This is the time of year when you might hear about a certain class of people seeking to play all the courses on the fabulous new GOLF Magazine list of the Top 100 Courses in the World. Or, and only slightly easier to accomplish, the magazine’s list of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S. A person can dream, can’t she/he?
In honor of the Walker Cup, the two-day Ryder Cup for amateurs that begins on Saturday, I’m throwing down a new gauntlet, for myself and for anybody else who wants in. I’d like to play all the courses that have held Walker Cups. It is a murderer’s row of greatness.
Below is the entire list. An exclamation mark indicates that your correspondent has played said links. I have visited several others. (I have been to five others as a reporter.) Read it and weep:
National Golf Links of America!
The Old Course!
Garden City Golf Club.
Chicago Golf Club.
Royal St. George’s!
The Country Club.
Seattle Golf Club.
Baltimore Country Club.
Milwaukee Country Club.
Royal County Down.
Los Angeles Country Club!!!
Forgive me please for my wild use of exclamation marks on the final entry. (I had a writing teacher in high school who said while returning papers, “I used an exclamation mark. Once.”) The first one was to indicate my play there. The second my sudden love affair with the North Course at LACC and the third my excitement for the event.
This weekend the Walker Cup—which features 10 leading U.S. amateurs against 10 leading amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland—will be held at LACC for the first time. The Walker Cup is run jointly (and expertly) by the USGA and the R&A. It will be on Fox this weekend. In even years, when the Walker Cup is played in the British Isles, the event is carried by NBC Sports, as part of its contract with the R&A.
If you visit this space regularly, you almost certainly know the names of two of the U.S. players, Doc Redman, who won the U.S. Amateur at Riviera last month, and Doug Ghim, who lost on the first hole of sudden death. You likely know two others as well. One is Stewart Hagestad, the 26-year-old New York financial analyst who was the low amateur at this year’s Masters. The other is 21-year-old Maverick McNealy, son of the founder of Sun Microsystems. McNealy graduated in June from Stanford with a degree management science and engineering. He played in the U.S. and British Opens. He’s planning to turn pro. But his last hurrah as an amateur is this Walker Cup.
It comes and goes in a blip. There are four sessions. On Saturday morning, each side puts out four two-man teams playing alternate shot. That’s the first four points. On Saturday afternoon, each team sends out eight players, blind draw, to play singles in twosomes at match play. That’s eight more points. Sunday morning is a repeat of Saturday morning, so four more points in play there. Then Sunday afternoon all 10 players go out in singles. Another 10 points. So there are 26 total points available for your golfing pleasure.
At the last Walker Cup, in 2015 at Royal Lytham, GB&I smoked the Americans, 16.5 to 9.5. Because of that win, if this cup ends in a 13-13 tie, GB&I keeps the cup, named for George Herbert Walker, a former USGA president (and grandfather and great-grandfather of two U.S. presidents). The event is guaranteed to be good just because the course is so special. If it gets close, it will be spectacular. Golf always is, when the prize is pride.
I attended the 2013 Walker Cup at National Golf Links—one of the best events I have ever attended in my life. I attended the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion. It was great. I have talked with Davis Love about his experience at the 1985 Walker Cup at Pine Valley. On the long, uphill par-3 5th, Davis was using a 5-iron when his playing partners and opponents, including Colin Montgomerie, were using 5-woods. Steel shaft, wood head, balata ball—the length disparity was far greater then.
The other day, I did a long interview with Buddy Marucci, the American Walker Cup captain in 2007, when the event was held at Royal County Down. You might be familiar with all 10 players on his team: Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Kyle Stanley, Trip Kuehne, Chris Kirk, Jamie Lovemark, Colt Knost and Jonathan Moore. Moore was the final man standing for the Americans, and he won his match on the last hole to give the Americans a 12.5-11.5 win. (There were 24 points then.) Ten years after the fact, seated in the Merion clubhouse, Marucci was providing play-by-play like the match had been played that morning. A statement on how much it all meant to him. Rory McIlory won his match on that exciting Sunday afternoon. Danny Willett halved his. Between them, they have the career grand slam. But no Walker Cup wins.
Back to the course. If you follow golf, you’ve heard about LACC, the George Thomas course that will host the 2023 U.S. Open. The club has two 18-hole courses smack-dab in Los Angeles. The value of the land is incalculable. Could be over $1 billion. The club is famously inhospitable to people in the entertainment business. The only actor known to be a member was Randolph Scott, who (according to one version of a legendary club story) told a member of the admissions committee, “I’m no actor and I have over 100 movies to prove it.”
The Playboy Mansion abuts the club’s property on its northern end, the Beverly Hilton on its southern side. Wilshire Boulevard runs through the property. Riviera and Bel-Air are in spitting distance, at least for Dustin Johnson.
It’s going to make for a great and different U.S. Open venue. The Walker Cup will be a fantastic warm-up act. The North Course was once tree-lined. After a thorough renovation by Gil Hanse, assisted by Geoff Shackelford, there is hardly a tree on it. Tee to green, it reminds me of Augusta National—pre-Tiger, that is—when there was no fluffy rough and many fewer trees. Augusta then is like LACC now, a broad, open and inviting course with swooping fairways. The bunkering is amazing and right out of the Pine Valley playbook—manly pits that can ruin your hole (in match play) or your day (in medal). The greens are large and smooth and fast and absolutely pure.
You can have a match-play competition anywhere. But it must be nice to be a Walker Cupper. Royal Lytham last time. LACC this time. Hoylake next time. Seminole comes after that. Maverick McNealy, are you sure you want to turn pro?
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]