Tag Archives: Pinehurst No. 2

Ross Course Captures World’s Attention

“What’s the hottest course on your list?” asks a reader from Oatmeal, Texas. The answer, I discovered after tapping a few keys on my Bomar Brain, is Furnace Creek Golf Club of Death Valley, Calif., where summer temperatures top out at around 130 degrees with overnight lows of 100. That’s one reason why Furnace Creek has never cracked my Top 50.

Hillcrest's 2nd hole

Hillcrest’s No. 2 is sometimes mistaken for Pinehurst No. 2, but there is a significant difference in elevation. (John Garrity)

“Let’s face it,” writes the author of the 1994 best-seller, America’s Worst Golf Courses, “on any list of potential golf course sites, Death Valley — at 214 feet below sea level — has to be near the bottom.”

Ask any blade of grass. Summer soil temperatures at Furnace Creek reach 200 degrees: good for baking brownies, but not much help to turfgrass. Perversely, winter temperatures in Death Valley dip well below freezing, nudging the Bermuda grass greens and fairways into dormancy. Rainfall? Less than two inches a year. In these conditions, even sand traps don’t survive. The local sand is so high in mineral content that it hardens like concrete when wet; imported sand blows away in the Valley’s furious windstorms. Consequently, all the bunkers on this desert course are grass.

Furnace Creek’s course rating, according to AWGC, is 67.4. Its USGA Slope? “Pretty much uphill in every direction.” “– And by ‘hottest,’” my desert correspondent continues, “I mean ‘trending’ — as in Billboard’s ‘with a bullet’ designation for songs moving fast up the charts.” This is an example of a reader wasting the Top 50’s time. Was I supposed to read the entire email before answering the question? That’s like asking the dock hand if you can jump the narrow gap to the ferry as it’s pulling away, adding that while you look out of shape now, you were a high-school hurdler and occasional ballroom dancer, and even now you can probably …. oops, too late. But we are here to serve, so I’ll answer the question. The Top 50’s trendiest course is Hillcrest Golf & Country Club of Kansas City, Mo. In the past couple of months, Hillcrest — a 1916 Donald Ross design — has catapulted from 42nd to 30th in the ranking, pushing it past better-known Ross masterpieces such as  Mid-Pines Inn & Golf Club (No. 32), Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club (No. 42), and 51st-ranked Pinehurst No. 2, site of the upcoming men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. The Top 50 isn’t alone in singing Hillcrest’s praises. Last week, Sports Illustrated devoted four pages and the talents of esteemed golf photographer Kohjiro Kinno to a Hillcrest feature titled BACK ON COURSE. (“Once given up for dead,” reads the subhead, “a challenging Donald Ross layout in the heartland is thriving again.”) SI singles out Hillcrest’s “infamous 1st hole, a 243-yard par-3 that Ray Floyd once called the toughest opening hole that he had ever played.” Also mentioned: the fact that Arnold Palmer once went around Hillcrest in 83.* “Every so often,” SI’s man writes, “I am reminded that Ross courses are widely revered …”

They’re not all masterpieces, and some of them have had mustaches painted on them by posterity, but playing one of the 399 courses attributed to Ross is like fingerpicking a vintage Martin guitar. Something of the designer is inevitably expressed, something sings … and you don’t need a lot of talent to appreciate the craftsmanship.

How true! On the strength of that paragraph alone, I and the entire Top 50 staff promptly signed up to receive the new SI Golf+ Digital e-magazine, which is free to humans and delivered weekly via email, app or Golf.com. *Full disclosure: I wrote the story.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the above-mentioned Pinehurst No. 2 will hog our screens for the next fortnight. No. 2, too, has gotten the attention of various Sports Illustrated platforms. You can start with photographer Bob McNeely’s black-and-white renderings of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course tweaks in the SI Golf+ U.S. Open Preview. I also recommend the June issue of GOLF Magazine, specifically the comprehensive U.S. Open preview section (“Why Pinehurst Will Be the Toughest Venue Yet”), which includes a clever send-up of Phil Mickelson tournament coverage (“Tomorrow’s News … Today!”)** You’ll split your sides with laughter. **I wrote it.

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Remembering Pittsburgh’s “Needle”

With Mr. Garrity still incommunicado, Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle has graciously provided us with the following column. “It’s sort of got a golf course theme,” Van Sickle explains, “and several Top 50 courses are mentioned.”

You grip a club when you play golf, but the reality for a lot of us is, it’s the other way around. Golf grips us.

There is so much to get caught up in—the unending line of better-than-ever new clubs; thousands of golf courses around the world we have yet to play, and most of which we never will; handicaps and the eternal quest to improve; the matches, the press bets and the smack-talk that comes with them; and the great outdoors, the beauty of nature (even if it’s sometimes re-imagined by a golf course architect).

It is easy to forget how special golf can be, how special it is.

I was reminded of this when I read in a Pittsburgh newspaper that The Needle had passed away. The Needle was Frank (Archie) Archinaco, a long-time member at swank Allegheny Country Club, not far from where I live in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs. I did not know Archie. (I hope it’s OK if I call him Archie. I’m presuming familiarity.)  I never met the man. But just about everything I needed to know about him I learned from his obituary.  It caught my eye because most of the Post-Gazette obits were shortish items, less than a column long. Archie’s obit spread over three columns.

It was no ordinary obituary, obviously. I believe Archie had some input into it. He had a terminal disease, he knew he was dying, and his obit included tidbits about his life that no one else likely would have known or thought significant.  Seriously, who includes golfing exploits in an obituary? I’ll tell you who — a real golfer. The kind of golfer who cares so much about his round that he’ll replay all 18 holes—if you ask him—while you share drinks in the grill room afterward. A real golfer like Archie.

Ballybunion Graveyard & Green

Ballybunion was one of the Needle's favorite haunts. (John Garrity)

From the Post-Gazette: Frank passionately loved to play golf and played at nearly every top 100 golf course in the world, as well as many others. His favorites included Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Ballybunion and his home course, Allegheny Country Club.

We all know name-dropping golfers who love to talk about the great courses of the world that they played. No matter what exotic course you say you teed it up at and loved, they’ll do you one better. Unless you’ve played Augusta National or Pine Valley, that is. Those are the ultimate toppers.

It was important to Archie, as he was dying, to let us know he’d checked off most of the top-100 course list. You’ve got to be serious to do that, plus have serious contacts just to get on some of those super-private tracks. Not to mention serious dough. But Archie isn’t one of those obnoxious name-droppers. He could have listed 20 more impressive clubs he had played, but he didn’t. He simply told us about his top-100 feat so we’d know how much golf meant to him, how seriously he took it. It also says something about the pride he had for his beloved Allegheny Country Club that he mentioned it in the same sentence with Cypress and Pebble and the ‘Bunion. It’s a loyal, true blue member who proudly waves the ACC flag even in his final days.

More from the Post-Gazette: His handicap peaked at 8. His exceptional play under pressure in tournaments labeled him, jokingly, as a sandbagger. Those who knew him well knew he never cheated at golf.

A handicap is a vanity. It’s a caste system for golf. It’s funny how handicaps inspire fudging at both ends of the scale. There are ego-trippers who claim to be 6-handicappers but can’t break 90 and players who can shoot in the mid-70s but keep their handicap in the low teens so they can win the bets and the events—yes, the sandbaggers.

Archie wanted us to know that at some point he’d gotten his handicap into single digits. That is the Holy Grail for amateur hackers. If you’ve got a single digit handicap at a private club, you’re a player. Note that Archie didn’t claim to still be an 8. But he wanted us to know that he could play the game at a very respectable level at one point in his life.

He also addressed the downside of the handicap system. When you play better than you’re supposed to play, better than your handicap says you’re supposed to, no one ever congratulates you, no one gives you credit. No one says, “Good for you for finally putting 18 good holes together. Way to finally play to your potential ” Nope. If you shoot 74 and you’re an 8 and your net 66 blows everyone else away, you’re just another sandbagger. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

This was Archie’s way of burying that unfair label. There are some amateurs—and I’ll bet Archie was one of them—who have a knack for rising to the occasion. He was probably a good putter—you have to be to get as low as 8.  I imagine Archie as the guy who always holed the putt on the 9th or 18th green when money was on the line. I picture him as clutch, the kind of guy you loved as a partner and hated as an opponent. Don’t drop the S-word on him just because he didn’t choke when the rest of would have. The man could play a little bit. Archie wants you to know that.

A hole-in-one eluded him for nearly his entire career. However, on Oct. 3, 2009, he scored a hole-in-one with a 5-iron at Allegheny’s eighth hole.

That’s another thing about golfers. There are certain things you do. Kind of a Bucket List. You’ve got to play Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St. Andrews, and a few other classic layouts before you die. And you’ve got to make a hole-in-one. It’s just one lucky shot out of thousands, but you’ve got to get one. It’s a pride thing. It is something golfers inevitably ask each other: “So, have you made an ace?” They leave off the “yet,” but it’s implied. As in, you’re not a real member of the club until you score a hole-in-one. It’s also an implied invitation to ask them about theirs… please.

Archie got his ace, all right. Just barely in time.

One year later (after the ace), Frank was diagnosed with terminal, inoperable, metastasized pancreatic cancer. He promised friends and family that he would “fight to my last breath” to beat the disease.

We know now that Archie lost that match. He was 67. He was “charismatic, charming, clowning and joking,” his obit said, and he earned his nickname, The Needle, “because of his pointed teasing with friends.” He was a former president and CEO of PPG’s Automotive Glass and Service.

His obit said that he had another nickname, “the General,” given to him by nurses at the hospital where he was born because he weighed nearly ten pounds and was much larger than the other children. “The comparison would foreshadow the remainder of his life,” the obit said. You can forgive Archie that vanity because he’d already lived the life and proved he was a business leader—a general.

Archie also wanted you to know that he was voted high school class president and later graduated with honors from Villanova University, where he was classmates with Jim Croce, the late singer-songwriter, and  played cards with him.

I’m glad Archie included golf in his obituary. It told me a lot about him. I didn’t know Archie personally, but I know golfers just like him. So do you—the successful businessman who exudes confidence at all times and is always trying to win the game, whether it’s a double-press bet or scoring a better tee time or telling a funnier story. You drop a name in the men’s grill, he drops a bigger one. It’s part of the he-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins mentality, except in this case it’s a he-who-plays-the-most-golf-courses-wins game. Guys like him make golf clubs fun. They make you want to hang out at the grill room and shoot the breeze—not that you’d ever actually admit that to him, naturally. That would be another win for him.

No, I never met Archie—The Needle—but it is obvious that golf had a strong grip on him. He accomplished a lot in his illustrious life. And, it seems to me, he was a real golfer. I hope—I believe—that Archie would consider that high praise, indeed.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Pinehurst No. 2 (No. 51 on the Top 50) reopened  Monday after a thorough makeover by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. The Donald Ross-designed course, which will host the 2014 U.S. and U.S. Women’s Open Championships, had 32 acres of grass and roughly 700 sprinkler heads removed. “My mouth literally falls open when I see the incredible work that they’ve done,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis, explaining why he was forced to play his round blindfolded.


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Top 50 Has Stones to Challenge Malcolm Gladwell on Rankings

It’s been a while since we answered anonymous voice-mail questions, so here goes.

When can we expect your Top 50 list of Russian courses?

How about when Russia has fifty courses? Or forty. Or thirty. Or ten.

Sorry, I meant China.

The Chinese Top 50 was ready for posting in January, but the staff here at Catch Basin put it on hold pending investigation of our Yunnan Province course-rating team. The Yunnan division raised eyebrows when it touted a new 54-hole country club outside Kunming, the provincial capital. Three courses, allegedly designed by Schmidt-Curley Design of Scottsdale, Az., were supposedly threaded through a primordial landscape of karst peaks, pines and lakes. Playing as long as 7,565 yards, the Leaders Peak course was reported to have no bunkers (implausible) and an island green surrounded by rock instead of water (an impossibility). One of the architects was quoted as saying, “We wanted the stone to be the show.”

12th Hole at Stone Forest, China

Stone Forest: China's answer to Rocky Road ice cream?

Unfortunately, that quote was translated into Mandarin and back into English, so it came to us as “We got stoned at a show.” Horrified, we promptly fired our Yunnan course raters and hired a second-rater from Hong Kong, who now informs us that the original report was accurate in its particulars, if sloppy in its expression. The new golf complex, Stone Forest International Country Club, recently opened for play, and it does, indeed, provide a rocky experience for golfers of all abilities — all within a stone’s throw of Kunming, a city of nearly 6 million at the northern edge of Dian Lake.

Anyway, we’re ready to release our Chinese Top 50 — once our second-rater decides which of the three Stone Forest courses is the best.

Malcolm Gladwell, in a recent New Yorker, makes a devastating critique of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” guide and, by extension, all service-journalism rankings. Do you think your pseudo-scientific golf course list is any better than the Consumer Reports and Car and Driver ratings that he demolishes?

Funny you should ask. I, myself, have debunked all three of those sloppy, self-serving lists, and I did so when Gladwell, as a barefoot boy in Hampshire, was still learning to use a curling iron. Three decades ago, for instance, I blew gaping holes in a “Most Livable Cities” survey that had Honolulu ranked 47th among American metropolises, 27 rungs lower than [drum roll} … Warren, Ohio! To correct their error, I recommended that they simply add the category, “Public and Private Garage and Parking Lot Landscaping.” I assume they took my advice, because the following year’s rankings had Honolulu somewhere in the top ten, while Warren was no longer recognized as an American city.

But to answer your question, my Top 50 has nothing in common with the flawed surveys in Gladwell’s article. That’s because it is unassailably “my” Top 50 — not yours, not GOLF Magazine’s and certainly not Gladwell’s.

I hear that Pinehurst No. 2 is reopening after a renovation by the Crenshaw-Coore design team. Will their changes boost the greatest of all Donald Ross courses into the Top 50?

I thought No. 2 was in my Top 50, but the boys in the computer room tell me that it dropped to 111th when I penalized it 400 points for having mats on the driving range. (Sorry, Pinehurst.) I’m a big fan of Crenshaw-Coore’s work, so I wouldn’t be surprised if No. 2 moves up dramatically before it hosts the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. I definitely like the natural “dunes look” of the rebuilt bunkers. I just wish they had thrown in a few of Ross’s old “chocolate drop” mounds; that was a swell way of concealing construction debris without having to pay someone to truck it off to the dump.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but SI.com features a “Behind the Mic” video of Sir Nick Faldo forecasting this year’s Masters, “where the real drama starts.” Faldo correctly points out that intermediate and short-iron play will be the key to winning at Augusta National, along with putting (‘blistering-quick greens”) and driving (“very important”). Rut-iron play, in other words, will not be a factor.

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