Tag Archives: St. Andrews

Murphy Riffs on Golf in the Kingdom Links Courses

Old Course eighteenth green

Burningbush, aka "the Old Course," is No. 16 on current list. (John Garrity)

The long-awaited release of Golf in the Kingdom, the movie version of Michael Murphy’s lyrical golf novel, has us jumping here at Top 50 headquarters, as we struggle to keep up with media inquiries about certain links courses. Consequently, the ranking itself has not yet been adjusted. Routine summer maintenance on the Bomar Brain has also slowed us down, as has a totally unexpected August heat wave. Yesterday’s high of 109 in Kansas City, a record for the day, forced me to send workers home early.*

* It is company policy to subsidize only fifty percent of an employee’s personal-cooling costs.

Frustrated by the delays, I personally ransacked Catch Basin until I came up with the  transcript of an interview I conducted with Murphy twenty months ago on the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, Calif. The interview, which was filmed for a “Making of” documentary, delved deeply into metaphysics and therefore was largely unintelligible to anyone lacking a graduate degree. But the author and I touched upon golf and links courses, including the top-ranked layouts at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where the film was shot. Here, then, are edited excerpts from that interview, with Murphy’s grammar corrected as needed:

JG: Tell me a little about Bandon Dunes and what it was like as a setting for this film.

MM: It is ravishingly beautiful. I mean, when you see the film, it’s just gorgeous. The courses themselves are staggeringly beautiful, but they’re also photogenic. Certain people are gorgeous up front, but they don’t photograph well, and vice versa.

JG: Interestingly enough, the great links courses are often in that category.

MM: Yes. You mean that they don’t come out?

JG: Right. They’re spectacular in person, but on film everything gets flattened out.

MM: Exactly. A lot of people see St. Andrews for the first time, and they’re — “This?” [Look of utter bafflement.] But you see the course in another aspect and “Wow!” So no, absolutely. That’s a great observation. But Bandon Dunes is both beautiful to the eyeball and beautiful to the camera. [Developer] Mike Keiser and all his people, it was just a stroke of genius putting those courses together. And [land planner] Howard McKee, who I knew before — he did a master plan for the Esalen Institute back in the late seventies — so we were very lucky to have those courses. Have you been up there?

JG: I haven’t had the chance.

MM: Oh, John, you’ve got to get up there. You’ve got a treat when you see it. And this new one, Old Macdonald, it might be the most beautiful one of all.

JG: So how did this come about?

MM: Well, I had known Howard years back, and Howard had found these properties on the Oregon coast for Mike Keiser. And Mike was devoted to Golf in the Kingdom. So there was that connection. And one of the people who worked up in Bandon while we were filming told me that Howard, before they had built any of the courses, insisted that he read Golf in the Kingdom. This was, you know, 12 years ago. Howard said, “Someday that movie’s going to be made up here.” So he had an intention.

JG: But in the decades after the book became a hit, where had you envisioned the film being made?

MM: Well, Clint Eastwood [who plotted for years to direct the movie] went over to St. Andrews with, I think, Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery. I know he explored three different courses. Clint had thought of Crail. Do you know Crail?

JG: Yes, I’ve played there.*

Pointless understatement. The Balcomie Links at Crail is a perennial Top 50 standout and one of my all-time favorites.

MM: Now, at Crail they’re convinced that’s where I got inspired to write Golf in the Kingdom. They believe that Crail is Burningbush.

JG: The locals like to point out this hollow where [golf pro/mystic] Shivas Irons lurks.

MM: There is a par 3 up on the hill with a cave underneath. How I fished that up out of the deep, writing the book, I don’t know. It came in a rush. But it’s just a curious coincidence. I had never heard of Crail. Burningbush is actually St. Andrews. That was my model. And the various people who owned the options on the book over this long period always visualized it being filmed in Scotland. But it wound up being a low-budget, independent film, so Bandon Dunes was a marriage made in heaven. You can never tell how a film’s going to do, but those courses are going to be shown to great advantage. They’re gorgeous.

Reading these excerpts, I find that I rather enjoy playing the role of Charlie Rose. That being the case, I’ll post some more of my Murphy interview in a couple of days. In the meantime, I’ve moved the Bomar Brain to a climate-controlled room, ready for re-booting. I’ll post the updated rankings as soon as they’re available.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Tiger Woods, No. 28, returns to tournament golf at the Bridgestone Invitational, played on the 728th-ranked, 7,400-yard South Course at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio. Woods claimed his famous “shot in the dark” victory on Firestone’s eighteenth hole, finishing the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational in the glow of butane lighters. The club later upgraded to tiki torches.

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A Gripe from the Branch Office

“I can’t hit a 1-iron, but I’ve proven countless times that I can hit a tree.” — Anon.

“Have you got something against trees?” asks a tree surgeon from Dubai.

The question puzzled me at first, but an hour’s perusal of the new Top 50 enlightened me. Four of the top five courses (and six of the top ten) are as treeless as the polar ice caps. The wind-blown machair at top-ranked Askernish Old supports a stubble of knee-high marram grass, but a South Uist horse thief will never hang there — nothing to hang him on, so to speak. Ditto for the dramatic dunes of Carne (No. 3), which support no vegetation taller than a garden gnome. Even Pittsburgh’s legendary Oakmont Country Club (No. 47), come to think of it, didn’t crack the Top 50 until its members chopped, sawed, toppled, bulldozed and ground up a few million board feet of shade trees in preparation for the 2007 U.S. Open.

But to answer the tree doc’s question, no. We’ve got nothing against trees. Many of the Top 50 courses are extravagantly shaded, and no fewer than seven* are named for nature’s biggest nuisances: Oak Hill (No. 9), Cypress Point (No. 13), Pine Needles (No. 30), Castle Pines (No. 33), Calusa Pines (No. 46), Oakmont (No. 47) and Laurel Valley (No. 49).

* Eight if the “Poipu” in Poipu Bay (No. 15) is Hawaiian for the arthritic, scarlet-blossomed view-hogger that ate my Pro V-1 four years ago.

Carne Golf Links

No bark on Carne's infamous 17th, but it can certainly bite. (John Garrity)

It’s just a fact that links courses are the most highly-regarded golf courses, and a true links has no, or hardly any, trees.* How else to explain Castle Stuart’s debut at No. 10, leapfrogging hundreds of parkland courses? Or St. Andrews Old at No. 16, despite a closing hole that is indistinguishable from the visitors’ parking lot.

*Despite its name, the Pebble Beach Golf Links (No. 2) is not a true links. It is a cliffside course, the distinction being obvious to anyone who has ever sliced his tee shot on Pebble’s sixth hole.

Personally, I’m about as pro-tree as they come. I have trees in my front yard and trees in my back yard, and if you see me discreetly raking my spiky sweet-gum balls under the neighbor’s fence, it’s because I want to share my arboreal bounty.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Honda Classic is being played on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Nicklaus has two courses in the Top 50, both of which have hosted PGA Tour or Champions Tour events. The first person who can e-mail me the names of those tournaments will be mocked for spending too much time in front of the flat screen. (Or awarded a free copy of my book Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, just out in paperback. It all depends on my mood.)


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