Tag Archives: Prairie Dunes

What KC Has that Pinehurst Hasn’t

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Not much going on here at Top 50 headquarters. The leaves have turned russet and gold and have, in some cases, fallen. Folks are stockpiling their Halloween candy. I’ve noticed an odd trend towards blue outer garments, and there’s been a surge of absenteeism, but I haven’t been able to get an explanation from our staff futurists, who were last seen going out the door in their blue outer garments.

Hillcrest No. 2

The second at Hillcrest: Where have all the blue-clad golfers gone? (John Garrity)

I’m reminded of the question that Top 50 employees get all the time: “Why are you in Kansas City?” My first impulse is to roll my eyes skyward and deliver that little mini-shrug that says “Duh.” We rank golf courses! And Kansas City, if you haven’t noticed, is pretty much Ground Zero for great golf. I live within a few hours drive of 4th-ranked Prairie Dunes of Hutchinson, Ks.; alternate-4th-ranked Sand Hills of Mullen, Neb.; 51st-ranked Southern Hills of Tulsa, Ok.; 57th-ranked Bellerive of St. Louis, Mo.; and 61st-ranked Flint Hills National of Andover, Ks..

That’s if I feel like driving. Here in the metro area we’ve got a Donald Ross masterpiece (30th-ranked Hillcrest), an A.W. Tillinghast charmer (51st-ranked Swope Memorial), another Fazio phantasm (43rd-ranked Hallbrook), a Tom Watson standout (71st-ranked The National), a Harry Robb classic (74th-ranked Milburn) and Watson’s home course (the venerable and 51st-ranked KCCC). Which invites the question: Where else would a golf non-profit want to sink its roots? Scotland? Ireland? The Monterey Peninsula?

Then there’s the matter of weather. In my book, Ancestral Links, I asserted that Western Ireland has the best weather in the world — immediately adding, “Not everyone will agree.”

Some will point to afternoon temperatures that rarely top 65 degrees Fahrenheit and damp cloudy days that succeed one another like wet clothes on a line. Others will grouse about the winter storms with their hurricane-force winds and rampaging tides. CBS golf commentator and author David Feherty — a Northern Irishman living in Texas — e-mailed me that I was “daft” for vacationing in Mayo “at this time of year” — i.e., summer.

But when I say that Western Ireland has the best weather, I mean golf weather. There are destinations that are sunnier (Hawaii), drier (Dubai), warmer (Arizona), cooler (Sweden) or less windy (Zimbabwe?), but those same destinations are often too soggy, too hot, too cold, or too perilous for golf. Tulsa, for example, suffers from both thunderstorms and ice storms, either of which makes Southern Hills unplayable. The Mullet, by way of contrast, rarely thrills to the peal of thunder. Carne’s fairways and greens remain firm and puddle-free in the heaviest of rains.

I’m not backing off that assessment; Ireland does have the best golf weather. But Kansas City has the kind of weather that corporate CEOs look for when they’re shafting one community to to extort tax breaks from another. There’s even a metric for it — a sliding scale of “decent golf weather” — that can be used to predict absenteeism, workplace inefficiency and unbridled unionism. Kansas City, which is either frozen solid or hotter than Hades for months on end, is extremely attractive to employers.

But really, it’s the intangibles that make my home town so special. There’s an ineffable aura about KC, once you escape the gloomy and claustrophobic confines of our outdated air terminals, that makes you want to come back again and again. Norman Rockwell captured it in a painting he called “The Kansas City Spirit.” Hallmark Cards founder Joyce Hall expressed it as “the good in men’s hearts that makes them put service above self and accomplish the impossible.” I call it “the Kansas City Way” and pay my earnings taxes with a smile.

Still, I wish somebody would tell me why everybody’s wearing blue.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but we’re driving out to Hutchinson tomorrow for a look at 4th-ranked Prairie Dunes. Meanwhile, we’d like to recognize the playing achievements of our course-rating director, Gary Van Sickle, who came “very … close … to [winning]” the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Newport Beach, Calif.; his son, Mike Van Sickle, who was co-medalist at the first stage of Q-School in Nebraska City, Neb.; and Top 50 founder and CEO John Garrity, who, along with scramble partner Vince Schiavone, took top honors at the Humane Society of Kansas City Golf Classic, and, along with Atlantic States Ratings Coordinator Dave Henson, won his flight in the Palmetto Hall Plantation Member-Guest.

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Can Turnberry’s View Be Saved?

The Top 50‘s readers seem to be unevenly incensed over the news that Scotland’s Ailsa Craig has been plundered to provide curling stones for Olympic athletes. “It’s disheartening to think my ancient kinsmen have chosen to support the second most Scottish game at the expense of one of the treasures of the first,” writes David Hill, the recently-retired director of championships for the R&A. “No, it’s heartening,” writes Hebridean Curling Society secretary Angus Macmurray, “to think my ancient kinsmen have chosen to support the second most Scottish game at the expense of one of the treasures of the first.”

Ailsa Crag

This rock, far bigger than the Hope Diamond, can be had for far less. (John Garrity)

Since a blog is only as good as the outrage it inspires, I take this as a sign that something must be done, right now, to preserve Ailsa Craig for future generations. The way forward is hinted at by John Burns in his Pulitzer Prize-worthy coverage for The New York Times:

… the modest income from the quarrying of the island’s prized strains of blue hone and common green and a lease granted to Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have taxed the dwindling resources of its owner, the eighth Marquess of Ailsa, whose family has owned the island for 500 years.

Like many of Britain’s old landowning families, the marquess’s family has been through decades of retrenchment as a result of inheritance taxes. It lost the family seat, Culzean Castle, to the National Trust in 1945, and in 2010 the current marquess decided to part with Ailsa Craig, posting an initial price of $4 million. That figure was later cut to $2.4 million, and as the waters of the Firth of Clyde have lapped at Ailsa Craig’s rocky shore each day, little has changed in the intervening years. The island remains misty, monumental and for sale.

My first impulse, upon reading this, was to simply write a check for $2.4 million, take possession of the island and begin a thorough rehab of its iconic profile. But my very wise wife pointed out that this is the sort of stunt that one-percenters like myself are given to, and my generosity might be misconstrued. So I have decided instead to grant the privilege of preserving third-ranked Turnberry’s view to my readers — a.k.a. “The American golfer.” Send me your donations, large or small, and I will hold them in an interest-bearing account until we meet the $2.4 million asking price. I will then purchase the island on behalf of the Top 50 Charitable Trust, assuming the purely honorific title of “first Marquess of Catch Basin” along with the necessary powers of attorney to carry out the restoration.

By “restoration,” of course, I mean restoration of the island to its pre-Sochi profile, which will require the repatriation of some two thousand tons of microgranite. I expect the five-star Turnberry Resort to underwrite this aspect of the project, it being in that Open Championship venue’s interest to preserve one of golf’s most iconic views. But if Turnberry or the R&A should fail to step up, we can follow the example of London Bridge, which was dismantled in 1967 and moved to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., as part of a real-estate deal. My personal choice would be to dismantle Ailsa Craig and reassemble it in the Flint Hills of Kansas, just west of fourth-ranked Prairie Dunes Country Club. This would be good for two reasons. 1) Prairie Dunes, with its view enhanced, would pass Turnberry in the ranking. (I love both courses, but hey, I live in Kansas City.) 2) There are very few Olympic curlers in Kansas.

Please make your checks payable to John Garrity.

Top 50 on TV: Ninth-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links hosts the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Pebble recently gained nearly a tenth of a point in the ranking, probably because of its new driving range and golf academy, which occupy a large plot of land above the Peter Hay Par-3 Course. Unfortunately, I had to deduct .032 points yesterday afternoon when I saw that the admittedly gorgeous tee line faces directly into the setting sun. (Range rats prefer north-facing ranges, except in the Southern Hemisphere; that’s because water below the equator circles the drain in the opposite direction.) Needless to say, all of the Monterey Peninsula courses would benefit from the addition of an offshore island, if one could be had for a fair price.

Pebble Beach driving range

The new range at Pebble Beach is a major upgrade for the venerable resort. (John Garrity)


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Minnesota Doctor Questions Our Picks

Thoughtful readers of this blog sometimes submit their own, personal golf course rankings, which — while not scientific — provide some perspective on my more authoritative list. Here’s a recent submission from Minnesota’s Dr. Mark Mammel:

John: Just perusing your top 50 list after reading your commentary on the recent Askernish Open.  Lists are always fun, and, of course, debatable.  Just for bona fides, I’ve played 21 of the 50; I’ve been a member at Royal Dornoch for 20 years; I grew up in Hutchinson, KS, and took my first golf lessons from Ross Wilson, long-time pro at my first “home” course, Prairie Dunes; and I love- LOVE- Askernish. So I hope you’ll just give my comments a thought before clicking “delete”.

First, Castle Stuart above Royal Dornoch? Seriously, that’s just not on.  I played at CS the year it opened and a couple of times since. Lovely clubhouse, nice folks, overpriced, so-so turf, and if a part of the rating is the story the walk tells — well, heading out from the first tee at Dornoch is Dickens. Castle Stuart is Barbara Taylor Bradford. Please rethink this one!

As a Minnesota boy, I’ve payed New Richmond a number of times.  While perfectly OK, it’s not great, and I don’t see how it made the cut.  Interlachen rests on its laurels — or should I say lily pads? When the Donald Ross Society paid a visit to the area, they played at Minikahda, Woodhill, White Bear Yacht Club and Northland. I was the local tour guide, and when I suggested adding Interlachen, the Society’s leaders felt it to be a poor representation of Ross that, due to trees and change, deserved a pass.

Which leads me to a serious question: how is it possible that the White Bear Yacht Club isn’t on this list?  A Willie Watson/Donald Ross design, it’s quirky, the greens are wild and wonderful, and it is a great walk (perhaps Jules Verne). Tom Doak rates it the best in Minnesota and Jim Urbina thinks it’s one of the best anywhere. If your raters haven’t seen it, I am the local historian and current golf chair. Love to welcome you anytime! Similarly, Northland in Duluth is also a real treat and might make the cut. Finally, you rank Monterey Peninsula CC at 46 — which course, Dunes or Shore?

I salute you as a fellow obsessive. Enjoy your travels and play away please.


Lavatory view from men's loo.

Castle Stuart’s 9th green, as seen from the clubhouse lav. (John Garrity)

Dr. Mammel is an astute observer, and he certainly knows his golf grounds. It’s possible, though, that he doesn’t have hundreds of course raters at his disposal. It’s even more likely that he hasn’t played his favorite courses in ALL conditions, which we strive to do. Castle Stuart, for instance, may not at first glance be better than wonderful Royal Dornoch, which has stood the test of time. However, his dismissive “lovely clubhouse” ignores the fact that Castle Stuart has the best lavatory/shower views in golf (see photo). Furthermore, I have found Castle Stuart to be playable — even fun! — in 60-mph winds, while Dornoch ceases to be amusing at 35-plus.

As for the great-walk factor, I have to point out that while Charles Dickens may be the best-selling novelist of all time, we don’t use 19th-century sales figures at Catch Basin. Barbara Taylor Bradford beats Dickens like a drum in this century; she’s sold close to 100 million books worldwide, and her first novel, A Woman of Substance, is one of the top-ten best sellers of all time. Furthermore, she’s the 31st wealthiest woman in Britain, while Dickens is … dead. Have I read any of Bradford’s books? No, but why would I? I’m busy rating golf courses.*

*Jules Verne, by the way, didn’t put much store in walks, great or otherwise. He was more into submarines and moon rockets.

New Richmond golf

New Richmond not worthy? Augusta National would kill for tulips like these. (John Garrity)

The high ratings for New Richmond and Interlachen make sense to anyone who has read my near-best-seller, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations. Coincidentally, my maternal grandfather, although a cad, was an Interlachen member, and my dad witnessed Bobby Jones’s famous lily-pad shot. Also, my dad helped construct the original New Richmond nine, a sand-greens layout.

As for 51st-ranked White Bear Yacht Club, I can only say that it won’t take much to boost it into the Top 50. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that White Bear will make the grade if I accept the good doctor’s offer of a free round. (That is the offer, isn’t it?)

Finally, Dr. Mammel asks which of Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s layouts is ranked 46th — the Dunes or the Shore? To which I reply: Does it matter? Beautiful views, either way.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, as the FedEx Cup Playoffs take a week off to blunt fan interest. However, the battle for “higher status” on the post-Q-School PGA Tour will certainly make the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic must-see TV.

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Scottish Golf Trip off to Frigid Start

It snows in Scotland? Nobody told me! Flying into Glasgow yesterday, I looked down on a rumpled, white blanket that could have been the Rockies. And when I collected my suitcase and four-club quiver at baggage claim, I noticed that there were no hulking golf-travel bags on the carrousel. Not many bags at all, for that matter. (Or travelers!) One young couple had skis. They were either just back from Switzerland or arriving from the Canary Islands and headed for the ski lifts at Carnoustie.

“Call Prestwick,” I told Gustov, my traveling secretary. “Cancel today’s round.”

I guess I should have talked to my old friend, Joe Passov, before signing up for my “Highlands and Islands Low-Season Golf Package.”  “Travelin’ Joe,” as he is known to the readers of GOLF Magazine and Golf.com, is the world’s foremost authority on golf travel, having played, by his own count, 1,423 courses — only half of which are within twenty miles of his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. A true globetrotter, Joe knows Scotland and Ireland like the back of his hand. He would have warned me about the ice and slush surrounding the Glasgow Marriott.

Speaking of Joe, he penned a Golf.com column last week called “Travelin’ Joe’s Wish List: 10 Courses I Need to Play.” Number 1 on his list was Pete Dye’s “Teeth of the Dog” course at Casa de Campo — which I have not played, either — and Number 10 was Friar’s Head, a Crenshaw-Coore design in Baiting Hollow, N.Y., which I only mention because I love the sound of “Baiting Hollow.”

The surprising thing about Joe’s list? It includes two courses that I have played: Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., currently No. 14 in the Top 50, and Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Ks., No. 6. Here’s Joe on Seminole:

Perhaps the finest routing Donald Ross ever did, this ultra-exclusive Palm Beach-area enclave also features one of the greatest clubhouses in golf. Hogan used to practice here every day for a month leading up to the Masters. I’d just like to do it once.

Ha, ha, Joe! I have done it … once!

Here’s his take on Prairie Dunes:

All that’s missing is an ocean at this linksy-looking layout in landlocked Kansas, which played host to the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open (Juli Inkster) and the 2006 U.S. Senior Open (Allen Doyle). I question if the wind and rough make it unplayable for 10-handicaps.

Having covered both those tournaments for Sports Illustrated (and currently playing to a 10 handicap), I can assure Joe that my favorite mid-continental course is more than kind to second-tier golfers, thanks to fast, flawless greens that practically funnel the ball into the hole. But he’s right about the absent ocean. And it’ll take another thousand years of climate change to fix that.

Anyway, since I can’t play golf this afternoon, I think I’ll sit down with a notepad and a bottle of Diet Irn-Bru and try to compile my own Top-10 list of courses that have eluded my grasp. I’ll post that list from the next stop on my winter golf itinerary: top-ranked Askernish.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Jonathan Byrd bagged his second consecutive PGA Tour win at last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, held on Maui’s Plantation Course at Kapalua, No. 34. The AP report of his win makes no mention of snow.


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Rolex Jumps on Top 50 Bandwagon

Reading the foreword to The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses — which has appeared, as if by magic, on my desk in the press tent at the Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland — I find myself blushing with false modesty. In the just-published volume’s “Dear Golfers” opener the watchmakers boast that their book, which weighs about as much as a loaded picnic hamper, took three years to complete.

“We have a network of over 200 ‘inspectors,’” the minutemen continue, “composed of enlightened amateurs, professional golfers and journalists specializing in golf course architecture. They have anonymously worked their way around the golfing world, completing an in-depth questionnaire and adding incisive and personalized comments of their own. Our Editorial Committee has given each course a score, geared primarily to the excellence of the site, the course architecture involved, and of course maintenance and condition. After considerable deliberation and verification, we took the entire 33,000 courses currently registered worldwide and ended up with those we consider to be the Top 1000.”

Royal Dornoch Golf

Royal Dornoch rated a mere 95? Really? (John Garrity)

This, of course, is pretty much the modus operandi of The Top 50, so I accept Rolex’s imitation as the sincerest form of flattery and wish them the best as they attempt to catch up.

But now I read the next paragraph.  “For the first time in the history of golf,” the sundial salesmen crow, “a genuine world ranking has been established; like all rankings it is of course subjective but it is the result of unbiased and independent opinion with no commercial pressure.”

This preposterous claim is easily debunked. The Top 50 has been cranking out genuine world rankings since July of 2007, when, by the watchmaker’s own account, they were still looking up courses on MapQuest. Furthermore, Rolex concedes that its rankings are subjective — unlike the Top 50, which concedes nothing. As for the claim that their ratings are reached “with no commercial pressure,” I can only tip my hat in admiration. Like the Times Square huckster with a hundred watches pinned to the lining of his raincoat, Rolex cranes its neck looking in all directions and finds no corporate involvement.*

*Nothing in this paragraph should be interpreted as a criticism of Rolex, valued sponsor of the biennial Writers Cup matches between teams of golf writers from the United States and Europe.

Those points aside, I give the editors credit for compiling an impressive catalog of meritorious golf courses from all corners of the admittedly spherical earth. In addition to course addresses, phone numbers and dress codes, Rolex provides altitudes and GPS coordinates. (For example, the Moonah Links Legends Course in Fingal, Australia,  sits at an altitude of 15 meters at 38˚24‘24.27” S 144˚51‘14.68” E — information that would have kept me from missing my tee time on my last trip Down Under.) Rolex also designates a “signature hole” for each course — an important detail if you send a lot of COD packages to golfers.

As for the Rolex rankings themselves, what can I say? First of all, they aren’t true rankings. To avoid hurt feelings, the Editorial Committee scored the courses in five-percentile blocks, corralling the top 15 into the “100” category, the next 73 into the “95” category, and the rest of the sorry lot into “90s,” “85s,” “80s,” and “75s.” It’s an original scheme, but you wind up with a 73-way tie for sixteenth that puts Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2 and Prairie Dunes on the same level. (Their scientifically-accurate Top 50 ratings are 6, 51, and 7, respectively.) Furthermore, Rolex’s top-15 reads like an tardy schoolboy’s test paper, correctly guessing only three courses from the Top 50 blog (Augusta National, Cypress Point and St. Andrews Old Course), while canonizing Top 50 no-shows such as Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South.

The real problem with the Rolex Thousand is that they published it. I love hardcover books as much as the next man — if the next man is Johannes Gutenberg — but I don’t take my grocery lists to the bindery. Golf course rankings, to be meaningful, must be updated every few hours, and only the Top 50 performs this valuable service. Rolex, having to meet printers’ deadlines, doesn’t even mention the new Castle Stuart course in Scotland. The Top 50, attuned to the digital age, has the Highlands masterpiece at No. 10.

Still, I give the Rolex 1000 a solid 95 for effort. It’s not their fault that the Top 50 is a perfect 10.


Top 50 on TV: The tour pros are still hogging the tee times on the St. Andrews Old Course, No. 16, as I type this on a breezy Sunday afternoon in the Kingdom of Fife. Fortunately, there are three other Top-50 courses within easy driving distance of the R&A clubhouse. (The Balcomie Course at Crail, the Torrance Course at St. Andrews Bay, and Kinghorn.) And that doesn’t include the wonderful Kingsbarns Golf Links (alt. 30 feet), which will debut in the Top 50 as early as next week, pending resolution of drainage issues at Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters.

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Kansas Tops Northern Iowa in Poll that Matters

A wave of sadness has swept over our neighborhood upon hearing that the University of Kansas has lost to the University of Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA basketball championship.* We live roughly a block-and-a-half east of the state celebrated in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, so we know that our border partner is a full-out Technicolor state, not the drab, tornado-prone territory portrayed in The Wizard of Oz. Or it least it was until yesterday evening, when the No. 1 Jayhawks were swept off the board by UNI’s Fighting Warriors. Or Blue Devils. (We’ll Google that and get back to you.)

*The sadness may not be universal. The neighbor across the street  flies a University of Missouri flag over his portico.

Anyway, to lift the spirits of our depressed neighbors, I have issued a Top 50 press release pointing out that Jayhawk fans retain bragging rights in the area of great golf courses.

“Kansas is home to no fewer than three Top Fifty courses [I’m quoting from the release], which is more than any other state and a lot more than Northern Iowa, which has no courses in the Top Fifty. (Or the Top 500, for that matter.) Topping the list of Kansas gems is 6th-ranked Prairie Dunes Country Club of Hutchinson, the site of numerous national championships …” etc., etc. The release goes on to mention Mission Hills’s Kansas City Country Club (home of 5-time British Open champion Tom Watson) and Leawood’s Hallbrook Country Club (home of Tour Tempo tycoon, John Novosel), Nos. 50 and 42 respectively.

I could have added that Milburn Country Club of Overland Park, Ks., was in the Top Fifty as recently as February, but I don’t want Iowans to think I’m rubbing it in. I’ll just point out that a list of other Kansas courses that are better than anything northern Iowa has to offer would include Flint Hills National, Colbert Hills, Prairie Highlands, Mission Hills, Auburn Hills, Dub’s Dread, Buffalo Dunes, and Sand Creek Station (recently rated No. 2 public-access course in the state by Golfweek).

Feel better Kansans? I hope so.

Oops, have to go. The Mizzou-West Virginia game tips off in a few minutes.


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