Tag Archives: Turnberry

Turnberry View Purchase Hits a Snag

Our campaign to buy and restore Scotland’s Ailsa Craig got off to a brilliant start with a thousand-dollar pledge from the American lawyer and football coach, John Mullen. I was confident that an even bigger endowment would be coming from the R&A after I received an enthusiastic bordering on chauvinistic email from David Hill, the R&A’s recently-retired championships director. But now Hill seems to be experiencing buyer’s remorse. He writes:

As much as I would love 1.) to be retired and, 2.) be the former director of championships for the R&A, [my] comment was not from THAT David Hill. I don’t want you to get an earful from the distinguished Mr. Hill on your next journey across the pond …. I’m just your average American 12 handicapper of Scottish heritage that has a passion for golf and happens to write a golf diary blog, 1beardedgolfer.

Anybody who has directed a capital campaign or served as auctioneer at a school fundraiser is familiar with this dodge. I didn’t raise my hand! … It’s a forgery! … I have an evil twin!  And now, repackaged for modern times: Somebody hacked my account!

Experience has taught me to handle these little dustups with tact and magnanimity, so I am publicly releasing Mr. Hill from his pledge of half-a-million British pounds, or whatever amount it was that he forgot to specify in his impulsive bestowal. I’m sure that other active R&Aers (if that is not an oxymoron) will promptly make up the difference. Ailsa Craig, after all, is a British rock.*

*Note to self: Check DVR for concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Looking for cheaper thrills? They’ll be here soon in the form of a new edition of Tom Doak’s The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Doak’s original book, published 15 years ago and now selling for more than $250 a copy, featured his feverish reviews of the world’s best-known layouts, some of which provoked outrage from established course architects. Now that he is an acclaimed designer in his own right (22nd-ranked Old Macdonald, 48th-ranked Streamsong Blue and four other top-100 tracks), Doak has enlisted three co-authors for his update, which will appear in five volumes, starting with “Great Britain and Ireland.”

To whet our appetites, a recent Doak newsletter offered up several “Best of 2013” lists that seem to endorse the Top 50’s more-scientific ranking. For instance, fifth-ranked Castle Stuart Golf Links placed second and 32nd-ranked Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club placed third on Doak’s “Top Ten Discoveries of 2013,” otherwise described as “Best courses I saw for the first time.” Similarly, Doak reveals himself to being a step behind Garrity when he picks the par-4 third at Castle Stuart and the par-5 fifth on No. 1 Carne’s new Kilmore nine among his “Best Golf Holes Discovered in 2013.”

In fairness to Doak, no lone actor can hope to match the Top 50’s resources. And if you believe that, I’ve got an island in the Firth of Clyde to sell you.

Kilmore Links at Carne

Carne’s Kilmore links: Would a better name be Steroidal Dunes? (Larry Lambrecht)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week — sorry, 51st-ranked Riviera Country Club — but Links Magazine’s Thomas Dunne has written a compelling review of the above-mentioned Kilmore nine at top-ranked Carne. “It’s a certain kind of golfer who is attracted to big-dunes links courses,” Dunne begins, no doubt thinking of me. “They’re hardy and fun-loving, more accepting of quirky design, and, perhaps, a bit more interested in pulling off heroic shots than strictly adhering to a card-and-pencil mentality.” He goes on to correctly describe Carne as the “Big Daddy” of big-dunes courses and the Kilmore as “an array of memorable holes within the grand and chaotic dunes. My favorite is the mid-length par-four 8th, where the green complex seems to rise from the valley floor like a primitive dagger.”

As the Kilmore beds down into its natural surroundings, it remains to be seen how the club will deploy the new nine. A composite routing in which [the Jim Engh/Ally McIntosh] holes are folded into Hackett’s back nine is one compelling possibility, as this combination would produce one of the most thrilling big-dune experiences in the game. However, Hackett’s front side, while set in more modest terrain (relatively speaking — it’s still Carne!), might out-punch the original back nine purely on the merits of their respective holes. The ideal solution, of course, is simply to play all 27.

Click here for the rest of Dunne’s essay. And click here to book a round at Carne. (Full disclosure: I am an honorary lifetime member, but I receive no commission for referrals.)


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The View From Turnberry: Less Grand?

If you’re into numbers, as I am, you’ll have noticed a steady deterioration of third-ranked Turnberry’s position in the Top 50. The fabled Ayrshire links — scene of 1977’s famous “Duel in the Sun” and 2009’s unforgettable finish by Stewart Cink — has slipped from 9.83 to 9.74 over the past 20 months, leaving a razor’s-edge margin over Kansas’s Prairie Dunes.

Ailsa Craig

Scientists measuring Ailsa Craig say it’s true: the Turnberry icon is shrinking! (John Garrity)

The point deductions, I’m told by the numbers crunchers here at Catch Basin, have nothing to do with the course per se. “It’s the view,” says Nigel Pond, our deputy ranker for Scotland, Wales and Patagonia. “Specifically, it’s the diminishment of Ailsa Craig, the rocky island that monopolizes the view from the Turnberry lighthouse.”

Yes, golf’s most beloved uninhabited island is shrinking. Just this past summer, according to sunset watchers, some 2,000 tons of granite were loaded onto landing craft and spirited away to a top-secret facility on the Scottish mainland. The granite, the New York Times recently reported, was destined for Russia!

“It’s actually shipping in large wooden crates labeled ‘SOCHI OLYMPICS: CURLING STONES,” writes our own Pond, who was possibly the first to notice the minute changes to Ailsa Craig’s distinctive profile. (John Keats, in the notes for his famous sonnet, described the island as “darkly dome-like … a steak-and-kidney pie swollen to the point of bursting for want of a vented crust.”)

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Times has assigned its London bureau chief, John F. Burns, to cover the Turnberry story. Burns is known as “the dean of American foreign correspondents”; he’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner with stints as the paper’s Moscow bureau chief, lead correspondent in China during the Cultural Revolution, and years of battlefield reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s no surprise, then, that Burns has gotten to the flinty core of the Ailsa Craig conspiracy:

It has no inhabitants, no electricity, no fresh water, and no arable land — nothing of value, it would seem, but for this: For a century and more, its quarries have been the source of the distinctive, water-resistant microgranite used to make most of the world’s curling stones. These include all those used in recent world championships and the Olympics, including the Sochi Games that begin in January.

Yes, the attack on golf’s offshore treasure is coming from jealous practitioners of Scotland’s other ancient game — curling! These hairy and heartless Highlands stone-sliders have been systematically whittling Ailsa Craig and shipping the shavings to Sochi. This is happening, mind you, during the run-up to September’s referendum on Scottish independence. As Burns points out, the formerly 1,100-foot-tall isle “remains an icon in the country’s national consciousness, redolent of the rugged, stand-alone character many Scots pride as their birthright.”

Has the R&A looked into this? No! Not to sound harsh, but I don’t think the custodians of the ancient game will get off their aristocratic duffs until they see curlers wielding their silly brooms on the frozen surface of the Swilcan Burn.

(More on this subject next time, including a radical proposal to save Ailsa Craig from further predation.)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but defending champion Tiger Woods will make his first appearance of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, Calif. The 89th-ranked Torrey Pines South Course is where Woods won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods called it “my greatest ever championship,” but, of course, it’s too early to say.


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Room for Golf Writer in Top 50?

“Has Gary Van Sickle put on a little height?” asks a reader from Normal, Ill., followed quickly by an South African correspondent who suggests that Gary’s diet might contain “a little too much iron.” I didn’t know what to make of these comments until I scrolled down the Top 50 home page and noticed a change to the permanent sidebar photograph of my longtime Sports Illustrated colleague. The photograph still has him gnawing on his putter after a round on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry (No. 4), but Gary appears to be noticeably taller and thinner than before.

Concerned about his health, I called Gary at home and found him to be in good spirits and fighting trim. “I think the photograph has been doctored,” he said, “and by ‘doctored’ I mean digitally manipulated, not ‘subjected to medical treatment by a certified physician.’”

Gary Van Sickle

The original photo. (John Garrity)

No one here at Catch Basin would doctor a photograph, but our security chief — whose name I cannot divulge for security reasons — has traced the corrupted image to WordPress, the outfit that hosts this blog. For legal and proprietary reasons, WordPress has chosen to retire the old Top 50 design and replace it with one that is “similar.” The transition has been relatively smooth, but our photographic link to the Top 50 algorithm has been stretched like taffy, elongating Van Sickle’s image in the process.

Gary isn’t complaining — “Now I can dunk!” — but I have to make some hard decisions. I can ask our IT wizards to purge the distorted photograph and try to replace it with the original, but that could take weeks. Or I can leave the photo as it is, perhaps adding a caption encouraging readers to “imagine Gary 20 inches shorter and 30 pounds heavier.”

I’m willing to consider reader input on this question, but I need your opinions by next Thursday, when I plan to release my annual “Top 50 Resort, Military and Correctional Institution Courses.”

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I’m paying my second visit of the year to the Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., site of this week’s LPGA Tour Championship. This event is notable for its “two-cut” format, a laudable process that sends half the field packing after 36 holes and banishes another half after 54, leaving only 30 players to dig up the fairways and trample the greens. It’s a winning strategy for these economically-depressed times.

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Challenge to Turnberry, Augusta National Rankings Rendered Moot

“One point concerning your algorithm,” writes Rick Boule, yet another New Englander frosted by the absence of northeastern courses in the Top 50. “I’m hoping I didn’t miss some nuance in the methodology, but if 10 is the ideal, wouldn’t Turnberry at 10.68 and Augusta National at 10.70 (rated 6 and 7 respectively) fall below your rankings 8 through 12, which have scores of 9.48 through 10.63?”

Boule doesn’t give his occupation, but I’m guessing that he’s a grad student at MIT, where they stay up all night eating pizza and dreaming up ways to punk their rivals at Cal Sci. Which is not to say that he is — what’s the word? — wrong. Turnberry and Augusta National are 0.68 and 0.70 from a perfect 10, while the courses ranked 8 through 12 fall between 0.52 and 0.63 short (or long) of perfection. Which means that for the last 2-½ years they should have been ranked higher than those two famous courses.

I could plead “typo” and simply correct the scores, but Apple’s “Time Machine” software backs up our hard drives on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. I’m confident that a look back in time will reveal that some hacker — possibly Boule himself — guessed our password and planted a number-tweaking bacterium in the list. To which I can only say: “Well played! The joke’s on us.”

I would have addressed the issue yesterday, but I spent Sunday afternoon at the elbow of SI’s Gary Van Sickle in the press room of the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, Ariz. (Gary looks to me for advice when his laptop starts to shake or buzz.) And now, writing early Monday morning in my room at the Williams Center Marriott Courtyard, I find that I don’t have to address the problem at all.

Why? Because I’ve gotten a voice mail from Cal Sci informing me that all our hardware and software issues have been resolved, the numbers have been crunched and, at long last, WE HAVE A NEW TOP 50 RANKING!

“One highly-regarded golf course, one of your top ten, has fallen completely off the list,” says the excited voice (which, to be honest, I don’t recognize). “What’s more, a brand new golf course has made an unprecedented first appearance at No. 10. Can you guess which one?”

I hate to admit it, but I can’t. So I am eagerly looking forward to this afternoon, when a FedEx envelope with the results will be waiting for me at the front desk of a different Arizona hotel.* If all goes as planned, the new Top 50 will be posted here tomorrow night. Or Tuesday afternoon, at the latest.

*We normally transmit the Top 50 by e-mail or facsimile, but I’m told that the entire Cal Sci campus suffered a power blackout at 6:48 p.m., local time. Authorities are investigating.

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