Tag Archives: Duke Ishikawa

Top 50 Staff Blanketed Merion

“I see that Merion Golf Club has soared in your course ranking since the U.S. Open,” writes a gentleman from Pabst Blue Ribbon, Nev. “Is that because Merion looked good  on TV, or did you actually have a course rater on the ground?”

John Garrity at Merion

Top 50 founder and CEO John Garrity led the course-rating team at Merion. (Darren Carroll)

Great question, PBR. I was in Ardmore, Pa., following every shot, and so was Top 50 vice-president and ratings chief Gary Van Sickle, who led a team of qualified second-raters from Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters. To insure that we could carry out our mission without undue friction, the USGA assigned us a work station just off the first tee. Believe me, there was no chance that our staffers would nod off with those Pro V1s and Bridgestones whistling past their noggins.

So no, Merion didn’t jump from No. 32 to No. 18 because it looked good on TV — although it did look very, very good. “Merion is no regular track,” Van Sickle wrote in his 82-page post-tournament report. “Better looking by the minute … the course. A number of holes are on high ground, they’re … all right. The course drains … and the grounds crew has done a phenomenal job. I’m upgrading the course … Should be … brick-hard … this week. Merion will … rise up …”

I usually recuse myself, relying on our Cal Sci algorithm (and a little-known NSA program that monitors country-club budgets) to properly weigh the data, but I fully support our team’s conclusions. Specifically, I liked that Merion’s woodsmen had felled hundreds of trees since my last visit.* Many of those trees had been on the golf course for decades, cluttering the view, clogging the lanes of play and wreaking environmental havoc on Merion’s tees and greens. The cutting of all those trees, along with their removal, gave stately old Merion a fresh, clean look. 

*I covered the 1989 U.S. Amateur for Sports Illustrated.

Merion's 15th hole

Merion’s 15th hole charmed Van Sickle’s platoon of second-raters. (John Garrity)

Was Merion too difficult? Did the USGA cross the line with its punitive setup of skinny fairways, ungraduated rough,treacherous greens and tangly collars?


Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour, minus a weary Justin Rose and an injured Tiger Woods, will cavort in the AT&T National at 51st-ranked Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Meanwhile, our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, reports that preparations for the 1914 World Amateur Team Golf Championship are not going smoothly. The WATGC, better known as the Eisenhower Trophy, will be played in Karuizawa Prefecture, Japan, on the 51st-ranked Robert Trent Jones-designed Karuizawa 72 course owned by the Prince Hotels chain. Duke writes:

In the middle of February, this year, we visited the Karuizawa Prince Hotel and talked to the general manager, who told us, “We have reserved our facilities for two weeks during the championship, but no budget from the Japan Golf Association has come yet. That makes for us big trouble, because of uneasiness about the future. We only have a year and a half for preparation.”

“The Eisenhower Trophy is not the Olympic Games or World Cup soccer,” Duke continues, “but it is still a world-class event. The host country has a big responsibility to the other 80-or-so countries. However, the JGA has a very limited income.” Citing “unbelievable rumors,” Duke describes a JGA board of directors riddled with personal agendas and conflicts of interest that render it incapable of properly staging a big-time competition.

We need to know where the money is coming from. Otherwise the JGA is very irresponsible indeed. But the golf business has been so bad in Japan because of big deflation and the bad economy. I interviewed several local golf course managers recently, and all of them said, “We are not going to cooperate with the Eisenhower Trophy in 2014.”

Citing the “low ability” of JGA directors, Duke concludes: “We are just afraid the Eisenhower Trophy will not be successfully held in September, 2014, in Japan.”

Recognizing the seriousness of these concerns, I have forwarded Duke’s Karuizawa-72 file to Catch Basin’s Reassessment Department. Any changes to that course’s ranking will be posted without delay.

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“Where’s Gary?” Asks Top 50 Fan

“Your chief course rater has been notably absent lately,” complains a reader from Leh, Ladakh. Or should I say “asserts,” since the reader goes on to unfavorably compare Gary Van Sickle’s work to that of our under-the-sea specialist, Aquaman. “Judging from your persistent overlooking of incomparable Pine Valley,” writes the man from the moonscape, “it’s Van Sickle who’s all wet.”

Srinagar golfer and caddie

The golfer in Kashmir will find Srinagar’s Royal Springs Golf Course more attractive than mountainous Ladakh’s Indian Army course. (John Garrity)

Do I need to defend Gary? He’s covered the PGA Tour for several decades, he’s won countless writing awards for his work at Sports Illustrated and the Top 50, his son Mike is an aspiring tour player, and he’s a scratch golfer himself. Short of getting a degree in landscape architecture or actually designing a course himself, what more can Gary do to enhance his credentials?

Besides, Gary had nothing to do with Pine Valley Golf Club’s 52nd-place ranking. Nor am I responsible for the New Jersey landmark’s inability to crack the Top 50. (How could I be? I’ve never set foot on Pine Valley’s “sacred” soil, or even changed shoes in its highly-regarded parking lot.) The Top 50 is based on the informed judgement of entire teams of course raters, most of them over the age of 18, but no one person dictates the daily ranking. That task belongs to the Top 50 Algorithm, created by the renowned Cal Sci math genius, Charles Eppes.

As for Gary’s whereabouts, he’s neither “absent” nor “lost.” He dropped out of sight for a few months to tackle a really challenging assignment — rating fictional golf courses. He started with The Majesty in Rock Harbor, Wisc., a lakeside stunner that features prominently in the John Haines novel, Danny Mo.  “Couldn’t find it,” Gary reported after a week on Door County’s 24th-ranked highway system. He has had subsequent difficulty finding Michael Murphy’s Burningbush Golf Links, Dan JenkinsGoat Hills Golf Course, and Caddieshack’s Bushwood County Club.

“I was starting to think these golf courses weren’t real,” Gary told me in a recent call, “until I flew down to Texas to rate Turk Pipkin’s Pedernales Golf Club. It’s a 9-holer in Spicewood, and the locals call it Willie Nelson’s Cut-N-Putt. I give it four jalapeños!”

But as I pointed out above, Gary doesn’t get to assign the actual rankings. Pedernales currently languishes at No. 51.

Ladakh, by the way, has only one ratable course, the 9-hole Indian Army Coffee-Can Links on the road between Leh and Thiksey Monastery. Rock-strewn and grassless, it is one of the few courses ranked below the Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course of Ft. Meade, Fla.

Gary didn’t rate that Ladakhi course, either. I did.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Duke Ishikawa sent in this report on the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.: “Cherry blossoms are in full bloom! Beautiful time of the year!”

Okay, Duke’s covering the API from Tokyo. But that makes sense, since Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa shot an opening-round 69 to tie Tiger Woods and eight others for fifth place. “This is Ryo’s eighth start of the season,” Duke continued. “He only made two cuts, but one was at Puerto Rico. His scoring average is 175th, his money is 183rd, both nearly at bottom. But he still keeps special invitation to next month’s Masters, which is unfair.

Simon Clark works for Ryo this week because Ryo’s regular caddie, Kato, returned home for a while. Another Japanese worked for Ryo the last three tournaments, but he did not work out. Simon worked for Ryo two tournaments last year in Japan. Ryo finished 35th in the Japan Open and sixth in the Casio World Open. Some Japanese media say, ‘Ryo’s fifth place in the first round at API must be the result of Simon.’ I don’t know yet. Ryo has been playing pretty bad in his second round. I really hope he will make a cut this week.”

Duke signed off in his inimitable way: “That’s all my basic information about the Ryo and Simon (not Garfunkel) relationship. Hope this makes you fill up of your curious stomach.”


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Ishikawa’s Masters Invite Questioned by Ishikawa

“We have no snow in Tokyo,” writes Duke Ishikawa, our chief Asian correspondent. “But temperature is pretty low every day.”

Thanks, Duke. Keep us posted.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are kicking off their seasons with highly-compensated appearances at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Phil Mickelson’s debut comes at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif.

Ryo Ishikawa is also playing in the Humana, so Duke (no relation to Ryo) attached “a question for all my friends around the world” to his Tokyo weather report:

 A Japanese of 21 years, Ryo Ishikawa, has just received a special exemption into the Masters. But I ask you, is Ishikawa a worthy player to be invited at this time? Ishikawa was 7th on our money list last year and 75th in the World Ranking.

Masters Week

Will Ishikawa be rattled by huge crowds on Augusta National’s par-3 course? (John Garrity)

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne gave several reasons for the invitation, but especially the supposed enthusiasm for golf in Asia. That is important, but not so accurate. The total number of tickets sold for Japan men’s tour last year was 480,000 — for the whole season! That was a drop of 100,000 compared to 2011. It is a smaller number than ONE WEEK of admissions to the PGA Tour Phoenix Open.

Also, Ishikawa won the Taiheiyo Masters last November. It was his first win in two years. However, we counted the gallery on the course, and it was only 4,455 on Sunday. Also, Ishikawa has lost many big-money contracts, including Panasonic and Toyota. (I think it is because many Japanese citizens have come to believe pro golf is dishonest between the ropes.) He has lost his value at the market. He is not our golf pinup boy any more.

Ishikawa will make his season debut at La Quinta next week, but I wonder if he will make the top 125 on the money list. I also question that his appearance will give high TV ratings at the Masters.

Sometimes 21 is no longer young any more.

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A Open Letter to Trump (from Duke)

“John,” writes our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, “could you give this note to Donald if you have any chance to reach him, please?”

I don’t expect to see “Donald” in the next couple of weeks, so I decided to post Duke’s letter here on the theory that Donald is following the site closely to see if his 51st-ranked Trump International Golf Links can break into the Top 50.

Mr.Donald Trump

Chairman, Trump International

From Duke Ishikawa (Tokyo International News)

Sir, I have two things to explain to you, please?

1. It will be a year and half, this coming September, since the March 11 disaster in Northern Japan. More than two hundred orphans were born from the earthquake and tsunami. They are still having a tough time. So we plan to have a charity skins game with Jumbo Ozaki, Isao Aoki and Tommy Nakajima. They are considered The Big 3 in Japan with more than 200 combined wins. They’ll play at the end of summer because kids’ school starts on Sept. 1

The first 16 holes will be for $500 or $1,000 each, then double for the last two holes. The three pros will donate 30% to 50% of their skins to the orphans for their schooling. We’ll be talking to leading TV stations to dover it, and I’m sure the AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, the New York Times and many U.S. media will cover it to. So my question is, is there a possibility of your sponsorship, please?

2. Tokyo is a candidate for the 2020 Summer Games, and surely golf will be continued as an Olympic event. But we don’t have good-enough courses in the Tokyo area. There are about 2,400 courses in Japan, but more than 90% of them are in mountain areas.That means far from where people live. Gas is a few times higher than US. We then have to pay more yen to the toll road. One bad example is the DIamond Cup, the men’s tournament held in June. They only  had 6,839 admission for all four days. Because the course was too far. No business at all.

So we need a new golf course near Tokyo. But it must be Japan’s first Stadium-Type Course. The new course should be near Tokyo Disneyland, which is not far from Narita Airport. The name should be California Golf Park (CGP).We pick up all eighteen holes from famous ones in California. They should be the 16th of Cypress Point, the 18th and 8th from Pebble Beach. The tenth of Riviera CC. (I took this idea from the Bear’s Best in Las Vegas.) The main entrance should be named Goldrush Road instead of Magnolia Lane. The clubhouse will look like the capitol building in Sacramento, and one of our honorable members will be the former CA governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’d like the architect to be one from Crenshaw-Coore, Nicklaus himself (not with his sons), Nick Faldo and Jumbo Ozaki.

The first stadium-type course in Japan has a good future of business. We have more than thirty-million populations in the Tokyo metropolitan area, so it should be quite easy to collect 100,000 spectators for a tournament if we can provide enough facility. (The biggest number for a US Open gallery was 387,045 in 2005 at Pinhurst CC. )There are about fifty professional golf tournaments, both men and women, in Japan. Two or three of them could be held at the California Golf Park. Each one would collect more than one hundred thousand people. I would expect quite similar results as the Wentworth Club in London.

The Eisenhower Trophy will be in Japan in 2014. Then, possibly, the 2020 Olympic Game. The Presidents Cup in 2015 will be in Korea, but we have another chance to invite it to Japan, because it is a home and away game.Then not only Japan but also Mr. Finchem will be pleased to see his Presidents Cup return to Asia. That will provide big opportunities for the golf business in Japan and also the CGP itself.

We used spent more than $200 million to $250 million to build one course in Japan. But the costs now are much less. Japan is no longer Number One in costs. So if you build Japan’s first stadium-type course, you will be able to make a giant step for your real estate business in a new territory.

Respectfully, Duke Ishikawa

On second thought, I’m going to try to get Duke’s letter to The Donald. The first part, anyway; the part soliciting a donation for the Japanese orphans. The Tokyo stadium-course proposal I may hold back to show to my accountants at Catch Basin. It would be great to have a Top 50 course that was actually owned by the Top 50.

Morfit and Bamberger

Cameron Morfit (left) and Michael Bamberger were among the notables playing St. Annes Old Links on Friday evening. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Still nothing this week, but Friday evening I slipped away from the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes to inspect the St. Annes Old Links of Lancashire, England. (Joining me were Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger and GOLF Magazine senior writer Cameron Morfit.) Situated between the Pleasure Beach roller coaster and the more dignified neighborhoods of St. Annes, the Old Links is a modestly-duned and immaculately-maintained layout. There are bands of deep rough, but the playing corridors are wide enough to minimize ball searching and tame enough to encourage recovery shots. “These conditions are the sine qua non of links golf,” said Bamberger, who is wont to speak Latin or Greek when he’s on his game. “The English probably think of it as a working-man’s links, but if it were in America I’d rate St. Annes in the top one or two hundred.” I’d go even farther. I’d rate it No. 50 in the world.

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Coastal Par-3 Breaks Into Top 50

Pebble Beach is so over-rated,” grouses a reader from Ft. Meade, Fla., dissing our ninth-ranked course. Another reader insists that sixth-ranked Augusta National is “a lot of fancy grass and prom corsages masquerading as a golf course.”

It would be easy to dismiss these comments as the ravings of unschooled dolts, but the Top 50 doesn’t operate that way. We investigate such claims. We put all our resources to the task. We even make calls.

Gary Van Sickle

Van Sickle ponders Pebble’s ranking while covering the U.S. Open at Olympic. (John Garrity)

To placate the Ft. Meade correspondent, we sent chief course rater Gary Van Sickle to Monterey to see if the iconic California layout had deteriorated since we last played it. Gary immediately wired back that it had not. “PEBBLE BEACH REMAINS THE GREATEST GOLFING EXPERIENCE IN THE WORLD STOP SEND EXPENSE MONEY STOP.”

He filed the rest of his report in the form of a GOLF.com article from which we quote to the full extent of the fair-use provisions of the Copyright Act:

Purists like to rate golf courses based on absolutes like shot values, relation to par and other inside-golf things. I’ve read those who say Pebble has 10 great holes and eight mediocre ones, and that it’s grossly overrated. I wish one of those critics could have been out on the peninsula with my group Sunday afternoon, basking in the early-evening golden light with postcard views in every direction, hearing the crashing of the waves, the squawk of the gulls and smelling the scent of the sea. Race the sun to the finish, like we did (although it was a very slowwww race), and try to play the 18th hole in the dark when you could no longer see the ball at your feet, and tell me Pebble Beach is overrated.

It isn’t. It’s an experience you can’t put a price on. You would pay just to walk this hallowed green and savor the dramatic meeting between land and sea. It’s special.

After playing Pebble, Gary visited the previously unranked Casserly Par-3 Golf Course in Watsonville, just up the coast. Finding it to be “better than a pleasant surprise” at $9 per round, he called our attention to Casserly’s signature hole, the 112-yard seventh, which calls for a carry over a ravine and a 60-foot pine that blocks the green. “I COULDN’T SEE THE PIN BEHIND THE PINE STOP VERY COOL STOP”

Gary’s enthusiasm for Casserly was almost as great as his enthusiasm for Pebble, so we have tentatively installed the Par-3 at No. 49, displacing Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s CordeValle Resort course, site of the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open.

Practice round at Olympic

51st-ranked Olympic Club is tough from the back tees. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the U.S. Open is being played on the famous Lake Course at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, currently ranked No. 51. Further west, in Japan, they’re still agonizing over the abysmal attendance, in late May, at the Diamond Cup at the Country Club of Japan in the Tokyo suburbs. “Miserable results,” writes Duke Ishikawa, our chief Asian correspondent. “The four-day total was 6,839. Same week as Colonial. Thursday was only a thousand.”

There are several reasons for Japan’s attendance slump, but Duke says it’s mostly the fans’ infatuation with young Ryo Ishikawa (no relation), who is playing more American events. “I have suggested in my articles that Ryo play more in the U.S. because it’s the world’s strongest tour,” he writes, “and especially the Memorial, because that’s Jack’s tournament. But Katsuji Ebisawa, our tour’s new chairman, sent an official letter to Ryo entreating ‘please don’t forget the Japanese Tour.’

Duke continues: “The New York Times said ‘One Star Between Two Tours,’ but I don’t think Ryo is a star. He is just an idol, a gallery’s pet. Or a pin-up boy. But he still influences the sports show in Japan. To stay on the U.S. Tour or not, that is Ryo’s question.”

Pressed for another reason why fans might shun the Japanese tournaments, Duke mentions the high prices at concession stands. “At Japan Open my friends paid US $11 for a piece of sausage and a coke.”

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Climate Change Forces Golfers to Adjust to Lesser Hues

AUGUSTA, GA. — You’ve no doubt heard that unseasonably warm weather in the South has forced Masters officials to dump truckloads of ice on their azalea beds to keep the famous shrubs from blooming prematurely. This may or may not be true. I was going to walk out to Amen Corner yesterday to find out, but it was too damn hot.

Masters Week

Augusta National's par-3 course, famous for its horticulture, may not be as bright this week. (John Garrity)

The meteorologist at our Kansas City headquarters, meanwhile, reports that spring is a month ahead of schedule. The dogwoods, redbuds and crabapples are already dropping their blossoms, and the Top 50 staff, in my absence, spend their afternoons sipping cabernets at sidewalk cafés on the Country Club Plaza. My imaginary friend Bert, who runs a snow-blower concession, says that sales are flat. “I’m a global-warming denier,” he says, iPhoning from the sixth hole of Donald Ross’s Heartland Club (No. 45). “But I don’t deny that the world is getting hotter.”

Bert is my imaginary friend, but I’m not afraid to tell him that he’s a dope. “The world IS getting hotter,” I tell him, “but you’re confusing weather with climate. The scientifically-measured increase in global surface temperature since 1980 was roughly a half-degree Fahrenheit, and if the most dire predictions of climatologists come true, it could rise another 4 to 10 degrees degrees by 2100. This abrupt warming could have a catastrophic impact on the planet, melting the polar ice cap, flooding highly-rated links courses and diverting the Gulf Stream, which would turn continental Europe into a year-round skating rink. But that’s CLIMATE. You’ll still have unseasonably cool summers and unseasonably warm winters. That’s WEATHER.”

Snow on Japanese golf course

The cherry blossoms have yet to bloom on Japanese courses. (Courtesy of Duke Ishikawa)

As proof I sent Bert the latest dispatch from our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, who reports that Japan’s cherry-blossom season is on hold. “We really had a cold winter this year,” he begins.

Enclosed several pictures from Suwako CC in Nagano Prefecture. One thousand meters above sea level. Many courses still closed, but Suwako opened on April 1. In two weeks, they shoveled almost a foot of snow. These pictures are evidence of it. This is why our professional tour cannot start this season until after the Masters.

Suwako, Duke points out, is near the Karuizawa 72 course, site of the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy competition (barring the onset of an ice age).

This talk of azaleas and cherry blossoms is not peripheral to course ranking. Many of the Top 50 courses are currently swathed in spring colors, from the dogwoods of 42nd-ranked Hallbrook to the wildflowers of second-ranked Carne. Here’s Duke again on the Japanese golf landscape:

We have a gorgeous cherry-blossom season from the end of March to early April (normally). That’s in the Tokyo area. Our island is longer than 2,000 kilometers, so the cherry-blossom season moves from south (Okinawa) to North (Hokkaido) with a front line of rising temperatures. We call it sakura zensen. (Sakura is “cherry,” zensen means “front line.”) The cherry trees usually keep one week of bloom in each area, so it is a very short moment. We made it a symbol for the Samurai who had to commit hara-kiri suicide in front of his boss after making a mistake. (Please don’t laugh.)

Some of our golf courses have one thousand cherry trees. With more cherry trees in the hills around, it makes us all pink. I occasionally send pictures of this to my fairway ladies, Louise Solheim and Barbara, whose husband is Jack.

Again, it is a great time of year. Sincerely, Duke

New Richmond Golf Club

The New Richmond Golf Club rivals Augusta National for spring coloration. (John Garrity)

Several of the Top 50’s course raters are licensed botanists, so I had them compile a spring-colors Top 5 from the current ranking. Here it is:

1) New Richmond Golf Club, New Richmond, Wis. (132.6)

2) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga. (128.8)

3) Augusta National Practice Range, Augusta, Ga. (127.1)

4) Askernish Old, South Uist Island, Scotland (124.0)

5) Mid Pines Resort and Golf Club, Southern Pines, N.C. (123.9)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters (CBS).

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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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Naruo Leads Duke Ishikawa’s Top 5

As part of our commitment to round-the-clock course rating, I asked our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, to compile a list of his favorite Japanese courses. He promptly sent the following ranking, which I will post to the sidebar when repairs are completed on the Bomar Brain:

1. Naruo Golf Club, Kawanishi-shi, Hyogo (Charles Alison). “Most overseas panelists give Naruo the number one rank in Japan, so it’s not just my favorite. It’s our Pine Valley.”

2. Tokyo Golf Club, Sayama-shi, Saitama (Komei Otani) “Ninety years ago, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Emperor Showa played a friendly international match at Tokyo Golf Club’s then-nine-hole course. Today, each hole has two greens, the other green serving as a hazard to the one in use.”*

*“Summer and winter in Japan present extremes of temperature and humidity, so many courses need to keep two different grasses to provide a good roll on the greens. It used to be bent and korai, a native rice grass, but now it’s two different types of bent.”

3. Hirono Country Club, Miki-shi, Hyogo (Charles Alison). “This is Jumbo Ozaki’s favorite, but it’s my third. One reason, it was designed in 1930 with korai grass, but it later switched to bent without changing the size or design of the greens. It became a different course after that. That is my viewpoint.”

4. Karuizawa Golf Club, Karuizawa-shi, Nagano (Kodera Yuji). “Another course designed by a Japanese man more than seventy years ago. Karuizawa, by the way, is one of the most exclusive clubs in Japan. Karuizawa-shi will host the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy, but that will be on two of the Prince Hotel’s Karuizawa 72 daily-fee courses, one of them by R.T. Jones, the father.”

5. New St. Andrews Golf Club, Otawara-shi, Tochigi (Jack Nicklaus, Desmond Muirhead). “I have been very fortunate as a golf writer. I first covered the Masters in 1975, right after I finished college. My first US Open was at Baltusrol. Both tournaments were won by Nicklaus. That same year, Jack opened New St. Andrews, his first course in Japan. We had never seen that kind of design in Japan. It gave us a smell of Scotland. In fact, some two holes play to one big green, just like at the Old Course. I fell in love with it, and I’ve played it as often as any course in Japan.”

“New St. Andrews is about a hundred miles north of Tokyo,” Duke concludes, “so you have to pay more than a hundred US dollars for tolls and gas, and then you need to stay at a lodge. Cost me a lot, and it’s cold in winter. But I still enjoy it. Thanks, Barbara, for your husband’s good job.”

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the world’s top pros are bumping heads in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf ClubDove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz. Just two years old, the Ritz-Dove Mountain is a Nicklaus design without the slightest smell of Scotland.



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More Honors for Top 50 Staff

“What happened?” asks a reader from North Sydney, Australia. “You were covering the tour event in San Diego, and then … nothing. Is this your idea of ’24/7 tour coverage’?”

Not exactly, Sid.

First of all, as Steve Allen used to ask his studio audiences after a joke failed, “Who paid to get in?” The Top 50  is still working on a plan to monetize its award-winning tour coverage, but at present we’re laboring for zip. We do have corporate sponsors — Sports Illustrated generously paid for my California trip, and my pressroom lunches were catered by Flemings and Souplantation — but no Top 50 reader, as of yet, has sent in a check for twenty or thirty thousand dollars along with a note of appreciation for our in-depth coverage of Sang-Moon Bae’s California swing.

Secondly … well, actually, that first explanation is enough.

Here’s what actually went down at the Farmers Insurance Open. We had just posted Tokyo correspondent Duke Ishikawa’s report on the Japanese PGA Tour when word came that our course rating director, Gary Van Sickle, had won three of the top writing prizes at the ING Media Awards in Orlando, Fla. That good news called for a non-alcoholic celebration, which lasted well into the early-morning hours.

Stanford U

Garrity's U-Day victory will benefit Stanford's golf team. (John Garrity)

So I was already a bit groggy when I arrived at Torrey Pines Golf Club, a little before noon on Sunday. Nevertheless, I had gotten halfway through a Flemings steak, medium rare, when FIO communications director Rick Schloss pulled me away to share more good news: “Congratulations, John. You’ve won the University Day competition* for Stanford University.”

*He may have said “drawing” instead of “competition.” The conversation was not recorded.

I don’t have to tell you how big this was. For the third round of the tournament, players and media who wore their school colors competed for a share of a $70,000  charitable pot put up by Farmers Insurance. With Saturday’s low round of 65, Jonas Blixt earned $20,000 for the golf team at his alma mater, Florida State University. Cameron Tringale’s 66 was worth $10,000 to his former team, the Bulldogs of Georgia Tech. Every other player who wore their college colors got $500 for their team.

My triumph in the media division, Schloss informed me, was worth an additional $500 to the Stanford golf team. Furthermore, I, personally, had won a PING golf bag and a sand wedge, which would be shipped directly to Top 50 headquarters.* He then dragged me off to the interview room for a round of prize-accepting handshakes in front of a University of Farmers backdrop. (I’m still blinking from all the camera flashes.)

*Note to Catch Basin staff: The bag and club had better be in my office when I get home.

Anyway, two big honors in two days was more than this veteran scribe could handle. I wisely bagged my final-round coverage and spent the afternoon spamming the good news to the world’s major media outlets.

For the record, I have a second alma mater, the University of Missouri, where I labored as a freshman and for one semester of graduate school. I thought I was covering all bases by wearing a Stanford-logoed black polo shirt, black being half of Mizzou’s color scheme; but my cardinal-colored, Rick Santorum-style sweater vest gave the Farmers judges the impression that I was an all-Stanford entry. But don’t worry, Mizzou golfers. I’ll send you the wedge.*

*If it doesn’t fit my specs.

Top 50 on TV: The AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (Golf Channel, CBS) is finishing up at 9th-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links near Monterey, Calif. If anything of interest happens there, I’ll let you know.

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“Bus” to Tokyo Was Bae’s Ticket to Torrey Pines

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As I write this, the second-round leader at the Farmers Insurance Open is PGA Tour rookie Sang-Moon Bae (65-67–132). I know very little about Bae, beyond the fact that sang is Sino-Korean for “benevolence” and moon is a variant of myung or myeong, which mean “clever” or “bright,” the secondary meaning of which provides a clue to the Anglicized spelling, as in “bright moon.” (Bae, of course, is Korean for “inspiration” or, if you favor the b-y-e spelling, “goodbye.”)

Knowing so little about Bae, I sent an emergency e-mail to the Top 50’s Director of Japanese Course-Rating and Chief Asian Correspondent, Duke “No Relation to Ryo” Ishikawa.

Duke immediately shot back a splendid e-mail informing me that Bae is the Korean who won last year’s Japan Open and topped the money list on the Japanese PGA Tour. “The same story was written in the year 2010,” Duke added, “but the player was different.

“For Koreans,” Duke explained, “the Japanese tour is just a bus stop on the way to Broadway or Hollywood. You get off the bus with 14 clubs in Tokyo. Then you beat all the Japanese and make enough money to buy a bus ticket to the next stop, which is the world’s strongest and richest tour.

Let’s continue in the popular Q&A format that relieves me of the responsibility of crafting sentences:

JG: Why are Korean golfers so successful in Japan?

Duke: One reason is our weak fields. The Japan tour doesn’t have good-enough players. That’s why many of our old-timers still have playing privileges on the regular tour. Massy Kuramoto and Kiyoshi Murota (who finished second last year at the U.S. Senior PGA Championship) will be 57 this year, but Murota still plays 16 regular tour events and Kuramoto plays 12. Isao Aoki, the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour, will be 70 this summer, but he played six tournaments in 2011.

JG: Senior events?

Duke: No, regular JPGA events. We ought to call it the “Old Timers Tour.” Aoki is older than my old friend Hale Irwin; he’s the same age as Tom Weiskopf. Murota and Kuramoto, they’re the same age as the Shark and two years older than Sir Faldo.

JG: Sir Faldo is here at Torrey Pines.

Duke: Playing the tournament?

JG: No, cracking wise for CBS.

Duke: That’s O.K., he’s old.

JG: Any other reasons why Korean golfers go to Japan?

Duke: The bigger reason is we have too easy courses almost every single week. Many of the courses were designed by a Japanese architect whose results have never been good. He gets the re-design job for many Japan Open courses — not because he’s good, but because he’s a director of the Japanese Golf Association. It’s all under the table, the negotiations are on the dark side. But that’s why many foreign golfers agree with the Australian, Paul Sheehan, who complains that the Japan Open plays similar courses every year.

JG: I know that golf is popular in Japan, but is it treated as a serious sport?

Duke: No, and that is the third reason. When you play at a Japanese private club, one female caddie still carries four bags the whole 18 holes.

JG: You don’t mean “carry,” do you? They’ve got those motorized trollies that rattle along over buried tracks.

Duke: Yes, but one female caddie for four players. Then we have to stop for lunch after nine holes.  You eat steak and drink a big glass of beer, like you’re at Octoberfest in Munich. It takes nearly an hour. How can you keep your concentration for the afternoon round?

JG: Do you have to have a caddie?

Duke: I carry a PING Mantis bag myself, because it saves time and I make better scores. But most courses still charge me the normal caddie fee. I tell them that in England even Winston Churchill and Lloyd George carried their own bags, but Japanese never understand. The courses provide caddies to all golfers because they believe that’s the best treatment.

JG: You sound pretty glum. Do you think the Japanese tour will bounce back in the years ahead?

Duke: I don’t know. Ryo Ishikawa is still twenty, but we see so many younger and better players like Tom Lewis, Patrick Cantley, Bud Cauley, Harris English, that whole bunch. It’s because many old courses here don’t like to open their doors to local kids. Plus there are no municipal-type courses in Japan. I’m very pessimistic about the future of golf in Japan.

Duke concluded by writing, “Anyway, I really want to see the Korean, Bae, win at Torrey Pines this week. Because he is our recent champion.”

Post Script: Duke might get his wish. The second round of the Farmers ended with Sang-Moon Bae in a third-place tie with Martin Flores, two strokes behind the leader, Kyle Stanley. Asked about his chances of winning, Bae said, “Well, first time on the PGA Tour this year, and there are many good players. I will try to be aggressive tomorrow and Sunday.”


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