Tag Archives: Carne

Irish Links Reaches No. 1 with Opening of New Kilmore Nine

For as long as there has been a Top 50 Blog — literally years — Scotland’s Askernish Old has held the No. 1 position. Laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris but abandoned by later generations, Askernish vaulted to the top spot upon its Brigadoon-like reappearance on a spring day in 1991. The Hebridean masterpiece maintained its No. 1 ranking despite subsequent vanishings, and in recent years its 18 dramatic holes have been rediscovered and even played by scores of diehard links aficionados.

Kilmore No. 1

The first hole on Carne’s new Kilmore nine provides a taste of the thrills to follow. (Larry Lambrecht)

Meanwhile, the No. 2 spot has been held just as assiduously by Ireland’s Carne Golf Links, an Eddie Hackett-designed gem on Mayo’s Atlantic coast. Carne’s second-place ranking has long been a puzzle to links lovers, or at least to those who remember that I proclaimed it “the world’s greatest golf course” in a 2003 Sports Illustrated feature. “You must be confused,” wrote a persistent nitpicker with GolfClubAtlas stickers on his steamer trunk — as if confusion were a disqualifying attribute for a course critic.

But now the thinkable has happened. After weeks of stealthy advancement — unnoticed until recently by the wool-gathering analysts at Top 50 headquarters — the Irish course was one good mowing and a couple of tweaks of the Top 50 algorithm from nirvana. This morning, at 9:42 Central Daylight Time, Carne caught Askernish at 10.15/9.85 points on the concentric Perfect-10 scale. For the first time in Top 50 history, two courses share the top ranking.

I, for one, was not caught by surprise. Carne’s rise can be explained by the recent opening of its new Kilmore 9, a spectacular side of golf winding through the Mullet Peninsula’s most breathtaking dunes. Designed tag-team style by American Jim Engh (Sanctuary, The Club at Black Rock, Tullymore GC) and Dublin-based architect Ally McIntosh, the Kilmore 9 was a decade in the making. I monitored its progress from Day 1, and last Tuesday I returned to the Mullet to bang out the ceremonial first drive on behalf of a contingent of American and British golf writers.

Carne’s new holes were worth the wait. Anchored by three dramatic par-3s and a split-fairway par 5 that invites an heroic approach over a gargantuan dune, the Kilmore 9 echoes the grandeur of Hackett’s back nine without copying any of his holes. In fact, I’d argue that no course in the world offers 18 holes of more distinctive character than Carne’s composite links. Kilmore’s par-3 second, for example, starts high on a bank and winds up far below on the lee side of a massive blowout dune, which McIntosh has cleverly tied into a playable bunker.

But that hole is a mini-wow when compared to the WOW of the par-3 seventh, which launches from a sky-scraping dune-top to another dune, 228 yards away, with a wrap-around view of the Atlantic and western Ireland as an unnecessary distraction. “That’s terrifying,” one of my playing partners said at the opening. I thought he was referring to the dizzying drop from the tee to the fifth fairway, until I looked up and saw that he was staring at the distant flag, flapping in a two-club wind.

I realize, of course, that some course-rating systems place greater emphasis on smooth greens. Carne’s new greens won’t be tournament-ready for a few years, and I say, “So what? I can wait.” Neither am I swayed by the $150 million in frills and environmental abuse that Donald Trump lavished upon his Trump International Golf Links in Scotland. Carne’s Kilmore 9 cost €202,000 from start to finish — or roughly what The Donald spent on cocktail shrimp for his grand opening. To which I say: “Sorry, Donald. You can’t crack the Top 50 on the strength of cocktail shrimp.”*

*If you’re talking cash, I might listen.

Anyway, I thought I’d better get this news out before Golf.com finishes its rollout of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses in the World.”  There might still be time to dump Pine Valley Golf Club from the No. 1 spot and give Askernish and Carne their rightful position in golf’s ever-changing firmament.

Christy O'Connor Sr. plaque

Writers Conor Nagle, John Garrity and John Strawn interrupt their round to visit the Christy O’Connor Sr. plaque at Royal Dublin. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Inbee Park goes for the “grand slam” of LPGA majors on the 16th-ranked Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. Meanwhile, they’re still dancing on Grafton Street in the wake of Ireland’s narrow victory over a crackerjack team of mostly-American golf writers in the biennial Writers Cup at 36th-ranked Royal Dublin Golf Club.

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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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‘World’s Best Course’: Where Does It Rank?

“Save five or more spots on your next list for the new ‘Best Course in the World,’” writes golf architect Bill Amick, a Top 50 fixture. “That’s according to it’s developer, one of the world’s most humble persons.”

Filtering out the sarcasm, I infer that Amick wants us to take a look at the Trump International Golf Links of Aberdeen, Scotland, Donald Trump’s latest and most-ambitious golf project. But unbenownst to Amick, Trump-Aberdeen debuted last month at No. 51 on the strength of Travelin’ Joe Passov’s GOLF Magazine review, which was grudgingly favorable. “For all the hyperbole,” Joe wrote with gritted teeth, “Trump Scotland might turn out to be as good as advertised.”

No course cracks the Top 50 until it’s been rated by myself or by our ratings director, Gary Van Sickle. Neither of us, sad to say, has been able to get up to Aberdeen for a walkaround. In the meantime, we’re waiting to hear from Amick, who was invited to the grand opening by Trump Scotland’s designer, Martin Hawtree, who was celebrating the 100th anniversary of his firm.*

* Hawtree, known for his renovation of Royal Birkdale Golf Club and other Open Championship venues, has not been around that long. The firm, which describes itself as “The World’s Longest Continuous Golf Architectural Practice,” was founded in 1912 by Martin’s grandfather, Frederic George Hawtree, and carried on by his father, Frederic William Hawtree.

Judging solely from photographs, I’m inclined to put TIGL in the upper echelon of modern links courses, close behind sixth-ranked Castle Stuart, the eighth-ranked European Club, and 40th-ranked Kingsbarns. Had Trump not spent $155 million on it, I might even compare his Aberdeen track to the incomparable Askernish and Carne links, currently rated one-two. (Old Tom Morris designed the former for ten shillings per hole, while the great Eddie Hackett gave Carne seven years of his attention in return for a few expense checks, which he was loath to cash.)

“After Aberdeen I go to Ghana,” Amick concludes, “where I’m designing a dwarf course at a new eco lodge.”

Unsure of what constitutes a dwarf course, I Googled the term and found a YouTube video called “Dwarf Course 1,” which shows British teenagers running a playground obstacle course. “Eco Lodge,” meanwhile, linked me to a number of “green hotels,” including a treehouse lodge in the Australian rain forest. I could speculate on what Amick has in mind for West Africa, but I think I’ll just wait for his next e-mail.

Castle Stuart

Castle Stuart was built for windy conditions. Note the whitecaps on the Moray Firth. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Castle Stuart just concluded its second hosting of the Scottish Open with Jeev Milkha Singh claiming the trophy. “After three opening rounds of very low scoring, Castle Stuart finally bared its teeth,” reports the Associated Press. “A fierce westerly wind and heavy rain at times proved too much for top-ranked Luke Donald (73) and Phil Mickelson (74), who both finished tied for 16th at 12-under.” The AP doesn’t quantify how “fierce” the wind was, but I’ve played Castle Stuart in gusts of up to 65 mph, which blew my bag over, shattered my umbrella, and caused my ball to roll of its own accord on the back of the 12th green. That aside, the course was both playable and enjoyable. Castle Stuart deserves its sixth ranking.

It’s on to Royal Lytham & St. Annes (No. 132) for the Open Championship. Wet and windy weather is forecast.


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Carne Chowder: Is It the Best?

No matter how carefully we police the collection of Top 50 data, shills for certain courses keep trying to influence the ratings. There’s “JH”, a Massachusetts businessman, who complains that The Country Club at Brookline deserves a ranking higher than No. 51. There’s a Philadelphia sportswriter — I’ll call him “Kernsie” — who pleads the case for 418th-ranked Stone Harbor Golf Club of Cape May Court House, N.J.  And if you’ll indulge my eye-rolling, there’s a reality-show “developer/statesman” who insists that his golf courses, all of them, are better than Pine Valley, Augusta National or Royal Portrush.

Hackett Lounge

Carneivores share recipes in the Eddie Hackett Lounge. (John Garrity)

And now a once-respected Texas journalist has turned to the dark side, wielding recipes in a sad effort to dislodge Askernish Old from the top spot. His name is Bruce Selcraig*, and his byline appears in all the top magazines. But he moonlights as a golf-course critic. If you’ve got a coastal property bigger than a fairground with dunes on it, Bruce has probably photographed it. If it isn’t fenced, he’s probably played it.

*Full disclosure: He’s a friend.

Anyway, Bruce is an admirer of the Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, Ireland. (As  are we. Carne has held the number-two spot since the Top 50’s inception.) He plays there so often that he’s on a first-name basis with the clubhouse and greenkeeping staff and with many members of the Belmullet Golf Club. It is Bruce’s practice, after a round at Carne, to send us an unsolicited report on the course’s myriad charms, leaning heavily on exclamation points and adjectives such as “dazzling,” “tear-inducing,” and “unparalleled.”

On Tuesday, however, he sent this: “I got rained and winded out of Carne this time, but had a hot chowder with Eamon [Mangan]. I have written him just now, but do you happen to know the recipe or main ingredient of [Carne’s] chowder, which I like far more than the milky white stuff at many courses.” Stymied by his syntax, he added: “???”

Recognizing this as a variant of the “milkshake ploy” — as in, “Castle Pines is the best course west of the Mississippi because of their amazing milkshakes” — I wrote Bruce back, explaining that my usual lunch at Carne was the tasty vegetable soup and brown bread.

He exploded. “You have NOT had the chowder? You elongated girly man from dubious BBQ territory!” Still working the food theme, Bruce provided a link to his freshly-written PostGame blog about the 8th-ranked European Club  in County Wicklow, which led off with the news flash that he had liked the salmon-and-prawn salad at Jack White’s Lounge & Restaurant.

Today, he raised the ante, writing, “This just in from Eamon … good luck,” followed by a document titled Blacksod Bay Seafood Chowder Recipe. The recipe began, “Make fish stock from shellfish shells & white fish bones, e.g. monkfish, cod, etc. Don’t use oily fish. Sweat off 1 diced onion, one head celery, 3 leeks chopped, 2 diced carrots …. And that’s as much as I’ll share, because the recipe was signed by Carne’s head chef (and 2005 Irish Chef of the Year) John Conmy, and I’d rather not have to defend a recipe-infringement suit.

Selcraig knows that. He sent the recipe because he thinks it will tip the clubhouse-food metric in Carne’s favor and put the Mayo links ahead of Scotland’s Askernish. To which I publicly say: “No way.” The Top 50 algorithm treats unsolicited course evaluations as corrupted data —at least until the best minds at Cal Sci figure out how to digitize monkfish-bone scores.

So Carne, even if it rules the chowder rankings, is still the runner-up among courses.

As for that BBQ crack, Bruce knows that Kansas City holds six of the top ten spots in the latest World Barbecue Ranking, while Texas’ top joint limps in at No. 14. And that’s a fact.


CordeValle: Wining, yes. Whining, no. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: They’ve had record crowds this week at the Frys.com Open, thanks to the Top 50. The host venue, the CordeValle Resort Golf Club, debuted at No. 50 in June of 2010, and has since soared to the 49th spot. Lured by our reports of oak-studded foothills, sprawling vineyards and soaring sycamores, Tiger Woods made a rare fall appearance. Was he impressed? Can’t say, but he decided to stay for the weekend.

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Price? It’s No Indicator of Quality Golf

“I know your rankings are baloney,” writes a reverse-mortgage broker from Decatur, Ga. “How do I know? Because you’ve got so-called “top fifty” courses that I can play for less than fifty dollars. You know as well as I do that great golf is expensive. As my dad used to tell me, ‘If you can afford to play it, it’s not worth playing.’”

Reading Decatur’s words, I have to chuckle. The Cal Sci algorithm that we use to pick the Top 50 includes practically every variable that might go into a course ranking system, including admittedly off-beat criteria such as flag-material thread count and average-wind-speed-to-ambient-grade ratio. But we have never — I repeat, never — fed the price of a round into our computers.

Think about it. If cost were proportional to quality, you wouldn’t need a course rating. You’d simply Google “most expensive golf” and up would pop your number one course: Shadow Creek Golf Course of Las Vegas, Nevada. ($500 per round.) Right behind Shadow Creek, according to copycat web sites, are Pebble Beach Golf Links ($475) and Old Head Golf Links of Kinsale, Ireland ($400).

17th Green at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach: Always a delight, but never a bargain. (John Garrity)

Change the search to “most expensive golf clubs” and you get a gaggle of neighboring clubs on Long Island, N.Y., including four-time U.S. Open venue Shinnecock Hills GC, the National Golf Links of America, Atlantic GC, and The Bridge, all of which cost between a half-million and $750,000 to join. (And only if you’re invited!) The ten founding members of Sebonack GC, meanwhile, forked over $1.5 million each to play in the dunes along Great Peconic Bay. Which tells you that your average Hamptons golfer can treat you to a round at Shadow Creek with change found under his sofa cushions.

Of those eight courses, you will note, only Pebble Beach is in my Top 50. That’s because I recognize the absurdity of evaluating a course by its price tag. First of all, green fees can and do change, independent of course conditions. When I first played the  16th-ranked Old Course at St. Andrews, I paid something like 22 British pounds. Today, I’d have to pay a high-season rate of 130 pounds. Is the Old Course 5.9 times better than it was in 1990? Of course not!*

*It’s only 1.07 times better, and that’s due to improved parking around the Links Clubhouse, which opened in 1995.

A second reason to discount price is that it empowers Donald Trump.

A third reason …. but do I have to go on?

My old friend Jaime Diaz, the best print analyst in golf today, supports my views in the current Golf World. In a column headlined “Bigger Didn’t Make Golf Better; Some Tips on Saving the Game,” Jaime lands a few good jabs on the jaw of golf-industry bloat, including the cogent point that modern courses have been stretched to absurd lengths, making the game far too difficult for the average player. His solution: shorten ‘em.

“Longer term,” he goes on, “the greatest opportunity to turn the game around lies in the way people learn it ….”

“Over the years I’ve been increasingly struck by how many of the most accomplished and fulfilled golfers started out playing young and on the cheap, usually at a ragtag course where they could go round and round. More often than not, they learned technique by copying better players, with the final process one of simple and often zone-inducing trial and error. As Michael Hebron, a PGA Master Professional, likes to say, ‘You play to learn, not learn to play.'”

Askernish's "Old Tom's Pulpit" green

Askernish: Full membership for 125 British Pounds per year!

Yes! Now, flick your eyes to the sidebar on the right. You’ll see that the top two spots in the Top 50 are held by Askernish Old and Carne, two peerless links courses whose combined construction costs wouldn’t match what The Donald will spend on clubhouse art for his overblown Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Neither Askernish nor Carne have valet parking, bag boys or teaching pros. Neither has a full-service practice range. Or cart paths. Or ball washers. What they have in abundance are spectacular dunes, awesome views, unforgettable holes, and summer days that go on and on and on.

Yes, Askernish and Carne would drop in the ranking if our algorithm gave points for sky-high green fees. But it doesn’t. It gives points for teenagers deciding to skip dinner to squeeze in another 18 before dark.

Tell us we’re wrong.

Top 50 on TV: Uh …. forget what you just read. Two of our priciest courses are on display this weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am — the luxe Pebble Beach Golf Links (No. 9) and the very exclusive Monterey Peninsula Country Club (No. 46). All we can say in our defense is that we’ve never spent a penny at either one of them. (It’s good to be a golf writer!)

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A Gripe from the Branch Office

“I can’t hit a 1-iron, but I’ve proven countless times that I can hit a tree.” — Anon.

“Have you got something against trees?” asks a tree surgeon from Dubai.

The question puzzled me at first, but an hour’s perusal of the new Top 50 enlightened me. Four of the top five courses (and six of the top ten) are as treeless as the polar ice caps. The wind-blown machair at top-ranked Askernish Old supports a stubble of knee-high marram grass, but a South Uist horse thief will never hang there — nothing to hang him on, so to speak. Ditto for the dramatic dunes of Carne (No. 3), which support no vegetation taller than a garden gnome. Even Pittsburgh’s legendary Oakmont Country Club (No. 47), come to think of it, didn’t crack the Top 50 until its members chopped, sawed, toppled, bulldozed and ground up a few million board feet of shade trees in preparation for the 2007 U.S. Open.

But to answer the tree doc’s question, no. We’ve got nothing against trees. Many of the Top 50 courses are extravagantly shaded, and no fewer than seven* are named for nature’s biggest nuisances: Oak Hill (No. 9), Cypress Point (No. 13), Pine Needles (No. 30), Castle Pines (No. 33), Calusa Pines (No. 46), Oakmont (No. 47) and Laurel Valley (No. 49).

* Eight if the “Poipu” in Poipu Bay (No. 15) is Hawaiian for the arthritic, scarlet-blossomed view-hogger that ate my Pro V-1 four years ago.

Carne Golf Links

No bark on Carne's infamous 17th, but it can certainly bite. (John Garrity)

It’s just a fact that links courses are the most highly-regarded golf courses, and a true links has no, or hardly any, trees.* How else to explain Castle Stuart’s debut at No. 10, leapfrogging hundreds of parkland courses? Or St. Andrews Old at No. 16, despite a closing hole that is indistinguishable from the visitors’ parking lot.

*Despite its name, the Pebble Beach Golf Links (No. 2) is not a true links. It is a cliffside course, the distinction being obvious to anyone who has ever sliced his tee shot on Pebble’s sixth hole.

Personally, I’m about as pro-tree as they come. I have trees in my front yard and trees in my back yard, and if you see me discreetly raking my spiky sweet-gum balls under the neighbor’s fence, it’s because I want to share my arboreal bounty.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Honda Classic is being played on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Nicklaus has two courses in the Top 50, both of which have hosted PGA Tour or Champions Tour events. The first person who can e-mail me the names of those tournaments will be mocked for spending too much time in front of the flat screen. (Or awarded a free copy of my book Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, just out in paperback. It all depends on my mood.)


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