Tag Archives: Augusta National

Masters Icon Gets Top-50 Treatment

AUGUSTA, GA. — This week’s post may be too technical for some readers, but we are the most scientific course ranking, so there. And while it’s common knowledge that we employ advanced metrics, a Cal Sci algorithm and the mega-computing powers of the Bomar Brain, it’s less well known that we yoke our inputs to to various independent and proprietary data bases, not limiting ourselves to authorized sources. This week, for example, our Kansas City headquarters has a real-time link to the trove of Masters statistics generated by the Augusta National Golf Club.

Augusta National's 16th

The 16th green of Augusta National with the late, lamented Eisenhower Tree barely visible at far left. (John Garrity)

Some of this data is too arcane to be of much use — cumulative ATM fees! — but much of it is germane. A few weeks ago, our Catch Basin second-raters* were about to penalize Augusta National a tenth of a point for the ice-storm death of its so-called Eisenhower Tree. “That tree was one of the game’s most-recognized icons,” said the guy in a white lab coat whose name I can never remember. “It dictated how the 17th was played. Imagine the Road Hole without the Road Hole Bunker, or the Valley of Sin without legalized prostitution.”

*”Second-raters” is not meant to be pejorative. Our field evaluators are called “first-raters” because they collect their data on course visits. 

Fortunately, a cooler head prevailed. “Speed is important,” I told my basement staff, “but nobody of importance will play Augusta National between now and the Masters. Why don’t we just wait until the tournament starts and then adjust our ranking with the aid of fresh statistics — which is, after all, what we do.”

My words made a strong impression on the paid employees, particularly the ones with children and mortgages. Anyway, Augusta National began today, April 11, in sixth place, the same position it held when branches started breaking. I, meanwhile, have set up a command center in Row F of the Masters press building, right next to Gary Van Sickle, the Top 50’s v.p. and executive course rater.

Here’s the Masters stat we’re keeping our eyes on: scoring average by hole. Between 1942 and 2013, the 17th, “Nandina,” was the tournament’s tenth most difficult hole, yielding an average of 4.15 strokes per player per round. It played easiest (3.9485) in 1996, due to the premier of Howard Stern’s radio show in Texas, and most difficult (4.3480) in 1951, following the spying convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Last year, No. 17 was, predictably, the tenth most difficult hole at 4.22.

But now we’re watching as post-Eisenhower-Tree data streams in. As of 4:51 p.m. EDT, No. 17 ranks eleventh in difficulty with an average of 4.172 pppr. In language the layman will understand, this means that the 17th has dropped a full 1.0 in seasonally-adjusted difficulty, relative to the other 17 holes. Put another way, it means the hole is easier than before.

Easier is better than harder — ask any weekend golfer — so I have directed the Catch Basin staff to credit Augusta National with a “fun credit” of .05 points. This will not affect its current ranking, but we’ll be monitoring the National’s metrics all week and making adjustments as necessary.

(Thanks to SI senior writer Alan Shipnuck for his helpful advice about carrying numbers. We’ll look into it.)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters, as usual, is being played at sixth-ranked Augusta National Golf Club. It’s a little-known fact that when the first Masters was played, in 1934, the club was too poor to pay Horton Smith his victor’s prize. Instead, they offered him a friends-and-family discount on future rounds of golf, which he foolishly declined.

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Hillcrest Hole Finally Gets to Stretch

“The wall comes down this week,” writes Kurt Everett, general manager of 43rd-ranked Hillcrest Golf & Country Club.

Just the promise of demolition boosted Hillcrest two rungs in the Top 50 ranking. When the greenside stones actually topple on the course’s once-great ninth hole, Hillcrest will likely soar to unprecedented heights. “The celebrations that greeted the destruction of the Berlin Wall will pale in comparison,” I considered writing to Everett. “The Great Wall of China will regain its stature as ‘world’s silliest if well-intended barrier.’”

Hillcrest's temporary green

The wall on Hillcrest’s ninth was not Donald Ross’s idea. (John Garrity)

Faithful readers of this blog know the history. Hillcrest Country Club, the only Donald Ross layout in Missouri, had a challenging ninth of 420 yards that was regarded as one of the best holes in the Kansas City area. The ninth tested the nation’s best players for decades, including the years when Hillcrest hosted the PGA Tour’s Kansas City Open. But some time ago, at the insistence of a club executive who dabbled in the bridesmaid-dresses resale market,* the Ross green was bulldozed and a new green installed some 50 yards closer to the tee. A stone bulkhead elevated the new green complex from mere deformity to flat-out laughing stock.

*The bridesmaid crack is relevant because the old green site was deemed the perfect spot for a wedding bower — if your dream wedding includes beeping golf carts and two foursomes of braying sandbaggers settling bets.

Hillcrest, Kansas City

Hillcrest’s green transplant began in earnest last week. (Photo by John Bozarth)

More recently, after a dalliance with bankruptcy and conversion to daily-fee status, Hillcrest’s new management decided to restore the original Ross green. That green emerged last fall and is now deemed ready for play. That, in turn, makes the bogus green redundant and its stone facade irrelevant. The ghost of Ronald Reagan was seen on the ninth tee last week, shaking his fist and shouting, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Now, down it comes. It pains me that I can’t attend the actual wall-banging, but I’m moonlighting at The Masters for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com. Still, I’ll know when the wall has fallen.

It will be reflected in the ranking.

The Masters returns to Augusta National for a record 77th time. (John Garrity)

The Masters returns to Augusta National for a record 77th time. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: It’s Masters week, so the golf industry is bivouacked outside 6th-ranked Augusta National Golf Club. Since we were there last, a wall of it’s own has fallen with the admission of the club’s first female members. Reagan’s ghost, we are told, had nothing to do with this long-awaited deconstruction.

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Rolex Top 1000 Makes Top 50’s Top 10

The first snowfall of the season has turned the grounds around our Kansas City headquarters into something out of 14th-ranked Currier and Ives, so I have authorized a bonus packet of seasoned apple-cider mix for all hourly staff and sent them outside to build snow forts under a deep-blue sky.

Rolex 2012 cover

St. Andrews Old, No. 16, made the cover of Rolex’s second edition.

With quiet descending upon Catch Basin, I’m free to thumb the pages of the recently-published second edition of The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses. And when I say “thumb,” I mean it literally.* The Rolex Top 1000 presents as a $35 hardcover book of nearly 1,400 pages — too big to be a pocket guide, too text-heavy to be a coffee-table book, but absolutely perfect for stuffing into your carry bag when your brother-in-law caddies for you at the member-guest. The term “golf atlas” certainly applies, stuffed as it is with maps, travel recommendations, and Lonely Planet-style mini-essays on the favored courses.

*When I say “literally,” I don’t mean that I use only one thumb or fail to deploy the usual eight fingers. I’m using “literally” figuratively, as we all do. My favorite mis-usage of the word is still that BBC documentary voice-over relating how a reluctant Edward David, Prince of Wales, “was literally catapulted onto the throne of England.”

Nevertheless, the nut of the book is the course ranking itself, which was put together by “D’Algue Selection,” one of the stranger noms de plume I’ve encountered in my decades of course ranking. It has something to do with European Tour pioneer Gaetan Mourgue d’Algue, but the freshest fingerprints belong to his daughter Kristel (the 1995 NCAA Champion and a former European Women’s Tour player) and the British Walker Cupper Bruce Critchley, a Sky Sports UK commentator. They have assembled some 200 “independent, yet fully qualified” course raters and turned them loose on the world’s 31,569 golf courses, winnowing their reports down to a not-so-exclusive club of a thousand.

That, of course, is precisely what we do here at Catch Basin — the difference being that we filter out the pulp, the still-straining-for-recognition 950, and serve up the pure juice of the Top 50. So now is probably the time to concede that I find myself in a position analogous to that of John Stewart when reviewing another outfit’s course ranking. Just as Stewart, a purveyor of fake news, hates to break character in front of the Comedy Central cameras, I am loath to admit that my Top 50 is a snide, satirical attack on course rankings in particular and lists in general, even though they be the meat and potatoes of 21st-century media.

Having fully disclosed, I now swear on a pile of used golf gloves that The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses is the ne plus ultra of golf atlases. It is the most comprehensive compendium of laudable links ever committed to print, and it belongs in every golfer’s library between Herbert Warren Wind and P.G. Wodehouse (assuming the shelves are not alphabetized.)

Oh, I have a few quibbles. The Rolex rankings are all wrong, for one. Carnoustie better than Carne? Oh, puleeeeze. Bethpage Black better than Sand Hollow? Nonsense! And where is Medicine Hole? That Black Hills beauty isn’t even listed, suggesting that D’Algue Selection is biased against rock-strewn, nine-hole munis.

But that, as I say, is a quibble. What I love about the Rolex 1000 is its conviction. The editors have taken the reports of their 200 raters and reduced their plethora of impressions and random data to a single number: a score. But unlike the Top 50, which ranks according to Euclid’s “Perfect 10” proposition, Rolex follows the “100 scale” of the American public school system. National Golf Links scores a hundred under this system. Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course, one can only assume, brings up the bottom with a score of 1.

Rolex’s scoring is plainly deficient in one respect: It relies on round numbers. (Top 50 scores are published in hundredths, but our Cal Sci mathematicians round off at six decimals when assembling their master list.) That said, Rolex trumps the Top 50 and all other course rankings with an inspired numerical ploy: rounding to the nearest five! Some courses score 90 (Kapalua Plantation), and some courses score 95 (Kingsbarns), but no course scores 91 or 93.

Why is this ”inspired”? Think about it. The Top 50, thanks to its precision, has a single top-ranked course, Askernish Old, with a membership of 18 golfers struggling to survive on a wind-swept Hebridean island. Rolex, on the other hand, doesn’t name a world’s-best course. It proclaims a 15-way tie of 100-point courses, all of them golf shrines (Augusta National, Cypress Point, St. Andrews Old) with international constituencies eager to gobble up copies of a book naming their track “the world’s best.”

Just thinking about it, I’m tempted to lock up Catch Basin and leave our marketing guys to spend the night in the cold.

Well-played, D’Algue Selection, whoever (or whatever) you are.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I’ll take a closer look at the Rolex rankings in an upcoming post. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the second edition in golf stores and selected pro shops, as well as on Amazon.com.

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Maldives Floats Course Proposal (and Course)

Good news, Aquaman! The Daily Mail reports that a doomed island chain is spending roughly half a billion dollars on a floating golf course.

The Maldives has revealed plans for a radical £320 floating course, which players access by an undersea tunnel. The course is part of a massive plan to replace the sinking islands with a network of man made floating islands. With an average elevation of just five feet above sea level, the Maldives, with its 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean, is the lowest country in the world.

Being five feet above sea level is a fine thing, particularly if you’re asked to carry a bucket of ice and fresh fish into town. On the other hand, if the sea rises a few feet — well, you do the math. The Maldivian government addressed the Atlantis scenario by hiring a Dutch company to build a series of floating islands onto which the populace can step as their homes disappear under the waves.

The islands will also be designed for swimmers, divers and even private submarines to enter them from below, and the Dutch firm designing the scheme has said visitors will be able to rent private submarines that can surface right in the middle of their living rooms.

Image

The new Maldives course promises ocean views from under every hole.

The golf course, very sensibly, will be the first phase of the project. The islands will be constructed off-site and then floated into position, with grass and landscaping to follow. The underwater tunnels will be wide enough to accommodate beverage carts and long enough, one hopes, to reach another island.

According to the developers, the floating course “should be ready for play by the end of 2013 ahead of the full launch in 2015.”

Did they really say “launch”?”

Anyway, keep your eyes on our sidebar list of top Aqua-ranges. Dolce Chantilly’s long reign as No. 1 may soon be over.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but sixth-ranked Augusta National announced that a prominent business executive and a former U.S. secretary of state will become members this fall. (Same old, same old.) Meanwhile, the FedEx Cup playoffs get under way with The Barclays at 51st-ranked Bethpage Black, a terrestrial course.

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Heartland and Harding Making Moves

A reader from Muskegon, Mich., asks if we change a course’s ranking based upon minor alterations to the design. “Like, say, if they were to chop down the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National, would that give them a higher or a lower score? Or what if at a certain course in Grand Rapids they fixed a certain tee so that it didn’t point way right when you need to hit it left to stay out of the trees? Would that make a difference?”

Heartland Rebuilding Ross Green

Heartland GC, the only Donald Ross design in Missouri, is restoring the Ross green on its ninth hole. (John Garrity)

I see two points that need correcting in Muskie’s e-mail. The first is the perennial misunderstanding of “higher or lower score” as it pertains to the Top 50 rankings. The Cal Sci algorithm is concentrically weighted around “a perfect 10,” which means that high and low scores are to be avoided, not pursued. Put another way, if Smash star Katharine McPhee scores a 10 on the Carnegie Mellon Feminine Pulchritude Scale (FPS), she’s got no way to go but down. Or up. She can’t do better.

Secondly, it would make no difference if they re-oriented that tee so it pointed straight down the fairway. Muskie would still slice his drive into the trees.

But to the larger point, yes, we take minor alterations of a design into account when we issue our adjusted ratings.* For instance, the 45th-ranked Heartland Golf Club of Kansas City, Mo. (aka Hillcrest Country Club) is restoring Donald Ross’s original ninth green, correcting a 21st-century design blunder. When the green is completed in the fall, Heartland could leap into the Top 40.

* A new Top 50 is posted daily at 2:15 a.m. CDT. We publish hard-copy Mandarin and Portuguese versions on a weekly basis, but only in Africa and the Middle East.

“That’s all well and good,” writes a junior golfer from Sun City, Ariz., “but you can’t possibly know what’s happening at courses around the world. I’ve heard that Pete Dye, just to name one architect, keeps ‘tweaking’ his designs ad infinitum, jumping on a sand pro at the drop of a hat. So your ratings must necessarily be flawed.”

Practice facility, Harding Park

TPC Harding Park’s new short-game practice area will be the perfect place to test the theories in Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond. (John Garrity)

Wrong! The Top 50’s vast network of course raters keeps an eye on all the work being done at ranked courses. Last week, for example, workers in San Francisco applied the finishing touches to a new short-game practice area at TPC Harding Park, site of the 2009 Presidents Cup. Positioned between the parking lot and the practice range, the new practice area overlooks beautiful Lake Merced. But it wasn’t overlooked by us! Harding Park jumps three positions to No. 78.*

* If the new grass survives the typically-brutal San Francisco summer, HP will climb even higher.

As for Pete Dye and his constant course-doctoring, give us some credit. We shadow his every movement with unpaid interns.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but The Memorial Tournament is being played on the immaculate fairways and greens of the 51st-ranked Muirfield Village Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus and the late, great land-form artist, Desmond Muirhead. (Nicklaus is famous for winning 18 major championships. Muirhead is famous for designing golf holes in the shapes of states, stringed instruments and farm animals.)

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Climate Change Forces Golfers to Adjust to Lesser Hues

AUGUSTA, GA. — You’ve no doubt heard that unseasonably warm weather in the South has forced Masters officials to dump truckloads of ice on their azalea beds to keep the famous shrubs from blooming prematurely. This may or may not be true. I was going to walk out to Amen Corner yesterday to find out, but it was too damn hot.

Masters Week

Augusta National's par-3 course, famous for its horticulture, may not be as bright this week. (John Garrity)

The meteorologist at our Kansas City headquarters, meanwhile, reports that spring is a month ahead of schedule. The dogwoods, redbuds and crabapples are already dropping their blossoms, and the Top 50 staff, in my absence, spend their afternoons sipping cabernets at sidewalk cafés on the Country Club Plaza. My imaginary friend Bert, who runs a snow-blower concession, says that sales are flat. “I’m a global-warming denier,” he says, iPhoning from the sixth hole of Donald Ross’s Heartland Club (No. 45). “But I don’t deny that the world is getting hotter.”

Bert is my imaginary friend, but I’m not afraid to tell him that he’s a dope. “The world IS getting hotter,” I tell him, “but you’re confusing weather with climate. The scientifically-measured increase in global surface temperature since 1980 was roughly a half-degree Fahrenheit, and if the most dire predictions of climatologists come true, it could rise another 4 to 10 degrees degrees by 2100. This abrupt warming could have a catastrophic impact on the planet, melting the polar ice cap, flooding highly-rated links courses and diverting the Gulf Stream, which would turn continental Europe into a year-round skating rink. But that’s CLIMATE. You’ll still have unseasonably cool summers and unseasonably warm winters. That’s WEATHER.”

Snow on Japanese golf course

The cherry blossoms have yet to bloom on Japanese courses. (Courtesy of Duke Ishikawa)

As proof I sent Bert the latest dispatch from our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, who reports that Japan’s cherry-blossom season is on hold. “We really had a cold winter this year,” he begins.

Enclosed several pictures from Suwako CC in Nagano Prefecture. One thousand meters above sea level. Many courses still closed, but Suwako opened on April 1. In two weeks, they shoveled almost a foot of snow. These pictures are evidence of it. This is why our professional tour cannot start this season until after the Masters.

Suwako, Duke points out, is near the Karuizawa 72 course, site of the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy competition (barring the onset of an ice age).

This talk of azaleas and cherry blossoms is not peripheral to course ranking. Many of the Top 50 courses are currently swathed in spring colors, from the dogwoods of 42nd-ranked Hallbrook to the wildflowers of second-ranked Carne. Here’s Duke again on the Japanese golf landscape:

We have a gorgeous cherry-blossom season from the end of March to early April (normally). That’s in the Tokyo area. Our island is longer than 2,000 kilometers, so the cherry-blossom season moves from south (Okinawa) to North (Hokkaido) with a front line of rising temperatures. We call it sakura zensen. (Sakura is “cherry,” zensen means “front line.”) The cherry trees usually keep one week of bloom in each area, so it is a very short moment. We made it a symbol for the Samurai who had to commit hara-kiri suicide in front of his boss after making a mistake. (Please don’t laugh.)

Some of our golf courses have one thousand cherry trees. With more cherry trees in the hills around, it makes us all pink. I occasionally send pictures of this to my fairway ladies, Louise Solheim and Barbara, whose husband is Jack.

Again, it is a great time of year. Sincerely, Duke

New Richmond Golf Club

The New Richmond Golf Club rivals Augusta National for spring coloration. (John Garrity)

Several of the Top 50’s course raters are licensed botanists, so I had them compile a spring-colors Top 5 from the current ranking. Here it is:

1) New Richmond Golf Club, New Richmond, Wis. (132.6)

2) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga. (128.8)

3) Augusta National Practice Range, Augusta, Ga. (127.1)

4) Askernish Old, South Uist Island, Scotland (124.0)

5) Mid Pines Resort and Golf Club, Southern Pines, N.C. (123.9)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters (CBS).

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Carne: Ready for the Foam Finger?

My man, Horton, woke me this morning with a whispered “Sir? Sir?” and a gentle shake of my shoulder. Instantly, my eyes sprung open. My head rose from the pillow. The room was dark. The digital clock on the elephant table read 2:07 a.m., but I couldn’t remember if I had set the clock back before retiring.

Still whispering, Horton said, “Your instructions were to waken you –”

“I know what my instructions were,” I said sharply. “What do you have?”

“It’s Carne.” The two words fell from his tongue like leaves from a sugar maple. “I’ve sent for Dr. Eppes.”

That, faithful readers, is how I got the news that the Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, Ireland, had ascended to No. 2 in my Top 50 ranking. I was thrilled to get the news, Carne being perhaps my favorite course in the world.* But I was also annoyed, Horton’s reference to Charlie Eppes reminding me that the creator of our Top 50 algorithm and his bookworm bride have been incommunicado for months, having disappeared into central Europe at the end of his term as a visiting lecturer at Oxford.

*Full disclosure: I am an honorary lifetime member of the Belmullet Golf Club, which gives me playing privileges at Carne. I am also the author of a book — about Carne and other matters — titled Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, available in trade paperback from New American Library.

It got worse after sunrise, when the technician who operates the Bomar Brain in our basement computer room informed me that Carne has actually been the world’s second-best golf course for some three weeks. “Carne passed Augusta National the day you were out buying Halloween candy,” he murmured, staring at his feet. “You, uh …. I mean, I guess nobody noticed. But we posted it right away.”

Exasperated, I went upstairs, opened the hall closet, and screamed. (The winter coats muffle my oaths.)  When I was calm again, I summoned Horton and reluctantly fired him. “Thank you,” I said, “for your 28 years of faithful service.”

“It was an honor, sir.” He gave me one last gracious bow from the waist and departed by the front door, taking a handful of bite-size Butterfingers with him.

Coincidentally, I recently received a digital press release from Sorcha Murray, Carne’s commercial manager. Headlined “Now Golfers Can See What They Are Missing!”, it announces that Carne’s original 18 can now be viewed via “3D Flyover,” a bird’s-eye-view computer simulator similar to those employed on golf telecasts. “The famous Carne Golf Links course on the Belmullet peninsula can now be explored from the sky,” the release continues. “The fascinating character of each hole can be seen winding through the dunes on one of Ireland’s top courses designed by Eddie Hackett, one of his last courses and probably his best.”

Having examined the Flyover on the Carne home page, I have to give it a mixed review. The rugged terrain and spectacular scenery are reduced to computerscapes, the kind of low-resolution imagery you get with home-landscaping software. The dunes, clouds and beaches are generic. The great sandy blowout to the right of the seventeenth fairway is rendered as a grassy ravine such as you’d find on a West Texas course. The inconsequential pot-pond near the third green is depicted in Caribbean blue, as if it were an actual water hazard.

On the other hand, I have always wondered what Carne would look like from the sky, having seen ravens pluck golf balls off its greens and flap off toward the sea. Watching the Flyover again with my bird brain, it looks awesome.

Anyway, congratulations to all my friends at Carne. And if you should someday notice that you’ve vaulted over Askernish Old and taken the top spot, please send me a heads-up. I don’t like being left in the dark.

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