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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...


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