It was interesting to read the comments from Gary Player in last November’s issue, when the great South African made reference to modern courses that are generally being designed on ‘lousy land’. Player is in the right position to make this call; he has put his name to over 300 golf courses across the globe and knows what it takes to carve a top-notch layout. To be honest very rarely these days, with all the goody-two-shoe ‘greenies’ in the world, is a golf- course architect given a block of dirt where he says, “Yeah baby yeah.” Loch Lomond is a recent exception I guess. I remember playing with its creator, Tom Weiskopf in the Scottish Open at Gleneagles when the plans were well in place, and he was champing at the bit to get his hands dirty. But boy that is a course that will truly stand the test of time, long after I am pushing up daisies in that old golfing graveyard.
In today’s world, architects have to deal mostly with farmland and in many cases that’s what it should remain. I say this because there are too many ‘designers’ who come in with the tractors and the bulldozers looking to butcher up a beast that has little character. Finesse goes out of the window. There are too many 230-yard par 3s and 500-yard-plus par 4s for my liking. Sad, but that’s what seems to happen.
Let’s dart back a hundred or so years when the grey matter had to be used simply because there wasn’t any machinery. The UK was blessed with some of the best golfing terrain on the planet, from stunning linksland to beautifully spread heathland. Believe me, the old boys blew the modern-day builder out of the water. Yes, they did get the pick of the crop when it came to the landscape, but why does it seem to happen time and time again with modern layouts; you’ve got greens the size of Wembley and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those tractors were buried under them to give that contoured effect. It’s all a bit one-dimensional for me.
Top 100 Courses: 2010 Course Rankings
You might be piping up a bit now and shouting “wait a second Radar, St Andrews has whopping, great big greens”. Well, yes, but remember they are shared greens and that’s a bad example, because most of the guys who are designing these courses today always seem to revert back to the Old Course. That’s criminal. It’s a one-off and if you try and copy her, you aren’t going to succeed. If you are a fan of these slog-fests then good luck to you – that’s your opinion. I’m not really having a go at the product; it’s more the process that puzzles me.
As for my personal favourite in the UK & Ireland, well, I have been lucky enough to have stayed around the Surrey and Berkshire area for many years, and the old heathland courses are simply wonderful. Full of character and oozing that old-school class, there are too many for me to go on about, but the New Zealand Club in Surrey remains my hidden little gem.
Opened for play in 1895, its fairways are so narrow that you have to walk up them in single file. Trust me, this is a layout that demands pin-point accuracy from the tee. It’s not long at just over 6,000 yards from the tips – which is just as well because when I was a young man someone told me that length didn’t matter (how right she was) – but towering silver birches and deep heather add to the test and if you are heading in there when it’s full blown, you won’t just lose your ball, but also your Footjoys!
Of course it’s all subjective, but goodness knows what the numpties at Golf Monthly are doing leaving it out of this magazine’s Top 100 Ranking. If you ever get a chance to hack it round this part of the south of England, pay a visit to The New Zealand Club. It’s got to be good if I’m blowing smoke up the Kiwis…