We don't tell our panelists what constitutes greatness in a golf course. They tell us. Each panelist considers factors such as design rhythm, creativity, setting and conditioning, but the value of each category is left to each panelist's discretion. Our 100 voting members hail from 17 countries and include major championship winners, Ryder Cup players, architects, amateur champions, photographers, journalists, historians and a small but fiercely passionate crew of course connoisseurs (a dozen in all) who have played at least one entire edition of GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World.
For 2009, we retained the web-based voting system that we initiated in 2007, but pared down the course candidates from 475 to 408 to encourage more visits to the most worthy layouts. Panelists can only vote for courses they've played. From the master list of 408 courses, the top 100 point-earners make up our Top 100 Courses in the World. The Top 100 in the U.S. are determined by taking U.S. courses from the World list, in order, then rounding out the list with the remaining top point earners that did not make the World list.
The points break down as follows: Each course placing in the top three on a panelist's ballot earns 100 points; spots 4-10 earn 85 points, followed by 11-25 (70 points), 26-50 (60 points), 51-75 (50 points), 76-100 (40 points), 101-150 (30 points), 151-200 (20 points), 201-250 (10 points), 251 + (0 points). Any course that received a "remove from ballot" vote has 10 points deducted. Architects on the panel are not permitted to vote for their own original designs, nor can course owners vote for their own properties.
There are many reasons a course's ranking can fluctuate, including increased visits by our panelists or a significant design renovation. The addition of new panelists can also bring fresh perspective to the process, in some cases confirming a course's status and in other cases shaking things up. While we appreciate the excitement of breakthrough courses and dramatic jumps, we also feel that consistency equals credibility. Indeed, even with the addition of 16 new panelists, our results skewed remarkably similar to where they were in 2007, with Pine Valley and Cypress Point far ahead of their peers.
Unlike other publications, we identify our panelists publicly, because transparency, we believe, equals credibility. Whether you agree or disagree with the results, at least you'll know who's casting the votes.