John Garrity's Top 50 Courses

Pebble Beach No. 5
Joann Dost
One of the world's greatest par 3s: No. 5 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The club secretary at one of my top-rated courses has a question about the Top 50 system. "Why," he asks, "does a course rated lower than ours sometimes get a higher score?"

The question makes me smile.

Like the Spinal Tap guitarist, the club secretary equates big numbers with superiority. Eleven is better than 10, 10 is better than 9, etc. He is puzzled, therefore, when the Top 50 gives fifth-ranked Prairie Dunes a score of 9.71, while 29th-ranked Royal Melbourne swaggers off at 11.20.

The explanation, of course, is that 11 is not better than 10 — not when 10 is "perfect." The Cal Sci algorithm I use to produce the Top 50 assumes that input data can be scored in a linear fashion (picture a football field with the number 10 where the 50-yard line would normally be) or concentrically in two dimensions (the best example being the small-to-large circles used for frog-jumping contests). The Carnoustie Golf Links, for example, had too much rough when the British Open was played there in 1999 — scores soared and a Frenchman almost won — but not enough rough this year, as evidenced by the fact that 22 players shot par or better for 72 holes. Predictably, the two extremes cancel each other out and Carnoustie remains out of the Top 50 at No. 66.

(Have an opinion about Garrity's Top 50 list? Send him an e-mail at john_garrity@simail.com.)

A course's "score," as I explained to the club secretary, is the product of dozens of mirrored attributes, some of which can only be expressed in computer language or Cockney rhyming slang. That's why Furnace Creek Golf Course of Death Valley, Calif., with a seasonally adjusted score of 18.77, languishes outside the Top 5,000. (No course with a sun-bleached-skeleton logo has ever scored higher than 8 or lower than 12.) For more examples of courses with high scores and low appeal, see my out-of-print America's Worst Golf Courses or write directly to Professor Charles Eppes at the California Institute of Science.

Enough of methodology. The Devlin Course at St. Andrews Bay, Scotland, enters the Top 50 at No. 50, replacing Pennsylvania's New Castle Country Club. Guests at the Fairmont St. Andrews understandably prefer the resort's breathtaking Torrance Course to the Devlin — as do I, after a recent weekend of free golf — but the Devlin's ocean holes are almost as picturesque. I can also recommend the seafood risotto in the Fairmont's AA-rewarded Esperante eatery.

The Balcomie Links at the Crail Golfing Society also moves up, from 41 to 37. I played the quaint and scenic Balcomie last week at the invitation of Pennsylvania golf architect Gil Hanse, who designed Crail's Craighead Links. The ocean holes, again, made me realize just how claustrophobic it must be to play all of one's rounds on some land-locked tree farm like Augusta National (still ranked No. 7, but poised to drop if Donald Trump becomes a member).

The clay-greens Fort Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course in Ft. Meade, Fla., finishes last again with a rating of 0.32.

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