If you’re into numbers, as I am, you’ll have noticed a steady deterioration of third-ranked Turnberry’s position in the Top 50. The fabled Ayrshire links — scene of 1977’s famous “Duel in the Sun” and 2009’s unforgettable finish by Stewart Cink — has slipped from 9.83 to 9.74 over the past 20 months, leaving a razor’s-edge margin over Kansas’s Prairie Dunes.
The point deductions, I’m told by the numbers crunchers here at Catch Basin, have nothing to do with the course per se. “It’s the view,” says Nigel Pond, our deputy ranker for Scotland, Wales and Patagonia. “Specifically, it’s the diminishment of Ailsa Craig, the rocky island that monopolizes the view from the Turnberry lighthouse.”
Yes, golf’s most beloved uninhabited island is shrinking. Just this past summer, according to sunset watchers, some 2,000 tons of granite were loaded onto landing craft and spirited away to a top-secret facility on the Scottish mainland. The granite, the New York Times recently reported, was destined for Russia!
“It’s actually shipping in large wooden crates labeled ‘SOCHI OLYMPICS: CURLING STONES,” writes our own Pond, who was possibly the first to notice the minute changes to Ailsa Craig’s distinctive profile. (John Keats, in the notes for his famous sonnet, described the island as “darkly dome-like … a steak-and-kidney pie swollen to the point of bursting for want of a vented crust.”)
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Times has assigned its London bureau chief, John F. Burns, to cover the Turnberry story. Burns is known as “the dean of American foreign correspondents”; he’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner with stints as the paper’s Moscow bureau chief, lead correspondent in China during the Cultural Revolution, and years of battlefield reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s no surprise, then, that Burns has gotten to the flinty core of the Ailsa Craig conspiracy:
It has no inhabitants, no electricity, no fresh water, and no arable land — nothing of value, it would seem, but for this: For a century and more, its quarries have been the source of the distinctive, water-resistant microgranite used to make most of the world’s curling stones. These include all those used in recent world championships and the Olympics, including the Sochi Games that begin in January.
Yes, the attack on golf’s offshore treasure is coming from jealous practitioners of Scotland’s other ancient game — curling! These hairy and heartless Highlands stone-sliders have been systematically whittling Ailsa Craig and shipping the shavings to Sochi. This is happening, mind you, during the run-up to September’s referendum on Scottish independence. As Burns points out, the formerly 1,100-foot-tall isle “remains an icon in the country’s national consciousness, redolent of the rugged, stand-alone character many Scots pride as their birthright.”
Has the R&A looked into this? No! Not to sound harsh, but I don’t think the custodians of the ancient game will get off their aristocratic duffs until they see curlers wielding their silly brooms on the frozen surface of the Swilcan Burn.
(More on this subject next time, including a radical proposal to save Ailsa Craig from further predation.)
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but defending champion Tiger Woods will make his first appearance of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, Calif. The 89th-ranked Torrey Pines South Course is where Woods won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods called it “my greatest ever championship,” but, of course, it’s too early to say.