Shackelford takes a run at Golf Digest's Top 100
Shackelford raises a number of legitimate issues that the magazine should address and architecture editor Ron Whitten seems to touch on in several sidebars that accompany the list.
Geoff's main problem seems to be with the panel itself. GD has 800 panelists that vote on the list, which appears every second year. Shackelford says about half of them appear to be interested in golf architecture, take some time to consider their rankings and make a fair vote on what they've seen. He adds that the other half seem more impressed by glitz and conditioning and don't really consider what makes a great golf course.
In an effort for full disclosure, I participate in the GD course ratings panel. That means I get access to some pretty outstanding golf courses and help rate the Best New in Canada course.
I like to think I'm part of the group Shackelford discusses in his story -- I read about architecture, have made an attempt to search out great golf courses and read about their designers. I'm not that swayed by nice conditions, and would rather play the Old Course than Trump National, or Augusta National, for that matter.
That said, I'm confused by both the Top 100 and the Best New in Canada award.
Let's start with the latter.
Best New Course last year was awarded to The Rock, a marginal Nick Faldo course in Muskoka, Ontario, that hardly anyone I know actually enjoyed. It is penal, and difficult, unfair in spots, but it is pretty. That is pretty much the factor that attracts raters, according to Shackelford, which can be the only thing that explains how The Rock could win such an award. The problem is that in awarding Best New to The Rock, GD's credibility took a large hit.
If you read Shackelford's comments on the Top 100, you'll find he thinks most GD raters are wowed by brilliant conditions and exclusive private golf. They don't care much about good golf, he argues, and certainly are not interested in the factors that make golf courses timeless.
With that in mind, GD's Whitten has a stunning article that takes a full-on run at Tom Fazio and the multi-million dollar golf course. It is a damning criticism of the state of modern golf, and strangely, also appears to be offering an explanation for why 14 Fazio courses now appear on the list. Seems odd that Whitten would have to come up with excuses as to why Fazio courses are so common on the list and then write an accompanying story saying Fazio is bad for golf.
Is Tom Fazio bad for golf? Well, if you are in the camp that feels golf should be open to the masses and the exclusive and expensive nature of the current game is leading to diminishing participation numbers, then yes, Tom Fazio is bad for golf.
Of all the Fazio layouts I've played, only Pine Barrens at World Woods in Florida stood out as a great track. The rest are pretty, and pretty expensive. At one point, you could play the Barrens and its sister track, Rolling Oaks, for around US$100. That was affordable golf. That's the type of golf that brings new people to the game.
But that's not the type of golf course Tom Fazio builds anymore.
Is he bad for the game? In the same way that the conditions at Augusta have led to increased maintenance costs and raised green fees, I think the answer regarding Fazio is clear.