An Introduction to John Garrity's Top 50

The 14th green at Pine Needles
Russell Kirk
The 14th green at Pine Needles

"Finally, a course ranking system that makes sense."

That's what I told myself as I put the finishing touches on the first of what I hope will be many Top 50 lists for Golf.com. I was down in the computer room at Catch Basin, my Kansas City, Mo., home, checking a few last numbers on the Bomar Brain. The ping-pong table wobbled under piles of fan-fold paper, and the wall-mounted cork boards were covered with glossy photographs of famous and not-so-famous golf holes. (The list itself — the "leader board," as my wife sarcastically calls it — fills the entire south wall, floor to ceiling. The fiberboard panels are red and blue, owing to their previous use in a local TV station's election coverage.)

I should disclose at the outset that many powerful people tried to dissuade me from this undertaking. Certain golf course architects, fearing that my unbiased rankings would expose their shortcomings, hired neighborhood kids to trample our flower garden. And the golf course developers — let's just say that the chance of my getting a seven-bedroom fairway home at Isleworth for 40 percent off the market price is now nil.

No matter. John Garrity's Top 50 is above politics, incorruptible, and as close to scientific perfection as chaos theory and a writer's budget will allow. My system utilizes a complex web of informants and busybodies who file detailed reports on everything from flagstick heights to ball-washer detergent quality. This data is augmented by public records and, when necessary, unauthorized credit checks. Then I thoroughly Google the course in question.

Finally, we do the math. I say "we" because the Top 50 employs a secret algorithm developed by professor Charles Eppes at the California Institute of Science. I don't claim to understand how this algorithm works — it covers five blackboards in Charlie's garage — but it took the processing power of a dozen Mac G-5s, working through the night, to produce the final list.

It is interesting, I think, that all this technology produced an inaugural Top 50 that leans toward the traditional in course design. Old Tom Morris has three courses on the list (Askernish Old, Kinghorn, Prestwick). Donald Ross also has three (Oak Hill, Seminole, Pine Needles). The Top 50 doesn't overlook contemporary architects — Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Jim Engh are all cited twice — but so-called "minimalist" designers like David Kidd and Coore-Crenshaw got good numbers, as well.

Surprisingly absent from this first Top 50 are big-time course plowers like Rees Jones and Hurdzan-Fry. Professor Eppes says this may be a statistical anomaly. Jones, he points out, has nine courses in the Next 50 (led, at 51, by the Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation, Greensboro, Ga.). The professor adds sheepishly that he confused Hurdzan-Fry with "Herzenfrei," an Austrian designer who tried, but failed, to popularize eight-hole golf courses in Alpine settings.

Well, minor errors are inevitable. Fortunately, my Top 50 will be recalculated every few weeks. That's all for now. Those damn kids are in the flower bed again.

Continue to view Garrity's Top 50 Courses

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