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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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A Memo from Catch Basin

To Our Readers: Mr. Garrity has asked me to explain the recent paucity of posts on this site. “Tell my loyal fans to be patient,” he said, using a burner phone from an undisclosed site. “I’ll be back up to speed as soon as I finish the draft of TT2. In the meantime, send the Kansas City staff home and tell them to wait for further instructions.” He then muttered something that sounded like, “Nobody’s clawing their way into the middle class on my dime,” but he hung up before I could say anything.

Chantilly Aqua Range

The blooming azaleas of Augusta National are harbingers of spring and the Masters. (John Garrity)

TT2, by the way, is shorthand for Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond, the long-awaited sequel to Tour Tempo: Golf’s Last Secret Finally Revealed, now in its 11th printing. We here at Top 50 headquarters assume that Mr. Garrity is holed up somewhere with John Novosel, his Tour Tempo co-author. The new book will be released later this spring on an array of electronic platforms.

In the meantime, Mr. Garrity has secured an agreement from the top 200 courses that they will make no improvements and countenance no deterioration until he returns. That way, the rankings will not be affected.

“If you can find a generic golf course photo, post it,” he said in the call. “Slap a caption on it. Something to do with Augusta National would be good, the Masters is coming up.”

Thank you for your understanding.

Ethan Mobely, v.p. customer relations/outsourcing

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Red Sox Fan Begs to Differ

Wayne Mills writes, “I just came across your blog after reading your GOLF Magazine piece on Fazio/golf architecture. After reading your take on course ratings (I’m a Golfweek rater), I thought I would endeavor to enlighten you about New England’s great golf courses.”

Wayne goes on to list his personal Top 10 New England courses, and I thank him for that. I’ll even concede that his rankings have merit. But I want to make a couple of points before presenting his choices.

Point 1: Wayne admits that he’s a Golfweek rater — i.e., he is a lavishly-compensated minion working for a rival course-ranking outfit.

Point 2: Wayne has, in all likelihood, visited most of the golf courses in his Top 10. (Familiarity with a venue does not disqualify a course rater, but neither can we ignore the obvious temptation to give high scores to a country club or resort that has fed, clothed, and possibly even bathed the critic.) I, on the other hand, have never even heard of the 9-hole Tatnuck Country Club of Worcester, Mass., which is currently T-53 on my list.

Point 3: Wayne won’t reveal where he lives. (I’m sending the longitudes and latitudes of his Top 10 to my Cal Sci consultant, Charles Eppes, but simple triangulation suggests that Wayne lives in Boston’s elegant Beacon Hill neighborhood, probably on Bowdoin Street. And he drives an Escalade.)

That aside, here are Wayne’s choices for Feast of the East, along with his snarky comments:

The Country Club (Not top 50??? Please, the place is a museum and a cathedral.)

Newport CC (Ever been?)

Kittansett (Oceanfront as good as any.)

Wannamoisett (Ross at his best.)

The Orchards in W Mass (A classic Ross.)

Taconic at Williams College (An unbelievably good golf course in a bucolic setting.)

Eastward Ho on Cape Cod (Herbert Fowler’s greatest. Classic golf in a glorious waterfront setting.)

Crumpin Fox (Roger Rulewich’s masterpiece.)

Country Club of Vermont (A modern classic in the Green Mountains.)

10  Belgrade Lakes (Ten times the course that The Ledges is.)

“And many more,” he writes, before parting with a venomous, “Let me know if you ever get up this way and I’ll show you.” [My emphasis.]

Nice try, Wayne. I’ll visit Boston again when Paul Revere rides out on his horse to say it’s safe.


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Where’s the Post-Panic Golf Boom?

I’m not often wrong, but I definitely misread this Great Recession thing. “Hot damn!” I told my golf-architect pals last winter. “You’ll be up to your armpits in federal funds! You’ll go down in history for Pinehurst No. 12, Pebble Beach New and Bethpage Mauve!” I even advised one of my designer friends, Bill Amick, to invite New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to Tavern on the Green to discuss a new muni in Central Park. I told Bill, “You could call it The Links at Strawberry Fields!”

My mistake was in assuming that our current financial crisis would lead to a national consensus on stimulus spending and jobs programs. The Great Depression, remember, was good for golf. New Deal programs such as the WPA and CWA spent millions of dollars on ball fields, boat ramps, hiking trails and golf courses, which allowed taxpayer money to trickle down to the likes of legendary golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, who used it to build classic public courses like Long Island’s Bethpage Black (site of the 20002 and 2009 U. S. Opens) and Kansas City’s Swope Memorial (host to the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship).*

*For a thorough exploration of the New Deal golf boom, read Jeff Silverman’s terrific article, “Going Public,” in the June 15, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated Golf Plus.

This time, however, a perfectly good Financial Panic will be wasted. The wimpy $787 billion stimulus package that Congress passed last year explicitly ruled out funding for “basketball courts, tanning salons, swimming pools, wineries, bordellos, puppy mills, sweat shops, cockfight arenas, sidewalks or paved areas within 400 yards of Keith Olbermann, and golf facilities.” Golf, in other words, will not be allowed to benefit from 10% unemployment and trillion-dollar deficits.

I raised this sorry state of affairs a few months ago in North Carolina during my six-courses-in-one-day golf outing with famed golf architect Tom Fazio. “Politically, it’s a different deal,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “You and I would like for this country to be like Ireland and Scotland, where every community has its own golf course. But there’s a lot of people who don’t play golf, and they don’t want that. And they don’t want an art studio, either. They want jobs for the industry that they’re in, or they want ‘economic development.’”

Tom, while searching his bag in vain for a driver that would hit the ball 290 yards with a two-yard draw, came up with an even better reason for our lawmakers’ indifference to golf course development: “The difference between now and the thirties, if you think about it, is we have enough golf courses out there.”

Enough courses? We have sixteen thousand of them, actually, in the U.S. alone. A non-golfer might argue that we have more than enough, given the fact that courses are going out of business, declaring bankruptcy or otherwise giving every indication that they might better serve their communities as dog parks or frisbee fields.*

*I would argue that we suffer from a golf-course shortage. That will become apparent in the spring, when the millions of golfers who normally stay home on weekends to watch Tiger Woods rush, en masse, to the links.

If a municipality really wants a golf course, Tom went on, it can acquire one for far less than it costs to build one. “But where are they going to get the money from? You look at every state and municipal budget — they’re broke! And if they’re not broke, they won’t spend on recreation. They’re shutting down recreation.”

The upside, Tom admitted, is that he can now play golf almost any day of the week. Which is easy to do, since Tom’s winter office in Tequesta, Fla., is right across the highway from the Jupiter Hills Club (No. 10), designed by his tour-player uncle, George Fazio.

For more of Tom Fazio on the plight of the golf industry, check out my feature, “Back to the Drawing Board,” in the February 2010 issue of GOLF Magazine. Or simply click here, saving yourself a few bucks and pushing my former employers that much closer to insolvency.

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