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Doomed Ohio Course Cracks Top 50

“Minerva Lake at No. 50? What am I missing?”

The reader who asked those questions could have been speaking for me. Minerva Lake Golf Club, a 5,497-yard, par-69 Harold Pollock-designed track in Columbus, Ohio, broke into the Top 50 seven weeks ago, replacing Trump Doonbeg of County Clare, Ireland. I had never heard of Minerva Lake, much less played it, so I called Professor Charles Eppes at the California Institute of Science. “Yo, Eppes,” I said, “what’s the scoop on this Minerva track?”

Van Sickle Minerva 18th

Gary Van Sickle attacks the par-3 18th at Minerva Lake Golf Club. (John Garrity)

Predictably, he rattled off a string of data points and then went off on a tangent about polynomials and “asymptote,” whatever that is. (Charlie is not a golfer, and, quite frankly, his Top 50 algorithm flies a foot or two over my head.) Winding up, he said, “You’re the golf guy. Go play it and find out for yourself.”

That made sense, so this morning I played hooky from the Memorial Tournament (at 58th-ranked Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio) and played a quick and pleasurable 18 at Minerva Lakes. My playing companions were Wei Over Par columnist and blogger Stephanie Wei and Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle.

Minerva Lake 18th

The par-3 18th at Minerva Lakes. (John Garrity)

I should say at the outset that I am a very demanding critic of golf grounds. In past columns I have found fault with Pine Valley (“Too sandy”), Furnace Creek (“Too hot”) and Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course (“Too awful for words”). But I found Minerva Lakes to be better than its surprisingly high rating. Arboreally blessed and criss-crossed with not-too-penal creeks, the property takes full advantage of ravines, ridges and other natural features. Van Sickle, America’s most-decorated course rater and a former Top-50 staffer, found just the right words when he described Minerva Lakes as “not the goat ranch I was expecting. It’s a classic course that will make you think of A.W. Tillinghast or C.B. MacDonald. Short, but fun from start to finish. Terrific par 3s, too.” Wei was equally impressed, stopping from time to time to Snapchat with her social-media followers.

So it pains me to report that Minerva Lake, which opened at 35 cents per round in 1931, will soon close for good, a victim of encroaching development. Three of the original holes were lopped off decades ago, and now the land is worth more as — well, as anything.

Never mind that a teenage Jack Nicklaus shot a course-record 65 in 1957.

And never mind that the property was once part of Minerva Park, a turn-of-a-different-century amusement park. “The 1897 casino could seat 2,500 people, drew some of the best-known acts of the day, and housed an orchestrion that cost a third as much as the building itself,” wrote Jeffrey J. Knowles in a 2005 history of the course. “There was also a zoo, dance hall, ball diamond, bowling lanes, bandstand, picnic areas, boat docks, museum, steam-driven carousel, wishing well and the Shoot the Chutes water ride.”

Minerva Lakes

Gary Van Sickle and Stephanie Wei gave Minerva Lake several thumbs up. (John Garrity)

Sounds quaint — but no more quaint, apparently, than a 5,500-yard parkland course in an age of 350-yard drives and 75,000-square-foot clubhouses. “I almost wish I hadn’t played it,” I told professor Eppes in a follow-up call. “Yesterday, Minerva Lake meant nothing to me, but now I’m going to miss it.”

“Interesting,” he said. “I may have to adjust the algorithm.”

You, on the other hand, may have to adjust your travel plans to play this sweet little course before it closes. Green fees range from $13 (weekday senior) to $20 (holidays/weekends) with tee times taken seven days in advance. But pay heed to the terse message on the club’s web site: “Minerva Lake will be open through Monday, July 4 2016. After that date, the course will be closed permanently.”

So sad. Minerva Lake remains at No. 50 and will — by executive order — retain that position for the remainder of its existence.

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Top 50 Veep Tours Fiesta Lakes

To our readers: Immediately upon hearing that Gary Van Sickle had taken a coveted first prize in the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest, our founder and CEO stormed out of Catch Basin, leaving this note on his office door: “Mr. Hot-Shot Golf Writer can handle the posts until further notice.” Here, then, is a recent course evaluation from the Top 50’s popular executive vice-president and chief course rater:

Fiesta Lakes Scorecard

FLGC’s scorecard was worth .045 Top-50 points. (Gary Van Sickle)

Mesa, Ariz.—You can tell a great golf course by its scorecard. Fiftieth-ranked Fiesta Lakes Golf Club’s card is on pale blue, non-glossy, sturdy paper with black ink. It’s a 3-by-4 card, probably because 3-by-5 would be a cliché.

All nine holes are listed with yardage and par, totaling a massive 1,533 yards and par 29. There are lined blanks for four players’ scores, in case you have any friends (though I kind of doubt it). There, beneath the last line, is what makes FLGC (as insiders at the adjacent Mesa Hilton know it) a must-stop. Three helpful tips: Tee off between markers. Let faster players pass. Replace divots.

Thanks to the card’s message, I avoided the common first-tee mistake of teeing off outside the markers, in front of the markers or, even worse, diagonal to the markers. Also, I walked up to the tee past a lone gazebo—the course’s signature hole, except for the fact that it’s just a gazebo, not a hole. I was a single, having just signed in at the fabulous clubhouse… trailer… shack. A gentleman and his young son were lollygagging on the first tee, looking like total beginners. Maybe they weren’t, though, or maybe they read the scorecard because they invited me to play through on the opening tee ball.

I’m pretty sure they were impressed when I teed off between the markers, depositing a 9-iron shot just off the right fringe on a monstrous 130-yard hole that was mostly wide open. It could be that getting the ball airborne was what impressed them because as I watched them from the second tee, after two-putting for an easy par, airborne shots weren’t really their strong suits. But I was glad they were there. This is what golf is all about, bringing your kid to a course and introducing him or her to the game. No better place for that than an easy par-3 track.

The second hole cleverly went back by the first tee, but a devilish pin position on the kitchen-table-sized green cost me a bogey. The third hole, also in keeping with the ingenious back-and-forth routing, was the strongest thus far, 168 yards, kind of downhill and guarded by some trees on the right. Fiesta Lakes is all grass and trees, a nice shady respite from the typical Phoenix-area desert golf. I holed a nice par-saving eight-foot putt while a waiting threesome watched from the fourth tee.

Probably impressed by my repeated airborne shots, they, too, waved me through. It was three college-aged players, two guys and a girl. Those scorecard instructions really work! Four holes on a par 3 course, and I’ve already played through two groups. Veteran golfers at real clubs aren’t this agreeable. I bumped a 4-iron down the right side of the fairway, since this was a 274-yard par 4, dogleg right, and without a rangefinder a large pond beyond the fairway’s bend looked like it might be in play. A wedge and two putts and I was off to the fifth.

The blue card said 155, but it didn’t appear that long, and apparently wasn’t because my choked-down 8-iron flew the green, hit some firm ground and bounded up onto the next tee box beneath some towering trees. A stupid-lucky bump-and-run chip led to an undeserved par.

The fourth through seventh holes play counterclockwise around the lake. The eighth, like the arm on the letter G played back toward it and is the most dangerous on the course for those of us who play the game from the air. I’m sure that fifth hole, with its forced carry over the lake, claims a lot of victims. A tee shot just right of the green looked usable. Upon arrival, no ball. The ground was firm and (a first time Fiesta Lakester learned) the water sneaked in around the green’s right side. My ball wasn’t on the fringe, it was under water. Well, at least I’d had the good sense to tee off between the markers. So call me crazy. That was a bogey.

The eighth hole was a secretive little bitch, but the ninth, ah, now here was a signature hole (unlike the gazebo) that actually came with a hole included. The card said it was 255 yards, par 4. Drivable? Yes, especially if you’ve got the red-ass after hitting the fringe and finding the lake on the previous hole. The problem was, it was a dogleg right, toward the clubhouse, and several huge trees on the dogleg corner blocked the angle of attack.

Well, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like common sense keep me from my only chance to hit driver at Fiesta Lakes. I had to tee up near the left tee marker (still between them, being the rules-stickler that I am) and stand off to the side of the tee box, lower than the ball, to have a go. This is not conducive to hitting the fade I need. Neither is my swing. I see draws and hit draws. My fade usually turns out to be a straight ball, if I’m lucky. No matter the odds, though, I wait for another threesome I’ve caught to clear the green, which I can barely make out behind the trees. I’ve got the ball teed up as high as I dare and I make sure to feel like I’m swinging up at it and—whack. The ball barely clears the big trees and looks to be on a pretty good line. That’s all I can see. I hit another one, just for practice and to increase the value I got for my $14 greens fee. This one fades (that’s the polite word for it) and sails over the eighth tee, across the seventh fairway and ends up near the fence that guards the FLGC practice range (and I use that term loosely).

My first ball is 12 feet from the hole. I play the second one, too, because it’s dead, blocked by some smaller trees. I chip a 7-iron low and hard, it bounces left and finds a gap in the trees, runs up the bank and onto the green… to a foot. It’s a ludicrous birdie. The eagle putt breaks sharply at the cup and lips out. It’s a well-earned birdie.

As I head to the parking lot, one of the guys from the group ahead asks, “Did you drive that last green?” I confess that I did. “From the tee?” he wonders. Right between the markers, I said. “Well, I couldn’t believe how soft it landed,” he said. “We didn’t know where it came from.”

I told him I was glad to have a witness for my shot of the day. But where did it come from? From between the markers, man. It says so right on the scorecard. [GVS]

John Garrity with Challenger

Top 50 CEO John Garrity poses beside his Dodge Challenger at Casino Del Sol. (Pat Woodrum)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but our founder and CEO was spotted on the short-game practice green at the spanking-new Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz. He was later seen, with his wife, in the magnificent PY Steakhouse at the adjoining Casino Del Sol Resort. Sewailo, if you missed our earlier accounts, was co-designed by four-time tour-winner Notah Begay and is the new home course for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Garrity’s original review describes it as “17 picturesque, challenging, and surprisingly-water-featured desert holes, along with one over-the-top, freaky-hard par 5 (the tenth), where you can make a desert snowman in less time than it takes a roadrunner to race to the airport.” (The tenth, we’re told by Van Sickle, is where our Founder and CEO scored a hard-earned 8.)

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The View From Turnberry: Less Grand?

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.

Ailsa Craig

Scientists measuring Ailsa Craig say it’s true: the Turnberry icon is shrinking! (John Garrity)

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.

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Ralph Thompson, the recently-retired majordomo at top-ranked Askernish Old, has been busy with preparations for this week’s Askernish Open — but not too busy to complain about the current and unprecedented placement of Ireland’s Carne Golf Links as co-No. 1. “I believe after your visit this week we will regain our rightful and solitary position as No. 1,” he writes from his Hebridean hideout on the isle of South Uist. “If not, then we will bury you in the rough. Even with your long legs you will still not be noticed. Yes, it is that extreme this year.”

Putting aside the threatening tone, which I’m used to, Thompson’s words leave me wondering if I’ve packed enough golf balls to get me through three days of competition on the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course. If the rough is deep enough to conceal an NBA small forward, it will easily consume my meagre stock of Pro V1s.

Not that I care. My real purpose in returning to Askernish is to complete my “This Old Course” series on Askernish, which began a couple of years ago in Sports Illustrated Golf+ and will conclude this fall on Golf.com. To facilitate that coverage, I am traveling with state-of-the-art digital cameras, notepads, a pocket recorder, mosquito netting, quinine pills, a safari jacket and a fully-operational Bomar Brain. All this gear is currently piled on my bed at the Glasgow Marriott, which has long served as my base camp for expeditions to Ayrshire, East Lothian, the Kingdom of Fife and the Scottish Highlands.

This visit, as I patiently explained to Ralph, will have no bearing on the Top 50 rankings, which are issued by our staff at Catch Basin on the basis of scientific calculations far too sophisticated for either of us to comprehend.

Top 50 on TV:  Nothing this week, but an 18-year-old Englishman won the U.S. Amateur last week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., currently No. 31 on the Top 50. Coming 100 years after Francis Ouimet’s stunning victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory avenges the historic humbling of the British greats, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

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August 21, 2013 · 2:19 pm

Cal Sci Algorithm Gets Moisture Adjustment

“Has it occurred to you,” begins an email from Death Valley, Ariz., “that Aquaman isn’t real? That he is a character from a comic book? That his opinion on course rankings is worthless because, I repeat, HE ISN’T REAL!!!”

Highland Links

Nova Scotia’s lovely Highland Links gained .0069 points for its many water hazards. (John Garrity)

Well yes, DV — may I call you DV? — yes, that has occurred to me. I’m familiar with the Aquaman comics, but I know the difference between a cartoon character and a first-class course rater, and it’s not as big a difference as you might think. Anyway, I had our Top 50 ratings chief, Gary Van Sickle, look into Aquaman’s background, and he assures me that our scaly friend is strictly above-board (if not above ground). As a further precaution, we require that Aquaman file his reports via Gary’s email account to guard against hacking, spamming and, most importantly, phishing.

Coincidentally, Gary has just forwarded a fresh (not frozen) report from our man in Atlantis:

Dear Mr. Garrity,

I use the title “Mr.” reluctantly. You’re just another annoying air-breather to me. I figure we denizens of the deep can wait you out, though. You’ll pollute the air and die from global warming long before the ocean temperatures rise enough to bother me down here in the air-conditioned Marianas Trench, site of my vacation home. It’s way cool, brother.

I am writing — well, telepathing my thoughts to a dolphin, who then transcribes them to what you earth-breathers call Microsoft Word — to point out a flaw in your ranking system. Two flaws, actually. One, they’re just stupid. But that’s kind of a technical point.

Second, since water is the most important thing on earth and makes up 90 percent of you annoying air-breathers’ body bags, you clearly don’t put enough emphasis on water hazards in your rankings. Courses with more and bigger water hazards are better than courses without. Ever played a really good course in the desert? Didn’t think so.

I have to interrupt Aquaman’s otherwise-cogent analysis to point out that 20th-ranked Desert Hollow in Hurricane, Utah, is a desert course, as is 27th-ranked Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., the 44th-ranked Mission Hills Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.,  and 51st-ranked Coyote Springs, north of Las Vegas, Nevada. But back to Aquaman.

In fact, if you, Mr. Garrity, could get your CalTech Forbin Project 800X off its lazy digital ass, you could probably reprogram it to rank courses by the amount of water in their hazards, by cubic meters or fathoms or, as we use to measure here in Atlantis, aquabergs. (It’s a little larger than a cubic meter. You can barely fit two inside a seahorse, let’s put it that way. And that seahorse is not very happy about it, let me tell you, sir!)

Measuring the total amount of water actually on a course is going to completely reorganize your thus-far lame rankings. Since I haven’t played all 15,000 courses on your dirtpile, I don’t know what course would rank No. 1. Obviously, the water hazard will have to be surrounded (or at least 80% so) by the course for its contents to count. Pebble Beach, for instance, couldn’t lay claim to the entire Pacific Ocean just because it’s got a few holes along the shoreline. That would be a lot of saltwater volume to boost it in the rankings. The water has to be inside the course boundaries to count.

I believe this numerical and logical renumbering is the best way to rank your courses. I think we all agree that the courses that contain the most of my finny friends — which I can command to do my bidding, by the way — are obviously the best golf courses.

Which reminds me, if you don’t mind a small plug, I’m beginning a new side business besides my mundane duties as King of Atlantis and Father of AquaBitch. I’m getting into the ball-retrieval business. You lose a ball in a water hazard that has live underwater denizens, and I order them to retrieve it for you. Simply sign up for an online account at AquaBalls.com, pay an annual service fee, and then we invoice you for each individual retrieval. We can also sell you other balls that have been deposited in the water and remain unclaimed. That’s an extra charge, however, plus a service and handling fee. It’s all very reasonable, and as part of our contract you need only worship me for a prescribed few minutes each day.

I look forward to seeing your computer’s revised rankings. I hope it happens soon because I’d hate to see a brigade of killer whales go ape-shit on you the next time you play in Kansas City. That would be tragic.

As usual, all the best.

Aquaman, King of Atlantis (Father of AquaBitch and that no-good, lazy AquaLam-o-Lad)

Persuaded by Aquaman’s reasoning, we have tweaked the Cal Sci algorithm to account for water-hazard capacity and adjusted the rankings accordingly. To our surprise, the rankings remain exactly the same, with one exception: Kansas City’s Hillcrest Golf Club moves up one spot.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Crowne Plaza Invitational begins today at 51st-ranked Colonial Country Club in Forth Worth, Texas. Known as “Hogan’s Alley” (because the popular TV show, Hogan’s Heroes, was shot there in the 1960s), Colonial has been ranked Fifth Best Course We Play on Tour by PGA Tour players. (Courses No. 1 through 4 in the survey were Augusta National GC, Harbour Town Links, Riviera CC and Pebble Beach Golf Links, all of which have been in the Top 50 at one time or another.)

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Illinois Course Follows Golfer Into Pit

A reader from Cairo, Ill., wonders if her state’s Annbriar Golf Club lost ranking points when a middle-age golfer recently plunged 18 feet into a sinkhole. “Newspaper accounts say the man was walking through a ‘pocked section,’” writes the reader, “which suggests maintenance issues.”

Cairo, by the way, is pronounced “KAY-roh,” like the syrup, and is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. For that reason, sinkholes, historically, are the least of its problems, flooding being more or less a permanent condition. No riverside course has ever cracked the Top 50, unless you count estuaries — which would be a firth.

The Country Club

The Country Club was in no condition for play, but its ratings drop was temporary. (John Garrity)

Anyway, Annbriar GC plummeted more than a thousand places due to the sinkhole fiasco, and now wallows at No. 9,752. The biggest point deduction, however, was for pace-of-play issues. (It took twenty minutes to pull the golfer out with a rope.)

Underlying the Cairo reader’s query is a larger concern: Does the Top 50 adjust the rankings when course conditions change unexpectedly?

Answer: Probably.

Some weeks ago, for example, a blizzard swept through New England, dropping two feet of snow on a perennial Top 50 layout, The Country Club. Virtually unplayable — and a high-risk venue even under the best winter conditions, due to skeet shooting on the property — TCC dropped into the Second 50, only to bounce back to No. 31 when the snow melted.

Kangaroos at Women's Open

A mob at Royal Canberra didn’t hurt the course’s ranking.

Similarly, analysts here at Catch Basin held an emergency meeting when we learned that kangaroos had overrun Royal Canberra Golf Club during the first round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. A spirited argument ensued, with one set of analysts calling for point deductions and an opposing group arguing that kangaroos are actually an enhancement. Asked to break the tie, I pointed out that teenager Lydia Ko had shot a round of 10-under-par 63 to take the first-round lead. “Wait for more data,” I said.

Royal Canberra remains at No. 804.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour has descended upon the 103rd-ranked Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.  Copperhead is a favorite with tour players, but courses named after snakes generally fare poorly in consumer surveys. The most notable example is Royal Anaconda Golf Links of Manaus, Brazil, which never got off the drawing board.

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March 14, 2013 · 3:35 pm

The Deep Six Will Leave You Gasping

Underwater golf path

Golfers on the way to Davey Jones’ Locker after a round with Aqualad. (Photo credit: Waterstudio)

All our course raters, both paid and unpaid, report to Top 50 V.P. and Director of Course Rating, Gary Van Sickle. He massages the raw data and forwards it to the basement computer room here at Catch Basin. A few of our raters, however, are so specialized in their knowledge that Gary encourages them to bypass the Cal Sci guys and submit their rankings directly to me. That explains the email and bulky attachment that arrived yesterday:

To: Gary Van Sickle. From: The Coraldesk of Aquaman, Lord of Atlantis. Date: Benday, Germcember 9, 2012

Aquaman was quivered when he failed to get a response from you earlier. So he surmised that his half-man/half-walrus manservant emailed the following piece to the wrong address. So, here it is again for your puny human enjoyment:

Atlantis, Under the Sea—It is obvious from John Garrity’s absurdly biased course rankings that he wouldn’t know a mashie from a porcupine or a dog-leg left from a unitard (that’s the offspring from a unicorn and a minotaur—duh). It has become increasingly difficult to read Garrity’s rankings, which are embarrassingly biased toward courses played by you annoying air-breathers, while you continue to ignore the world’s greatest underwater courses here on our fabulous Continent of Atlantis.

Oh, that’s right. You can’t breathe water like I can. That Kevin Costner guy tried once in a really bad movie. If only he’d spent more time underwater in that film, he might have had a winner. Still, I know a lot of people wish he’d take a dirt nap and stop being so insufferable based on so little.

But I digress. Since Garrity isn’t going to go anywhere near Atlantis for golf because of his picayune whining—“But I’d drown!”—I have decided to help his sorry website (which is drier than those things you airbreathers call cracked wheat bread) by providing you with a list of the Six Best Courses in Atlantis. (We call ‘em The Deep Six.) Just for the suspense factor, I’ll start at No. 6 and count down. I believe one of your air-breathing gods does something similar—David Letterman.

No. 6, Nautilus Golf Club. This is a stellar and demanding 1,424-fathom layout that winds back and forth through scenic kelp fields. Which means you can stop and have a snack at your leisure. Thus, no beverage & snack sub service is provided by the club. The signature hole, obviously, is the 96-fathom par-3 13th hole, which drops practically straight down into a dormant volcanic dome. My son, Aqualad, once aced it with a 7-iron, having shrewdly played the typical left-to-right underseas current just right. It hit the pin, hung on the lip and dropped just before a deadly manta ray stung Aqualad’s caddie, killing him instantly. I’ll never forget the look of satisfaction on Aqualad’s face. It was his first hole in one!

No. 5, The Links at Mariana Trench. I’m sure that I, Aquaman, Lord of Atlantis, don’t have to tell you what a tough track this is. It’s 6.8 miles down, kind of near a dirt clod you air-breathers call Guam. Because of the depth, well, the ball just doesn’t carry well. You will wear out your fairway woods here. It’s longer than a thing that’s the opposite of short. (Ha-ha—another of our favorite Atlantan sayings. One more: Ha.) The finishing hole, one nasty par 5, plays through the Challenger Deep, a slot between two mountains at the Trench’s southern end. It makes Pebble Beach’s 18th hole look like a piece of snot from a blue whale. It really does.

No. 4, Atlantis Country Club. Well, I don’t think I need to even mention the obvious attributes of the most famous course in Atlantis. I’m sure you all remember the time King Neptune made an obsquidian on the 14th, the hardest par-7 on the planet. (What? You don’t know that an obsquidian is a hole played in 5 under par? Why do I waste my time with you air-breathing clodhoppers?) Neptune holed an eel-wood for a deuce en route to winning the Oceanic Masters in ’97, duh. Most famous shot ever, double duh.

No. 3, The Neptunia Club. This is the favorite course of my daughter, Aquabitch. Sure, it’s on the short side and is only a par 68, but there’s no debating the beauty of the coral reef formations that you land-clods haven’t yet destroyed.  Also, it’s well-lit by phosphorescent plankton. What, you’ve never heard of that? Well, I’m not telling you where this place is. Plus, there’s always a sense of excitement as it plays through a popular white shark breeding ground. No biggie, since my telepathic powers enable me to control all of the finny minions. Which is why I never have to pay for a caddie. It’s good to be Lord of Atlantis.

No. 2, Oceania Golf Links. The Big O is a brute. Small greens, lots of foliage, and lots of current. As we say down here, If there’s nae current, there’s nae gawlf. Most of the back nine plays into the prevailing current, so it’s a real bitch, no relation to my daughter. No course in Atlantis has tougher greens to read or faster greens to putt on, either. You may as well try to putt on a squirming dolphin. I have, and trust me, it’s just not as much fun as you thought it would be. Par is a good score at The Big O. The 17th is the signature hole. It’s a double seahorse-leg par 5 with trouble everywhere, including the Wreck of the Mary Deare left of the green (but not really in play unless you really yank one) and assorted and dreaded coral traps. Man, you go in those and you’re just taking a drop unless you’ve got a death wish—which, if you’re an air-breather, I, Aquaman, Lord of Atlantis, encourage.

No. 1, The Jules Verne Club. No surprise here. It’s the most exclusive club in Atlantis and the toughest course to get on. You’ve gotta know somebody who knows somebody who eats whale bait. The course is iconic, having hosted the Atlantis Open in the tournament’s early years. Most people already know every hole from watching those old telecasts, so it’s a thrill beyond sonic pings if they’re afforded a rare chance to play. You can shoot 30 on the back nine, which is spectacular, or you can shoot 51. It’s the most exciting layout in Atlantis, although part of it is due to those discarded underwater mines from WWII. The 18th is arguably the greatest hole here. From an elevated tee, you cross a bottomless trench that probably goes directly to the earth’s core. (We think. We don’t know since nobody has ever made it back, but it was probably an old shortcut through the planet left by alien spaceships). You don’t clear that with your drive, you’re re-teeing, lemme tell you. From there, your second shot is a long carry over a cavern (where Magellan’s bones are stored—but that’s another story!) and an adjacent trench that features submarine wreckage from The Thresher. There’s no good place to miss this elevated green, which is surrounded by poisonous sponge fields (bet you didn’t know about that, either, you clod-breathers!), a jelly-fish bunker (hah!) and a false front that hides the entrance to the cave that holds the button we can push to create a tsunami anywhere in the world we want. I don’t want to brag, but I birdied the 18th last time I played there, taking 250 golden pazoosas off Aqualad, who still has no short game even though I tell him to practice. I won two presses and a Hawaiian carryover. I would’ve bought Aqualad an adult beverage after the round, but he forgot to bring a splacket to wear over his mer-tail, as club rules state, so we weren’t allowed in the men’s grill-cave.

Well, there you have it. As you can plainly see, John Garrity’s Top 50 is irrelevant when compared to The Deep Six. We play real golf here in Atlantis, Garrity, not patty-cake air-breathing glop-along. Your so-called Top 50 list? It’s just a silly fantasy. May the kelp be with you.

All the best—

Aquaman, Lord of Atlantis.

Despite his prickly and provocative outbursts, Aquaman has proven to be one of our most reliable raters. (He’s cheap, too. He works for sand dollars and the occasional package of Mrs. Paul’s Crunchy Fish Sticks.) He was way off-base, though, in thinking that we didn’t receive his original email. We were simply waiting for our underwater photogs to return to port with their catch of course photos.

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting. Look for a photo gallery in the near future.

Top 50 on TV: Speaking of underwater, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions is underway on the 34th-ranked Plantation Course (home of the Garrity Bunker) at Maui’s Kapalua Resort. Forty-mile-an-hour winds and heavy rain washed out Friday’s first round, but today’s forecast of 40-mph winds and heavy rain should be perfect for 36-holes of catchup golf. (The top-7 guys in the World Ranking passed on Kapalua. They must be kicking themselves right now.)

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Z Boaz Was One of “America’s Worst”

In my last post I promised that “tomorrow” I’d reprint a report on 11,237th-ranked Z Boaz Golf Course from my almost-best-seller of 1994, America’s Worst Golf Courses. By “tomorrow,” of course, I meant “next week.” I’ve spent much of that week searching Catch Basin for my file of Z Boaz photographs. When I find them — and after they’ve been digitally enhanced from the drab colors of the last century to glorious black-and-white — I’ll present them in gallery format. Meanwhile, here’s what America’s Worst Golf Courses had to say about Z Boaz:

“Riding on its reputation.”

 

That’s what you hear whenever Z Boaz shows up on the latest list of America’s worst courses. And it’s true — this vintage layout has suffered numerous improvements since its debut as a WPA project in 1937. The spindly trees have grown into impressive oaks; ponds and creeks have filled with water; once-faceless sand bunkers now yawn impressively. It’s a far cry from the hardpan heaven that earned Z Boaz the nickname “Goat Hills New.”

 

Richard Teague, the muni’s current assistant pro, looks out the clubhouse window and shakes his head over the changes. “When I played here, there wasn’t no trees,” he says. “Wasn’t no grass, either, for that matter.”

What Z Boaz has going for it is its legacy. In a memorable article in Sports Illustrated called “The Glory Game at Goat Hills,” writer Dan Jenkins recalled his student days at nearby Texas Christian University, where he and his band of rowdy, bet-happy ne’er-do-wells wasted their afternoons on the parched fairways of the old Worth Hills Golf Course.

 

Overtaken by development — not to mention good taste — Worth Hills went under the bulldozers some years ago, causing SI  to remark that “it was nice to learn that something could take a divot out of those hard fairways.” Z Boaz carries on the tradition as best it can. Every summer, Jenkins invites a touring pro and a bunch of lesser lights to Z Boaz for a one-day tournament, the Dan Jenkins Partnership & Goat Hills Glory Game Reprise. Although not as bleak as Worth Hills in its prime, Z Boaz still offers a pungent contrast to Fort Worth’s elegant Colonial Country Club, some miles away. No clipped hedges and high-dollar homes here — just a stark rectangle of Texas Hill country bounded by a railroad line and three busy streets.

 

The din of traffic, in fact, is an inescapable feature of golf at Z Boaz. The neighborhood is rich with furniture showcases and warehouses, most of which provide a pleasing backdrop to the golfer about to play a shot. Batting cages, miniature golf, and a life-size statue of a giraffe enhance the northern boundary, while empty storefronts and a karate school line the seventh fairway on the east side. And where, save for the finishing holes at Cypress Point, will the golfer find two more natural greensites than Z Boaz’s sixteenth (at the foot of the neon “Checks Cashed” sign) and seventeenth (hard against Long John Silver’s Seafood Shop)?

 

Surely, this is what Robert Louis Stevenson meant when he described Z Boaz as “the most beautiful meeting of land and transmission shops that nature has produced.”

Can such a course really be at death’s door? Will golfers no longer gather on the banks of the Firth of Camp Bowie to ponder its murky depths and weigh the risks of reaching for a muddy ball. Will dog owners and skate boarders defoliate the sacred sward?

Stay tuned for further updates.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but THE PLAYERS Championship has begun on Pete and Alice Dye’s 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra, Fla.   Described on a PGA Tour web site as “perhaps the world’s most famous golf course,” it is not. 

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Texas Course Threatened by Progress

“John, I’ve got some bad news.”

Dan Jenkins, waiting for his ride outside the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, couldn’t have looked more troubled. Which was surprising, since he had just been honored for being honored at the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual dinner.

The world’s greatest golf writer cut to the chase: “They’re closing Z Boaz.”

Witnesses say that I made some gaspy, guttural sounds and began swaying like a pine in a stout breeze. My Top 50 aide-de-camp clutched my elbow and offered to send someone for a ginger ale.

“No,” I said, regaining my composure. “But I’d like some grapes.”

My flunky hustled inside, leaving me to get the whole story from Dan. The Fort Worth City Council, he told me, had voted by a margin of 6-to-1 to close the scenic and 11,237th-ranked Z Boaz Golf Course in September and replace it with a 138-acre community park. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings,” Dan said, “but I know how you feel about Z Boaz.”

A month has passed, and I’m still reeling from the news. Z Boaz featured prominently in my 1994 almost-best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses: A Collection of Courses Not Up to Par. While not the worst course I’ve ever seen — that distinction still belongs to Florida’s Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course — Z Boaz is undoubtedly the worst course I’ve played multiple times to increasing levels of satisfaction and fondness. Z Boaz was the venue for the annual Dan Jenkins Partnership & Goat Hills Glory Game Reprise, a two-man scramble tournament for sandbaggers, golf writers, aging celebrities and down-on-their-luck PGA Tour pros from across the country.

“It’s all about the money,” Dan told me at the Masters. “Z Boaz is supposed to generate enough revenue to pay for itself, but usage has decreased from 46,873 golfers in 2000 to 21,844 in 2010. They say Z Boaz lost $234,000 last year.”*

*This may not be an actual quote by Dan, unless he was reading to me from an April 3 article by Bill Hanna in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

I’ve done a little research of my own since then, and I’ve found evidence that Z Boaz’s demise is being promoted by well-funded lobbyists for the dog-park and mountain-bike-trail movements. (See the Star-Telegram’s coverage of a public hearing, which states, “Other speakers advocated for a dog park at Z Boaz and the possible addition of mountain bike trails.”) Some park proponents have poisoned the debate by characterizing Z Boaz golfers as “profanity-spouting layabouts with coarse habits, showing minimal regard for taxpayer dollars” — as if that justifies shuttering an operation that has served its community for more than 80 years.

Am I going to take this lying down? Probably. I’ve reached the age where a thrice-daily nap is critical if I’m to operate at peak efficiency.

But I will not take this standing up! I hereby announce that John Garrity’s Top 50 Blog will join Hall of Fame golfer Kathy Whitworth and the ghosts of Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan in pleading for Z Boaz’s life. It’s not too late, Fort Worth City Council! It’s not too late!

(Tomorrow, I’ll reprint the Z Boaz chapter from America’s Worst Golf Courses. In the meantime, I invite my billionaire readers to consider a generous donation to the Save Z Boaz Foundation, if there is such a thing.)

Top 50 on TV: The PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship is being played at 32nd-ranked Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. The practice range at Quail Hollow ranks in every pro’s Top 5, as you’ll discover when you read my SI Golf Plus article from 2006, “7 Days on the Range.”

 

 

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Free-Lunch Reprise for Top 50 CEO

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As you probably have heard, I paid something less than a hundred grand last year to have the consulting firm, Mackinsay & Company, find ways to enhance reader satisfaction while cutting costs at our Kansas City headquarters. Mackinsay, after making certain that my check had cleared, recommended that I fire forty staffers at Catch Basin and plunder the pensions of those lucky enough to keep their jobs.*

*Having just re-read A Christmas Carol, I rejected Mackinsay’s advice and gave every employee a Christmas goose and a copy of my latest book, Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game & Beyond, available as an e-book on all iPads, Kindles and Nooks.

Highland Links, Cape Breton Island

Top 50 courses like Cape Breton Island's Highland Links (above) could suffer if consultant's advice is followed. (John Garrity)

Mackinsay’s second recommendation called for a de-emphasis of golf course reviews (“because they’re closing more courses than they’re building”) offset by a boost in tour coverage (“because pro golfers get a lot more air time than golf architects do”). This advice made more sense, but I pointed out that qualified golf writers, such as I used to be, are paid immensely more than the quasi-galley slaves who work in my basement computer room.

Mackinsay’s rejoinder: “You only paid for two recommendations. A third will cost you forty thousand.”

So now that Mackinsay is out of the picture, I’m wrestling with a decision: Should I spend more time at pro tournaments, trying to extract something quotable from sweaty guys who spend most of their days in the hot sun? Or should I spend most of my time in the hot sun, playing the world’s greatest golf courses on behalf of my readers?

To help with that decision, I’ve put on my old reporter’s hat — the fedora with the press pass sticking out of the band — and planted my laptop on a black-fabric-draped table in the media center at the Farmers Insurance Open. I’m working for my old employer, Sports Illustrated, but I’m also here for you, my Top 50 readers. If something pops into my head that I am not contractually or ethically obligated to share with SI, I promise to share it with you.

Fortunately, nothing like that has yet popped into my head. And since it’s been a long day, I think I’ll pack up and drive over to the Del Mar Driving Range for a sunset bucket of balls.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Phil Mickelson praised a couple of courses at his post-pro-am presser. “My favorite golf course out here is probably Hilton Head,” he said, referring to Pete Dye’s 51st-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links. “And I don’t even play there any more because it’s the week after the Masters.” Reminded that the U.S. Amateur was returning to 52nd-ranked Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Col., site of his 1990 Amateur triumph, Lefty said, “I loved that golf course. I thought it was spectacular. There is so much history there, from Palmer driving the green on 1, to Hogan backing up his wedge on 17 … you can’t help but feel it.”

Until prodded, Mickelson modestly left out his own contribution to Cherry Hills lore: his jaw-dropping concession of a 30-foot par putt on the first hole of his second-round match with perennial New Jersey amateur champ Jeff Thomas. “I’ll never forget the look that he gave me,” Mickelson recalled with a smile. “I ended up making a three- or four-foot birdie putt to win the hole.”

Those of us who were there remember that Mickelson minimized the length of his birdie try after the match, saying, “I wasn’t going to try to lag a two-footer. I thought it was a gimme.”

My contemporaneous account of Mickelson’s memorable week at Cherry Hills is in the SI Vault. Check it out.

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