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Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Site For Keen Eyes

There's a site that many golf course design junkies must bookmark if they haven't already. It's an amazing resource for learning about significant golf courses around the world. You really won't believe how impressive it is until you check it out. It's called Golf Club Atlas, and its creator is a North Carolina man named Ran Morrissett. The detail (hole-by-hole descriptions), the terrific photos, and the keen insights make Golf Club Atlas a destination site for those who fancy themselves armchair architects.

If any of you have ever thought up a "wish list" of courses to play, Mr. Morrissett can sympathize with you. Of course, his list is fluid, as he seems to get around pretty well, but in case you'd like to take a peek at where he wants to play next, check out The Next Fifty. I rank all the courses I play on a personal list, but I've never made such an extensive wish list as The Next Fifty. I do however have a list that I think I can realistically play in the near-term (1-3 years). My current Top 10 of this kind of course is as follows:

1) Pacific Dunes - Tom Doak
2) Bandon Dunes - David Kidd
3) Highlands Links - Stanley Thompson
4) Banff Springs - Stanley Thompson
5) Mauna Kea - Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
6) Pinehurst No. 2 - Donald Ross
7) Teeth of the Dog - Pete Dye
8) Pasatiempo - Alister MacKenzie
9) Spyglass Hill - Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
10) Shadow Creek Golf Club - Tom Fazio

Shadow Creek might not be realistic, but I like to aim high! It looks as though Mr. Morrissett has played most of the courses on my list. When I play them, I hope I appreciate them as much as he seems to have.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Lots of "What Ifs" at Soggy Riviera

The Nissan Open finished this afternoon at drenched Riviera Country Club with Adam Scott beating Chad Campbell in a sudden death playoff. Because of the hard rain, the tournament was cut to 36 holes, the first time this has occurred on Tour in nine years. Scott beat Campbell with a par on the first hole of the playoff. Even though Scott took home $864,000 for the effort, I'm sure it was a bittersweet victory for him. I wonder if Adam has a few "what ifs" on his mind -- like what would have happened if they were able to play the final 36. Either way, he picked up a nice check and moved up to number seven in the Official World Rankings.

The person who has to be "what iffing" the most is Colin Montgomerie; he shot a sweet 64 to move into contention in the second round. For someone who won seven straight Order of Merits in the nineties, he's never won on U.S. soil. This was his best chance in a long time. Maybe this week will be a drier affair at La Costa. Unfortunately for Monty, he won't be playing.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Best Course On The PGA Tour

Sometimes I get tired of hearing how tough the courses on the PGA Tour are. Many of them aren't tough. Many of them aren't even very good layouts. And they all are in such perfect shape, that bad lies are few and far between, making it easier on the pros than on weekend hackers at the local muni. Which ones are really solid? Is there one (other than courses used in the four Majors) that can be considered the best?

Most people would agree that the TPC courses are not great designs. With their abundant mounding, they offer excellent views for patrons in the gallery, but few of them offer interesting or distinctive design features (unless you call island greens interesting). So, for the sake of argument, let's remove all of the TPC courses on the 2005 schedule from the running. This eliminates ten courses from the contest. Excuse me? You think the TPC at Sawgrass might be the best course on Tour? It's a matter of personal opinion, but I don't think it is. However, we can discuss Sawgrass at length in another posting.

Sadly, I've only played three courses on the 2005 Tour schedule: the Plantation Course at Kapalua (Mercedes Championship), Cog Hill No. 4 (Cialis Western Open), and Annandale Golf Club (Southern Farm Bureau Classic). Kapalua is beautiful, and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw used the land extremely well. However, this is a scoring paradise in paradise, so it's tough to call it the best layout on Tour. Cog Hill is swell, but it will always be in the shadow of Butler National, which hosted the Western for many years before its all-male membership policy irked the Tour's PC Police. Annandale has a good variety of holes, but it just doesn't have the elements of a great golf course. We move on...

Between the Mercedes and the "AT&T", there isn't much to write home about. But at the former Crosby, the pros (and ams), get to take on Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach. Unfortunately, several years ago Cypress Point was replaced by Poppy Hills after a flap resembling that of Butler National. Cypress Point didn't need the bad pub or the tournament, so they told the Tour to jump in the Pacific Ocean. So, the tournament is stuck with Poppy Hills.

Right now you're thinking that the argument about the best course on Tour ends with Pebble. Maybe, but though I've never played either one, many respected golfers think Spyglass stacks up well to Pebble. I tend to think those who make that claim want Spyglass to be better because it's so tough, and because Pebble is so overpriced (getting there, staying there and playing there will cost you upwards of $1,500 unless you live nearby). People like the underdog. In this case, the 800-pound gorilla is probably superior to the underdog.

Immediately after the Crosby, the pros are treated to the L.A. Open (I can't bring myself to writing Nissan Open) at Riviera Country Club. This George Thomas design is a real winner that most pros make sure they sign up for. Except for the customary February rains, this is one of the best tournaments of the year. The quality of the layout is reflected in the quality of its past winners. It's a very solid group.

After Riviera, there's nothing to get weepy about until The Masters in early April. I'm leaving Augusta out of the contest because The Masters is a Major Championship. If it were part of the contest, it wouldn't be a contest. It would be like Shaq playing one-on-one with a midget -- or a midget versus Shaq in a free throw contest.

In April through June, the Tour hits its sweet spot. The pros travel to Harbour Town, Quail Hollow, Colonial, Muirfield Village, and Congressional (for 2005 while Avenel gets reworked). This stretch enough to make a golfer get the yips. These are five superb tracks that deserve serious consideration. I've read where numerous pros like Colonial the best of all. Quail Hollow has gotten resounding praise since returning to the lineup two years ago. And there's something about Muirfield Village that just screams, "classic". Maybe Fat Jack used up his best ideas on this, his first serious design project.

Aside from the exclusive tourneys like th two World Golf Championships and the Presidents Cup, nothing stands out after "The Congo" until East Lake at the Tour Championship. Essentially, 70% of the non-Majors are played on ho-hum layouts.

The ballots are in, and here's my Top 10:

10) Cog Hill No. 4
9) Congressional Country Club
8) Plantation Course at Kapalua
7) Harbour Town Golf Links
6) Colonial Country Club
5) Quail Hollow Club
4) Spyglass Hill
3) Riviera Country Club
2) Muirfield Village Golf Club
1) Pebble Beach Golf Links

Reading this Top 10, it's hard to ignore the fact that fully half of the courses are open to the public. This is a bonus for guys like me, but getting the scratch together to play them can be a tall order. Still, an even taller order is getting invited to play the other half of the list...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Using the Web To Find Top Golf Courses

What constitutes a good, or even a great golf course? Everyone has an opinion, so the best way to answer the question is to say it's subjective. However, the rankings published by the national golf magazines can provide some clues. And, they're easily accessible on the web.

None of the rankings is alike. About the only thing the publishers of the rankings consistently agree upon is that Pine Valley is the best course in the country -- and the world. A few years ago, Golf Digest put Pebble Beach ahead of Pine Valley, and golfers-in-the-know were apoplectic. No one could believe it, but I knew why Pebble got the nod. It was because Tiger Woods blew out the field the previous U.S. Open at Pebble, and Pebble enjoyed four days of sunny television coverage. Its natural beauty was hard to ignore. Beauty or not, people on the ratings committee got all excited about a tournament, and let their giddiness about Tiger obscure their judgment. Now that they've had time to settle down, Pine Valley is back where it belongs -- at #1.

So how do you find the rankings? It's easy. The top lists are:

Golf Week also has a great list for golfers like me who don't have access to private layouts on a regular basis. It's their "state-by-state public access" list. It's especially fun if you're from a dinky state; you can brag to your friends about all of the ranked courses you've played. Golf Digest has a "state-by-state" list that incorporates both public and private courses. This too will massage the egos of less-travelled golfers.

If you are not already familiar with these rankings, click on the links above and see how many you've played. You might be surprised!

Golf Course Challenge

In June of 2002, a good friend of mine and I were golfing in Whistler, British Columbia at the RTJ Jr. designed Chateau Whistler. I made the claim that I would play at least 1,000 different courses by the time I was 70 years old. At the time, I was nearing 28, and I had played somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 different courses. He bet me I couldn't do it. If I did, he would pay for my 1,000th round anywhere in the world -- as long as he got to play it with me. So, not only do I have the tall order of trying to play at least 23 new courses each year going forward, we have to remain friends for potentially the next 40 years.

In this weblog, I will cover various topics, but I will focus on reviewing courses I've played and hope to play. I will also spout off about golf course design, golf travel, business and golf, the PGA Tour, and anything else golf-related that interests me and my golf buddies. I hope you will join me from time to time. You might even learn a thing or two and become inspired to play some of the places I've played. Maybe I'll even inspire you to play 1,000!