Tag Archives: Jack Nicklaus

Furyk Mislays Three Decades of Golf Design

Hilton Head, S.C. — I rarely stoop to reportage when I’m rating courses for the Top 50, but Jim Furyk practically bumped my shoulder this afternoon outside the interview room at The Heritage. The former U.S. Open champ had just vaulted up the leader board with a second-round 66, so he was relaxed, affable, and eager to share what, besides the  red-and-white-striped lighthouse, he liked about the 51st-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links.

Askernish 16th Green

Hilton Head resident Dave Henson on No. 16 at Askernish Old. (John Garrity)

Mostly he liked the fact that Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus wore their high-button shoes when designing Harbour Town. That is, they built skinny, tree-lined fairways, installed waste-bunkers where once there was only waste, let tree limbs encroach on commercial air lanes, pinched the greens until they popped, stocked the ponds with alligators, and bundled everything into a short-by-modern-standards 6,973 yards.

Harbour Town “neutralizes power,” said Furyk, a perennial also-ran in the PGA Tour’s driving-distance category. He added, “I’m not long by any means.” Still adding, he mumbled, “You could argue I’m short.”

We could argue that, but this is a golf-course blog. So I’ll just call your attention to the Furyk statement that really caught my ear. “I’ve always said that if the golf course was built before 1960, there’s a really good chance I’m going to like it. If it was built after 1990, there’s probably a good chance I’m not going to like it.”

Not one reporter in the room asked the obvious follow-up question: How do you prejudge courses built from 1960 to 1990?

Never mind. It just struck me that Furyk has hit upon a fresh way of judging golfing grounds, a method that burns off the morning fog of traditional design variables (turf quality, green speeds, length of rough, etc.), leaving us a single overriding criterion: Birthdate.

Furyk’s method, applied to my own Top 50, doesn’t yield groupings as distinct as his tripartite scheme. It’s clear, however, that the best golf courses are those built in the ‘90s. (No. 1 Askernish Old opened for play in 1891. Second-ranked Carne Golf Links threw open its original portacabin door in the 1990s.) The worst golf courses, meanwhile, were mostly built in 1987.

When I get back to Kansas City, I’ll put the Bomar Brain to the task and come up with a more encyclopedic Furyk Scale ranking. Meanwhile, I’m going find out where Furyk is having dinner and point out to him that Harbour Town actually opened in 1967.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Harbour Town won’t hurt your eyes. Next up: Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Golf Club, but not until we’ve endured a week of New Orleans-style gumbo, chargrilled oysters and jambalaya.

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A Gripe from the Branch Office

“I can’t hit a 1-iron, but I’ve proven countless times that I can hit a tree.” — Anon.

“Have you got something against trees?” asks a tree surgeon from Dubai.

The question puzzled me at first, but an hour’s perusal of the new Top 50 enlightened me. Four of the top five courses (and six of the top ten) are as treeless as the polar ice caps. The wind-blown machair at top-ranked Askernish Old supports a stubble of knee-high marram grass, but a South Uist horse thief will never hang there — nothing to hang him on, so to speak. Ditto for the dramatic dunes of Carne (No. 3), which support no vegetation taller than a garden gnome. Even Pittsburgh’s legendary Oakmont Country Club (No. 47), come to think of it, didn’t crack the Top 50 until its members chopped, sawed, toppled, bulldozed and ground up a few million board feet of shade trees in preparation for the 2007 U.S. Open.

But to answer the tree doc’s question, no. We’ve got nothing against trees. Many of the Top 50 courses are extravagantly shaded, and no fewer than seven* are named for nature’s biggest nuisances: Oak Hill (No. 9), Cypress Point (No. 13), Pine Needles (No. 30), Castle Pines (No. 33), Calusa Pines (No. 46), Oakmont (No. 47) and Laurel Valley (No. 49).

* Eight if the “Poipu” in Poipu Bay (No. 15) is Hawaiian for the arthritic, scarlet-blossomed view-hogger that ate my Pro V-1 four years ago.

Carne Golf Links

No bark on Carne's infamous 17th, but it can certainly bite. (John Garrity)

It’s just a fact that links courses are the most highly-regarded golf courses, and a true links has no, or hardly any, trees.* How else to explain Castle Stuart’s debut at No. 10, leapfrogging hundreds of parkland courses? Or St. Andrews Old at No. 16, despite a closing hole that is indistinguishable from the visitors’ parking lot.

*Despite its name, the Pebble Beach Golf Links (No. 2) is not a true links. It is a cliffside course, the distinction being obvious to anyone who has ever sliced his tee shot on Pebble’s sixth hole.

Personally, I’m about as pro-tree as they come. I have trees in my front yard and trees in my back yard, and if you see me discreetly raking my spiky sweet-gum balls under the neighbor’s fence, it’s because I want to share my arboreal bounty.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Honda Classic is being played on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Nicklaus has two courses in the Top 50, both of which have hosted PGA Tour or Champions Tour events. The first person who can e-mail me the names of those tournaments will be mocked for spending too much time in front of the flat screen. (Or awarded a free copy of my book Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, just out in paperback. It all depends on my mood.)

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Jack Nicklaus Is 70 at the Turn

I can’t let the day go by without noting that Jack Nicklaus has turned 70 — making it 69 years, exactly, since he hit No. 1 on the Nicklaus Family Top 10. Jack has two mountain courses in my current Top 50 — The TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, No. 23, and Castle Pines Golf Club, No. 33 — and four flatter and thus easier courses on GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S., including PGA Tour venues Muirfield Village (Dublin, Ohio) and Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head, S.C.).

“I’m a very fortunate guy in that golf course design is something that kept me in the game of golf,” Jack told Reuters. “It’s a lasting thing that will remain long after my golf game and lifetime.”

Asked last fall to name his favorite course by a dead architect, Jack went for a Donald Ross masterpiece in the sand hills of North Carolina. “From a design perspective, it’s Pinehurst No. 2. It’s a totally tree-lined course where a tree doesn’t come into play and water hazards are non-existent.” Jack could have added that the Carolina Hotel has a terrific breakfast buffet, but for reasons of his own he chose not to.

Intrigued by Jack’s choice, I’m going to put on my Golf Ghost hat to ask the very late Donald Ross to name his favorite course by a living architect. When I get an answer, I’ll let you know. Until then, here’s my interview with Ross’s ghost that ran in the 2006 SI Golf Plus Masters Preview.


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