Courses and Travel

An Introduction to John Garrity's Top 50

Photo: 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 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

1. Askernish Old — Score: 10.19
South Uist Island, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

2. Ballybunion Old — Score: 9.75
Ballybunion, Ireland
Designer: L.L. Hewson, James McKenna

3. Carne Golf Links — Score: 9.73
Belmullet, Ireland
Designer: Eddie Hackett

4. Pebble Beach Golf Links — Score: 9.72
Pebble Beach, Calif.
Designer: Jack Neville, Douglas Grant Course Finder Profile

5. Prairie Dunes Country Club — Score: 9.71
Hutchinson, Kan.
Designer: Perry Maxwell Course Finder Profile

6. Ailsa Course — Score: 10.68
Turnberry, Scotland
Designer: Mackenzie Ross

7. Augusta National Golf Club — Score: 10.70
Augusta, Ga.
Designer: Alister Mackenzie Course Finder Profile

8. Oak Hill Country Club East Course — Score: 9.48
Rochester, N.Y.
Designer: Donald Ross Course Finder Profile

9. The European Club — Score: 9.47
Brittas Bay, Ireland
Designer: Pat Ruddy

10. Jupiter Hills Club Hills Course — Score: 9.46
Tequesta, Fla.
Designer: George Fazio Course Finder Profile

11. Interlachen Country Club — Score: 10.61
Edina, Minn.
Designer: Willie Watson Course Finder Profile

12. The Links at Fancourt — Score: 10.63
George, South Africa
Designer: Gary Player

13. Cypress Point Club — Score: 9.20
Pebble Beach, Calif.
Designer: Alister Mackenzie Course Finder Profile

14. Seminole Golf Club — Score: 9.19
Juno Beach, Fla.
Designer: Donald Ross Course Finder Profile

15. Old Course, St. Andrews — Score: 9.18
St. Andrews, Scotland
Designer: God

16. Poipu Bay Golf Course — Score: 9.17
Kauai, Hawaii
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Course Finder Profile

17. Valderrama Golf Club — Score: 9.15
Sotogrande, Spain
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

18. Whistling Straits, Straits Course — Score: 9.14
Sheboygan, Wisc.
Designer: Pete Dye Course Finder Profile

19. Les Bordes Golf International — Score: 9.13
Saint-Laurent-Nouan, France
Designer: Robert Von Hagge

20. Sand Hills Golf Club — Score: 9.10
Mullen, Neb.
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw Course Finder Profile

21. Prestwick Golf Club — Score: 9.09
Prestwick, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

22. Colonial Country Club — Score: 10.97
Fort Worth, Texas
Designer: John Bredemus Course Finder Profile

23. TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge — Score: 9.00
Snoqualmie, Wash.
Designer: Jack Nicklaus Course Finder Profile

24. Royal Birkdale Golf Club — Score: 11.03
Southport, England
Designer: Lowe, Hawtree & Hawtree

25. Pezula Golf Club — Score: 8.91
Knysna, South Africa
Designer: Ron Fream, David Dale

26. Bandon Dunes — Score: 8.88
Bandon, Ore.
Designer: David Kidd Course Finder Profile

27. Golf Club at Redlands Mesa — Score: 8.85
Grand Junction, Colo.
Designer: Jim Engh Course Finder Profile

28. Kinghorn Municipal Golf Club — Score: 8.83
Kinghorn, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

29. Royal Melbourne Golf Club — Score: 11.20
Black Rock, Australia
Designer: Alister Mackenzie

30. Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club — Score: 11.25
Southern Pines, N.C.
Designer: Donald Ross Course Finder Profile

31. Formby Ladies Club — Score: 8.74
Formby, England
Designer: Willie Park, Harry Colt

32. New Richmond Golf Club — Score: 8.72
New Richmond, Wisc.
Designer: Kidd, Herfort, Goldstrand Course Finder Profile

33. Castle Pines Golf Club — Score: 8.70
Castle Rock, Colo.
Designer: Jack Nicklaus Course Finder Profile

34. Plantation Course — Score: 8.69
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw Course Finder Profile

35. Quail Hollow Golf Club — Score: 11.50
Charlotte, N.C.
Designer: George Cobb, Tom Fazio Course Finder Profile

36. Merion Golf Club East Course — Score: 11.51
Ardmore, Pa.
Designer: Hugh Wilson Course Finder Profile

37. Oak Tree Golf Club — Score: 8.42
Edmund, Okla.
Designer: Pete Dye Course Finder Profile

38. Medicine Hole Golf Course — Score: 8.40
Killdeer, N.D.
Designer: Jim Engh

39. University of Florida Golf Course — Score: 8.39
Gainesville, Fla.
Designer: Bobby Weed Course Finder Profile

40. St. Andrews Bay — Score: 11.65
St. Andrews, Scotland
Designer: Sam Torrance

41. Balcomie Links — Score: 8.31
Crail, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

42. National Course at Reynolds Plantation — Score: 8.30
Greensboro, Ga.
Designer: Tom Fazio Course Finder Profile

43. Hallbrook Country Club — Score: 8.29
Leawood, Kan.
Designer: Tom Fazio Course Finder Profile

44. Mission Hills Tournament Course — Score: 8.28
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Designer: Desmond Muirhead Course Finder Profile

45. The Pearl South Pacific — Score: 8.25
Pacific Harbour, Fiji
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr.

46. Milburn Country Club — Score: 8.20
Overland Park, Kan.
Designer: William Langford Course Finder Profile

47. Cherry Hills Country Club — Score: 8.17
Englewood, Colo.
Designer: William S. Flynn Course Finder Profile

48. Druids Glen Golf Club — Score: 8.16
Newtownmountkennedy, Ireland
Designer: Pat Ruddy, Tom Craddock

49. Laurel Valley Golf Club — Score: 8.14
Ligonier, Pa.
Designer: Dick Wilson Course Finder Profile

50. Deerwood Country Club — Score: 8.10
Jacksonville, Fla.
Designer: George Cobb, Brian Silva Course Finder Profile

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