Tag Archives: Pebble Beach

Florida Aqua-Range Gets Late Nod

Gary Van Sickle is fashionably late with his vote for best aqua-range, but the Top 50 never closes. So now … a man who needs no introduction … except, of course, to say that he’s a veteran senior writer at Sports Illustrated, the top print golf analyst east of the Rio Grande, and father of first-year tour pro Mike Van Sickle.

“Don’t recall the aqua-range question,” Gary writes. “Can’t be an age thing. What’s your name again, young feller? Only one I can recall is Imperial Lakewoods (formerly Imperial Lakes)* in Palmetto, Fla., just outside Bradenton.”

*Coincidentally, the scientists at Catch Basin are putting together a ranking of golf courses that have changed names, whether due to bankruptcy, renovation, change of ownership or an understandable lapse of memory, given the owner’s age. For example, A. W. Tillinghast’s Swope Memorial Golf Course, No. 45, is the golf course formerly known as Swope No. 1, while its cross-park 9-hole counterpart, currently called the Heart of America Golf Course (but billed as the Blue River Golf Course in my soon-to-be-revived classic, America’s Worst Golf Courses), was Swope No. 2. Other famous courses, although they try to hide the fact, have not always gone by their current names — e.g., Seminole Golf Club (formerly Barracuda Dunes Resort), Pebble Beach Golf Links (briefly known as Otter Play Golf Club) and The Country Club at Brookline (aka Boston Blackie’s Suburban Pitch ‘n’ Putt).

“Imperial Lakes was the first course Mike Van Sickle was on,” Gary continues. “He traversed the course as a baby in a snuggy, carried by Betsy, while I played with my folks. Mike actually has a photo of himself as a 3- or 4-year old hitting balls into the water on the Imperial Lakes range. I’m suitably attired in pink shirt, light blue shorts and a St. Andrews Hogan-style cap.”*

*The Top 50 is making every effort to obtain this photograph.

“So I’d rate Imperial Lakes No. 1,” Gary concludes. “I can’t think of any others I’ve played.”

(Mike’s father adds this gratuitous post script: “Your website needs traffic. I make wisecracks, and nothing. No replies. It’s deader than a thing that’s not alive.”)

Chantilly Aqua Range

Dolce Chantilly is still No. 1 (John Garrity)

Van Sickle’s endorsement is no threat to the current No. 1 aqua-range, the tree-lined stunner at the Dolce Chantilly Golf Club and Hotel in Chantilly, France. But I’m slipping Imperial Woodlakes Golf Club (or whatever it’s called) into the third spot, behind Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club of Guangdong Province, China.

Addendum: Some readers have detected a certain volatility in our recent rankings, which — along with a handful of minor errors, which we have promptly corrected and apologized for — have led some to question the scientific underpinnings of the the Top 50. “You no longer mention Professor Eppes and the Cal Sci algorithm,” writes one worried technophile. “Are you flying solo?”

Answer: No! The Top 50 is still the leader in empirically-derived golf course evaluation, and nothing that happens in some musty California classroom is going to change that. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I am more or less obliged to report that Professor Charles Eppes recently eloped with some raven-haired bimbo and fled to England. Charlie is currently teaching at Foxent College, Oxford, not far from Wentworth Golf Club, No. 84. In his absence, the Cal Sci algorithm is being steered by a total math geek who knows absolutely nothing about golf.

This is, I am told, a temporary situation. But until the Cal Sci Board of Regents can find a qualified replacement, we at Catch Basin will have to soldier on with our nimble minds, flexible fingers and one very overworked Bomar Brain. In the meantime, we sincerely regret any inconvenience.

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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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Explaining the Top 50 Algorithm

The head pro at one of my top-rated courses has a question about the Top 50 system. “Why,” he asks, “does a course rated lower than ours sometimes get a higher score?”

The question makes me smile.

Like the Spinal Tap guitarist, the club pro equates big numbers with superiority. Eleven is better than 10, 10 is better than 9, etc. He is puzzled, therefore, when the Top 50 gives fifth-ranked Prairie Dunes a score of 9.71, while 29th-ranked Royal Melbourne swaggers off at 11.20.

Askernish Old Golf Course

The unforgettable 14th or 15th green at Askernish Old. (Kieran Dodds)

The answer, as I explained in a Top 50 column back in 2007, is that 11 is not better than 10 — not when 10 is “perfect.” The Cal Sci algorithm I use to produce the Top 50 assumes that input data can be scored either in a linear fashion (picture a football field with the number 10 where the 50-yard line would normally be) or concentrically in two dimensions (the best example being the small-to-large circles used for frog-jumping contests). The Carnoustie Golf Links, for example, had too much rough when the British Open was played there in 1999 — scores soared and a Frenchman almost won — but not enough rough in 2007, as evidenced by the fact that 22 players shot par or better for 72 holes. The two extremes canceled each other out, and Carnoustie stayed put in the ranking at No. 66.

A course’s “score,” as I told the unhappy pro, is the product of dozens of mirrored attributes, some of which can only be expressed in computer language or Cockney rhyming slang. That’s why Furnace Creek Golf Course of Death Valley, Calif., with a seasonally-adjusted score of 18.77, simmers outside the Top 5,000. (No course with a sun-bleached-skeleton logo has ever scored above 8.0 or below 12.0 in the Top 50.) The data for top-ranked Askernish Old, on the other hand, boils down to a tasty 10.19 — a number that is the qualitative equal of a 9.81.

Ft. Meade (FL) Golf Course

The Ft. Meade (FL) City Mobile Home Park Golf Course -- "the worst of the worst" according to former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (John Garrity)

If this explanation is a bit over your head, take a look at the attached photographs. First you have the fourteenth or fifteenth green at Askernish Old, which is about as close to a “Perfect 10” as you can get … and then you have the clubhouse and second green of the Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course of Ft. Meade, FL, our perennial lowest-rated course. I should add that every whole number, whether plus or minus, follows the Richter Scale model of base-10 magnitude metering, so that a golf course scoring 9.0 or 11.0 is actually ten times worse than a 10.0, a 12.0 is ten times worse than an 11.0, and so on.

Ft. Meade, if you’re curious, scored a 19.68 on my last visit. And that’s after the partial eradication of fire-ant colonies and a rolling of the clay greens.

Top 50 on TV: No. 4, Pebble Beach Golf Links, is one of three courses hosting this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Pebble Beach will be seen again in June, when the U. S. Open makes its once-a-decade appearance on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula. (Tiger Woods, who won the Open by 15 strokes in 2000, may or may not play. A source close to Woods asked not to be quoted, adding, “I just asked you NOT to quote me!”) Widely praised for their strategic design and beautiful scenery, the Monterey courses nonetheless have their critics. “If you moved Pebble Beach fifty miles inland,” Jimmy Demaret smartly observed, “no one would have heard of it.”

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