Tag Archives: St. Andrews Old Course

Carne Golfers Enchant New Yorkers

“I understand your persistent cheerleading for Hillcrest/Kansas City,” writes a deep-sea fisherman from St. George, Utah. “Who wouldn’t get behind the only Donald Ross course in Missouri? Your recent endorsement of my neighboring Sand Hollow is also easy to understand, although its cliff’s-edge fairways are a bit too close to the sun for this old sea dog. But you’ve made little mention lately of your second-ranked course, the Carne Golf Links. Have you run out of things to say about Ireland’s most rugged and scenic seaside course?”

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

The 16th at Carne is more than just a gateway to the infamous par-4 17th. (John Garrity)

Great question, Ahab. In a word, yes. I wrote a long Carne feature for Sports Illustrated Golf Plus back in ’03. Four years later, after a lengthy sabbatical in County Mayo, I spewed a 135,000-word manuscript about Eddie Hackett’s glorious links track, mixing in just enough of my own colorful biography and tangential musings to keep things interesting. That book — Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations — has led to an endless cycle of interviews, lectures and appearances at motivational seminars, at which I perform rhetorical cartwheels on behalf of my favorite course.* So yeah, I’ve run out of fresh things to say.

*Carne, I should emphasize, is my favorite course worldwide of all the courses I had no role in designing. I consider myself a co-creator of top-ranked Askernish Old (although I am quick to acknowledge the contributions of Old Tom Morris, Gordon Irvine and Martin Ebert), and so I rarely describe it as my “favorite.”   

Fortunately, I can always dip into the Top 50 in-box for a Carne update. Just the other day, for instance, New Yorker David Brennan submitted a glowing report. “I read your book a few years ago,” Brennan writes, “and thinking of it this summer, I chose to read it again …”

It is a wonderful story, well told. Your portrayal of Belmullet and Carne enticed me to suggest the book to one of my friends who travels annually to our home in Pallaskenry, County Limerick, from where we strike out to play golf with two other friends against a fourball of Irish lads. We have been doing this for about 12 years (we all live in the NY area) and have played much of the southwest of Ireland during those trips. Of late we have played Lahinch, Ballybunion (7) and Doonbeg, regularly losing our annual match with the Irish at Lahinch. Losers — that would be us for all but one year — pay for dinner at Vaughn’s, a fine seafood pub in Liscannor between Lahinch & the Cliffs of Moher.

My wife Deirdre, who does not golf (she rides horses instead), read and loved your book. When one of our regular travelers dropped out of this year’s trip, she suggested that I call Carne to ask if any of the characters from the book would make up our fourth. I called the office, and when I mentioned your book I could sense a smile at the other end of the phone. After explaining that one of our fourball had dropped out, and that the other three had all read the book, I asked if it would be possible to play with any of the people featured in the book, such as Seamus Cafferky or Eamon Mangan, Terry Swinson, Chris Birrane, etc. “John” patiently listened to my inquiry and suggested that I send an email, which I did. Hearing nothing back, I figured they took us for crazy Yanks.

To my delight when we arrived (after losing our match with the Irish the prior day), the lady in the office said that Eamon wanted to say hello. Almost immediately thereafter we met Chris and had a great chat with him. As it turned out, Eamon played 18 holes with us, throughout which he told great Eddie Hackett stories and explained much of the course as we walked. When we spoke of our obsession with No. 17 (long before we saw it), Eamon smiled, shook his head and said “Garrity.” He then asked if, after our round the following day, we’d like a tour of the new 9!

Our first day was quite misty, and though we couldn’t see all the views, we saw what a wonderful course it is. The next day was brilliant sunshine, and the views to Achill Island, the clear blue water on white sandy beaches, and the amazing layout were as you described so well in your book. When we arrived at 17 we each had three balls ready,* but when we had good drives (relative to each of our games) we chose not to risk ruining our fairway lies with a second shot. On the first day, Howard, our best golfer (8 handicap), just missed a birdie putt that, had he sunk it, Eamon said he was going to take Howard up to the office and “call Garrity.” (Your description of Eamon as one who never appears rushed but who accomplishes more in a day than anyone else in a week is perfect.)

*Why three balls? Read Ancestral Links and you’ll understand.

The next afternoon, Eamon met us at 18 and drove us around the new 9 in his Jeep. The new 9 looks amazing. That par 3 is stunning.  We stayed at The Talbot, which was great fun and as good a place as any we have stayed. Next year we hope to be there for the opening of the new 9, and if so perhaps we could meet.

Your book inspired one of the most memorable trips of my life. Carne went well beyond our expectations. Years ago I read Dermot Healy‘s book, Goat Song, and ever since I’ve been fascinated with the descriptions of Belmullet. When I read your book I knew someday I would get there. Ancestral Links made me feel as if I knew everyone. I loved the Eddie Hackett chapters. A fine mix of memoir, history and golf. I loved it. Beyond the golf and the wonderful memories of your mother, father and brother, your fascination and attraction to Ireland is something I share. I love traveling Ireland, reading its history, great fiction writers and playwrights. Playing golf there is just different than anywhere else. My grandparents came here (America) and never returned, so my own discovery of Ireland came through my wife, who spent summers on a family dairy farm in Beale, next to Ballybunion.

I just wanted to thank you for such a treat, introducing us to Carne as told through the story of your family. If you get to New York, please let me know. We’d be delighted to host you for a meal.

I have David’s permission to share his moving report, and I thank him for that. Meanwhile, I’m acting on my own authority to boost Carne’s Cal Sci Algorithm score from 9.75 to 9.77.

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

The Old Course will be a little less old when renovations are completed. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the St. Andrews Links Trust and the R&A have disclosed that they are making a few renovations to the 16th-ranked Old Course — “renovations” being the word we like to use when we’re caught trying to escape the Road Hole Bunker with the aid of a 200-metric ton front loader. Gadfly blogger and author Geoff Shackelford and Top 50 architect and author Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers) are apoplectic over the changes, and the twitterverse has produced myriad versions of the “mustache on the Mona Lisa” trope. GOLF Magazine’s Travelin’ Joe Passov is much less alarmed (“Much ado about nothing”), but GOLF’s Alan Bastable reports that St. Andrews residents are dismayed that construction started with little public notice. The Top 50 will reserve judgement until our course raters have conducted a full site inspection, but here’s what I tweeted when the news broke:

John Garrity @jgarrity2

@michaelwalkerjr Mona Lisa’s mustache was on Da Vinci’s original sketch; sacrificed for condos and water feature.

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Price? It’s No Indicator of Quality Golf

“I know your rankings are baloney,” writes a reverse-mortgage broker from Decatur, Ga. “How do I know? Because you’ve got so-called “top fifty” courses that I can play for less than fifty dollars. You know as well as I do that great golf is expensive. As my dad used to tell me, ‘If you can afford to play it, it’s not worth playing.’”

Reading Decatur’s words, I have to chuckle. The Cal Sci algorithm that we use to pick the Top 50 includes practically every variable that might go into a course ranking system, including admittedly off-beat criteria such as flag-material thread count and average-wind-speed-to-ambient-grade ratio. But we have never — I repeat, never — fed the price of a round into our computers.

Think about it. If cost were proportional to quality, you wouldn’t need a course rating. You’d simply Google “most expensive golf” and up would pop your number one course: Shadow Creek Golf Course of Las Vegas, Nevada. ($500 per round.) Right behind Shadow Creek, according to copycat web sites, are Pebble Beach Golf Links ($475) and Old Head Golf Links of Kinsale, Ireland ($400).

17th Green at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach: Always a delight, but never a bargain. (John Garrity)

Change the search to “most expensive golf clubs” and you get a gaggle of neighboring clubs on Long Island, N.Y., including four-time U.S. Open venue Shinnecock Hills GC, the National Golf Links of America, Atlantic GC, and The Bridge, all of which cost between a half-million and $750,000 to join. (And only if you’re invited!) The ten founding members of Sebonack GC, meanwhile, forked over $1.5 million each to play in the dunes along Great Peconic Bay. Which tells you that your average Hamptons golfer can treat you to a round at Shadow Creek with change found under his sofa cushions.

Of those eight courses, you will note, only Pebble Beach is in my Top 50. That’s because I recognize the absurdity of evaluating a course by its price tag. First of all, green fees can and do change, independent of course conditions. When I first played the  16th-ranked Old Course at St. Andrews, I paid something like 22 British pounds. Today, I’d have to pay a high-season rate of 130 pounds. Is the Old Course 5.9 times better than it was in 1990? Of course not!*

*It’s only 1.07 times better, and that’s due to improved parking around the Links Clubhouse, which opened in 1995.

A second reason to discount price is that it empowers Donald Trump.

A third reason …. but do I have to go on?

My old friend Jaime Diaz, the best print analyst in golf today, supports my views in the current Golf World. In a column headlined “Bigger Didn’t Make Golf Better; Some Tips on Saving the Game,” Jaime lands a few good jabs on the jaw of golf-industry bloat, including the cogent point that modern courses have been stretched to absurd lengths, making the game far too difficult for the average player. His solution: shorten ‘em.

“Longer term,” he goes on, “the greatest opportunity to turn the game around lies in the way people learn it ….”

“Over the years I’ve been increasingly struck by how many of the most accomplished and fulfilled golfers started out playing young and on the cheap, usually at a ragtag course where they could go round and round. More often than not, they learned technique by copying better players, with the final process one of simple and often zone-inducing trial and error. As Michael Hebron, a PGA Master Professional, likes to say, ‘You play to learn, not learn to play.'”

Askernish's "Old Tom's Pulpit" green

Askernish: Full membership for 125 British Pounds per year!

Yes! Now, flick your eyes to the sidebar on the right. You’ll see that the top two spots in the Top 50 are held by Askernish Old and Carne, two peerless links courses whose combined construction costs wouldn’t match what The Donald will spend on clubhouse art for his overblown Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Neither Askernish nor Carne have valet parking, bag boys or teaching pros. Neither has a full-service practice range. Or cart paths. Or ball washers. What they have in abundance are spectacular dunes, awesome views, unforgettable holes, and summer days that go on and on and on.

Yes, Askernish and Carne would drop in the ranking if our algorithm gave points for sky-high green fees. But it doesn’t. It gives points for teenagers deciding to skip dinner to squeeze in another 18 before dark.

Tell us we’re wrong.

Top 50 on TV: Uh …. forget what you just read. Two of our priciest courses are on display this weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am — the luxe Pebble Beach Golf Links (No. 9) and the very exclusive Monterey Peninsula Country Club (No. 46). All we can say in our defense is that we’ve never spent a penny at either one of them. (It’s good to be a golf writer!)

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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.

(10-4.)

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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