The assessment criteria
In order to make the process as fair, impartial and open as possible, we provide our assessors and each of the contender clubs with a comprehensive set of criteria and guidelines. This process, as well as the shortlist of contenders, is reviewed following each two-year cycle, taking into account feedback from all those concerned; assessors, golf clubs, readers, industry experts and other media. The contender list itself comprises the existing Top 100 and another 70 or so courses that we believe boast the most valid claims for potential inclusion.
One of the things that sets the Golf Monthly rankings apart from rival lists is that we ensure every single contender course receives at least one visit during the current assessing period. This guarantees that we have up-to-date reports, which take into account any improvements to the course design, condition and clubhouse facilities (and less frequently, but still crucially, any deteriorations in the above).
Our underlying constitution also stipulates that a course has to have been open for play for 12 months before it can be considered for inclusion. We insist on this as we feel any new course needs time to bed in and mature, and we also want to check that pristine opening conditions can be maintained through a playing season.
We also insist a new course be played by at least three of our panel of assessors to ensure a solid level of benchmarking and that no course is subject to the say-so of one panellist. Hence, Castle Stuart did not make the 2008 list, but was our highest new entry in 2010. Similarly, the new Trump International course is not a feature yet as it opened too late for consideration this time round. For this year’s rankings, a few minor changes to the key factors were complemented by an adjustment to the points system our panellists employ when evaluating and rating courses. It was felt that the weighting of the scores should more correctly favour the four groups of criteria in the following order…
Quality of test and design (35 marks)
Is there a good mix of par 3s, 4s and 5s and are they well balanced throughout? Is there a good variety in the design of the holes so that each has its own memorable character? How much does risk/reward feature? Are the hazards well placed and fair, and does the course make good use of natural hazards? Overall, is the course fair and does it reward good golf? What are the standout or feature holes, and are there any weak ones? Does the course routing flow naturally? Finally, is the golfer required to play a variety of shots, potentially using every club in his/her bag?
Condition and Presentation (30 marks)
We look at every area of the course – tees, fairways, different cuts of rough, approaches, fringes and greens. For many golfers, the greens are the most important aspect, and we look at the pace, whether they are true, and whether they are consistent throughout the course. Are the bunkers and other hazards well defined and well maintained? Is the sand consistent? Is there a clear and fair definition between fairway, semi-rough and rough? What is the quality, helpfulness and subtlety of any course furniture, tee markers etc? How is wear and tear from golf traffic managed, and are there avoidable worn patches? With limited resources, we need to visit courses at all times of the year. Very importantly ithin this category, by having such experienced panellists, we can take this and any unusual recent weather or course work into account.
Visual Appeal (20 marks) For many golfers, especially those not really on their game, this is a vitally important factor. How attractive is the course in the way each hole appears, and in the scenery that surrounds it, both near and far? How photogenic are the individual holes and the course, and does this inspire the golfer? Does the course appear in keeping with its surroundings? What extra delights come from the trees, plants, natural topography, birdlife and any other animals?
Ambience (15 marks) This final category completes the overall experience and includes the welcome (both on arrival and throughout the visit), the sense of occasion that the golfer feels, the comfort, atmosphere and views on offer from within the clubhouse, and the catering and service. What about the other facilities, such as changing rooms, practice ground and putting green? Does the club have an informative and up-to-date website that helped in preparation? And for all but the very few ‘members-and-guests-only’ courses, what value for money does the visitor feel he has received? Finally, do the off-course facilities live up to the reason for the visit in the first place – the course itself?