Tag Archives: Coyote Springs

Cal Sci Algorithm Gets Moisture Adjustment

“Has it occurred to you,” begins an email from Death Valley, Ariz., “that Aquaman isn’t real? That he is a character from a comic book? That his opinion on course rankings is worthless because, I repeat, HE ISN’T REAL!!!”

Highland Links

Nova Scotia’s lovely Highland Links gained .0069 points for its many water hazards. (John Garrity)

Well yes, DV — may I call you DV? — yes, that has occurred to me. I’m familiar with the Aquaman comics, but I know the difference between a cartoon character and a first-class course rater, and it’s not as big a difference as you might think. Anyway, I had our Top 50 ratings chief, Gary Van Sickle, look into Aquaman’s background, and he assures me that our scaly friend is strictly above-board (if not above ground). As a further precaution, we require that Aquaman file his reports via Gary’s email account to guard against hacking, spamming and, most importantly, phishing.

Coincidentally, Gary has just forwarded a fresh (not frozen) report from our man in Atlantis:

Dear Mr. Garrity,

I use the title “Mr.” reluctantly. You’re just another annoying air-breather to me. I figure we denizens of the deep can wait you out, though. You’ll pollute the air and die from global warming long before the ocean temperatures rise enough to bother me down here in the air-conditioned Marianas Trench, site of my vacation home. It’s way cool, brother.

I am writing — well, telepathing my thoughts to a dolphin, who then transcribes them to what you earth-breathers call Microsoft Word — to point out a flaw in your ranking system. Two flaws, actually. One, they’re just stupid. But that’s kind of a technical point.

Second, since water is the most important thing on earth and makes up 90 percent of you annoying air-breathers’ body bags, you clearly don’t put enough emphasis on water hazards in your rankings. Courses with more and bigger water hazards are better than courses without. Ever played a really good course in the desert? Didn’t think so.

I have to interrupt Aquaman’s otherwise-cogent analysis to point out that 20th-ranked Desert Hollow in Hurricane, Utah, is a desert course, as is 27th-ranked Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., the 44th-ranked Mission Hills Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.,  and 51st-ranked Coyote Springs, north of Las Vegas, Nevada. But back to Aquaman.

In fact, if you, Mr. Garrity, could get your CalTech Forbin Project 800X off its lazy digital ass, you could probably reprogram it to rank courses by the amount of water in their hazards, by cubic meters or fathoms or, as we use to measure here in Atlantis, aquabergs. (It’s a little larger than a cubic meter. You can barely fit two inside a seahorse, let’s put it that way. And that seahorse is not very happy about it, let me tell you, sir!)

Measuring the total amount of water actually on a course is going to completely reorganize your thus-far lame rankings. Since I haven’t played all 15,000 courses on your dirtpile, I don’t know what course would rank No. 1. Obviously, the water hazard will have to be surrounded (or at least 80% so) by the course for its contents to count. Pebble Beach, for instance, couldn’t lay claim to the entire Pacific Ocean just because it’s got a few holes along the shoreline. That would be a lot of saltwater volume to boost it in the rankings. The water has to be inside the course boundaries to count.

I believe this numerical and logical renumbering is the best way to rank your courses. I think we all agree that the courses that contain the most of my finny friends — which I can command to do my bidding, by the way — are obviously the best golf courses.

Which reminds me, if you don’t mind a small plug, I’m beginning a new side business besides my mundane duties as King of Atlantis and Father of AquaBitch. I’m getting into the ball-retrieval business. You lose a ball in a water hazard that has live underwater denizens, and I order them to retrieve it for you. Simply sign up for an online account at AquaBalls.com, pay an annual service fee, and then we invoice you for each individual retrieval. We can also sell you other balls that have been deposited in the water and remain unclaimed. That’s an extra charge, however, plus a service and handling fee. It’s all very reasonable, and as part of our contract you need only worship me for a prescribed few minutes each day.

I look forward to seeing your computer’s revised rankings. I hope it happens soon because I’d hate to see a brigade of killer whales go ape-shit on you the next time you play in Kansas City. That would be tragic.

As usual, all the best.

Aquaman, King of Atlantis (Father of AquaBitch and that no-good, lazy AquaLam-o-Lad)

Persuaded by Aquaman’s reasoning, we have tweaked the Cal Sci algorithm to account for water-hazard capacity and adjusted the rankings accordingly. To our surprise, the rankings remain exactly the same, with one exception: Kansas City’s Hillcrest Golf Club moves up one spot.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Crowne Plaza Invitational begins today at 51st-ranked Colonial Country Club in Forth Worth, Texas. Known as “Hogan’s Alley” (because the popular TV show, Hogan’s Heroes, was shot there in the 1960s), Colonial has been ranked Fifth Best Course We Play on Tour by PGA Tour players. (Courses No. 1 through 4 in the survey were Augusta National GC, Harbour Town Links, Riviera CC and Pebble Beach Golf Links, all of which have been in the Top 50 at one time or another.)


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Sand Hollow: A Drier Cypress Point?

“Sorry to wake you,” whispered my aide-de-camp, gently tapping my forehead with a spoon. “There’s an urgent message from Catch Basin.”

I rolled off my cot in one motion and threw back the tent flap. The desert sunlight seared my eyes, but I willed them not to squint. Or even dilate.

“It was inevitable,” I said, sounding a perfect note of fatalism. “I told her that no one would believe she was writing a sequel to my biography.”

“No, sir, it’s not that,” Walters said. “It’s the latest course ratings. The computer room is questioning Sand Hollow at number 20.”

Relieved, I stepped back into the shadows. “It’s not a mistake. Text them immediately” — I caught myself — “or rather, call them on the encrypted land line and tell them to post the new Top 50 pronto, or there’ll be hell to pay. Oh, and get me some eye drops.”

And that, readers, is how The Golf Course at Sand Hollow Resort cracked the Top 50 for the first time. Designed by former tour pro John Fought III and open for a mere four years (and already ranked No. 1 among Utah’s public courses), Sand Hollow makes the grandest splash in the ranking since Castle Stuart debuted three years ago at No. 10.

Sand Hollow's 12th

The twelfth at Sand Hollow, like an episode of “Burn Notice,” is a cliff-hanger. (Photo courtesy of Sand Hollow Resort)

“I would rate Sand Hollow number one among desert and mountain courses,” says our course-ranking director, Gary Van Sickle, “not to disparage Arizona’s 51st-ranked Desert Mountain. I’d rank Sand Hollow higher even than Tom Fazio’s Vegas stunner, Shadow Creek, which, to be honest, I’ve never been invited to play — hint, hint — or 51st-ranked Coyote Springs, which I’ve had the pleasure of playing and recommending to travelers to Vegas who don’t mind an hour’s drive to a nest of mountain ranges not far from Mesquite, Nevada, which, as you know, is headquarters for the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship ….”*

*The complete text of Van Sickle’s quote will be published in a later post. 

Coincidentally, Van Sickle and I played a fortuitous round at Sand Hollow a mere week before the course’s surprising ascent in the ratings. Also coincidentally, we played that round with Fought (rhymes with “boat”), who dropped in from nearby Scottsdale to show off the still-impressive skills that won him the 1977 U.S. Amateur, a spot on the victorious 1977 U.S. Walker Cup team, PGA Tour rookie-of-the-year honors and back-to-back Tour wins in 1979. (Fought’s designing career, launched when back and neck injuries drove him off the Tour, has produced original tracks such as 51st-ranked Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon and a wonderful restoration of Donald Ross’s Pine Needles GC in Southern Pines, N.C.)*

*The compete text of a Q&A with Fought will appear in a later post.

The Top 50 ratings are rigorously scientific, but I see no harm in sharing my subjective appraisal of Sand Hollow’s 7,300-yard Championship Course: “Fantastic … awe-inspiring … the best use of desert since John Ford filmed She Wore a Yellow Ribbon ….” From its pinnacle clubhouse, which affords one of the most spectacular views in golf, to its back-nine run of holes along red-sandstone cliffs, Sand Hollow provides scenic thrills heretofore available only on seaside courses like Cypress Point, Carne and Askernish.

Sand Hollow also has a Fought-designed 9-hole Links Course, which features broad, knobby fairways and sprawling greens that retain every feature of the underlying terrain. “We tried to keep everything as natural as possible,” said Fought, who added that Sand Hollow’s trademark red-sand bunkers were not a design conceit. “If we’d trucked in outside sand, it would’ve turned red. That’s just how it is out here.”

Situated just north of St. George, Utah, off I-15, Sand Hollow is no more than an hour’s drive from Mesquite and maybe two hours from Vegas.*

*In an upcoming post, I’ll examine the paradox of 20th-ranked Sand Hollow being much higher in elevation than 19th-ranked Sand Hills

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Top 50 Golf Team achieved modest success at last week’s Mesquite Media Classic in Mesquite, Nev. Team captain and past champion Gary Van Sickle finished second in the championship flight. Top 50 founder and CEO John Garrity tied for second in Flight 2 with Al Barkow, the legendary golf editor, biographer of Sam Snead and author of Golf’s Golden Grind. In a tie-breaker at the Oasis Golf Club, Garrity smashed a Big Break Mesquite window target in three tries, three fewer than Barkow needed. The tie-breaker, however, was not recognized by Tournament Director Bill Huffman.

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Ogilvie Was Best Guest of 2011

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer at Sports Illustrated (and director of course rating for the Top 50), writes that “while the PGA Tour is abuzz with talk about proposed changes to the qualifying tournament (Q-school), another route to the tour has been overlooked.”

That would be sponsor’s exemptions. Each event gets a handful of exemptions — a free invite into the tournament — to do with as tournament officials please. Non-tour members can accept up to seven free passes in a season, but for tour members there is no limit. And there is no watchdog.  In this oh-so-political game, it’s often not what you’ve done, but who you know.

Gary Van Sickle

Gary Van Sickle, Top 50's chief course rater, at Coyote Springs Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev. (John Garrity)

Van Sickle, who is no relation to the Gary Van Sickle who presides over the California Tree Fruit Growers Association, goes on to analyze the past year’s sponsor’s exemptions:

In 2011, 270 playing spots were awarded via sponsor’s exemptions in 31 tournaments. That’s an average of nearly nine spots per tournament — a pretty big number considering how tough it is to win a card through Q-school or the Nationwide Tour. Of those 270 free passes, recipients made the cut (and a check) 109 time. That’s 42 percent, not bad. Fourteen SE’s finished among the top ten (that’s five percent), and the best finish by a player competing on an exemption was third place. In all, 26 SE’s (9.6 percent) finished among the top 20.

“Another overlooked route to the tour,” Van Sickle continues, “is the Monday qualifier, a one-day, 18-hole event in which a field of players competes for three or four available spots.”

Not every tournament has Monday qualifying, and in 2011 the successful Monday qualifiers didn’t fare very well. Only 20 of 91 Monday qualifiers made cuts (22 percent). John Merrick, who was ninth at the Travelers Championship, earned the only top-ten finish by a Monday qualifier. Merrick, Lee Janzen and Michael Letzig were the only players to be successful twice in Monday qualifying this year.

Who is the king of sponsor’s exemptions?

“In 2011,” Van Sickle reports, “it was Joe Ogilvie.”

While Ogilvie, Scott McCarron and Brad Faxon each received 11 sponsor’s exemptions, Ogilvie was the only one to cash in on his opportunities. The 2007 U.S. Bank/Milwaukee champion made six cuts in 11 events, and his third-place finish at the Byron Nelson Championship, worth $377,000, was the biggest payday scored by any player receiving an exemption. Ogilvie won $541,650 in six events, and that, combined with 13 other appearances, enabled Ogilvie to finish 116th on the money list and regain exempt status.

Faxon called in a career’s worth of favors for his 11 spots as he waited to turn 50 in late summer and start competing on the Champions Tour. Faxon missed 11 cuts in 11 tries, but the work apparently paid off. He won a senior event late in the year.

McCarron made six cuts, like Ogilvie, but had only one finish better than 38th, a tie for sixth at the McGladrey Classic that earned him $125,200, more than one-fourth of his winnings for the year. McCarron finished 145th on the money list and is only conditionally exempt for 2012.

“I’ve worked up a report on other notable sponsor’s exemptions,”Van Sickle concludes, “like John Daly, Gary Woodland and — would you believe it? — Rory McIlroy. I’ll file them as soon as I complete my rating of the Jack Nicklaus layout at Coyote Springs Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev. Until then, Happy New Year!”


 Sponsor’s Exemptions, 2011

(Cuts made in parentheses)

11 Brad Faxon (0)

11 Scott McCarron (6)

11 Joe Ogilvie (6)

7 John Daly (3)

7 Rod Pampling (4)

7 Sam Saunders (2)

5 Will MacKenzie (1)

4 Notah Begay (1)

4 Patrick Cantlay (4)

4 Bud Cauley (3)

4 Erik Compton (3)

4 Morgan Hoffman (2)

4 Kevin Tway (0)

4 Charles Warren (1)

3 Billy Andrade (0)

3 Jay Williamson (1)

3 Joseph Bramlett (0)

3 Todd Hamilton (1)

3 Lee Janzen (2)

3 Colt Knost (1)

3 Scott Piercy (3)

3 Brett Quigley (1)

3 Jeff Quinney (2)

3 Lee Westwood (3)

3 Brett Wetterich (1)


Money Won by Players Playing on Exemptions

$541,650 Joe Ogilvie

$500,804 Bud Cauley

$374,000 Scott Stallings

$369,153 Rod Pampling

$359,112 Adam Hadwin

$251,600 John Cook

$222,650 Gary Woodland

$205,704 Lee Westwood

$204,354 Scott McCarron

$177,375 Shigeki Maruyama

$164,286 John Daly

$155,440 Brett Wetterich

$135,525 Sam Saunders

$112,840 Ben Curtis

$  88,000 Peter Hanson

$  82,650 Justin Hicks (Honda)

$  69,031 Morgan Hoffman

$  67,786 Josh Teater

$  61,590 Scott Piercy

$  55,481 Martin Kaymer


Money Won by Monday Qualifiers

$190,925 John Merrick

$  54,987 Frank Lickliter

$  51,837 Erik Compton

$  42,000 Mathias Gronberg

$  29,000 Michael Letzig

$  17,356 Josh Broadaway

$  16,336 Robert Gamez

$  16,087 Erick Justesen

$  14,430 Andre Stolz

$  13,542 Troy Kelly

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