Turnberry View Purchase Hits a Snag

Our campaign to buy and restore Scotland’s Ailsa Craig got off to a brilliant start with a thousand-dollar pledge from the American lawyer and football coach, John Mullen. I was confident that an even bigger endowment would be coming from the R&A after I received an enthusiastic bordering on chauvinistic email from David Hill, the R&A’s recently-retired championships director. But now Hill seems to be experiencing buyer’s remorse. He writes:

As much as I would love 1.) to be retired and, 2.) be the former director of championships for the R&A, [my] comment was not from THAT David Hill. I don’t want you to get an earful from the distinguished Mr. Hill on your next journey across the pond …. I’m just your average American 12 handicapper of Scottish heritage that has a passion for golf and happens to write a golf diary blog, 1beardedgolfer.

Anybody who has directed a capital campaign or served as auctioneer at a school fundraiser is familiar with this dodge. I didn’t raise my hand! … It’s a forgery! … I have an evil twin!  And now, repackaged for modern times: Somebody hacked my account!

Experience has taught me to handle these little dustups with tact and magnanimity, so I am publicly releasing Mr. Hill from his pledge of half-a-million British pounds, or whatever amount it was that he forgot to specify in his impulsive bestowal. I’m sure that other active R&Aers (if that is not an oxymoron) will promptly make up the difference. Ailsa Craig, after all, is a British rock.*

*Note to self: Check DVR for concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Looking for cheaper thrills? They’ll be here soon in the form of a new edition of Tom Doak’s The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Doak’s original book, published 15 years ago and now selling for more than $250 a copy, featured his feverish reviews of the world’s best-known layouts, some of which provoked outrage from established course architects. Now that he is an acclaimed designer in his own right (22nd-ranked Old Macdonald, 48th-ranked Streamsong Blue and four other top-100 tracks), Doak has enlisted three co-authors for his update, which will appear in five volumes, starting with “Great Britain and Ireland.”

To whet our appetites, a recent Doak newsletter offered up several “Best of 2013” lists that seem to endorse the Top 50’s more-scientific ranking. For instance, fifth-ranked Castle Stuart Golf Links placed second and 32nd-ranked Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club placed third on Doak’s “Top Ten Discoveries of 2013,” otherwise described as “Best courses I saw for the first time.” Similarly, Doak reveals himself to being a step behind Garrity when he picks the par-4 third at Castle Stuart and the par-5 fifth on No. 1 Carne’s new Kilmore nine among his “Best Golf Holes Discovered in 2013.”

In fairness to Doak, no lone actor can hope to match the Top 50’s resources. And if you believe that, I’ve got an island in the Firth of Clyde to sell you.

Kilmore Links at Carne

Carne’s Kilmore links: Would a better name be Steroidal Dunes? (Larry Lambrecht)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week — sorry, 51st-ranked Riviera Country Club — but Links Magazine’s Thomas Dunne has written a compelling review of the above-mentioned Kilmore nine at top-ranked Carne. “It’s a certain kind of golfer who is attracted to big-dunes links courses,” Dunne begins, no doubt thinking of me. “They’re hardy and fun-loving, more accepting of quirky design, and, perhaps, a bit more interested in pulling off heroic shots than strictly adhering to a card-and-pencil mentality.” He goes on to correctly describe Carne as the “Big Daddy” of big-dunes courses and the Kilmore as “an array of memorable holes within the grand and chaotic dunes. My favorite is the mid-length par-four 8th, where the green complex seems to rise from the valley floor like a primitive dagger.”

As the Kilmore beds down into its natural surroundings, it remains to be seen how the club will deploy the new nine. A composite routing in which [the Jim Engh/Ally McIntosh] holes are folded into Hackett’s back nine is one compelling possibility, as this combination would produce one of the most thrilling big-dune experiences in the game. However, Hackett’s front side, while set in more modest terrain (relatively speaking — it’s still Carne!), might out-punch the original back nine purely on the merits of their respective holes. The ideal solution, of course, is simply to play all 27.

Click here for the rest of Dunne’s essay. And click here to book a round at Carne. (Full disclosure: I am an honorary lifetime member, but I receive no commission for referrals.)

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Can Turnberry’s View Be Saved?

The Top 50‘s readers seem to be unevenly incensed over the news that Scotland’s Ailsa Craig has been plundered to provide curling stones for Olympic athletes. “It’s disheartening to think my ancient kinsmen have chosen to support the second most Scottish game at the expense of one of the treasures of the first,” writes David Hill, the recently-retired director of championships for the R&A. “No, it’s heartening,” writes Hebridean Curling Society secretary Angus Macmurray, “to think my ancient kinsmen have chosen to support the second most Scottish game at the expense of one of the treasures of the first.”

Ailsa Crag

This rock, far bigger than the Hope Diamond, can be had for far less. (John Garrity)

Since a blog is only as good as the outrage it inspires, I take this as a sign that something must be done, right now, to preserve Ailsa Craig for future generations. The way forward is hinted at by John Burns in his Pulitzer Prize-worthy coverage for The New York Times:

… the modest income from the quarrying of the island’s prized strains of blue hone and common green and a lease granted to Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have taxed the dwindling resources of its owner, the eighth Marquess of Ailsa, whose family has owned the island for 500 years.

Like many of Britain’s old landowning families, the marquess’s family has been through decades of retrenchment as a result of inheritance taxes. It lost the family seat, Culzean Castle, to the National Trust in 1945, and in 2010 the current marquess decided to part with Ailsa Craig, posting an initial price of $4 million. That figure was later cut to $2.4 million, and as the waters of the Firth of Clyde have lapped at Ailsa Craig’s rocky shore each day, little has changed in the intervening years. The island remains misty, monumental and for sale.

My first impulse, upon reading this, was to simply write a check for $2.4 million, take possession of the island and begin a thorough rehab of its iconic profile. But my very wise wife pointed out that this is the sort of stunt that one-percenters like myself are given to, and my generosity might be misconstrued. So I have decided instead to grant the privilege of preserving third-ranked Turnberry’s view to my readers — a.k.a. “The American golfer.” Send me your donations, large or small, and I will hold them in an interest-bearing account until we meet the $2.4 million asking price. I will then purchase the island on behalf of the Top 50 Charitable Trust, assuming the purely honorific title of “first Marquess of Catch Basin” along with the necessary powers of attorney to carry out the restoration.

By “restoration,” of course, I mean restoration of the island to its pre-Sochi profile, which will require the repatriation of some two thousand tons of microgranite. I expect the five-star Turnberry Resort to underwrite this aspect of the project, it being in that Open Championship venue’s interest to preserve one of golf’s most iconic views. But if Turnberry or the R&A should fail to step up, we can follow the example of London Bridge, which was dismantled in 1967 and moved to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., as part of a real-estate deal. My personal choice would be to dismantle Ailsa Craig and reassemble it in the Flint Hills of Kansas, just west of fourth-ranked Prairie Dunes Country Club. This would be good for two reasons. 1) Prairie Dunes, with its view enhanced, would pass Turnberry in the ranking. (I love both courses, but hey, I live in Kansas City.) 2) There are very few Olympic curlers in Kansas.

Please make your checks payable to John Garrity.

Top 50 on TV: Ninth-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links hosts the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Pebble recently gained nearly a tenth of a point in the ranking, probably because of its new driving range and golf academy, which occupy a large plot of land above the Peter Hay Par-3 Course. Unfortunately, I had to deduct .032 points yesterday afternoon when I saw that the admittedly gorgeous tee line faces directly into the setting sun. (Range rats prefer north-facing ranges, except in the Southern Hemisphere; that’s because water below the equator circles the drain in the opposite direction.) Needless to say, all of the Monterey Peninsula courses would benefit from the addition of an offshore island, if one could be had for a fair price.

Pebble Beach driving range

The new range at Pebble Beach is a major upgrade for the venerable resort. (John Garrity)

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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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Golf on Hold at Top 50 Headquarters

“What’s your favorite form of holiday precipitation?” asks a reader from Carthage, Mo.

69th Street, KCMO

Weather slows, but never stops, the essential work at Catch Basin. (John Garrity)

Unsure how to reply, I sent the question to the basement data center at Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters. Within the hour, the following ranking appeared on my first-generation (camera-less) iPad:

1) Freezing drizzle, freezing rain, freezing fog, surface condensation (tie), 10.31

2) Snow (fresh), 10.46

3) Snow (partially melted — i.e., slush), 9.28

4) Sleet, 9.10

5) Rain, 11.13

6) Hail, 8.19

On reflection, I think this ranking fairly captures my sentiments regarding the wet stuff. I favor “quiet” precipitation, for obvious reasons.*

*As a writer, I do my best work when there are no distractions, and the sound of car tires crunching through curbside slush certainly counts as a distraction. My avocation as a cocktail pianist also suffers from storms, particularly when hail starts clanging off the music-room skylights during one of my nine-hour practice sessions.

To be sure, the silent forms become an annoyance when vehicles start sliding off the frontage road and piling up at the bottom of the berm. But I own a fleet of radio-dispatched tow trucks, so even the “worst” weather has its compensations. (As I write this, a matte-finish glaze is silently accumulating on the surrounding pavements. For a few hours, at least, we needn’t worry about Jehovah’s Witnesses or band-candy grifters.)

Precipitation in any form is currently welcome, as I recently spent eight days in the Arizona desert — an ordeal that left me with cracked and bleeding lips and mismatched hands, one deeply tanned, the other jarringly pale. I will report on this five-course cactus banquet in my next post, which I have scheduled for Christmas Eve (for maximum impact).

Chuck Garbedian

TMGC runner-up Chuck Garbedian chronicles his own greatness on The Gallery’s 51st-ranked North Course, a John Fought/Tom Lehman design. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Chuck Garbedian, the Top 50’s morning-radio coordinator and Wisconsin station chief, scored an impressive second-place at the Tucson Media Golf Classic. Two-time TMC champ and TMC Hall of Famer Gary Van Sickle failed to place this year, but Sports Illustrated’s senior writer got high marks for his on-stage interview with former PGA Tour star and Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay, who was in Tucson for the grand opening of his Sewailo Golf Club, co-designed with Ty Butler. The new track, a desert-golf anomaly with wide fairways and a plethora of water features, debuts at No. 51.

Sewailo Golf Club

The 17th hole at the new Sewailo Golf Club at Tucson’s Casino Del Sol Resort. (John Garrity)

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Van Sickle Ties Swing Guru En Route to Second Shivas Invitational Title

A reader in Texas wants to know if the Top 50 blog has morphed into a stable of tournament golfers. “You hardly ever write up a new golf course or devote more than a few lines to a classic layout,” he writes, “but every time I pick up the paper I read about some Top 50 staffer winning the Masters or something. What are you doing in your underground complex at Catch Basin — cloning tour players?”

Philadelphia Cricket Club

The former U.S. Open venue doubles as an outdoor wedding chapel. (John Garrity)

The reader exaggerates. No one on our payroll has yet managed to win a major, and I can’t think of anyone at our Kansas City headquarters who could beat Tiger Woods straight up. But I can see how a Texan might overestimate our tournament success, given the near-constant media drumbeat for our best players.

Just this past weekend, for instance, career-amateur Gary Van Sickle won the 24th Shivas Invitational on the 50th-ranked St. Martin’s Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Van Sickle, our executive vice-president and chief course rater, shot a first-and-final-round 69 on the surviving nine at St. Martin’s, a two-time U.S. Open venue, matching former PGA Tour player and $300-per-hour swing coach Dewey Arnette.* It was Van Sickle’s second Shivas title in as many tries, and it won him another brass plate on the hard-to-ship Shivas Trophy.

*Tournament chairman Michael Bamberger ruled that Arnette was “co-champion” on a technicality — the technicality being that he shot the same score as Van Sickle.

Van Sickle’s latest win (along with my own top-20 finish at the Shivas) caps a string of Top 50 playing triumphs, including a couple of high-dollar victories (West Penn Open, Frank Fuhrer Invitational) and a tournament-best 66 at the New England Open by our social-networking coordinator, Mike Van Sickle, who has already qualified for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Nevertheless, the Top 50 rates courses, not players. Philly Cricket has two other tracks — the 37th-ranked Wissahickon Course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast (currently being renovated by Keith Foster and Dan Meersman) and the upstart Militia Hill Course, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — but it’s the Chestnut Hill track, behind the PCC’s cricket pitch and sprawling red-brick clubhouse, that hosted the 1907 and 1910 Opens, won by Alec Ross and Alex Smith, respectively. (Ross’s brother Donald designed an eye-opening seven courses in the current Top 50, including Royal Dornoch, Seminole and Hillcrest.) And here’s a great bit of trivia from Sal Johnson’s book, The Official U.S. Open Almanac:

Entering the 13th hole of the final round [in 1907], A.W. Tillinghast was the low amateur in the field. At that moment, however, , he was overcome by the heat, forcing him to withdraw …. Tillinghast, of course, went on to become one of America’s finest course designers. Some of his famous courses, like Baltusrol and Winged Foot [plus Bethpage Black and Swope Memorial] have been tapped by the USGA as sites for its championships.

“Philadelphia Cricket Club,” Johnson points out in his 1910 notes, “was the first host club to allow the professionals into the clubhouse and to give them locker room privileges.”

These days, the top pros tend not to congregate in the Chestnut Hill shower room. But it’s not because they’re not welcome; it’s more a case of the St. Martin’s layout no longer being U.S. Open compliant, in that nine holes have gone missing. The Shivas Invitational turned this into a virtue by formatting the competition as two nine-hole rounds, the first played from the forward tees to front hole locations with a maximum of four clubs, none longer than 39.5 inches. (The winner of this first lap was Simon & Schuster editor Jofi Ferrari-Adler, who shot a stunning four-under-par 31 with a 3-iron as his biggest stick.) The second nine, played from the back tees to back hole locations, was a conventional 14-club competition.

The playing conditions, it must be said, were superb, it being one of those rare autumn days when shirtsleeve temperatures and abundant sunshine amplify the glory of fall foliage at its colorful peak. The greens were slick and maddeningly-hard to read, corrupting the scorecards of a celebrity-laden field that included Top 50 course-designer Gil Hanse (fifth-ranked Castle Stuart and the incipient Olympics Course in Rio de Janeiro); head professionals Scott Nye (18th-ranked Merion GC, site of the most-recent U.S. Open) and Graeme Lennie (33rd-ranked Balcomie Links); and award-winning actor Richard Kind (Spin City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife).*

*Unable to perform due to injury — but diligent in their roles as cart-companions and spectators — were Drama-Desk- and Obie-award-winning actor David Morse (Treme, The Negotiator, John Adams) and legendary links writer and author James W. Finegan (Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas).

Tournament play concluded on the ninth green at 4:58 p.m.. At five, a wedding ceremony began between the green and the starter’s shed. That’s so Philadelphia.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour continues it’s inaugural head-start season with the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Ga. At 7,055 yards, the par-70 layout has a robust 141 slope rating and a designer line that starts with Harry Colt and C.H. Alison (original nine), runs through Joe Lee (Marshside nine) and culminates with Tom Fazio, who directed a 1999 revision. The Seaside Course, aping Merion, uses red wicker baskets instead of hole flags, the difference being that Seaside is public and Merion not so much.

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Links Mag Ranking of Golf Resorts Lacks a Certain Precision

“Have you seen the Fall issue of LINKS?” asks a reader from Arrow Rock, Mo. “They’ve got a Top 25 list of the world’s best golf resorts, and their list is alphabetical. What do you think of that?”

Cordevalle golf

California’s Cordevalle Resort will need more than roses and an RTJ Jr. golf course to climb in the Links Magazine ranking. (John Garrity)

Here’s what I think of that: It’s dumb. You can’t have a top-25 list with a 26-letter alphabet. That’s unfair to Zoute, Belgium, home of the Harry S. Colt-designed Royal Zoute Golf Club, and even more unfair to China’s Zhuhai Golden Gulf Golf Club, which features 27 holes designed by Colin Montgomerie. It would have been better for Links to use the 18-letter Hawaiian alphabet — especially since their list includes two Four Seasons Resorts (Hualalai and Lanai at Manele Bay), the Ritz Carlton Kapalua Resort and the St. Regis Princeville Resort.

Actually, closer examination reveals that their alphabetical list is simply a presentation device, not an actual ranking. And they’ve left themselves plenty of wiggle room by playing around with the resort names. The Resort at Pelican Hill rightly follows Pebble Beach and Pinehurst on the Links list, but had they shortened the name of the luxe Newport Beach, Calif., hideaway to “Pelican Hill,” it would have overtaken Pinehurst, alphabetically speaking.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, I sent the Links resort rankings downstairs to Owen Upshot, our director of opposition research. Owen worked on it for a couple of days and came up with a true alphabetical ranking of the resorts, based solely on the hard data supplied in Brian McCallen’s supporting article. Here are the results:

1. The letter “F” (Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge; Fancourt South; Four Seasons Resort Hualalai; Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay; Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita) 5.00

2. The letter “R” (Resort at Pelican Hill; Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain; Ritz-Carlton Kapalua) 4.00

3. The letter “B” (Bandon Dunes Golf Resort; The Boulders Resort; The Broadmoor) 3.00

T4. The letter “G” (The Greenbriar; The Gleneagles Hotel) 2.00

T4 The letter “I” (Inn at Palmetto Bluff; International Casa de Campo) 2.00

T4. The letter “P” (Pebble Beach Resorts; Pinehurst Resort) 2.00

T4. The letter “S” (Sea Island Resort; St. Regis Princeville) 2.00

T8. The letters “A,” “K,” “L,” “O,” “T,” and “W” (The American Club Resort; Kiawah Island Golf Resort; The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs; One & Only Palmilla; Turnberry Resort; Wynn Las Vegas) 1.00

That leaves 13 letters on the outside looking in. (Are you reading this, Mauna Lani? Are you planting another rank of rose bushes, Cordevalle? Are you happy, Homestead?) Or if they aren’t looking in, they must at least be considering name changes. How about The Fabulous Nemacolin Woodlands Resort? Or The Renowned Eseeola Lodge at Linville Golf Club.

Meanwhile, The Top 50’s inaugural ranking of golf resorts is in development here at Catch Basin. I can’t give you a date for its release — there’s been an unexpected glitch in the Bomar Brain’s addition software — but I promise you this: There will be no alphabetical ranking or similar cop-out. Our ranking will be precise to the fourth decimal point.

Hillcrest No. 2

Missouri’s only Donald Ross course brightens up every fall. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but congratulations to 42nd-ranked Hillcrest Country Club on last week’s member/guest tournament. The celebrity-laden field included former NFL Pro-Bowl receiver Carlos Carson and our own Atlantic Coast Ratings Coordinator, Dave Henson. Seeing Hillcrest’s rising and plunging fairways for the first time, the perspicacious Henson said, “I can see why they call it Hillcrest.”

That’s why we pay him the big bucks.

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Minnesota Doctor Questions Our Picks

Thoughtful readers of this blog sometimes submit their own, personal golf course rankings, which — while not scientific — provide some perspective on my more authoritative list. Here’s a recent submission from Minnesota’s Dr. Mark Mammel:

John: Just perusing your top 50 list after reading your commentary on the recent Askernish Open.  Lists are always fun, and, of course, debatable.  Just for bona fides, I’ve played 21 of the 50; I’ve been a member at Royal Dornoch for 20 years; I grew up in Hutchinson, KS, and took my first golf lessons from Ross Wilson, long-time pro at my first “home” course, Prairie Dunes; and I love- LOVE- Askernish. So I hope you’ll just give my comments a thought before clicking “delete”.

First, Castle Stuart above Royal Dornoch? Seriously, that’s just not on.  I played at CS the year it opened and a couple of times since. Lovely clubhouse, nice folks, overpriced, so-so turf, and if a part of the rating is the story the walk tells — well, heading out from the first tee at Dornoch is Dickens. Castle Stuart is Barbara Taylor Bradford. Please rethink this one!

As a Minnesota boy, I’ve payed New Richmond a number of times.  While perfectly OK, it’s not great, and I don’t see how it made the cut.  Interlachen rests on its laurels — or should I say lily pads? When the Donald Ross Society paid a visit to the area, they played at Minikahda, Woodhill, White Bear Yacht Club and Northland. I was the local tour guide, and when I suggested adding Interlachen, the Society’s leaders felt it to be a poor representation of Ross that, due to trees and change, deserved a pass.

Which leads me to a serious question: how is it possible that the White Bear Yacht Club isn’t on this list?  A Willie Watson/Donald Ross design, it’s quirky, the greens are wild and wonderful, and it is a great walk (perhaps Jules Verne). Tom Doak rates it the best in Minnesota and Jim Urbina thinks it’s one of the best anywhere. If your raters haven’t seen it, I am the local historian and current golf chair. Love to welcome you anytime! Similarly, Northland in Duluth is also a real treat and might make the cut. Finally, you rank Monterey Peninsula CC at 46 — which course, Dunes or Shore?

I salute you as a fellow obsessive. Enjoy your travels and play away please.

Mark

Lavatory view from men's loo.

Castle Stuart’s 9th green, as seen from the clubhouse lav. (John Garrity)

Dr. Mammel is an astute observer, and he certainly knows his golf grounds. It’s possible, though, that he doesn’t have hundreds of course raters at his disposal. It’s even more likely that he hasn’t played his favorite courses in ALL conditions, which we strive to do. Castle Stuart, for instance, may not at first glance be better than wonderful Royal Dornoch, which has stood the test of time. However, his dismissive “lovely clubhouse” ignores the fact that Castle Stuart has the best lavatory/shower views in golf (see photo). Furthermore, I have found Castle Stuart to be playable — even fun! — in 60-mph winds, while Dornoch ceases to be amusing at 35-plus.

As for the great-walk factor, I have to point out that while Charles Dickens may be the best-selling novelist of all time, we don’t use 19th-century sales figures at Catch Basin. Barbara Taylor Bradford beats Dickens like a drum in this century; she’s sold close to 100 million books worldwide, and her first novel, A Woman of Substance, is one of the top-ten best sellers of all time. Furthermore, she’s the 31st wealthiest woman in Britain, while Dickens is … dead. Have I read any of Bradford’s books? No, but why would I? I’m busy rating golf courses.*

*Jules Verne, by the way, didn’t put much store in walks, great or otherwise. He was more into submarines and moon rockets.

New Richmond golf

New Richmond not worthy? Augusta National would kill for tulips like these. (John Garrity)

The high ratings for New Richmond and Interlachen make sense to anyone who has read my near-best-seller, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations. Coincidentally, my maternal grandfather, although a cad, was an Interlachen member, and my dad witnessed Bobby Jones’s famous lily-pad shot. Also, my dad helped construct the original New Richmond nine, a sand-greens layout.

As for 51st-ranked White Bear Yacht Club, I can only say that it won’t take much to boost it into the Top 50. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that White Bear will make the grade if I accept the good doctor’s offer of a free round. (That is the offer, isn’t it?)

Finally, Dr. Mammel asks which of Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s layouts is ranked 46th — the Dunes or the Shore? To which I reply: Does it matter? Beautiful views, either way.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, as the FedEx Cup Playoffs take a week off to blunt fan interest. However, the battle for “higher status” on the post-Q-School PGA Tour will certainly make the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic must-see TV.

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Hudson Tops International Field at Askernish Open

It is a sign of the times that neither Golf World, Golfweek nor Golf Channel covered last week’s Askernish Open. I, of course, covered it for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, having left the Solheim Cup in Colorado as soon as the European ladies’ victory there was certain.* I even took the extraordinary step of imbedding myself in Saturday’s stroke-play competition at top-ranked Askernish Old, a tactic which gained me a top-100 finish and an automatic exemption for 2014. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my editors that I was going to Scotland, so there was no room in the magazine or on the Web for my game story, which was, in any case, accidentally deleted when I mistook my iPhone for the Bomar Brain.

Deal Hudson

Hudson was the “real Deal” at Askernish, right down to his hickory-shafted putter. (John Garrity)

*For me, that moment came on Saturday afternoon when America’s Michelle Wie celebrated like it was VJ day upon making a putt and then ran uphill to the next tee before Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall could answer with a putt of her own to halve the hole. 

Fortunately, Europe’s golf writers know how to find the Western Isles. Here’s a taste of John Gillies’s coverage from the August 29 Stornoway Gazette:

Once again, last weekend, a truly international field of close to 150 golfers contested the Askernish Open. The sun shone and, naturally, the wind blew and the course lived up to its reputation as a supreme test of skill. Brutal rough punished every wayward shot. The terrifying beauty of the eleventh green, perched on the edge of the ocean framed by the hills of Barra, did little to calm golfers trying to shape a 200-yard tee shot into the wind across a deep gully. But no one who stood there would have wished to be anywhere else. This is no ordinary golf course. For John Garrity, who has reviewed the most famous courses on the planet, “there is no greater golfing experience than what we have here.” The course has consistently topped his list of the world’s greatest golf courses and, as John confirmed at the Open prize-giving, while it may occasionally share the top spot with another challenger, Askernish will never be surpassed.

Golfers on Askernish No. 16

Splendid weather turned the 16th, “Old Tom’s Pulpit,” into a tanning station. (John Garrity)

Gillies graciously hinted at the Top 50’s involvement with Old Tom Morris’s renowned “ghost course.” I was, in fact, made “captain for a day” and tasked with opening the Open by striking the ceremonial first shot with a hickory-shafted cleek. This antique club, I hasten to point out, was about as long as a conductor’s baton and had a rusted head no bigger than a commemorative stamp. Ralph Thompson, recently retired as Askernish’s chairman, tried to ice me by saying that “no captain so far has actually botched the shot,” but I took no more than sixty seconds to experiment with various stances and tee heights before smacking a ball that whistled off the elevated first tee and reached a height of ten or twelve feet before landing with a satisfying thud in the first cut of rough, a foot short of the fairway.

Gillies’ description of my cleek shot was apparently cut by his editors, but he appropriately recognised some of the better Hebridean golfers:

David Black took three putts on each of the last two greens to miss out on victory by one stroke. A win would have meant a clean sweep of the championship events in the Western Isles this year but, instead, like many of the prizes at Askernish, the Open Championship title went overseas. There were local winners: Jane Nicolson once again took home the Ladies Championship Trophy with a performance that had her head and shoulders above the competition, and Danny Steele from South Uist won the Handicap Trophy.

Iron shot at Askernish Open

Beer-fueled golfers were happy to water the roughs at Askernish Old. (John Garrity)

To sum up, the 2013 Askernish Open champion, with a score of 79, was pipe-smoking life member Deal W. Hudson of Fairfax, Va., who played in a dress shirt, tie and plus-fours. Second place, as reported above, went to Stornoway’s David Black, who shot 80. In third, also at 80, was Askernish co-designer Martin Ebert, whose second club is the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Fourth prize went to U.S. Army Reserve Major General Wayne Brock, who carded an 81.

Askernish Open scores, by the way, are not the equivalent of conventional scores turned in for handicap purposes. The summer rough at Askernish is so deep and pervasive that virtually any ball hit off the fairway is lost. To keep play moving, a local rule allows golfers to take a penalty stroke and drop a replacement ball in the fairway. This inflates scores, but it boosts the sale of 18-ball zip bags of “American Lake Balls” sold in the Askernish golf shop.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs open with the Deutsche Bank Championship at 128th-ranked TPC of Boston in Norton, Mass. Phil Mickelson opened with a first-round 63, which is equivalent to an Askernish summer score of 69.

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Irish, Scottish Links Contend for No. 1 at Fabled Askernish Open

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.”

Searching for balls

Askernish golfers could find more than lost balls in its world-class rough. (John Garrity)

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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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