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Ralph Thompson, the recently-retired majordomo at top-ranked Askernish Old, has been busy with preparations for this week’s Askernish Open — but not too busy to complain about the current and unprecedented placement of Ireland’s Carne Golf Links as co-No. 1. “I believe after your visit this week we will regain our rightful and solitary position as No. 1,” he writes from his Hebridean hideout on the isle of South Uist. “If not, then we will bury you in the rough. Even with your long legs you will still not be noticed. Yes, it is that extreme this year.”

Putting aside the threatening tone, which I’m used to, Thompson’s words leave me wondering if I’ve packed enough golf balls to get me through three days of competition on the Old Tom Morris-designed ghost course. If the rough is deep enough to conceal an NBA small forward, it will easily consume my meagre stock of Pro V1s.

Not that I care. My real purpose in returning to Askernish is to complete my “This Old Course” series on Askernish, which began a couple of years ago in Sports Illustrated Golf+ and will conclude this fall on Golf.com. To facilitate that coverage, I am traveling with state-of-the-art digital cameras, notepads, a pocket recorder, mosquito netting, quinine pills, a safari jacket and a fully-operational Bomar Brain. All this gear is currently piled on my bed at the Glasgow Marriott, which has long served as my base camp for expeditions to Ayrshire, East Lothian, the Kingdom of Fife and the Scottish Highlands.

This visit, as I patiently explained to Ralph, will have no bearing on the Top 50 rankings, which are issued by our staff at Catch Basin on the basis of scientific calculations far too sophisticated for either of us to comprehend.

Top 50 on TV:  Nothing this week, but an 18-year-old Englishman won the U.S. Amateur last week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., currently No. 31 on the Top 50. Coming 100 years after Francis Ouimet’s stunning victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory avenges the historic humbling of the British greats, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

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August 21, 2013 · 2:19 pm

Illinois Course Follows Golfer Into Pit

A reader from Cairo, Ill., wonders if her state’s Annbriar Golf Club lost ranking points when a middle-age golfer recently plunged 18 feet into a sinkhole. “Newspaper accounts say the man was walking through a ‘pocked section,’” writes the reader, “which suggests maintenance issues.”

Cairo, by the way, is pronounced “KAY-roh,” like the syrup, and is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. For that reason, sinkholes, historically, are the least of its problems, flooding being more or less a permanent condition. No riverside course has ever cracked the Top 50, unless you count estuaries — which would be a firth.

The Country Club

The Country Club was in no condition for play, but its ratings drop was temporary. (John Garrity)

Anyway, Annbriar GC plummeted more than a thousand places due to the sinkhole fiasco, and now wallows at No. 9,752. The biggest point deduction, however, was for pace-of-play issues. (It took twenty minutes to pull the golfer out with a rope.)

Underlying the Cairo reader’s query is a larger concern: Does the Top 50 adjust the rankings when course conditions change unexpectedly?

Answer: Probably.

Some weeks ago, for example, a blizzard swept through New England, dropping two feet of snow on a perennial Top 50 layout, The Country Club. Virtually unplayable — and a high-risk venue even under the best winter conditions, due to skeet shooting on the property — TCC dropped into the Second 50, only to bounce back to No. 31 when the snow melted.

Kangaroos at Women's Open

A mob at Royal Canberra didn’t hurt the course’s ranking.

Similarly, analysts here at Catch Basin held an emergency meeting when we learned that kangaroos had overrun Royal Canberra Golf Club during the first round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. A spirited argument ensued, with one set of analysts calling for point deductions and an opposing group arguing that kangaroos are actually an enhancement. Asked to break the tie, I pointed out that teenager Lydia Ko had shot a round of 10-under-par 63 to take the first-round lead. “Wait for more data,” I said.

Royal Canberra remains at No. 804.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour has descended upon the 103rd-ranked Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.  Copperhead is a favorite with tour players, but courses named after snakes generally fare poorly in consumer surveys. The most notable example is Royal Anaconda Golf Links of Manaus, Brazil, which never got off the drawing board.

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March 14, 2013 · 3:35 pm