First, a confession. I have been telling friends (and foes) that my recent trek through Scotland and Ireland was a golf holiday. “Fourteen rounds in three weeks!” I say with a self-satisfied smirk, trying to leave the impression that I have nothing better to do with my post-retirement days than chase old-man Bogey up and down a Celtic shore.
Truth is, I was working. And although I would like to ratify that old saw about “my worst day on the golf course being better than my best day at the office” — I can’t. (I work at home, so my best days at the office consist of a lot of napping, snacking, piano playing and careful monitoring of Rumpole of the Bailey and Rockford Files DVDs.)
Next, an apology. To the dedicated staffers here at Catch Basin and to the equally-dedicated Cal Sci mathematicians who manage the Top 50 Algorithm, I publicly announce: “I am sorry.” Sorry for doubting you. Sorry for challenging the raw data. Sorry for sprinkling talcum powder in your pay envelopes.*
*The Company pledges to honor all legitimate claims for emergency room services, doctor visits and treatments for PTSD up to the state-mandated cap of fifty dollars per household.
Third, an explanation. Reader mail, in the past year or so, has consistently challenged the Top 50’s claim to be “the only truly authoritative and scientific course-rating system” by pointing out seeming anomalies. “Pine Valley is not on your list!” complained one correspondent, while another grumbled that “the Augusta National practice range [No. 47] is not even a golf course.” I brushed off most of these criticisms as the product of parochial minds clouded by the puffery of local chambers of commerce and golf-tour operators. But I found it hard to dismiss the charge by a few dozen golf-industry insiders — some of them with college degrees — that my list was top-heavy with links courses in the British Isles. “Five or six Celtic courses is believable,” wrote a Moroccan travel agent. “But 38 of the top fifty? Highly implausible.”
The Moroccan’s claim of 38 was pure hyperbole, but a quick glance at the current Top 50 [see sidebar] reveals no fewer than 16 courses of the British links variety. What’s more, ten of the remaining layouts either have the word “links” in their name or boast of links-style features in their designs — e.g., Pebble Beach, Fancourt, Sand Hills, and Medicine Hole. I have long argued that traditional links courses get the highest marks for one simple reason: They are better golf courses.
Because they are.
But even I began to have doubts last year when Castle Stuart, a brand-new course on the banks of Scotland’s Moray Firth, debuted at No. 10. That was followed by another improbable leap (Kingsbarns to No. 40, pushing the Irish parkland gem, Druids Glen, into the second fifty) and a weird oscillation at No. 50, where Scotland’s Nairn and Ireland’s Donegal have been alternating every hour or so like one of those ballpark banner ads behind home plate.
Was there a flaw in the Top 50 algorithm? Had a mole infiltrated our Catch Basin headquarters? Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?
I had to find out. And the only way to test the integrity of the Top 50 ranking, as I explained to my wife, was by traveling to the British isles and playing the disputed links courses. Which I did. (Note to IRS: I will not be claiming non-golf expenses as deductions.)
Finally, my report. But that will have to wait a day.*
* Negotiations with Ryan Lawn and Tree have taken longer than expected, due to their lead agronomist’s insistence that sod cannot be laid over the hardwood floor in our TV room.