Tag Archives: Pacific Dunes

Golf Gadfly (Bill Amick) Gets His Due

“You made a joke in SI about Heritage Classic winners looking ‘bad in plaid,’” writes a reader from the Vatican City. “The proper term is ‘tartan,’ but that’s beside the point. You shouldn’t ridicule a garment that symbolizes achievement or high attainment.”

Two sentences, two complaints. Yes, I “joked” about the gaudy blazer using “plaid” instead of “tartan”, but that’s because the rhyme for tartan wouldn’t have gotten past my editors. As for the argument that tartan blazers should command respect, I say, “Only if it’s the Donald Ross tartan worn by members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.”

Bill Amick at ASGCA meeting in Denver

Bill Amick, left, can wear plaid.

The Ross tartan, modeled by former ASGCA president Bill Amick in the adjoining photograph, is a particularly distinguished variant of the Highlanders’ weave. The man wearing it, I might add, is a particularly distinguished member of the ASGCA, inasmuch as he is shown receiving the architects’ Distinguished Service Award in Denver at their 65th annual meeting. Amick, in his 52nd year as a golf architect, is only the fourth pasture-plower to receive the DSA.

Amick is well known to followers of the Top 50. Gut Heckenhof Hotel und Golfresort, in Germany’s Rhein-Sieg National Park, is currently No. 20, while his tasteful redesign of Ross’s Hillcrest Country Club in Kansas City, Mo., is 45th. The second 50 pays tribute to four more Amick courses:  No. 53, Killearn Country Club, Tallahassee, Fla. (longtime venue for PGA Tour, Champions Tour, and LPGA events); No. 68, Sky Meadow Country Club, Nashua, N.H. (deemed the best course in New Hampshire by Golf Digest); No. 89, The Vineyards Country Club (South Course), Naples, Fla. (a former Champions Tour site and Golfweek honoree); and No. 97, Mangrove Bay Golf Course, St. Petersburg, Fla. (a Golf Digest Top-50 public track).

But it is Amick’s contribution to the debate about golf’s future that is his real legacy. For decades he was the lonely gadfly waving the red flag while his peers poured billions of dollars into courses that were too long, too hard, too remote, too exclusive and too expensive to maintain. When Jack Nicklaus proposed a shorter version of golf using his limited-flight “Cayman ball,” only one architect answered the challenge by building an 18-hole course for its use.* That man was Bill Amick.

Eagle Landing Golf Club, Hanahan, S.C. 

German golf course Gut Heckenhof

Amick's Gut Heckenhof is plenty goodenof.

“In these times of a slower economy and lower golfer participation,” Amick told his colleagues in May, “many areas have enough championship courses. However, the game could use more courses that are easier, faster to play, and which have lower fee to encourage and keep new golfers of all ages. Smaller courses will not replace the standard 18-hole par 72 model, but will compliment and supplement those larger courses.”

Those smaller courses, Amick was too polite to suggest, could be built on the fallow land left by bankrupt golf developments.

But I digress. The reader is right, honorific garb should be given a pass by the fashion police. I might even slip on a green jacket, if offered the right incentives.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the U.S. Public Links Championships (Golf Channel) for men and women are drawing to a close on Mike Keiser’s 55th-ranked Old Macdonald in Bandon, Ore. Old Macdonald shares the four-course Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with 26th-ranked Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak’s contribution to Keiser’s dream of an American linksland.

Next week, the cameras descend upon No. 7 Castle Stuart Golf Links, the new home of the Barclays Scottish Open. Castle Stuart is the eighth course in the current Top 10 to serve as a venue for elite-level competition and the first course to achieve that recognition on the strength of our Top 50 imprimatur. So we’ll be watching.

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Askernish Retains Hold on Top Spot

“My game is coming back since returning from Scotland,” Top 50 staffer Dave Henson writes from Hilton Head, S.C. “Haven’t been in the 70s yet, but low to mid 80s. It seems I developed a strong left hand grip somewhere – probably from trying to drive the ball into 75 mph winds.”

Dave Henson at Askernish

Top 50's Henson celebrates at Rainbow's End. (John Garrity)

My old friend refers to a rather gusty mid-summer round at Castle Stuart Golf Links, No. 9, during my Top 50 Audit of Highly-Ranked Links Courses. That round in the Scottish Highlands, I should point out, was the only one in which conditions were severe enough to actually wreck one’s swing. The winds at Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Askernish never exceeded 40 mph, and there were intervals of relative calm when we could talk in normal tones and Dave could light his pipe without burning his hand. But the most rewarding birdies and eagles, as I think even galeaphobic Dave will agree, are those produced in hurricane-force winds. (See photograph, left.)

Unfortunately, Dave had to return to the States after our three-day inspection of top-ranked Askernish Old, the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course on the Hebridean isle of South Uist. Health was an issue for my right-hand man, who had to endure the indignities of free and attentive treatment from a nurse-practitioner at a village clinic, followed by the prompt filling of an outrageously cheap prescription for his bronchitis. “Socialized medicine at its worst,” Dave grumbled, pining for the ninety-dollar meds and hour-long waits of home.

Askernish, in contrast to Dave, was in great shape. Greenkeeper Alan MacDonald had the greens rolling at a bouncy 5 or 6, and the fescue roughs were hacked down to a height that would barely conceal a dozing poet. Three years of dedicated labor have pushed most of the rabbit warrens to the boundaries of the course, so it’s no longer a common occurrence to have a border collie chase a hare between your legs as you address the ball. “It’s really coming around,” said Ralph Thompson, the affable chairman of the Askernish Golf Club. “It wouldn’t hurt you to pay the green fee.”

J Garrity putting at Askernish Old

Garrity on Old Tom's Pulpit: "Do you see a break?" (Dave Henson)

Since Askernish is closer to a perfect 10 than any other course, you might expect an air of complacency. Instead, the locals have jumped on an offer from famed course designer Tom Doak to lend staff and material resources to their restoration effort. As the Hebridean winter closes in, Doak’s team will work with MacDonald and British architect Martin Ebert (who designed the six new holes that lead up to Old Tom’s sublime stretch of seaside holes) on a subtle tweaking of the ancient links. As I write this, it’s not clear whether the work will start before or after the local crofters drive their livestock onto the course for their winter keep.

No matter. Based upon its summer condition and Dave’s scribbled report, Askernish retains its number one ranking and improves on its previous record score, edging down .03 points to 10.15.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but every time I turned on a set last week it was tuned to [the] Golf Channel’s “Golf in America.” For some reason, an audio-visual team had followed SI senior writer Alan Shipnuck and a friend as they played all four courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort — including Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes, No. 26 — in a single day.* (Spoiler Alert: It ends with Shipnuck walking into his motel room and falling face-first on the bed — a scene that would have been lost to posterity but for the fortuitous pre-placement of the video crew and their equipment.) If you missed this tribute to sore joints and sunburn, I invite you to read Shipnuck’s SI Golf Plus report on his long day, titled “14 Hours, 21.7 Miles, 2 Barking Dogs”, at Golf.com.

*Not to complain, but I’ve played several rounds with Shipnuck in recent months — most notably at Kingsbarns, No. 40, and Erin Hills, No. 23 — without drawing even a flicker of interest from [the] Golf Channel. Maybe their cameras would follow me around if I played all the crummy courses from my near-best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses, finishing up at the very worst, the Ft. Meade (Fla.) City Mobile Home Park Golf Course.**

**For TV, I would need an appropriate playing partner. Charles Barkley? Ray Romano? Tiger Woods? Send me your ideas.


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