Tag Archives: Dave Henson

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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Disgruntled Reader Tees Off: “Fraud!”

“You were giving me golf-course recommendations for a trip between Mobile and Pensacola,” writes a pissed-off reader from Argentina, “and you suggested Hilton Head Island, 525 miles from my destination. If that wasn’t bad enough, you didn’t finish your post. I was so frustrated that I left my clubs at home, spent my days in America at the beach, and lost all my savings at Gulf Coast casinos. I’m telling my friends in Rosario that the Top 50 is a big, fat fraud, and they should go back to Travelin’ Joe Passov if they want honest golf-travel advice.”

Chechessee Creek

Chechessee Creek’s par 3s are plenty challenging, even for course raters. (John Garrity)


My first impulse is to remind this overheated reader that I told him that golf itineraries were Travelin’ Joe’s specialty, not mine. (My exact words: “The Top 50 does not recommend golf courses; it ranks them.”) My second impulse is to ask Mr. Rosario for an apology. I went out of my way to help him out, but I don’t feel much love from his “big, fat fraud” crack. I talked to my close friend, Vijay Singh, and he thought I should consult a lawyer — his lawyer, to be precise — regarding defamation and libel issues. I’m not ready to take that step, but Rosey should consider the fact that the Top 50 has never lost a court fight.*

*Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course v Garrity was settled amicably, and I have never violated the restraining order. 

My third impulse is to withhold the final recommendation for our gaucho’s Gulf Coast golf tour, but that would be a disservice to my Top 50 subscribers. So, for their sake, Roseman, not yours, I’m recommending the 51st-ranked Chechessee Creek Club in Okatie, S.C. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Chechessee Creek is probably the finest example of swamp sorcery this side of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

The minimalist philosophy is at work here, although I prefer the term “understated.” There are no waterfalls, no tabletop tees, no fairway-bunker complexes that rival the Sahara. It’s simply a challenging, well-constructed golf course that just happens to be situated in a backwoods setting where the plunky notes of Dueling Banjos filter through the pines.

“Chechessee Creek Club is a throwback to the times when golf was simpler,” writes a blogger who calls himself Golf Club Atlas’. “The absence of artificial mounding harkens to the Golden Age of course design when dirt wasn’t pushed around just for the sake of ‘framing’ holes.”

Michael Bamberger

Blurbmaster Bamberger was deeply moved by the Creek. (John Garrity)

Obviously, some dirt is necessarily pushed around in the playing of golf. My foursome of clod connoisseurs included Top 50 v.p. Gary Van Sickle, southeast ratings chief Dave Henson, and Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, who moonlights as blurb superintendent for the Top 50 book division. (Full disclosure: Caddies were compulsory, so we actually paid something for our rounds. The Golf Writers Association is weighing whether we should be suspended for the infraction.)

Anyway, we scored Chechessee Creek as follows: Van Sickle, 4½ stars. Henson, 8 out of 10. Bamberger, “a rollicking trek through the Faulknerian recesses of the marginal South … shade-dappled, mossy … It’s magical!” Garrity, 11.94.

Your loss, Rosey. I hope you enjoyed the beach.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but we added to our already-stuffed trophy case when our founder and CEO, John Garrity, won the amateur long-drive contest at last week’s Time Warner Cable Long Drive Championship Pro-Am at 50th-ranked Eagle Bend Golf Club in Lawrence, Ks. His winning drive, had anyone bothered to measure it, would have been well over 250 yards.


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Haig Point Regains High Ranking

Talk about coincidences. Ten days ago I played the 50th-ranked Haig Point Signature Course with the Top 50’s southern correspondent, Dave Henson, and just now I ran into the course’s designer, Rees Jones, at the Ryder Cup. Rees was surrounded by his usual security detail (Knights Templar with USGA handicaps of 3 or lower), but he always seems to have time for me. Anyway, I told him that Haig Point had recently jumped to No. 50 after languishing for some years in the lower 200s.

Rees Jones at 2012 Ryder Cup

Rees Jones and his bodyguards posed with a fan this afternoon at the Ryder Cup in Medinah, Ill. (John Garrity)

“So low?” he asked.

“Well,” I replied, “I had to deduct a hundred points for the hazards.”

He frowned. Rees apparently takes great pride in his sprawling bunkers, meandering marshes and laconic lagoons.

“No,” I said, “I mean the hazards to health. The last time I played Haig Point, I tore a rotator cuff.”

True story. A decade ago, while playing the Daufuskie Island gem with some other Sports Illustrated staffers, I shrieked and fell to my knees beside the fifteenth green. The other members of my foursome dove for cover, thinking that I had caught sniper fire. The truth was only a little less dramatic. I had started walking toward the green while pulling my putter out of a bag strapped to the cart, when — rippppp! — the putter grip caught between other clubs, practically yanking my arm out of its socket. The pain was so intense that I flopped around like a fish before missing a practically-gimmee thirty-footer for par. I managed to finish the round, but I didn’t play again until I had completed two months of rehab with wands, pulleys, and colorful elastic bands. To this day, I can’t reach for a restaurant check with my left arm.

“To add insult to injury,” I told Rees, “my boss, Jim Herre, promptly aced your seventeenth hole, the long par-3 over the marsh.”

“That’s quite a hole-in-one,” he said. “Jim can be proud of that one.”

Haig Point

The Haig Point Signature Course is still dangerous — but only to your score. (John Garrity)

Anyway, Henson and I found the current version of Haig Point to be far less dangerous than I remembered. The entire back nine, in fact, is about as memorable as any non-links course in the Top 50. The take-as-much-as-you-dare drive over water on the par-4 tenth sets the tone, and Jones keeps topping himself. The closing holes take full advantage of the marshes and narrow beach, making me think of 41st-ranked Whispering Pines — not because of inherent similarities, but simply because the holes are so charismatic.

So, by the authority vested in me by me, I rescind my hundred-point deduction and restore Haig Point to the Top 50. Congratulations, Rees, and thank you, Haig Point and former USGA exec Craig Smith, for the kind invite.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Ryder Cup will be pursued on the 51st-ranked Course 3 at Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Ill. It’s a Tom Bendelow design, updated in 2003 by — who else? — Rees Jones.

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Top 50 Staff: Stickin’ It!

“You’ve obviously been on vacation,” said the receptionist at Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters.

I chuckled. “Did my tan give me away?”

“No,” she said, reaching for her coat. “But you haven’t checked your voice mail for two weeks, and we couldn’t reach you when the cat died. I closed out the petty cash account in lieu of severance. You’ll find my resignation letter on your desk.”

Turnberry Lighthouse

Top 50's Van Sickle drains putt at Virginia tourney. (John Garrity)

The last I saw of her, through the glass entry doors, she was dancing in little circles on the way to her car.

But the receptionist — I forget her name — was right about my being on vacation. Once or twice a year I put my Top 50 obligations on hold to devote all my time and energy to my first love: competitive golf.

Last week, for example, I anchored the Sports Illustrated/Golf.com team to a 9-6 shellacking of the GOLF Magazine staff at the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Playing for the first time at the venerable Dunes Golf and Beach Club, I scored two out of a possible three points and shared MVP honors with dot-commie Billy Tucker. (“Well done,” said a gracious David Denunzio, GOLF’s captain. “You have been reported to the handicapping committee.”)

Should I be playing tournament golf on the eve of the all-important Indian Summer golf season? Yes, I should. The Top 50 is the world’s most credible course-ranking site because our raters are more than sparkling intellects and polished writers; we are also tournament-hardened, trophy-grasping, spotlight-seeking sportsmen.

Today, for example, our Pennsylvania ratings director, Gary Van Sickle, fired a first-round 77 at the USGA Senior Amateur Championship in Manakin-Sabor, Va. If Gary  survives a weekend of medal play and then rumbles through the 64-man match-play brackets, he will copy the feat of Atlantic Coast ratings chief Dave Henson, who recently blew away six opponents on his way to the Palmetto Hall Plantation Club Handicap Match Play title.

Dave Henson at Askernish

Top 50's Henson digs himself out of a jam at Palmetto Hall. (John Garrity)

“Tournament experience may not be a requirement if you rate courses for Golf Digest,” Dave said in a statement issued through his web site. “You’ll have to ask their editors why not.”

Next up on my tournament schedule: The St. Francis Xavier Charity Scramble, Sept. 25, at  51st-ranked Swope Memorial Golf Course, Kansas City, Mo.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Britain & Ireland have taken a 7-5 lead over the U.S. going into the final day of the Walker Cup at Scotland’s Royal Aberdeen links. Our U.K. ratings director, Gary Van Sickle, calls the venue “a classic and wild links course.”

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Askernish Retains Hold on Top Spot

“My game is coming back since returning from Scotland,” Top 50 staffer Dave Henson writes from Hilton Head, S.C. “Haven’t been in the 70s yet, but low to mid 80s. It seems I developed a strong left hand grip somewhere – probably from trying to drive the ball into 75 mph winds.”

Dave Henson at Askernish

Top 50's Henson celebrates at Rainbow's End. (John Garrity)

My old friend refers to a rather gusty mid-summer round at Castle Stuart Golf Links, No. 9, during my Top 50 Audit of Highly-Ranked Links Courses. That round in the Scottish Highlands, I should point out, was the only one in which conditions were severe enough to actually wreck one’s swing. The winds at Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Askernish never exceeded 40 mph, and there were intervals of relative calm when we could talk in normal tones and Dave could light his pipe without burning his hand. But the most rewarding birdies and eagles, as I think even galeaphobic Dave will agree, are those produced in hurricane-force winds. (See photograph, left.)

Unfortunately, Dave had to return to the States after our three-day inspection of top-ranked Askernish Old, the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course on the Hebridean isle of South Uist. Health was an issue for my right-hand man, who had to endure the indignities of free and attentive treatment from a nurse-practitioner at a village clinic, followed by the prompt filling of an outrageously cheap prescription for his bronchitis. “Socialized medicine at its worst,” Dave grumbled, pining for the ninety-dollar meds and hour-long waits of home.

Askernish, in contrast to Dave, was in great shape. Greenkeeper Alan MacDonald had the greens rolling at a bouncy 5 or 6, and the fescue roughs were hacked down to a height that would barely conceal a dozing poet. Three years of dedicated labor have pushed most of the rabbit warrens to the boundaries of the course, so it’s no longer a common occurrence to have a border collie chase a hare between your legs as you address the ball. “It’s really coming around,” said Ralph Thompson, the affable chairman of the Askernish Golf Club. “It wouldn’t hurt you to pay the green fee.”

J Garrity putting at Askernish Old

Garrity on Old Tom's Pulpit: "Do you see a break?" (Dave Henson)

Since Askernish is closer to a perfect 10 than any other course, you might expect an air of complacency. Instead, the locals have jumped on an offer from famed course designer Tom Doak to lend staff and material resources to their restoration effort. As the Hebridean winter closes in, Doak’s team will work with MacDonald and British architect Martin Ebert (who designed the six new holes that lead up to Old Tom’s sublime stretch of seaside holes) on a subtle tweaking of the ancient links. As I write this, it’s not clear whether the work will start before or after the local crofters drive their livestock onto the course for their winter keep.

No matter. Based upon its summer condition and Dave’s scribbled report, Askernish retains its number one ranking and improves on its previous record score, edging down .03 points to 10.15.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but every time I turned on a set last week it was tuned to [the] Golf Channel’s “Golf in America.” For some reason, an audio-visual team had followed SI senior writer Alan Shipnuck and a friend as they played all four courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort — including Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes, No. 26 — in a single day.* (Spoiler Alert: It ends with Shipnuck walking into his motel room and falling face-first on the bed — a scene that would have been lost to posterity but for the fortuitous pre-placement of the video crew and their equipment.) If you missed this tribute to sore joints and sunburn, I invite you to read Shipnuck’s SI Golf Plus report on his long day, titled “14 Hours, 21.7 Miles, 2 Barking Dogs”, at Golf.com.

*Not to complain, but I’ve played several rounds with Shipnuck in recent months — most notably at Kingsbarns, No. 40, and Erin Hills, No. 23 — without drawing even a flicker of interest from [the] Golf Channel. Maybe their cameras would follow me around if I played all the crummy courses from my near-best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses, finishing up at the very worst, the Ft. Meade (Fla.) City Mobile Home Park Golf Course.**

**For TV, I would need an appropriate playing partner. Charles Barkley? Ray Romano? Tiger Woods? Send me your ideas.


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First Stop on Links Tour: Royal Dornoch

As I explained last time, fears that the Top 50 ratings might be flawed led me to cross the Atlantic for three weeks of club-in-hand research on some of our most highly-rated links courses. To get started, I met my longtime friend and America’s Worst Golf Courses researcher Dave Henson at the Glasgow airport, loaded his sleepy carcass and his golf clubs into the rental car, and then drove north along the shores of Lochs Lomond and Inverness to the banks of the Moray Firth, where the staff at Castle Stuart Golf Links rolled out the red carpet for us.

What they should have done was roll the red carpet over us — to keep us from blowing away. “We’re clocking steady winds of 45 to 50 miles per hour with gusts of 70,” said the young man behind the counter in the golf shop. “If your schedule allows, we’d recommend you come back in a couple of days, when you can better appreciate the course.”

Bunker Shot at Royal Dornoch

Top 50 Staffer Dave Henson tests the sand at Royal Dornoch. (John Garrity)

Dave, who was nursing a case of bronchitis, thought that was a great idea, and since I was already familiar with Castle Stuart, having played it last July, when it opened, I concurred. “But let’s play just a few holes,” I suggested, “to loosen up after the drive and your flight.” To that end, the club’s general manager, Stuart McColm, offered to drive us out to the fourth tee in his SUV, so we wouldn’t have to play the first three holes along the water into the gale.

So we were on the tee of the par-3 fourth when the next squall swept down behind us, blowing over our golf bags, puffing out our rain suits and pelting our necks with stinging sleet. “This should wake you up!” I shouted over the wind, drawing a withering glance from my old friend, who woud prefer to puff on his pipe by a cozy fire whenever the barometer needle dips a fraction. Anyway, we played holes four through nine in varying inclemencies and then drove back into Inverness to check into the Craigside Lodge B&B and change into dry clothes for dinner.

Day Two. A cold, windy, dreary morning followed by a cool, breezy, but clearing afternoon. Dave kept looking at the clouds as if he expected anvils to fall out of them. However, the promise of a round at Royal Dornoch improved his mood. It took us less than an hour to cross the big bridge and motor up past lochs, farms and forest to Dornoch, which is pretty much the northern outpost of the old British Empire, golf division. The great Donald Ross, I didn’t have to remind Dave, was head professional and greenkeeper at Dornoch before emigrating to the United States and establishing himself as the preeminent course designer of his time.

“You didn’t have to remind me,” Dave said.

Golfer teeing off at Royal Dornoch

Royal Dornoch: Well worth the drive. (John Garrity)

It was blowing 25 or 30 knots when we teed off at Dornoch, making the national and club flags snap and crackle atop their poles. But it was a helping wind, not the in-your-face variety we had encountered at Castle Stuart.

Not that Royal Dornoch needed any help. Checking my notebook after the round, I found that it was filled with pithy praise: “A classic links …. lovely gorse-covered banks … delightful changes of elevation … unpretentious, a small-town feel … beautiful green complexes … sod-faced bunkers to be avoided at all costs … great sea views! … a perfect distillation of traditional course design with contemporary shot values …” Those are not scientific judgements, to be sure, but the point of our visit was to see if Dornoch’s Top 50 rating stood up to soft-spikes-on-the-ground scrutiny.

It did. In fact, I drove out of town at dusk convinced that Royal Dornoch deserves to be ranked in the top twenty of any reputable course-rating system. And that’s without factoring in the wonderful dinners we enjoyed in the club’s upstairs lounge, which looks down on the first tee and beyond to that long stretch of sand and sea.

I was reassured by Dornoch, but it was just one of many links courses in the Top 50. “Tomorrow,” I told Dave back at the Craigside Lodge, “we’ll check out Nairn.”

So, tomorrow, we’ll check out Nairn.

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