Tag Archives: Donald Ross

Ross Course Captures World’s Attention

“What’s the hottest course on your list?” asks a reader from Oatmeal, Texas. The answer, I discovered after tapping a few keys on my Bomar Brain, is Furnace Creek Golf Club of Death Valley, Calif., where summer temperatures top out at around 130 degrees with overnight lows of 100. That’s one reason why Furnace Creek has never cracked my Top 50.

Hillcrest's 2nd hole

Hillcrest’s No. 2 is sometimes mistaken for Pinehurst No. 2, but there is a significant difference in elevation. (John Garrity)

“Let’s face it,” writes the author of the 1994 best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses, “on any list of potential golf course sites, Death Valley — at 214 feet below sea level — has to be near the bottom.”

Ask any blade of grass. Summer soil temperatures at Furnace Creek reach 200 degrees: good for baking brownies, but not much help to turfgrass. Perversely, winter temperatures in Death Valley dip well below freezing, nudging the Bermuda grass greens and fairways into dormancy. Rainfall? Less than two inches a year. In these conditions, even sand traps don’t survive. The local sand is so high in mineral content that it hardens like concrete when wet; imported sand blows away in the Valley’s furious windstorms. Consequently, all the bunkers on this desert course are grass.

Furnace Creek’s course rating, according to AWGC, is 67.4. Its USGA Slope? “Pretty much uphill in every direction.” “– And by ‘hottest,’” my desert correspondent continues, “I mean ‘trending’ — as in Billboard’s ‘with a bullet’ designation for songs moving fast up the charts.” This is an example of a reader wasting the Top 50’s time. Was I supposed to read the entire email before answering the question? That’s like asking the dock hand if you can jump the narrow gap to the ferry as it’s pulling away, adding that while you look out of shape now, you were a high-school hurdler and occasional ballroom dancer, and even now you can probably …. oops, too late. But we are here to serve, so I’ll answer the question. The Top 50’s trendiest course is Hillcrest Golf & Country Club of Kansas City, Mo. In the past couple of months, Hillcrest — a 1916 Donald Ross design — has catapulted from 42nd to 30th in the ranking, pushing it past better-known Ross masterpieces such as  Mid-Pines Inn & Golf Club (No. 32), Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club (No. 42), and 51st-ranked Pinehurst No. 2, site of the upcoming men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. The Top 50 isn’t alone in singing Hillcrest’s praises. Last week, Sports Illustrated devoted four pages and the talents of esteemed golf photographer Kohjiro Kinno to a Hillcrest feature titled BACK ON COURSE. (“Once given up for dead,” reads the subhead, “a challenging Donald Ross layout in the heartland is thriving again.”) SI singles out Hillcrest’s “infamous 1st hole, a 243-yard par-3 that Ray Floyd once called the toughest opening hole that he had ever played.” Also mentioned: the fact that Arnold Palmer once went around Hillcrest in 83.* “Every so often,” SI’s man writes, “I am reminded that Ross courses are widely revered …”

They’re not all masterpieces, and some of them have had mustaches painted on them by posterity, but playing one of the 399 courses attributed to Ross is like fingerpicking a vintage Martin guitar. Something of the designer is inevitably expressed, something sings … and you don’t need a lot of talent to appreciate the craftsmanship.

How true! On the strength of that paragraph alone, I and the entire Top 50 staff promptly signed up to receive the new SI Golf+ Digital e-magazine, which is free to humans and delivered weekly via email, app or Golf.com. *Full disclosure: I wrote the story.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the above-mentioned Pinehurst No. 2 will hog our screens for the next fortnight. No. 2, too, has gotten the attention of various Sports Illustrated platforms. You can start with photographer Bob McNeely’s black-and-white renderings of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course tweaks in the SI Golf+ U.S. Open Preview. I also recommend the June issue of GOLF Magazine, specifically the comprehensive U.S. Open preview section (“Why Pinehurst Will Be the Toughest Venue Yet”), which includes a clever send-up of Phil Mickelson tournament coverage (“Tomorrow’s News … Today!”)** You’ll split your sides with laughter. **I wrote it.

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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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KC Pro Fights for Hillcrest Ranking

“Hey, John,” writes Kansas City club pro John Bozarth. “When we get the ninth green finished here at Hillcrest, will we move up in the Top 50 list?”

Hillcrest's 9th green

Richard III wasn’t found under the tailings of Hillcrest’s old 9th green — just a lot of ribbons and rice. (John Garrity)

Bozarth is referring to the original Donald Ross green at 45th-ranked Hillcrest Golf Club, a three-time PGA Tour venue. Several years ago, a club executive decided that Ross’s green would produce more revenue as a wedding bower, situated as it was close to the clubhouse and parking for tin-can-festooned getaway cars. Dimly aware that golfers would still need a place to hole out before moving on to No. 10, the executive installed a new ninth green of dubious merit — a small, sticky putting patch fronted by a bunker and a stone wall.

Ross promptly shifted in his grave.

Since 17-½ holes falls just shy of the accepted standard for championship play, Hillcrest no longer evokes comparisons to Ross’s more-famous parkland courses, such as Chicago’s Beverly CC, Atlanta’s East Lake GC, and Rochester’s 51st-ranked Oak Hill CC, site of this summer’s PGA Championship. But Bozarth assumes, with logic on his side, that the restoration of Hillcrest’s once-great ninth hole will put his track back in the national picture.

“I would at the very least like to go ahead of the other course listed from the Kansas City area,” Bozarth writes.* “What is the criteria for choosing the ranking? Is there a way to influence that decision, like free fountain drinks, or maybe a season’s supply of tees? Or I could let you use my covered cart when it is cold. Well, I think you can see where I’m going with this.”

*The “other course” would be Tom Fazio’s 42nd-ranked Hallbrook Country Club, one of the midwest’s most challenging layouts and home course of Tour Tempo pioneer John Novosel, co-author of Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond. 

Bozarth is a friend, so I know that his wink-wink, nudge-nudge is merely his way of acknowledging the incorruptibility of the Top 50 ranking. (It’s all science here at Catch Basin. A season’s supply of tees doesn’t even move the needle.) But he’s not crazy for supposing that Hillcrest will move up when the old ninth green is put back in play.

That new fleet of golf carts won’t hurt, either.

Top 50 on TV: Ninth-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links swept defending champ Phil Mickelson off his feet today at the AT&T National Pro-Am. (Those rocks are slippery.) Meanwhile, the postman just delivered a book by Oliver Horovitz called An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls, and Looping on the [16th-ranked] Old Course. I enjoyed An American Caddie in page proofs some time back, but it’s possible that Gotham Books has trimmed it to appeal to the bridal-shower crowd. I’ll read it again and let you know.

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Carne Golfers Enchant New Yorkers

“I understand your persistent cheerleading for Hillcrest/Kansas City,” writes a deep-sea fisherman from St. George, Utah. “Who wouldn’t get behind the only Donald Ross course in Missouri? Your recent endorsement of my neighboring Sand Hollow is also easy to understand, although its cliff’s-edge fairways are a bit too close to the sun for this old sea dog. But you’ve made little mention lately of your second-ranked course, the Carne Golf Links. Have you run out of things to say about Ireland’s most rugged and scenic seaside course?”

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

Great question, Ahab. In a word, yes. I wrote a long Carne feature for Sports Illustrated Golf Plus back in ’03. Four years later, after a lengthy sabbatical in County Mayo, I spewed a 135,000-word manuscript about Eddie Hackett’s glorious links track, mixing in just enough of my own colorful biography and tangential musings to keep things interesting. That book — Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations — has led to an endless cycle of interviews, lectures and appearances at motivational seminars, at which I perform rhetorical cartwheels on behalf of my favorite course.* So yeah, I’ve run out of fresh things to say.

*Carne, I should emphasize, is my favorite course worldwide of all the courses I had no role in designing. I consider myself a co-creator of top-ranked Askernish Old (although I am quick to acknowledge the contributions of Old Tom Morris, Gordon Irvine and Martin Ebert), and so I rarely describe it as my “favorite.”   

Fortunately, I can always dip into the Top 50 in-box for a Carne update. Just the other day, for instance, New Yorker David Brennan submitted a glowing report. “I read your book a few years ago,” Brennan writes, “and thinking of it this summer, I chose to read it again …”

It is a wonderful story, well told. Your portrayal of Belmullet and Carne enticed me to suggest the book to one of my friends who travels annually to our home in Pallaskenry, County Limerick, from where we strike out to play golf with two other friends against a fourball of Irish lads. We have been doing this for about 12 years (we all live in the NY area) and have played much of the southwest of Ireland during those trips. Of late we have played Lahinch, Ballybunion (7) and Doonbeg, regularly losing our annual match with the Irish at Lahinch. Losers — that would be us for all but one year — pay for dinner at Vaughn’s, a fine seafood pub in Liscannor between Lahinch & the Cliffs of Moher.

My wife Deirdre, who does not golf (she rides horses instead), read and loved your book. When one of our regular travelers dropped out of this year’s trip, she suggested that I call Carne to ask if any of the characters from the book would make up our fourth. I called the office, and when I mentioned your book I could sense a smile at the other end of the phone. After explaining that one of our fourball had dropped out, and that the other three had all read the book, I asked if it would be possible to play with any of the people featured in the book, such as Seamus Cafferky or Eamon Mangan, Terry Swinson, Chris Birrane, etc. “John” patiently listened to my inquiry and suggested that I send an email, which I did. Hearing nothing back, I figured they took us for crazy Yanks.

To my delight when we arrived (after losing our match with the Irish the prior day), the lady in the office said that Eamon wanted to say hello. Almost immediately thereafter we met Chris and had a great chat with him. As it turned out, Eamon played 18 holes with us, throughout which he told great Eddie Hackett stories and explained much of the course as we walked. When we spoke of our obsession with No. 17 (long before we saw it), Eamon smiled, shook his head and said “Garrity.” He then asked if, after our round the following day, we’d like a tour of the new 9!

Our first day was quite misty, and though we couldn’t see all the views, we saw what a wonderful course it is. The next day was brilliant sunshine, and the views to Achill Island, the clear blue water on white sandy beaches, and the amazing layout were as you described so well in your book. When we arrived at 17 we each had three balls ready,* but when we had good drives (relative to each of our games) we chose not to risk ruining our fairway lies with a second shot. On the first day, Howard, our best golfer (8 handicap), just missed a birdie putt that, had he sunk it, Eamon said he was going to take Howard up to the office and “call Garrity.” (Your description of Eamon as one who never appears rushed but who accomplishes more in a day than anyone else in a week is perfect.)

*Why three balls? Read Ancestral Links and you’ll understand.

The next afternoon, Eamon met us at 18 and drove us around the new 9 in his Jeep. The new 9 looks amazing. That par 3 is stunning.  We stayed at The Talbot, which was great fun and as good a place as any we have stayed. Next year we hope to be there for the opening of the new 9, and if so perhaps we could meet.

Your book inspired one of the most memorable trips of my life. Carne went well beyond our expectations. Years ago I read Dermot Healy‘s book, Goat Song, and ever since I’ve been fascinated with the descriptions of Belmullet. When I read your book I knew someday I would get there. Ancestral Links made me feel as if I knew everyone. I loved the Eddie Hackett chapters. A fine mix of memoir, history and golf. I loved it. Beyond the golf and the wonderful memories of your mother, father and brother, your fascination and attraction to Ireland is something I share. I love traveling Ireland, reading its history, great fiction writers and playwrights. Playing golf there is just different than anywhere else. My grandparents came here (America) and never returned, so my own discovery of Ireland came through my wife, who spent summers on a family dairy farm in Beale, next to Ballybunion.

I just wanted to thank you for such a treat, introducing us to Carne as told through the story of your family. If you get to New York, please let me know. We’d be delighted to host you for a meal.

I have David’s permission to share his moving report, and I thank him for that. Meanwhile, I’m acting on my own authority to boost Carne’s Cal Sci Algorithm score from 9.75 to 9.77.

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the St. Andrews Links Trust and the R&A have disclosed that they are making a few renovations to the 16th-ranked Old Course — “renovations” being the word we like to use when we’re caught trying to escape the Road Hole Bunker with the aid of a 200-metric ton front loader. Gadfly blogger and author Geoff Shackelford and Top 50 architect and author Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers) are apoplectic over the changes, and the twitterverse has produced myriad versions of the “mustache on the Mona Lisa” trope. GOLF Magazine’s Travelin’ Joe Passov is much less alarmed (“Much ado about nothing”), but GOLF’s Alan Bastable reports that St. Andrews residents are dismayed that construction started with little public notice. The Top 50 will reserve judgement until our course raters have conducted a full site inspection, but here’s what I tweeted when the news broke:

John Garrity @jgarrity2

@michaelwalkerjr Mona Lisa’s mustache was on Da Vinci’s original sketch; sacrificed for condos and water feature.

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Hillcrest Holes: As Remembered Or Not?

Bill Amick, as befits a recent winner of the American Society of Golf Course Architects’ Distinguished Service Award, wasted no time in responding to my post about 45th-ranked Hillcrest at Heartland GC.

You can’t know what a relief it is for me to read your latest blog with assuring evidence that the The Earlier Donald’s #9 green is being at least semi-restored at Hillcrest. I want to repeat what I’ve said to others about that course being truly outstanding. The way Ross utilized the rolling contours for great holes always made it a pleasure for me to visit. He seemed somewhat of a Picasso in that dirt.

Hillcrest's 14th green

The 14th at Kansas City’s Hillcrest: Who built the wall? (John Garrity)

But my closing question about Amick’s 1984 renovation work — How about it, Bill? Do you still have the blueprints? — left the Florida-based architect at a loss.

Certainly, I still have the plans for all the greens I redid there, just as I have all the course drawings I’ve ever prepared. They are safely in rolls in correctly-labeled slots. My only problem is that I have trouble remembering where the cabinets of those drawings are located. But that is no surprise, since after long flights from overseas I can hardly recall the city and house I live in.

I asked about Amick’s blueprints in the context of Hillcrest’s par-4 fifth hole, which I have come to admire for its understated difficulty and purity of form. But it was actually the par-3 fourteenth that made me want to rummage through his rolled-up construction drawings. That’s because my childhood memories of Hillcrest don’t include a water hazard.* Today’s Hillcrest, of course, has this very attractive water hole with reeds guarding the left side and a stone wall serving as a decorative bulkhead.

*My memories of some Hillcrest summers don’t even include water. Drought and a lack of fairway irrigation left some fairways as firm as sidewalks. I hit my first 300-yard drive when I was 12.

Amick didn’t need his drawings to confirm my memory of a waterless par 3.

Yes, I am to blame for the pond fronting and siding #14 green. But not the stone wall. I didn’t want to risk giving the great Ross indigestion, even in his grave.

Amick’s fourteenth, even with the mischievous masonry, is markedly superior to the original Ross par 3. Positioned as it was, well downhill from the clubhouse, Ross’s hole turned into a lake during downpours and was susceptible to erosion. Amick fixed that without changing the essential character of the hole. I’m sure Ross, after a hearty dinner in his grave, would approve.**

** “Within a couple of hours after fourteen was reopened from construction,” Amick recalled, “a member holed his tee shot there. Now that’s what I call proof of true reward over risk.”

Amick concluded with a plea to “please keep us sports fans informed about the new/old #9 green at Heartland GC. That should be another stone in the wall of progress for a great course.”

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Ian Poulter won the WGC HSBC Champions on the 51st-ranked Olazabal Course at Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China. The course is actually a Schmidt-Curley design, but the developers named it for the Spanish golfer because it’s fun to hear the Chinese pronounce “Olazabal.”

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Donald Ross Green Taking Shape Again

It has been quiet on the ratings front. Catch Basin’s new concrete parking lot was sealed last week, and the Bomar Brain is down for maintenance. It being election season, we’ve rented out the big ratings board to the local TV station that sold it to us. (I fully expect to see an election-night victory call of incumbent Rep. Emanuel Cleaver over tenth-ranked Royal Portrush GC.) On the competitive front, our South-Atlantic ratings chief, David Henson, won the MGA Individual Match Play Championship at 51st-ranked Palmetto Hall Plantation for the second straight year, and last week I teamed up with my Tour Tempo co-author, John Novosel, to run away with the St. Francis Xavier Celebrity Two-Man Scramble at 45th-ranked Hillcrest at Heartland GC.

Ninth green at Hillcrest/Heartland

In September, Hillcrest’s old ninth green was re-graded and drain tiles were installed. (John Garrity).

Speaking of Hillcrest, the venerable Kansas City track is making great progress on the restoration of Donald Ross’s original ninth green. Located for most of the club’s history at the end of the ninth hole, the Ross green was abandoned a few years back at the urging of a since-departed club executive. A miniature green suitable for a putt-putt course was subsequently installed at a random point in the fairway, fronted by a stone wall that has caused Ross to spin so vigorously in his grave that he has drilled down through bedrock and struck oil.

When I first brought up the Hillcrest project in a recent post, I unintentionally gave the impression that the bogus green was the work of GCSAA Hall of Famer Bill Amick, who oversaw a 1984 renovation of Hillcrest. “That was certainly not the case,” Amick informed me in a recent phone call, “and I don’t know why anyone would impose stone walls on a Donald Ross green. That’s anything but subtle.”

I heard from Amick again in response to my column celebrating Hillcrest’s par-4 fifth as my favorite hole of the summer. “You hit me in my professional pride, right where it hurts most,” he wrote.

For I don’t much recall Hillcrest’s fifth hole — and I spent a good bit of quality time on that course. The picture you included didn’t help, even though, as my wife says, I pay attention to golf holes, if little else. So I viewed Hillcrest using Google Maps, and that wasn’t a whole lotta help, either. I must confess that I recall more about Green Lawn Cemetery [across the road from and paralleling Hillcrest’s first hole] than the fairway of number five sloping to the left. Could I really be wrong in thinking that the “Carolina pasture-plower” concentrated more on getting players from the green of #4 to the tee of #6 than he did in making that a special hole? But there it all is in your September 7 blog, and you’ve likely messed up that hole enough times to know.

Perhaps Herbert Warren Wind was wrong when he wrote something like “One mark of a great course is that after a single round you can distinctly remember each of its holes.” I can still clearly visualize Hillcrest’s opening hole and several others, but not the fifth.

My purpose in this message, if I really have any, is this. I believe you might be misleading “a neighbor,” who just happens to be your grandson Jack, about your current favorite golf hole. I do agree with many of your other conclusions on courses and holes around the world, but on this particular selection, maybe you’d better stick to playing catch with Jack after dinner.

Yours, Bill (known to some of his friends as The Overbunkerer)

Hillcrest's new/old ninth green

October saw the first green shoots sprouting on Donald Ross’s original green site. (John Garrity)

I chuckled knowingly when I read Amick’s e-mail. Twenty-eight years have passed since he performed his miracles at Hillcrest; his memory will understandably be cloudy concerning a hole that was unremarkable back when Ronald Reagan was seeking a second term. But Hillcrest’s fifth, like a fine wine, has improved with age. It is one of those rare holes that, having long been bad, ripens into something sublime.

It’s possible, of course, that Amick doctored the hole in a way that led to its ultimate improvement, and he’s forgotten that. How about it, Bill? Do you still have the blueprints?

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but a tennis injury has forced Ernie Els to pull out of next week’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf at 51st-ranked Port Royal Golf Club in Bermuda. I only mention it so I can remind everyone of my own first-place finish in the 2006 PGA Grand Slam Pro-Am at 15th-ranked Poipu Bay Golf Course on the island of Kauai. That’s the year, if you’ve forgotten, that three scramble partners and I carried Tiger Woods to victory. My trophy, a slightly smaller version of the crystal-spire-upon-a-walnut-base prize that Tiger has won seven times, greets visitors as they enter Catch Basin from our new and very expensive parking lot.

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Summer’s Best Hole Used to be a Dud

“What’s your favorite golf hole?” asks a reader from my immediate neighborhood. A child, actually. My grandson, if you’re going to get all fact-checky on me.

Well, Jack, I have many favorites. Readers of my golf memoir, Ancestral Links, know about my obsession with the par-4 seventeenth at second-ranked Carne. But they may not know that my favorite hole at Carne is either the par-4 third, with its rumpled fairway and two-tiered green, or the par-4 ninth, where you drive into a box canyon before playing blind up to a pinnacle green. Wait no, my favorite is probably the quirky twelfth, which requires an approach shot from a switchback fairway to a dunetop green best reached with ropes and crampons. Or if not the twelfth, how about the imposing fifteenth, a par-4 so rugged and natural that I tend to credit meteor impacts, and not Eddie Hackett, for its strong features.

Get my drift? It’s hard to pick my favorite hole on any one course, never mind the thousands of courses that we visit every year to compile the Top 50 ranking. Like most sentient golfers, I love the Road Hole at the Old Course, the lighthouse hole at Turnberry, the eighth and eighteenth holes at Pebble Beach, the par-3 sixteenth at Cypress Point, the majestic tenth at Augusta National, the drive-over-the-beach first at Machrihanish, and the baffling ninth at Ft. Meade’s City Mobile Home Park Golf Course. I’ve currently got a crush on the closing hole at 51st-ranked Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, which calls for two precise shots over scenic marshland to the accompaniment of turtles splashing in an adjoining canal.

Hillcrest No. 5

Hillcrest’s fifth hole, like good chili, has improved with age. (John Garrity)

That said, my favorite hole of the Summer of ’12 is the par-4 fifth at 45th-ranked Hillcrest in Kansas City, Mo. It’s a surprising favorite, because the No. 5 was maybe my least favorite hole when I caddied and played at Hillcrest as a boy in the late fifties.    Tree-lined and level from tee to green, it rides a ridge that drops off on either side, most sharply on the left, with the slope starting in the center of the fairway.

This was a serious defect, a half century ago, because Hillcrest had not yet installed fairway sprinklers. The summer fairways were bone-hard and brown. That made the tee shot on No. 5 impossibly difficult. Drives hit straight down the middle kicked left off the ridge and bounded through the trees and down the hill toward the tenth green, forcing a blind recovery shot from a steep lie. A slicing drive, on the other hand, would either wind up in the tree line or fly over the trees into the sixth fairway.

Hillcrest’s fifth hole was so bad, in fact, that I remember members cursing the nincompoop who had designed it: a Carolina pasture-plower by the name of Donald Ross.

Well, that was then. Hillcrest has been irrigated for decades now, and the fairways no longer bake in the summer sun. The fifth hole is now what Ross hoped it would be — a challenging par 4 of classic simplicity. The drive still causes your heart to flutter, but the fairway is much more receptive. If you miss left, bluegrass rough keeps most balls from plunging down the hill. “Tough, but fair” is the consensus of local golfers. That and, “Maybe that Ross guy wasn’t such a slug, after all.”

Having played Hillcrest often this summer, I’ve come to love the fifth. There’s nothing fancy about the hole — no gaudy bunker complexes or faux mounding — but the view from the tee (or from the green back to the tee) is classic. It’s an archetypal hole, a Ross variation that echoes holes from Pine Needles (T51), Mid-Pines (T51), Oak Hill (T51) and Aronimink (T51).

So yeah, Jack, I’d say my current favorite is the fifth at Hillcrest. Now if you limit it to the approach shot, I’d maybe choose the eighth hole at Askernish or the par-5 seventeenth at Royal Birkdale, where Paddy Harrington made his eagle ….

But that’s enough for now. Thanks for asking. And yes, we can play catch after dinner.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the pros have taken their season-ending cash grab to 145th-ranked Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., site of the BMW Championship. That brings back memories of John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship, which I covered for Sports Illustrated. I recommend Cameron Morfit’s oral history here on Golf.com, or you can check out my contemporaneous coverage from the SI Vault. Either way, you can ignore Henry Ford’s dictum that “history is bunk.”

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