Tag Archives: Philadelphia Cricket Club

Van Sickle Ties Swing Guru En Route to Second Shivas Invitational Title

A reader in Texas wants to know if the Top 50 blog has morphed into a stable of tournament golfers. “You hardly ever write up a new golf course or devote more than a few lines to a classic layout,” he writes, “but every time I pick up the paper I read about some Top 50 staffer winning the Masters or something. What are you doing in your underground complex at Catch Basin — cloning tour players?”

Philadelphia Cricket Club

The former U.S. Open venue doubles as an outdoor wedding chapel. (John Garrity)

The reader exaggerates. No one on our payroll has yet managed to win a major, and I can’t think of anyone at our Kansas City headquarters who could beat Tiger Woods straight up. But I can see how a Texan might overestimate our tournament success, given the near-constant media drumbeat for our best players.

Just this past weekend, for instance, career-amateur Gary Van Sickle won the 24th Shivas Invitational on the 50th-ranked St. Martin’s Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Van Sickle, our executive vice-president and chief course rater, shot a first-and-final-round 69 on the surviving nine at St. Martin’s, a two-time U.S. Open venue, matching former PGA Tour player and $300-per-hour swing coach Dewey Arnette.* It was Van Sickle’s second Shivas title in as many tries, and it won him another brass plate on the hard-to-ship Shivas Trophy.

*Tournament chairman Michael Bamberger ruled that Arnette was “co-champion” on a technicality — the technicality being that he shot the same score as Van Sickle.

Van Sickle’s latest win (along with my own top-20 finish at the Shivas) caps a string of Top 50 playing triumphs, including a couple of high-dollar victories (West Penn Open, Frank Fuhrer Invitational) and a tournament-best 66 at the New England Open by our social-networking coordinator, Mike Van Sickle, who has already qualified for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Nevertheless, the Top 50 rates courses, not players. Philly Cricket has two other tracks — the 37th-ranked Wissahickon Course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast (currently being renovated by Keith Foster and Dan Meersman) and the upstart Militia Hill Course, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — but it’s the Chestnut Hill track, behind the PCC’s cricket pitch and sprawling red-brick clubhouse, that hosted the 1907 and 1910 Opens, won by Alec Ross and Alex Smith, respectively. (Ross’s brother Donald designed an eye-opening seven courses in the current Top 50, including Royal Dornoch, Seminole and Hillcrest.) And here’s a great bit of trivia from Sal Johnson’s book, The Official U.S. Open Almanac:

Entering the 13th hole of the final round [in 1907], A.W. Tillinghast was the low amateur in the field. At that moment, however, , he was overcome by the heat, forcing him to withdraw …. Tillinghast, of course, went on to become one of America’s finest course designers. Some of his famous courses, like Baltusrol and Winged Foot [plus Bethpage Black and Swope Memorial] have been tapped by the USGA as sites for its championships.

“Philadelphia Cricket Club,” Johnson points out in his 1910 notes, “was the first host club to allow the professionals into the clubhouse and to give them locker room privileges.”

These days, the top pros tend not to congregate in the Chestnut Hill shower room. But it’s not because they’re not welcome; it’s more a case of the St. Martin’s layout no longer being U.S. Open compliant, in that nine holes have gone missing. The Shivas Invitational turned this into a virtue by formatting the competition as two nine-hole rounds, the first played from the forward tees to front hole locations with a maximum of four clubs, none longer than 39.5 inches. (The winner of this first lap was Simon & Schuster editor Jofi Ferrari-Adler, who shot a stunning four-under-par 31 with a 3-iron as his biggest stick.) The second nine, played from the back tees to back hole locations, was a conventional 14-club competition.

The playing conditions, it must be said, were superb, it being one of those rare autumn days when shirtsleeve temperatures and abundant sunshine amplify the glory of fall foliage at its colorful peak. The greens were slick and maddeningly-hard to read, corrupting the scorecards of a celebrity-laden field that included Top 50 course-designer Gil Hanse (fifth-ranked Castle Stuart and the incipient Olympics Course in Rio de Janeiro); head professionals Scott Nye (18th-ranked Merion GC, site of the most-recent U.S. Open) and Graeme Lennie (33rd-ranked Balcomie Links); and award-winning actor Richard Kind (Spin City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife).*

*Unable to perform due to injury — but diligent in their roles as cart-companions and spectators — were Drama-Desk- and Obie-award-winning actor David Morse (Treme, The Negotiator, John Adams) and legendary links writer and author James W. Finegan (Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas).

Tournament play concluded on the ninth green at 4:58 p.m.. At five, a wedding ceremony began between the green and the starter’s shed. That’s so Philadelphia.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour continues it’s inaugural head-start season with the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Ga. At 7,055 yards, the par-70 layout has a robust 141 slope rating and a designer line that starts with Harry Colt and C.H. Alison (original nine), runs through Joe Lee (Marshside nine) and culminates with Tom Fazio, who directed a 1999 revision. The Seaside Course, aping Merion, uses red wicker baskets instead of hole flags, the difference being that Seaside is public and Merion not so much.

Leave a comment

Filed under golf

Van Sickle Caps Best Season with Philly Cricket Club Triumph

The Presidents Cup at 51st-ranked Royal Melbourne seems to be occupying the middle-of-the-fairway media. I can think of no other reason for the relatively-short shelf life of Gary Van Sickle’s recent triumph at the 21st Annual Shivas Invitational. Van Sickle, the Top 50‘s chief course rater, withstood 40-degree temperatures, gale-force winds and a donut breakfast to shoot 78 on the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s 37th-ranked Wissahickon course.

A score of 78 may not sound impressive, but par was about 80 on a day that reminded neighbors in nearby Valley Forge of the winter of 1777-78, which sent the handicaps of General Washington and his 12,000-man Continental Army soaring. Finishing a stroke behind Van Sickle were Mike Donald, remembered for his 19-hole playoff loss to Hale Irwin in the 1990 U.S. Open, and 15-year PGA Tour veteran Bill Britton.

Van Sickle, upon presentation of the Shivas Trophy by tournament chairman Michael Bamberger, said, “You’ll have to ship it to me. There’s no way I can take this on my flight back to Pittsburgh.”

Also in the field were Sirius Satellite Radio host Peter Kessler, R.E.M. bass player and songwriter Mike Mills, and Top 50 founder and chief executive John Garrity, all of whom finished in the top 18.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Alister MacKenzie’s Royal Melbourne composite course was in the Top 50 for an uninterrupted span of 252 months before dropping off the list this past July. Asked why the famous sandbelt course had been demoted, Van Sickle said, “No, really, I have to catch that plane.”


Filed under golf

Top 50 Author Debuts at No. 1

A worried reader asks,“Is this a golf course blog? A week or so ago, you popped up on Golf Channel’s Champions Tour Learning Center with some snake-oil swing remedy. This morning I caught you dispensing tips on bunker play on “Teed Off,” Brian Katrek’s PGA Tour Network program. Now I’m in my dentist’s waiting room, and here’s your byline on an SI Golf Plus rant about Tiger Woods’s screwed-up tempo. What gives? Have you forsaken course rating for the Hollywood allure of swing-guru celebrity?”

John Novosel Jr. on "Learning Center"

John Novosel Jr. explained Tour Tempo to a Golf Channel crew at the TPC of San Antonio. (John Garrity)

Fear not, Worried Reader. I just spent a working weekend in the Atlantic time zone, checking up on our two Canadian courses (24th-ranked Cabot Links and No. 31 Highlands Links) and I’m already packing for a trip to Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where I’ll tee it up and trade rants with Tom Doak, designer of Pacific Dunes, No. 26. And just to forestall confusion, the Top 50 is not “a golf course blog.” It is the golf course blog.

However, like the late Steve Jobs, I take pride in revolutionizing whole industries. To that end, I co-authored the best-selling golf instructional, Tour Tempo: Golf’s Last Secret Finally Revealed, now in its 11th printing by Doubleday. And now John Novosel and I are out with an e-book sequel, Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game & Beyond, available on the Amazon Kindle* and Apple iBooks** platforms.

*Tour Tempo 2 debuted at No. 1 on Amazon’s golf books list. No surprise, that, since the original Tour Tempo was Amazon’s best-selling sports book of 2004, beating out Leigh Montville’s compelling Ted Williams biography.

**The Apple edition [which also debuted at No. 1 among golf books in the iTunes Store] is “enhanced” with color photography, instructional video clips and the  Tour Tempo short-game training tones. Buyers of the Kindle version can acquire these TT2 extras via a free download from the Web.

Naturally, promoting the new book has kept me from blogging as often as I’d like. But that hasn’t kept our highly-paid Top 50 evaluators from their appointed rounds. Within the past hour, for example, the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Wissahickon course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club jumped from No. 62 to No. 53 upon news of a breakthrough in the European sovereign-debt crisis. At the same time, a perennial Top-50 favorite, Colonial Country Club of Fort Worth, Texas, plummeted from No. 24 to No. 238.*

*Colonial’s fall, a by-product of program trading, was interrupted by a computerized “circuit breaker.” Our IT staff is looking into it.

Tour Tempo 2 Cover Art

TT2 is $9.99 on the iPad and Kindle reader.

How good is Tour Tempo 2?  Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, co-author of the best-selling golf novel, The Swinger, rates it ahead of the collected output of every last golf guru of the past half-century. “Since Eisenhower took to the links,” Bamberger writes in his latest blurb, “there have been two important golf instruction books: Five Fundamentals, by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, and Tour Tempo, with John Novosel playing the Hogan role and John Garrity as Herb. TT2 is clearer yet. It’s like a wonder drug.”

Coming from Bamberger, a master of understatement, this is high praise. But let’s talk value. For a mere $9.99, you get the aforementioned color photography, the short-game tones, and the instruction videos. And if you order in the next hour, you’ll receive at no extra cost a bonus chapter, “The Force,” from an upcoming e-book by long-drive specialist John Novosel, Jr. Act this very instant and we’ll throw in “The Force” video clip, which will take strokes off your game faster than you can say “Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman!”

As for Worried Reader … stop moping and play some golf before winter sets in. I recommend any of the courses on the adjacent list.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Rory McIlroy leads after one round of the Shanghai Masters, which is being played on the Lake Malaren Masters course, a Jack Nicklaus design. Robert Allenby, meanwhile, is the first-round leader at the Asia Pacific Classic, held at The Mines Resort & Golf Club in Selangor Malaysia, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. track. Both courses are “Unrated” pending a review of the Colonial situation.

Leave a comment

Filed under golf