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Z Boaz Was One of “America’s Worst”

In my last post I promised that “tomorrow” I’d reprint a report on 11,237th-ranked Z Boaz Golf Course from my almost-best-seller of 1994, America’s Worst Golf Courses. By “tomorrow,” of course, I meant “next week.” I’ve spent much of that week searching Catch Basin for my file of Z Boaz photographs. When I find them — and after they’ve been digitally enhanced from the drab colors of the last century to glorious black-and-white — I’ll present them in gallery format. Meanwhile, here’s what America’s Worst Golf Courses had to say about Z Boaz:

“Riding on its reputation.”

 

That’s what you hear whenever Z Boaz shows up on the latest list of America’s worst courses. And it’s true — this vintage layout has suffered numerous improvements since its debut as a WPA project in 1937. The spindly trees have grown into impressive oaks; ponds and creeks have filled with water; once-faceless sand bunkers now yawn impressively. It’s a far cry from the hardpan heaven that earned Z Boaz the nickname “Goat Hills New.”

 

Richard Teague, the muni’s current assistant pro, looks out the clubhouse window and shakes his head over the changes. “When I played here, there wasn’t no trees,” he says. “Wasn’t no grass, either, for that matter.”

What Z Boaz has going for it is its legacy. In a memorable article in Sports Illustrated called “The Glory Game at Goat Hills,” writer Dan Jenkins recalled his student days at nearby Texas Christian University, where he and his band of rowdy, bet-happy ne’er-do-wells wasted their afternoons on the parched fairways of the old Worth Hills Golf Course.

 

Overtaken by development — not to mention good taste — Worth Hills went under the bulldozers some years ago, causing SI  to remark that “it was nice to learn that something could take a divot out of those hard fairways.” Z Boaz carries on the tradition as best it can. Every summer, Jenkins invites a touring pro and a bunch of lesser lights to Z Boaz for a one-day tournament, the Dan Jenkins Partnership & Goat Hills Glory Game Reprise. Although not as bleak as Worth Hills in its prime, Z Boaz still offers a pungent contrast to Fort Worth’s elegant Colonial Country Club, some miles away. No clipped hedges and high-dollar homes here — just a stark rectangle of Texas Hill country bounded by a railroad line and three busy streets.

 

The din of traffic, in fact, is an inescapable feature of golf at Z Boaz. The neighborhood is rich with furniture showcases and warehouses, most of which provide a pleasing backdrop to the golfer about to play a shot. Batting cages, miniature golf, and a life-size statue of a giraffe enhance the northern boundary, while empty storefronts and a karate school line the seventh fairway on the east side. And where, save for the finishing holes at Cypress Point, will the golfer find two more natural greensites than Z Boaz’s sixteenth (at the foot of the neon “Checks Cashed” sign) and seventeenth (hard against Long John Silver’s Seafood Shop)?

 

Surely, this is what Robert Louis Stevenson meant when he described Z Boaz as “the most beautiful meeting of land and transmission shops that nature has produced.”

Can such a course really be at death’s door? Will golfers no longer gather on the banks of the Firth of Camp Bowie to ponder its murky depths and weigh the risks of reaching for a muddy ball. Will dog owners and skate boarders defoliate the sacred sward?

Stay tuned for further updates.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but THE PLAYERS Championship has begun on Pete and Alice Dye’s 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra, Fla.   Described on a PGA Tour web site as “perhaps the world’s most famous golf course,” it is not. 

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Ozark Course Not Short on Charm

“You know what I hate about course rankings?” asks a reader from Branson, Mo. “A course has to be a so-called ‘championship’ course to be rated. You can have the greatest 18 holes in golf, but if it’s a par 64 it’s an ‘executive course’ — strictly for kids and old folks. I, for one, am tired of it. That’s why I don’t even read the rankings.”

Well, reader from Branson, it’s obvious you haven’t read the adjoining list. The current Top 50 includes two classic Scottish courses, Kinghorn and Balcomie Links, which are par 65 and 69, respectively. Our course raters, at their 40-day training camps, are taught to disregard a course’s par.* The only par-related point deductions are for arithmetic errors — e.g., when the sum of the individual holes is incorrect on the scorecard.

We don’t even accept the convention of allocating two putts per hole. If a green has a visible trough leading to the flagstick, we consider one stroke to be “par.”

Thousand Hills Golf Resort

A picture of Thousand Hills is worth a thousand, uh .... dollars?

Our correspondent, by the way, plays most of his golf at Branson’s Thousand Hills Golf Resort, currently ranked 178th in the Top 50. Thousand Hills, designed by Bob Cupp, is a 5,111-yard, par-64 track just off the famous Branson strip of big-time entertainment venues. The favorite haunt of music headliners like Marty Haggard and Shoji Tabuchi, Thousand Hills is a two-time winner of “Best Branson Golf Course.” Golf Digest gave it four stars in its “Best Places to Play” issue.

Not bad for a course with nine par 3s.

I drove down to Branson last week to check out Thousand Hills, my curiosity piqued by the course rater’s claim that he had spotted Ann Margaret and the Blues Brothers fighting over logoed merchandise in the pro shop. I promptly ran into Haggard, who pulled out his guitar and sang me a five-star version of his father Merle’s hit, “Silver Wings.”*

I am not making this up. If a single asks to join you at Thousand Hills, he or she will almost certainly possess a platinum record or two, be an accomplished adagio dancer, or be capable of performing handstands on a wobbling chair balanced upon Andy Williams’s forehead.

Anyway, I found Thousand Hills to be anything but an executive course. Only two of the par 3s are shorter than 160 yards from the tips, and two of them measure more than 200 — and that’s with creeks, ponds, ravines, and stone outcroppings to negotiate. The 425-yard, par-4 16th, with its marshside green, is as strong a hole as you’ll find in the Ozarks, and the finishing hole is a 533-yard par-5 lined with Nashville agents and Chinese-acrobat groupies.

Putting on my golf architect’s hat (and pants), I’ll just point out that Cupp made wise use of the mountainous terrain. He could have dynamited some escarpments to create longer holes, but he chose to flesh out the obtainable par 3s, much as Michelangelo chipped away the pieces of marble that weren’t David to create “David.” Cupp also proved himself a smart cookie by providing a three-hour round of golf that aging crooners — and their fans — can squeeze in between matinee and evening performances.

Fear not, reader from Branson. The Top 50 recognizes that short sometimes beats long.

Top 50 on TV: The Players Championship (with a nine-hole cameo by Tiger Woods) is being contested at 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “The layout will swallow you up and spit you out if you don’t bring a complete game,” says the 2011 edition of Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play.” That’s more or less an insinuation that you are indigestible —  but I try not to second-guess my competition.

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