Tag Archives: Machrihanish Dunes

Courses I Need to Play, Part One

Inspired by “Travelin’ Joe” Passov, I’ve been trying to come up with my own wish list of “Courses I Need to Play.” The fact that I’m having trouble finding ten testifies to how lucky I’ve been over the years. I’ve played Mollymook. I’ve played Formby Ladies. I teed it up in the inaugural event at Medicine Hole. If my current bout with tendonitis were to end my golfing days, I’d have no cause for complaint.

But Joe is right, there are courses — Cypress Point and Pine Valley come to mind — so enticing that you would pay to play them. One of those courses, for me, is the Indian Army 9-Hole Golf Course outside Leh, Ladakh, on the Tibetan plateau. I stumbled upon Indian Army 25 years ago while covering a polo match in Leh. The course was a bit outside town on a dusty road that crossed a moonscape of boulders and rubble punctuated with Buddhist burial markers. A barbed wire fence and gun placements emphasized that it was a private course, but I couldn’t help but stare longingly at the crooked bamboo flagsticks impaled on gravel greens next to coffee-can holes. Not a blade of grass on the property, but, as Gary Player often said, “It’s the finest course of its kind I’ve ever seen.”

Ft. Meade Golf Clubhouse

Golf at Fort Meade: an unrealized dream? (John Garrity)

Even higher on my list, maybe at No. 1, is the Fort Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course in Fort Meade, Fla. Fort Meade has finished dead last among the world’s courses in every Top 50 survey, a record not likely to be broken. On the other hand, it is the best 9-hole, par-3, clay-greens course in the South. I’ve walked Ft. Meade on a couple of occasions, taking in the surrounding banyan trees and fire-ant sand hills, but I’ve never gotten the opportunity to play. Just once I’d like to stride up that final fairway with a club in my hand, crossing in front of the tee boxes for the previous eight holes, and stepping onto the profoundly round and flat ninth green, at the foot of the municipal water treatment plant.

Another not-to-miss track that I have toured without playing is the new Machrihanish Dunes course in Machrihanish, Scotland. While not exactly the black sheep of the Kintyre Peninsula, the Dunes course does have black sheep on the property, their job being to keep the marram grass on the dunes to a playable length. At 79 pounds per round in peak season, Machrihanish Dunes is the priciest layout on my must-play list, but I’ll claw back some of that by neglecting to leave any money in the honesty boxes of my other choices.

I’m also pining for the Papa Westray Golf Course in the Orkney Isles of Scotland. Although panned by one critic as “worse than Ronaldsay,” Papa Westray provides tourists with the opportunity to experience the world’s shortest scheduled flight, a less than two minute hop from Kirkwall. But first I have to experience the Lost City Golf Course of Sun City, South Africa — if only to play the famous 13th hole, which is fronted by a stone pit full of hissing crocodiles.

But that’s only five courses, isn’t it? (Seven, if I poach Cape Kidnappers and Hirono from Joe’s list.)

Well, I’ve got time to work on my list after dark — of which I’ve seen plenty this week, my four golf clubs having found their way to top-ranked Askernish Old in the Outer Hebrides. I’ll post my reflections on the world’s best golf course in a day or two, weather permitting.

Top 50 on TV: I’m on an island in the North Atlantic. Ask a friend or check your local listings.

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No Substance to Reader’s Complaint

“Where have you been?” asks a reader from Peculiar, Mo. “Geoff Shackelford posts more in a day than you give us in a month.”

The reader, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. My Top 50 Blog is all about the adjacent list, and the list is constantly being updated by the Cal Sci math department. Last Saturday, for example, the Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, Ireland, briefly snatched the No. 2 ranking from the Augusta National Golf Club of Augusta, Ga. Yesterday, the new Machrihanish Dunes course on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula surged to No. 50, only to be beaten back by the Nairn Golf Links, a well-regarded Highlands course that will host the 2012 Curtis Cup matches. And now, in just the past two hours, those four courses have reverted to the ranks they held last Friday. Had the reader been paying attention, she would have spotted the activity and held off on her nagging e-mail.

My “columns,” as I like to think of them, are a different matter. I try to knock one out on at least a monthly basis, but I lead a busy life. In addition to my SI/GOLF/Golf.com duties, I serve on two Presidential commissions, take occasional gigs as a hotel-lobby jazz pianist, coach a parochial-league basketball team, assist several NBA teams with their draft choices, serve as official photographer for the Missouri Snipe-Hunt Association and  — on doctor’s orders — play golf as often as I can. Finding time to craft these columns is difficult, and readers‘ complaints don’t make it any easier.

Did I mention how much I travel? I spent the last three weeks in Scotland and Ireland checking up on several of the Top 50’s links courses. After each round I filled out the 22-page Top 50 course-rating form and mailed it off to the States, a procedure that took from two to four hours. (The longer time was for top-ranked Askernish Old, where the backup generator didn’t always kick in when the clubhouse windmill slowed.) Many of these rounds lasted until well past ten p.m. with hours of paperwork to follow, so no one, least of all my wife, should be surprised that I had to bang on a farmhouse door at 1 a.m. on the Herbridean island of South Uist to get the key to the front doors of the Borrodale Hotel, which was inexplicably locked.

That said, I hope to post several brief course reports in the next few days. They may not satisfy the reader in Peculiar, but they should go over well in Normal, Ill.

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