Tag Archives: Karuizawa Golf Club

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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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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