Tag Archives: Donald Ross

Heartland and Harding Making Moves

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

Heartland Rebuilding Ross Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice facility, Harding Park

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

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

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

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

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

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Parascenzo Weighs in on Duke

Fans of the Top 50’s current focus on tour coverage have singled out the contributions of our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa. “This Duke guy must be psychic,” gushes a reader from Glendive, Mont. “He singles out a rookie I never heard of, Sang-Moon Bae, and Bae reaches the quarter-finals at the Accenture Match Play. He then focuses his all-knowing gaze on another rookie, John Huh, and Huh wins the Mayakoba Golf Classic. So here’s my question. Is ‘Duke’ his real name?”

Before I answer Glendive’s question, I have to correct him. Duke tipped us off to Bae, but credit for the Huh coverage goes to me and my print-media partner, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus, for which I pounded the Huh beat. And we weren’t psychic. We just couldn’t resist the opportunity to put “HUH?” in a headline.

But getting back to Duke Ishikawa, I was going to query him about his nickname when it struck me that he might demand a million yen for his answer. So I forwarded Glendive’s question to our chief Allegheny correspondent and former Golf Writers Association of America president, Marino Parascenzo, who volunteered an answer in less time than it takes to set a Bear Trap.

“The story of Duke Ishikawa goes back to the 1970s,” Marino replied in one of his elegant e-mails.

Duke was getting to be a pretty regular visitor to U.S. tournaments back then, and one day he was chatting with Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe. (Did you know the late Joe?) Duke told Joe he wished he had an American name because people had so much trouble with his given name, Hiroshi. He said ‘Ishikawa’ was tough enough. An American first name would make things easier.

So Joe asked him, “Well, can you think of an American name you would like?”

And Hiroshi said, “Harold.”

And Joe said, “Hell no. That really sucks.”

Hiroshi couldn’t think of another American name he wanted, so Concannon said, “Okay, who’s your favorite American?”

And Hiroshi said, “John Wayne.”

And Joe said, “Okay, John’s no good. So now you’re ‘Duke.’”

And Duke it was.

Concannon told me the story, and Duke confirmed it. He liked Joe a lot.

“I don’t think either of them considered ‘Joe” for a name,” Marino added in his freely volunteered, no-payment-expected e-mail. “It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘Duke.’”

Hillcrest CC 2nd hole

The second hole at the former Hillcrest Country Club is a welcome sight for victims of the notoriously difficult par-3 first. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but a press release informs us that 45th-ranked Hillcrest Country Club of Kansas City, Mo., a classic Donald Ross design, is being re-branded as The Heartland Golf Club. Operating under new management, the former PGA Tour venue will re-open on March 30 with new membership options. “We’re excited to start the process of re-creating the former Hillcrest site into a multi-purpose facility,” says Heartland general manager Kurt Everett. “Our first step is to get the golf course back into play, and we’re busy now with turf and green improvements and an updated pro shop.”

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Carolina Courses Advance in Ranking

To Our Readers: Mr. Garrity, via burner phone, says that he is making final edits on his upcoming e-book, Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond. “Recall the IT staff and renew trash pickup,” he said, followed by some language I couldn’t decipher due to loud conversation and the rattling of silverware at his end. He refused to divulge his whereabouts, but he offered a hint: “The Hague.”

The skeleton crew here at Catch Basin suspects that “The Old Man” (as we are paid to affectionately call him), is actually on a North Carolina golf holiday. We deduce that from the sudden advancement (from No. 51 to No. 18) of Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club of Southern Pines, N.C. and the appearance, at No. 50, of the Country Club of North Carolina Dogwood Course of Pinehurst, N.C. Inasmuch as the IT staff has been on unpaid leave (and since Mr. Garrity is traveling with the Bomar Brain), the updated rankings have to be The Old Man’s work. Also, we found a filled-out entry form for the Golf Writers annual golf tournament on his desk. (He listed his handicap as 10. LOL)

“Big things are in the works,” he shouted before hanging up.

While we wait for further orders, we’re dusting the computer room tarps and checking the mousetraps. We’ll keep you informed.

Thank you for your understanding,

Ethan Mobely, v.p. customer relations/outsourcing

Top 50 on TV: The Masters will be held, once again, at the fourth-ranked Augusta National Golf Club and the 47th-ranked Augusta National Practice Range.


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Top 50 Has Stones to Challenge Malcolm Gladwell on Rankings

It’s been a while since we answered anonymous voice-mail questions, so here goes.

When can we expect your Top 50 list of Russian courses?

How about when Russia has fifty courses? Or forty. Or thirty. Or ten.

Sorry, I meant China.

The Chinese Top 50 was ready for posting in January, but the staff here at Catch Basin put it on hold pending investigation of our Yunnan Province course-rating team. The Yunnan division raised eyebrows when it touted a new 54-hole country club outside Kunming, the provincial capital. Three courses, allegedly designed by Schmidt-Curley Design of Scottsdale, Az., were supposedly threaded through a primordial landscape of karst peaks, pines and lakes. Playing as long as 7,565 yards, the Leaders Peak course was reported to have no bunkers (implausible) and an island green surrounded by rock instead of water (an impossibility). One of the architects was quoted as saying, “We wanted the stone to be the show.”

12th Hole at Stone Forest, China

Stone Forest: China's answer to Rocky Road ice cream?

Unfortunately, that quote was translated into Mandarin and back into English, so it came to us as “We got stoned at a show.” Horrified, we promptly fired our Yunnan course raters and hired a second-rater from Hong Kong, who now informs us that the original report was accurate in its particulars, if sloppy in its expression. The new golf complex, Stone Forest International Country Club, recently opened for play, and it does, indeed, provide a rocky experience for golfers of all abilities — all within a stone’s throw of Kunming, a city of nearly 6 million at the northern edge of Dian Lake.

Anyway, we’re ready to release our Chinese Top 50 — once our second-rater decides which of the three Stone Forest courses is the best.

Malcolm Gladwell, in a recent New Yorker, makes a devastating critique of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guide and, by extension, all service-journalism rankings. Do you think your pseudo-scientific golf course list is any better than the Consumer Reports and Car and Driver ratings that he demolishes?

Funny you should ask. I, myself, have debunked all three of those sloppy, self-serving lists, and I did so when Gladwell, as a barefoot boy in Hampshire, was still learning to use a curling iron. Three decades ago, for instance, I blew gaping holes in a “Most Livable Cities” survey that had Honolulu ranked 47th among American metropolises, 27 rungs lower than [drum roll} … Warren, Ohio! To correct their error, I recommended that they simply add the category, “Public and Private Garage and Parking Lot Landscaping.” I assume they took my advice, because the following year’s rankings had Honolulu somewhere in the top ten, while Warren was no longer recognized as an American city.

But to answer your question, my Top 50 has nothing in common with the flawed surveys in Gladwell’s article. That’s because it is unassailably “my” Top 50 — not yours, not GOLF Magazine’s and certainly not Gladwell’s.

I hear that Pinehurst No. 2 is reopening after a renovation by the Crenshaw-Coore design team. Will their changes boost the greatest of all Donald Ross courses into the Top 50?

I thought No. 2 was in my Top 50, but the boys in the computer room tell me that it dropped to 111th when I penalized it 400 points for having mats on the driving range. (Sorry, Pinehurst.) I’m a big fan of Crenshaw-Coore’s work, so I wouldn’t be surprised if No. 2 moves up dramatically before it hosts the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. I definitely like the natural “dunes look” of the rebuilt bunkers. I just wish they had thrown in a few of Ross’s old “chocolate drop” mounds; that was a swell way of concealing construction debris without having to pay someone to truck it off to the dump.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but SI.com features a “Behind the Mic” video of Sir Nick Faldo forecasting this year’s Masters, “where the real drama starts.” Faldo correctly points out that intermediate and short-iron play will be the key to winning at Augusta National, along with putting (‘blistering-quick greens”) and driving (“very important”). Rut-iron play, in other words, will not be a factor.

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Oops! Swope In, Brookline Out

No one has found fault, so far, with our recently-updated Top 50. The only quibbles come from the tree-hugging community — effectively dismissed in my last posting — and from an anonymous correspondent who claims he has trouble distinguishing between the late Robert Trent Jones (designer of Valderrama, No. 17, and renovator of Kansas City C.C., No. 50) and his son, Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Poipu Bay, No. 15). Which brings to mind the Joan Rivers acquaintance who didn’t understand the concept of Roman numerals. (“She thought we just fought World War Eleven.”)

Perfect, however, is something we have never claimed to be. Decimal points can be misplaced. Fours can fail to be carried. Checks can — and do — get lost in the mail.* That’s why we constantly re-examine our data, looking for niggling errors, and why we subscribe to a sophisticated “spell-checking program” that makes us look up words that it doesn’t recognize. (See “Valderrama.”) It is Top 50 policy to correct even minor mistakes, there being no better way to preserve confidence in the published ranking.

*Sometimes twice in a row, against all odds.

In that spirit, we submit this clarification of the most recent ranking: No. 45 is Swope Memorial Golf Course, Kansas City, Mo. — not The Country Club of Brookline, Mass., as originally announced.

The elevation of Swope Memorial marks the first time that two A. W. Tillinghast courses from Kansas City have achieved simultaneous rankings. Elegant Kansas City Country Club, the third-oldest country club west of the Mississippi and home course of five-time British Open champion Tom Watson, is better known than its crosstown cousin, but both tracks have pedigrees. KCCC has hosted numerous state, regional and national tournaments, including the inaugural Trans-Mississippi Amateur (1901), won by John Stuart. Hilly Swope Memorial, a municipal course, hosted the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship and was the PGA’s venue for the 1949 Kansas City Open, won by Jim Ferrier.

The adjustment leaves the highly-regarded Country Club, currently ranked 18th in the U.S. by an anonymous Golf Digest panel, with no ranking at all. To mollify its New England supporters, who relentlessly lobby the Top 50 on behalf of their allegedly underrated courses, we have temporarily moved the Donald Ross-designed 9-hole Tatnuck Country Club course of Worcester, Mass., to No. 68, three rungs above its previous station

We regret, but don’t admit to, the error.


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New Top 50 Just Around the Corner

The computer room at Catch Basin is operating normally again, the flooding issues having been resolved and the possum captured and relocated to a creek in southern Jackson County, Mo. That leaves only a couple of obstacles to be overcome before we issue the long-awaited Top 50 update. The first is a minor software glitch: incompatibility issues involving Cal Sci’s mainframe computer and our 1970s-issue Bomar Brain. We’re working on that.

The other obstacle is human frailty. It turns out that a previously dependable course rater — a 10-handicap Midwesterner with a degree from a recognized university — submitted corrupted data for a handful of European golf courses. Most of the errors are inconsequential. He reports, for example, that the new Castle Stuart links in Inverness, Scotland, is a 9-hole parkland course, when it is, in fact, an 18-hole linksland course on the Firth of Moray.

One of his findings, however, has distorted the rankings in an unacceptable way. The course in question belongs to the venerable Pau Golf Club of southern France, currently No. 3,676. Opened in 1856, Pau (pronounced “Poh”) is the oldest course on the European mainland. Apparently dazzled by its antiquity, our renegade rater ignored Top 50 protocols and awarded bonus points for “hundreds of beautiful hardwood trees” and “French-speaking clubhouse staff.” We have discovered, however, that he did not make an actual tour of the golf course.

Pau Golf Club

The Pau Golf Club of France has a wash basin fit for a Caesar. (John Garrity)

Is that a problem? Oh, Mama! In the ball-washer section of the evaluation report, our man gave Pau a rare five-brush rating, calling the club’s Roman-era stone wash basin “the best crankless ball-washer in golf and the only orb overhauler worthy of installation in the British Museum.” Unfortunately, he treated the Roman basin as a dedicated ball washer — which it most definitely is not. Pau members use it to clean their clubs, to scrub their shoes and, for all we know, to brush their teeth.

Rest assured that the overreaching course rater faces severe sanctions. But I’ll need an extra week or so to correct Pau’s score and then recalibrate the updated Top 50.*

*To readers who wonder how a mid-ranked European course can impact the Top 50, I will simply point out that our list, unlike other course rating systems, is configured from the bottom up — i.e., we start with the lowest-ranked course (Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course) and work our way up to No. 1 (Askernish Old).

By the way, England’s Joe Lloyd — winner of the 1897 U.S. Open at the Chicago Golf Club — was Pau’s first head pro. (Or, as they say in France, le premier professeur de golf.) Lloyd also spent many summers pro-ing at the beautiful Essex Country Club in Manchester, Mass., where he was succeeded by Donald Ross, creator of Oak Hill (No. 8), Seminole (No. 14) and Pine Needles (No. 30).

Essex, one of many New England clubs yearning to break into the Top 50, will host the 2010 Curtis Cup.


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