as I pointed out above, Gary doesn’t get to assign the actual rankings. Pedernales currently languishes at No. 51.
Ladakh, by the way, has only one ratable course, the 9-hole Indian Army Coffee-Can Links on the road between Leh and Thiksey Monastery. Rock-strewn and grassless, it is one of the few courses ranked below the Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course of Ft. Meade, Fla.
Gary didn’t rate that Ladakhi course, either. I did.
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Duke Ishikawa sent in this report on the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.: “Cherry blossoms are in full bloom! Beautiful time of the year!”
Okay, Duke’s covering the API from Tokyo. But that makes sense, since Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa shot an opening-round 69 to tie Tiger Woods and eight others for fifth place. “This is Ryo’s eighth start of the season,” Duke continued. “He only made two cuts, but one was at Puerto Rico. His scoring average is 175th, his money is 183rd, both nearly at bottom. But he still keeps special invitation to next month’s Masters, which is unfair.
“Simon Clark works for Ryo this week because Ryo’s regular caddie, Kato, returned home for a while. Another Japanese worked for Ryo the last three tournaments, but he did not work out. Simon worked for Ryo two tournaments last year in Japan. Ryo finished 35th in the Japan Open and sixth in the Casio World Open. Some Japanese media say, ‘Ryo’s fifth place in the first round at API must be the result of Simon.’ I don’t know yet. Ryo has been playing pretty bad in his second round. I really hope he will make a cut this week.”
Duke signed off in his inimitable way: “That’s all my basic information about the Ryo and Simon (not Garfunkel) relationship. Hope this makes you fill up of your curious stomach.”