Tag Archives: Torrey Pines

More Honors for Top 50 Staff

“What happened?” asks a reader from North Sydney, Australia. “You were covering the tour event in San Diego, and then … nothing. Is this your idea of ’24/7 tour coverage’?”

Not exactly, Sid.

First of all, as Steve Allen used to ask his studio audiences after a joke failed, “Who paid to get in?” The Top 50  is still working on a plan to monetize its award-winning tour coverage, but at present we’re laboring for zip. We do have corporate sponsors — Sports Illustrated generously paid for my California trip, and my pressroom lunches were catered by Flemings and Souplantation — but no Top 50 reader, as of yet, has sent in a check for twenty or thirty thousand dollars along with a note of appreciation for our in-depth coverage of Sang-Moon Bae’s California swing.

Secondly … well, actually, that first explanation is enough.

Here’s what actually went down at the Farmers Insurance Open. We had just posted Tokyo correspondent Duke Ishikawa’s report on the Japanese PGA Tour when word came that our course rating director, Gary Van Sickle, had won three of the top writing prizes at the ING Media Awards in Orlando, Fla. That good news called for a non-alcoholic celebration, which lasted well into the early-morning hours.

Stanford U

Garrity's U-Day victory will benefit Stanford's golf team. (John Garrity)

So I was already a bit groggy when I arrived at Torrey Pines Golf Club, a little before noon on Sunday. Nevertheless, I had gotten halfway through a Flemings steak, medium rare, when FIO communications director Rick Schloss pulled me away to share more good news: “Congratulations, John. You’ve won the University Day competition* for Stanford University.”

*He may have said “drawing” instead of “competition.” The conversation was not recorded.

I don’t have to tell you how big this was. For the third round of the tournament, players and media who wore their school colors competed for a share of a $70,000  charitable pot put up by Farmers Insurance. With Saturday’s low round of 65, Jonas Blixt earned $20,000 for the golf team at his alma mater, Florida State University. Cameron Tringale’s 66 was worth $10,000 to his former team, the Bulldogs of Georgia Tech. Every other player who wore their college colors got $500 for their team.

My triumph in the media division, Schloss informed me, was worth an additional $500 to the Stanford golf team. Furthermore, I, personally, had won a PING golf bag and a sand wedge, which would be shipped directly to Top 50 headquarters.* He then dragged me off to the interview room for a round of prize-accepting handshakes in front of a University of Farmers backdrop. (I’m still blinking from all the camera flashes.)

*Note to Catch Basin staff: The bag and club had better be in my office when I get home.

Anyway, two big honors in two days was more than this veteran scribe could handle. I wisely bagged my final-round coverage and spent the afternoon spamming the good news to the world’s major media outlets.

For the record, I have a second alma mater, the University of Missouri, where I labored as a freshman and for one semester of graduate school. I thought I was covering all bases by wearing a Stanford-logoed black polo shirt, black being half of Mizzou’s color scheme; but my cardinal-colored, Rick Santorum-style sweater vest gave the Farmers judges the impression that I was an all-Stanford entry. But don’t worry, Mizzou golfers. I’ll send you the wedge.*

*If it doesn’t fit my specs.

Top 50 on TV: The AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (Golf Channel, CBS) is finishing up at 9th-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links near Monterey, Calif. If anything of interest happens there, I’ll let you know.

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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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