Tag Archives: Gil Hanse

Van Sickle Ties Swing Guru En Route to Second Shivas Invitational Title

A reader in Texas wants to know if the Top 50 blog has morphed into a stable of tournament golfers. “You hardly ever write up a new golf course or devote more than a few lines to a classic layout,” he writes, “but every time I pick up the paper I read about some Top 50 staffer winning the Masters or something. What are you doing in your underground complex at Catch Basin — cloning tour players?”

Philadelphia Cricket Club

The former U.S. Open venue doubles as an outdoor wedding chapel. (John Garrity)

The reader exaggerates. No one on our payroll has yet managed to win a major, and I can’t think of anyone at our Kansas City headquarters who could beat Tiger Woods straight up. But I can see how a Texan might overestimate our tournament success, given the near-constant media drumbeat for our best players.

Just this past weekend, for instance, career-amateur Gary Van Sickle won the 24th Shivas Invitational on the 50th-ranked St. Martin’s Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Van Sickle, our executive vice-president and chief course rater, shot a first-and-final-round 69 on the surviving nine at St. Martin’s, a two-time U.S. Open venue, matching former PGA Tour player and $300-per-hour swing coach Dewey Arnette.* It was Van Sickle’s second Shivas title in as many tries, and it won him another brass plate on the hard-to-ship Shivas Trophy.

*Tournament chairman Michael Bamberger ruled that Arnette was “co-champion” on a technicality — the technicality being that he shot the same score as Van Sickle.

Van Sickle’s latest win (along with my own top-20 finish at the Shivas) caps a string of Top 50 playing triumphs, including a couple of high-dollar victories (West Penn Open, Frank Fuhrer Invitational) and a tournament-best 66 at the New England Open by our social-networking coordinator, Mike Van Sickle, who has already qualified for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Nevertheless, the Top 50 rates courses, not players. Philly Cricket has two other tracks — the 37th-ranked Wissahickon Course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast (currently being renovated by Keith Foster and Dan Meersman) and the upstart Militia Hill Course, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — but it’s the Chestnut Hill track, behind the PCC’s cricket pitch and sprawling red-brick clubhouse, that hosted the 1907 and 1910 Opens, won by Alec Ross and Alex Smith, respectively. (Ross’s brother Donald designed an eye-opening seven courses in the current Top 50, including Royal Dornoch, Seminole and Hillcrest.) And here’s a great bit of trivia from Sal Johnson’s book, The Official U.S. Open Almanac:

Entering the 13th hole of the final round [in 1907], A.W. Tillinghast was the low amateur in the field. At that moment, however, , he was overcome by the heat, forcing him to withdraw …. Tillinghast, of course, went on to become one of America’s finest course designers. Some of his famous courses, like Baltusrol and Winged Foot [plus Bethpage Black and Swope Memorial] have been tapped by the USGA as sites for its championships.

“Philadelphia Cricket Club,” Johnson points out in his 1910 notes, “was the first host club to allow the professionals into the clubhouse and to give them locker room privileges.”

These days, the top pros tend not to congregate in the Chestnut Hill shower room. But it’s not because they’re not welcome; it’s more a case of the St. Martin’s layout no longer being U.S. Open compliant, in that nine holes have gone missing. The Shivas Invitational turned this into a virtue by formatting the competition as two nine-hole rounds, the first played from the forward tees to front hole locations with a maximum of four clubs, none longer than 39.5 inches. (The winner of this first lap was Simon & Schuster editor Jofi Ferrari-Adler, who shot a stunning four-under-par 31 with a 3-iron as his biggest stick.) The second nine, played from the back tees to back hole locations, was a conventional 14-club competition.

The playing conditions, it must be said, were superb, it being one of those rare autumn days when shirtsleeve temperatures and abundant sunshine amplify the glory of fall foliage at its colorful peak. The greens were slick and maddeningly-hard to read, corrupting the scorecards of a celebrity-laden field that included Top 50 course-designer Gil Hanse (fifth-ranked Castle Stuart and the incipient Olympics Course in Rio de Janeiro); head professionals Scott Nye (18th-ranked Merion GC, site of the most-recent U.S. Open) and Graeme Lennie (33rd-ranked Balcomie Links); and award-winning actor Richard Kind (Spin City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife).*

*Unable to perform due to injury — but diligent in their roles as cart-companions and spectators — were Drama-Desk- and Obie-award-winning actor David Morse (Treme, The Negotiator, John Adams) and legendary links writer and author James W. Finegan (Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas).

Tournament play concluded on the ninth green at 4:58 p.m.. At five, a wedding ceremony began between the green and the starter’s shed. That’s so Philadelphia.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour continues it’s inaugural head-start season with the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Ga. At 7,055 yards, the par-70 layout has a robust 141 slope rating and a designer line that starts with Harry Colt and C.H. Alison (original nine), runs through Joe Lee (Marshside nine) and culminates with Tom Fazio, who directed a 1999 revision. The Seaside Course, aping Merion, uses red wicker baskets instead of hole flags, the difference being that Seaside is public and Merion not so much.

Leave a comment

Filed under golf

Troon North Benefits from Ying Correction

“Your Top 50 rating of Conestoga Golf Club at 8.09 is ludicrous,” writes Gary Van Sickle of Retrograde, Pa. “I’ve gone over the numbers repeatedly and never gotten more than an 8.05. This is a complete travesty — as opposed to a partial travesty, which no one likes.”

Conestoga Par 3

The par-3 fifth hole at Conestoga Golf Club: Too isolated? Or perfectly isolated? (John Garrity)

I usually dispose of crank e-mails by tapping the garbage-can icon, but something about this particular missive made me hesitate. Then it hit me: Van Sickle is our PGA Tour correspondent and executive director for course rating. So, with a heavy sigh, I re-read his rant and then forwarded it to Y. E. Ying, the Cal Sci “hotshot” who’s been crunching our numbers since Charlie Eppes ran off to Europe with what’s-her-name.

“Will check,” Ying texted me back. Two days later, he texted me again. “Van Sickle is correct. Conestoga GC of Mesquite, Nev., scores at 8.05 and should be ranked 55th. No. 50, at 8.09, is Pinnacle Course at Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale, Az. Sorry. Please excuse error.”

Sorry? The Top 50 doesn’t publish apologies! The Top 50 publishes authoritative, 100% confirmed empirical data culled from the golf industry’s most comprehensive course-evaluation protocols. I’d have fired Ying on the spot if I didn’t have to run everything past a bankruptcy judge.

Another reader, who calls herself “Anon-a-mouse,” asks if I can tell the difference between closely-ranked courses like Conestoga and Troon North. My honest answer is no. I played Conestoga a few months ago and was blown away by its high-desert beauty. I played Troon North in February (as adjunct faculty at the Tour Tempo VIP School) and was similarly blown away by its high-desert beauty. Conestoga is more rugged and natural, with canyon holes that leave you feeling completely cut off from civilization. Troon’s Pinnacle course is the more difficult to play, with cactus patches that practically gobble up the wandering drive.

Ask me which is better, and I can only shrug. That’s why I employ only scientific criteria to rank the world’s courses from top (Askernish Old) to bottom (Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course). That’s why we confidently claim to be “99.9% accurate.” And that’s why we promptly correct the rare error made by a pocket-protector know-it-all who never returns our calls.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but congratulations to Top 50 favorite Gil Hanse and LPGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott for bagging the Brazil Olympics course-design contract. Coincidentally, Hanse’s acclaimed Castle Stuart Golf Links jumps two spots to No. 5. Way to go, Gil!

Leave a comment

Filed under golf

Castle Stuart: Still Lookin’ Good

A reader from Lake Lotawana, Mo., has a question about tenth-ranked Castle Stuart, the brilliant, one-year-old links course on Scotland’s Moray Firth. “A few months back,” he writes, “you wrote that the Castle Stuart clubhouse has the best men’s room view in all of golf. But you didn’t back up your claim photographically, and you left the impression that Castle Stuart’s high ranking was based solely on clubhouse amenities.”

I’ll address the reader’s points in order. First, the claim that Castle Stuart’s lavatory view is unsurpassed. The Top 50 staff photographs the clubhouse and halfway house interiors of all our ranked courses, and if the facility has windows we document the view from every window. We can’t publish all these photos, obviously, so we go by the old adage, “A thousand words is as good as a picture.” I described the view from the Castle Stuart men’s loo. That seemed, to me, to be sufficient. But if my correspondent needs to have it spelled out for him in pixels, here is a selection of photos taken from the second-floor men’s lavatory of the Castle Stuart Golf Links.

Lavatory view

Castle Stuart's 9th green, as seen from the clubhouse lav. (John Garrity)

View of driving range

The Castle Stuart driving range from the men's shower room. (John Garrity)

9th Green Castle Stuart

Close up of 9th green from loo. (John Garrity)

Panoramic photo

Panoramic loo view, Castle Stuart Golf Links. (John Garrity)

The second point of the e-mail, implying that we ignored the Gil Hanse/Mark Parsinen golf course in our evaluation of Castle Stuart, is totally off the mark. No course in the Top 50, with the obvious exceptions of Sand Hills and Cypress Point,* achieved its elite ranking until it had been played by yours truly, either anonymously or (in the case of courses with outrageous green fees) not. Just last week, in fact, I played Castle Stuart in conditions that some would call extreme — wind gusts of 75 miles per hour — and left convinced that Inverness is home to the greatest new links course in the British Isles and one of the top ten golf courses in the world. It would not surprise me to see Castle Stuart, given a year or two to mature, to wind up in my top three with Askernish and Carne.

*And a couple of others.

I’m not the only one to be enchanted by Castle Stuart. Golf Digest managing editor Roger Schiffman, who played it last week as a member of the U.S. Writers Cup team, used words like “unforgettable … magnificent … stunning … beguiling … arresting …,” stopping only when he forgot whether he was describing the course or the barmaid in the third-floor lounge. George Peper, the author and former GOLF Magazine editor, calls Castle Stuart “the most significant British Isles debut since Loch Lomond in 1993 …. Think Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes, Royal County Down …. restrained, insightful design combined with a breathtakingly beautiful site ….” Since I arrived in St. Andrews for this week’s Open Championship, I have been approached by total strangers asking if  I have played the new Highlands course that rivals or even surpasses Royal Dornoch Golf Club. “You’ll be blown away,” one of them told me, unaware of the irony.

So, here’s what I’ve got to say to that reader in Lake Lotawana and anybody else who thinks he or she can trip up the Top 50 staff: Forget it. When it comes to golf courses, we cover all the basins.

Top 50 on TV: The one, the only, Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. The 139th Open Championship begins tomorrow morning on the Fife muny, which is the only God-designed course in the Top 50. The Bottom 50, however, features the unforgettable Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Course Golf Course of Ft. Meade, Fla., which is reputed to have been built by God, Jr., with help from his brother Rees.

Leave a comment

Filed under golf

Castle Stuart Soars in World Ranking

The surprise of the latest Top 50 ranking (see sidebar) is the new Castle Stuart Golf Links of Inverness, Scotland, which debuts at No. 10.  A collaborative effort by Philadelphia-based architect Gil Hanse and American developer Mark “Kingsbarns” Parsinen, Castle Stuart opened last July to rave reviews from the dead-tree publications: “Destined to become one of the best courses in the world.” (Links Magazine. … “A Masterpiece!” (Bunkered) … “Effortlessly blends the best elements of St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, Ballybunion and Royal County Down.” (Golf World, U.K.)

Castle Stuart Golf Links

The 11th green at Castle Stuart, Inverness, Scotland

“Yes, it is that good,” wrote the Links reviewer, prolific author and former GOLF Magazine editor, George Peper. “Succinctly put, Castle Stuart will be the most significant British Isles debut since Loch Lomond in 1993. It should be well on its way to the top echelon of the world rankings.” I’m guessing that Peper was paid by Links to write that, but you can’t argue with his call.  Castle Stuart, at No. 10, is the highest-ranked new course in Top 50 history.

My own first impression*, garnered on a bright, windy afternoon in late July, was as positive as Peper’s. Most of the holes have views of the miles-wide Moray Firth, from the Kessock Bridge to the Chanonry Lighthouse, and an improbable number seem to be right on the water. It’s an illusion. When you play the holes that parallel the Firth on the higher ground, it’s like playing the cliffside holes at second-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links; you don’t see the beach or the lowland duffers, you see only sparkling water and breaching whales. (Or, in this case, breaching Loch Ness Monsters.)

*I have no financial, professional or prurient interest in the Castle Stuart development, but my middle name is Stuart and I claim, by royal birthright, to be the rightful monarch of both Scotland and England via my great-great-great-great-etc.-cousin, Mary Stuart — a.k.a. Mary, Queen of Scots — and the other golfing Stuarts, including James IV of Scotland — “the first golfer known to history” — and James I of England, who is best remembered for appointing the first royal club maker.  For more on the Stuart golfers, see the just-released paperback edition of my book, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations.

I’ll discuss the course layout in later postings, but there’s no reason to withhold the fact that Castle Stuart dominated our “top lavatory view in golf” category, displacing Newport Country Club of Newport, R.I. The shower stalls and urinals on the third floor of Castle Stuart’s art-deco clubhouse provide panoramic views of the course and the shoreline through eye-level, wraparound windows. Dropping to No. 3 is the locker room pissoir at California’s venerable Cypress Point Golf Club (No. 13). “An awning somewhat restricts your view,” reports Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle, “but you can see a big tree and some of the ocean.”

Equally surprising is the disappearance from the Top 50 of the Jupiter Hills Club of Tequesta, Fla., which held the No. 10 spot now occupied by Castle Stuart. Knowing how computers work, I suspect that the Jupiter Hills listing has somehow been covered up by Castle Stuart, concealing a tenth-place tie.

We’ll get to the bottom of that. In the meantime, Jupiter Hills moves to No. 1 on the Challenged and Disputed List, replacing Liberty National Golf Club of Jersey City, N.J..


Filed under golf