Tag Archives: Ailsa Craig

Turnberry Deal Risky for Trump

Nothing catches the Top 50 by surprise, so we did little more than spray a mouthful of hot cocoa when we read that Donald Trump has bought third-ranked Turnberry Resort of Ayrshire, Scotland. On the advice of counsel we quickly snapped up some tee times on Turnberry’s famed Ailsa Course, hoping to get in a few rounds before The Donald installs his waterfalls and concrete cart paths. Otherwise, we’ve gone about our business, rating golf courses with scientific rigor and unshakable integrity.

But in the sub-basement of Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters, the excitement is palpable. We’ve fired all the cubicle cuties who handled consumer complaints and replaced them with a corps of hard-edged, Wall Street bond salesmen. These guys, veterans of various pump-and-dump schemes and penny-stock swindles, are already making cold calls to avid core golfers.

Why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Trump — a so-called “business genius” who now owns and operates 17 golf properties — has made the worst decision of his storied career. He has acquired Turnberry’s elegant cliff-top hotel, it’s true, and he now owns the resort’s three golf courses, including the incomparable Open Championship links that hosted 1977’s legendary “Duel in the Sun.” But he didn’t buy Ailsa Craig, the muffin-shaped island that dominates the view from the Turnberry lighthouse.

Trump’s tailor, if he’s sharp, is already embroidering the word “SUCKER” on the lapels of The Donald’s tux.

Turnberry Resort

The Turnberry Resort before its purchase by Donald Trump. Miguel Angel Jimenez and his caddie were not part of the deal. (John Garrity)

If you’re a loyal reader of this post, you know that my Top 50 Charitable Trust plans to purchase Ailsa Craig with funds donated by loyal readers of this post. The eighth Marquess of Ailsa has priced the iconic rock at $2.4 million, which is more than reasonable when you consider that the island is the exclusive source of microgranite for Olympic-class curling stones. Imagine its worth if some genius entrepreneur — not Trump! — captures the international market for game-improvement curling stones.

It was not profit, however, but a desire to preserve the view from Turnberry and protect a hunk of Scottish heritage that motivated our fund-raising drive. But now, with Trump in control of the relevant strip of Ayrshire coastline, we see a greater opportunity. As owners of Ailsa Craig, we will point out to Trump how our property enhances the value of his property and, with that in mind, mention how the perceived value of his Open venue might decline if someone were to erect a giant curtain around the island,* spoiling the view. Knowing how much the Donald detests environmental degradation — proved by his opposition to an offshore wind farm near 51st-ranked Trump International Golf Links of Aberdeenshire — we’re sure he’ll embrace an annual fee of a million bucks for viewing rights to Ailsa Craig. Or, if he’s so inclined, he can buy the island from us at a modest markup — say, $20 million?

*Recognizing that it would be costly to erect an actual fabric curtain around a 1,100-foot-tall island, we envision a World War II-style smoke screen laid down by speedy patrol boats. On many days, of course, the Scottish weather renders the island invisible at no additional cost.

We still have some work to do. As of 5 p.m. Thursday we’re roughly $2.399 million shy of our goal. That’s why it’s so important that you answer your phone, even when the screen says “No Caller I.D.” It could be one of our boiler-room boys, calling to get your pledge to our TRUMP TRUMP FOR THE GOOD OF SCOTLAND campaign.

And remember: No contribution is too small.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship is winding up at the 51st-ranked Quail Hollow Club, site of the 2017 PGA Championship. Quail Hollow’s Tom Fazio course, recently renovated by Tom Fazio, has long been a personal favorite, although I have never had the pleasure of playing it. Next week’s venue, 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass, has never been a personal favorite, but I have had the pleasure of playing it. Coincidence?


Filed under golf

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.)


Filed under golf

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)


Filed under golf

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.


Filed under golf, Uncategorized