John Garrity’s Top 50 Courses

July 27, 2007

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 [email protected].)

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.

Continue to view Garrity’s Top 50 Courses

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

2. Ballybunion OldScore: 9.75
Ballybunion, Ireland
Designer: L.L. Hewson, James McKenna

3. Carne Golf LinksScore: 9.73
Belmullet, Ireland
Designer: Eddie Hackett

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

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

6. Ailsa CourseScore: 10.68
Turnberry, Scotland
Designer: Mackenzie Ross

7. Augusta National Golf ClubScore: 10.70
Augusta, Ga.
Designer: Alister Mackenzie Course Finder Profile

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

9. The European ClubScore: 9.47
Brittas Bay, Ireland
Designer: Pat Ruddy

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

11. Interlachen Country ClubScore: 10.61
Edina, Minn.
Designer: Willie Watson Course Finder Profile

12. The Links at FancourtScore: 10.63
George, South Africa
Designer: Gary Player

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

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

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

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

17. Valderrama Golf ClubScore: 9.15
Sotogrande, Spain
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

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

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

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

21. Prestwick Golf ClubScore: 9.09
Prestwick, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

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

23. TPC at Snoqualmie RidgeScore: 9.00
Snoqualmie, Wash.
Designer: Jack Nicklaus Course Finder Profile

24. Royal Birkdale Golf ClubScore: 11.03
Southport, England
Designer: Lowe, Hawtree & Hawtree

25. Pezula Golf ClubScore: 8.91
Knysna, South Africa
Designer: Ron Fream, David Dale

26. Bandon DunesScore: 8.88
Bandon, Ore.
Designer: David Kidd Course Finder Profile

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

28. Kinghorn Municipal Golf ClubScore: 8.83
Kinghorn, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

29. Royal Melbourne Golf ClubScore: 11.20
Black Rock, Australia
Designer: Alister Mackenzie

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

31. New Richmond Golf ClubScore: 8.72
New Richmond, Wisc.
Designer: Kidd, Herfort, Goldstrand Course Finder Profile

32. Formby Ladies ClubScore: 8.74
Formby, England
Designer: Willie Park, Harry Colt

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

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

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

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

37. Balcomie LinksScore: 8.42
Crail, Scotland
Designer: Old Tom Morris

38. Medicine Hole Golf CourseScore: 8.40
Killdeer, N.D.
Designer: Jim Engh

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

40. St. Andrews BayScore: 11.65
St. Andrews, Scotland
Designers: Gene Sarazen, Sam Torrance

41. Oak Tree Golf ClubScore: 8.31
Edmund, Okla.
Designer: Pete Dye Course Finder Profile

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

43. Hallbrook Country ClubScore: 8.29
Leawood, Kan.
Designer: Tom Fazio Course Finder Profile

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

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

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

47. Oakmont Country ClubScore: 8.17
Oakmont, Pa.
Designer: Henry Fownes Course Finder Profile

48. Druids Glen Golf ClubScore: 8.16
Newtownmountkennedy, Ireland
Designer: Pat Ruddy, Tom Craddock

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

50. St. Andrews BayScore: 8.09
St. Andrews, Scotland
Designer: Bruce Devlin