Tag Archives: Pine Valley

Carne Gets Another Ratings Boost

Rating golf courses is no picnic. That’s why I don’t take my golf meals from beverage carts or halfway houses, preferring to save my appetite for the more dependable caterers at Chik-fil-A and Panda Express. But I recognize that many golfers do dine alfresco, so our Cal Sci algorithm grades courses on their club sandwiches, hot dogs, and Gatorades, awarding bonus points that marginally influence the rankings.*

*The Pebble Beach Golf Links  briefly lost its top-ten status some years ago, when a seagull assaulted my cellophane-wrapped ham-and-cheese sandwich on the tenth fairway.

Talbot Dining Room

Dining is never drab at the Talbot, Belmullet's new hotel. (John Garrity)

Hotels, unless they are part of a golf resort, are different. I don’t have time right now to explain why they’re different, but they are. The Top 50 doesn’t reward the Fort Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course because you were clever enough to stay at the nearest W hotel, and it doesn’t punish Pine Valley Golf Club because you stayed at the Bates Motel.

But sometimes we are sorely tempted to acknowledge an accommodation when it makes a significant contribution to a course’s bottom line. That was the case seven years ago when the Carne Golf Links of Ireland jumped from third to second upon the opening of the three-star, 72-room Broadhaven Bay Hotel & Leisure Centre. It is happening again now — and, amazingly, Carne is again the beneficiary.

The hostelry in question is the Talbot Hotel, Belmullet’s new 21-room boutique hotel. Situated on Barrack Street, just off the town square, the Talbot presents as an elegant storefront adjacent to the popular Anchor Bar, with which it is affiliated. Behind the row-house facade, however, is a warren of luxuriously-furnished corridors leading to themed bedrooms, no two alike. With more fainting couches and gilded consoles than you’ll find in Dublin’s legendary Shelbourne Hotel, the Talbot teeters between contemporary and traditional. The ambiance, however, is dictated by a wealth of natural lighting, the designers having worked windows and skylights into every conceivable surface.

Hotel Reception

Time stands still at the Broadhaven Bay Hotel, so you shouldn't miss your tee time. (John Garrity)

We’re not in the hotel rating business, but golfers often ask us where to stay when they play our top-ranked courses. “What’s your call in Belmullet?” my wife asked me last night. “Which hotel is best?”

I could only shrug. The Talbot, with its crystal chandeliers and designer fabrics, is clearly the more luxe of the two. But the Broadhaven is better for people watching; its lobby is much bigger and features generous seating around a Yamaha grand piano. The Talbot easily wins the art battle, displaying more Chinese artifacts than you’ll find in the British Museum. But the Broadhaven has a spectacular leisure center, the Éalú Health and Leisure Club, that offers Indian head massage and seaweed oxygen facials in addition to a stunning lap pool and workout facility.

Talbot Hotel guest room

The Talbot's honeymoon suite. (John Garrity)

“The Talbot is right in the heart of Belmullet,” points out the desk clerk at the Talbot.

“The Broadhaven has the bay views,” volleys the desk clerk at the Broadhaven. “And we’ve got loads of parking.”

Well, I’m just glad I don’t have to make that call. The bigger point is that little Belmullet’s sudden prominence as a destination resort owes almost entirely to the late Eddie Hackett’s magnificent work at Carne. Both hotels offer golf packages, and if you mention the Top 50 at check-in you’ll get a blank look from the clerk. (Coincidentally, Carne gains .02 points in the rankings to close in on top-ranked Askernish Old.)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I’m looking forward to catching up on missed episodes of Burn Notice when I get back to the States.


Filed under golf

Top 50 CEO Comes Clean on Golf Trip

First, a confession. I have been telling friends (and foes) that my recent trek through Scotland and Ireland was a golf holiday. “Fourteen rounds in three weeks!” I say with a self-satisfied smirk, trying to leave the impression that I have nothing better to do with my post-retirement days than chase old-man Bogey up and down a Celtic shore.

Truth is, I was working. And although I would like to ratify that old saw about “my worst day on the golf course being better than my best day at the office” — I can’t. (I work at home, so my best days at the office consist of a lot of napping, snacking, piano playing and careful monitoring of Rumpole of the Bailey and Rockford Files DVDs.)

Next, an apology. To the dedicated staffers here at Catch Basin and to the equally-dedicated Cal Sci mathematicians who manage the Top 50 Algorithm, I publicly announce: “I am sorry.” Sorry for doubting you. Sorry for challenging the raw data. Sorry for sprinkling talcum powder in your pay envelopes.*

*The Company pledges to honor all legitimate claims for emergency room services, doctor visits and treatments for PTSD up to the state-mandated cap of fifty dollars per household.

Third, an explanation. Reader mail, in the past year or so, has consistently challenged the Top 50’s claim to be “the only truly authoritative and scientific course-rating system” by pointing out seeming anomalies. “Pine Valley is not on your list!” complained one correspondent, while another grumbled that “the Augusta National practice range [No. 47] is not even a golf course.” I brushed off most of these criticisms as the product of parochial minds clouded by the puffery of local chambers of commerce and golf-tour operators. But I found it hard to dismiss the charge by a few dozen golf-industry insiders — some of them with college degrees — that my list was top-heavy with links courses in the British Isles. “Five or six Celtic courses is believable,” wrote a Moroccan travel agent. “But 38 of the top fifty? Highly implausible.”

Sunset Golf at Askernish

Links courses: Overrated? Underrated? Properly rated? (John Garrity)

The Moroccan’s claim of 38 was pure hyperbole, but a quick glance at the current Top 50 [see sidebar] reveals no fewer than 16 courses of the British links variety. What’s more, ten of the remaining layouts either have the word “links” in their name or boast of links-style features in their designs — e.g., Pebble Beach, Fancourt, Sand Hills, and Medicine Hole. I have long argued that traditional links courses get the highest marks for one simple reason: They are better golf courses.

Because they are.

But even I began to have doubts last year when Castle Stuart, a brand-new course on the banks of Scotland’s Moray Firth, debuted at No. 10. That was followed by another improbable leap (Kingsbarns to No. 40, pushing the Irish parkland gem, Druids Glen, into the second fifty) and a weird oscillation at No. 50, where Scotland’s Nairn and Ireland’s Donegal have been alternating every hour or so like one of those ballpark banner ads behind home plate.

Was there a flaw in the Top 50 algorithm? Had a mole infiltrated our Catch Basin headquarters? Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?

I had to find out. And the only way to test the integrity of the Top 50 ranking, as I explained to my wife, was by traveling to the British isles and playing the disputed links courses. Which I did. (Note to IRS: I will not be claiming non-golf expenses as deductions.)

Finally, my report. But that will have to wait a day.*

* Negotiations with Ryan Lawn and Tree have taken longer than expected, due to their lead agronomist’s insistence that sod cannot be laid over the hardwood floor in our TV room.


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China’s Best: Lost in Translation?

Sunset Photo, Mission Hills China

The 7th on the Sorenstam course, Mission Hills, China

“Here’s an idea for a new Top 50 list,” writes the 14-handicap owner of a restaurant on Spring Street in NYC. “You could rank the world’s Mission Hills courses. I mean, there must be a thousand of them.”

A thousand? Well, maybe — if you count “Mission Hills Labradoodles,” one of the Google options that popped up as I typed “Mission Hills” into the search box. (“We are a small breeder of Australian Labradoodles located in the heart of America,” reads their home page. “Our goal at Mission Hills Labradoodles is to raise top quality dogs that will be a joy and an asset to your home and family.”)

Add the word “golf” or “country club” and you narrow the search to a few dozen courses from Texas to Thailand. There is a Packard & Packard-designed Mission Hills C.C. in Northbrook, Ill. and an Al Watrous-designed Mission Hills G.C. in Plymouth, Mich. There is an admirable Mission Hills C.C. about a mile from the Top 50’s Kansas City headquarters. (Situated in the aptly named town of Fairway, Ks., this Mission Hills track was laid out by Tom Bendelow, the Johnny Appleseed of American golf. Bendelow is best remembered for Medinah Country Club No. 3, site of next year’s Ryder Cup.)

If we were to create a Mission Hills list — and all that’s holding us back is a lack of outside funding — the top spot would have to go to the one Mission Hills layout that is already in the Top 50. That would be Desmond Muirhead’s 44th-ranked Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., permanent site of the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.

But given our correspondent’s Chinatown address, I’m guessing that she’s carrying water (or oolong tea) for the Mission Hills Golf Club of Shenzhen, China. A resort complex that is roughly the size of Delaware, China’s Mission Hills has the largest tennis center in Asia (51 courts and a 3,000-seat stadium court), several golf academies, four clubhouses, four spas, a convention center, a 5-star hotel, and no less than a dozen courses designed by the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Annika Sorenstam. Mission Hills is so big that it isn’t content hosting the Asian Amateur Championship and the occasional World Cup. It sponsors football matches between world-class teams such as FC Barcelona and, uh … opponents of FC Barcelona.

Photo of Olazabal course, Mission Hills China

The 3rd at the Olazabal Course, Mission Hills, China

The helmsman of this golfing supertanker is Tenniel Chu, executive director of Mission Hills Properties Holdings Ltd…, a really big outfit. “Golf is the fastest growing sport in China,” Mr. Chu told me at this year’s Masters, where I chatted up a number of international golf titans before playing second-ranked Augusta National Golf Club as a guest.* “By 2020,” Mr. Chu continued, “China will have the world’s largest population of golfers.”

*I am not a member of either club, although I would never rule out a future alliance.

It is not lost on me that China, with a population of roughly 1.3 billion souls, might have a golf course worthy of a Top 50 ranking. Unfortunately, our Chinese course-raters/calligraphers submit their reports in the 50-year-old simplified Chinese character system employing the common caoshu shorthand variants, while our Cal Tech analysts read only traditional Chinese characters, which use standardized forms dating to the Han dynasty. That has led to some anomalous results, including the counter-intuitive ranking of the aqua-range at the Chung Shan Hot Spring Resort at No. 64, ahead of the world-renowned Pine Valley Golf Club of southern New Jersey.

We’ve got our best minds working on this problem. In the meantime, we’re provisionally ranking the Mission Hills Shenzhen complex — all twelve courses, including the Zhang Lianwei-designed par-3 course — as No. 1 in China.


Filed under golf