Monday, April 25, 2005

Globe and Mail's Best Public Courses Misses the Mark

Yeah, I know -- I work for the National Post, the Globe and Mail's rival in the so-called newspaper wars.
But I'm as interested as the next guy in any list that ranks golf courses. Now, I don't fully buy into most of them, including the ones I participate in. Score Golf's list is full of significant misses, for example, and the recent
Golf Digest list has its share of critics.
But this Globe and Mail ratings list, called globegolf, takes course ratings lists to a different level altogether. Where to start? Well renowned golf writer Lorne Rubenstein apparently had a hand in this list, and writes a fine introduction. Lorne actually likes decent courses -- including Highlands Links and Jasper Park.
That's not where the problems are.
The first issue is diclosure -- there were 135 panelists involved in rating Canada's top public courses. Of course no where in the magazine are the people involved listed. I have no idea why -- even Score lists its panelists.
Secondarily, the ratings criteria is ridiculous. Too many points to rate, and rating factors like the clubhouse that have no real impact on the golf. Secondarily, how does one rank walkability when many of the courses in the list don't allow walking. I wonder how many of their raters actually walked?
I particularly enjoyed the "atmosphere/tradition" section, especially since a vast majority of the courses were created in the last decade and therefore don't have any tradition to speak of. And what does "experience" mean? It is defined in the magazine as "Is the course enjoyable to play? Do you get a good feeling when you step on a tee box or do you feel confused or uncomfortable?"
Isn't that the point of some great golf holes -- to keep one unbalanaced?
There are simply too many points of criteria to be useful.
Anyway, the magazine's top five are:

Jasper Park Lodge
Bigwin Island
Highlands Links
Banff Springs
Rocky Crest
Taboo
Links at Crowbush Cove
Wildfire Golf Club
Fox Harb'r
Le Maitre

A few comments on the courses: While a list is a list, the comments on some of the courses are silly. After all, I don't know a soul who thinks Graham Cooke "took full advantage" of Fox Harb'r's seaside setting. Ranking Wooden Sticks ahead of Eagles Nest, Angus Glen, Osprey Valley or any of a dozen other Canadian courses is just laughable. Oh, and what is Rod Whitman's Blackhawk doing at 88? It is surely Top 20 in Canada if you include all the private tracks as well. 88? That's just too weird for words. Oh, and by the way, apparently Jasper pro, and all around nice guy, Al Carter, had a hand in picking the Alberta panelists for the Globe. Interesting to see how well his course did -- though it isn't something I disagree with.
Some highlights include having Timber Ridge in the list (33 -- I hear the course lobbied panelists), all three Osprey Valley courses, the wonderful Northumberland Links and Forest City National.
All of this just goes to show that every course ratings list is subjective and flawed. That said, I contend the list I recently participated in with architect Ian Andrew, designer Jeff Mingay and businessman Ben Cowan-Dewar is the most comprehensive and representative in Canada. You can find
our list on Golfclubatlas.com.
One thing the Globe rating list does show is just how marginal much of Canada's public golf is and how few courses will span the test of time. The list also shows that most raters (even the "average" guys referenced in the introduction) are blown away by conditioning and glitz, but have little sense of what makes a golf course great. After all, Furry Creek is on the list and it may be the worst golf course in the world. I wouldn't go to play it again if you paid me.
The reality is that after the Top 20, Canada doesn't really have much "great" golf. Good golf, maybe. Fun golf, surely. But great? Not even in a stretch.

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