Golf courses are like dog breeds, chocolate bars and James Bonds. We all have our favourites. @GolfPeach has her say in her latest blog.
Why Top 100 Golf Course Rankings Will Never Please All…
The new iteration of Golf Monthly’s highly-regarded biennial list of the Top 100 Courses in UK and Ireland will be published in December, and the only certainty is that nobody in golf will agree with it. Golf courses are like dog breeds, chocolate bars and James Bonds. We all have our favourites. Comparing and ranking the great links courses on our coastlines with the magnificent heathland lay-outs in our heartlands is as impossible as it is irresistible. One man’s collection of Desert Island Discs is another man’s playlist from hell. I must admit that I tend to rate courses by how well I play them. How can I ever forget that up-and-down across the ravine in front of the last at Kingsbarns to beat my husband 1 up? Kingsbarns… great track!
Golf Monthly are brave enough to reveal their judging criteria and GolfPeach’s form on the day doesn’t appear to figure anywhere. A fatal oversight in my opinion. Instead, of the 100 marks on offer to the appointed reviewers, 35 are awarded for ‘the quality of test and design’, 30 for ‘condition and presentation’, 15 for ‘visual appeal’ and 10 apiece for ‘club facilities’ and ‘visitor experience’. No adjustment is built in for ‘playing the course with a hangover’ – don’t these guys ever tour?! And, worse still, no allowances are made for the state of the Head Greenkeeper’s marriage – and the fiendish pin positions he has chosen the morning after a bad domestic!
The best example of the golf ranker’s dilemma is the most famous golf course in the world. How many people do you know who have enjoyed the immense privilege of teeing it up in front of the R and A clubhouse and nervously thinning one down the widest fairway on the planet only to return 4 hours later proclaiming the Old Course to be a great experience but not a great course? It’s probably the majority view. No ‘club facilities’, a better ‘visual appeal’ available next door on the New, ‘condition and presentation’ circa 1875… yet, wait a minute, you have just been an honoured house guest at the home of golf. ‘Visitor experience’… a perfect 10. Jack Nicklaus said that if he could only play one course for the rest of his life it would be St Andrews Old. I think that is worth a 90 point bonus, don’t you?
If I could only play one course… I think I might just pack the game up and buy a racket. Tennis players only ever play one standard-sized court. It may be made of clay or grass, it could be sun-drenched or rain-soaked, it might be surrounded by Championship grandstands or sports centre walls but the lines are painted to the same dimensions. Golf’s dimensions are painted by the ocean and the desert. It is the endless (and occasionally warped) imagination of golf course designers that sets the stages for our favourite form of theatre. To play the rugged coastal magnificence of Royal Troon one day, then drive 50 miles to get an invite to enjoy the pristine beauty of Loch Lomond the next is to play two totally different sports in 24 hours. Same clubs, same rules, same swing (if you’re lucky), different menu. How can you rank a top Thai restaurant against a great Italian? Variety is golf’s spice… and the Top 100’s nightmare.
I am writing this with a view of Atlantic white horses chasing each other to crash against a dreamy beach in sunny Cape Town. Last week the dull splat of a fatted iron greeted too many of my swings as my shoulders fought with four layers of clothing to turn. Even the good shots stalled in the cold English air and my ball stopped where it landed and waited to be cleaned and placed. Today, most of my layers will be sun cream. The ball will soar and bound (I hope!), the fairways will be firm, the greens slick. Holiday golf… a world away from the game I was playing just a few days ago.
My husband will again be my opponent at Arabella, one of South Africa’s top rated venues (he recovered from his Kingsbarns defeat… after a couple of months!). He will read from the course planner… ‘the 1st requires a high fade from the tee to carry the cluster of bunkers at 270 yards on the corner of the dogleg, setting up a low drawn approach punched low under the prevailing wind to the 8-tiered island green’ (yeah, in your dreams). No, instead he will moan about the 100 metre march back to his tee from mine and the higher ladies’ standard scratch. Any and every course plays differently depending on the colour of your tee and the strength of your game. It is one of the unique appeals of golf that I can walk the same courses that Rory and Rosey win major titles on but their judgment of the test will be totally different to my own. Their lay-up will be my sweetest strike, their blind shot will be out of my range. On the 17th tee at the Old Course, their line is my balcony!
Handicap golf is a magical sport that can be played by all types in all places, from Princes to the Pay and Play. Its greatest glory is that it’s beyond grading or marking, and perhaps the greatest courses are the ones we can all enjoy, the beauties rather than the beasts. For me, the best links courses are the ones that stretch all the way to the shore. Give me North Berwick over Royal Lytham any time but the rankings will say different. So, good luck Golf Monthly with your annual ‘start an argument’ rankings. Maybe there should be three ‘Top 100’s’ for red, white and black plates. And if you’re looking for volunteer judges for the first of them…
What are your favourite golf courses? And do they necessarily fit with our rankings?
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