Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Rankings Obsession

I’m a gigantic hypocrite when it comes to the ranking of golf courses. 

I admit that I use the rankings as a guide for places to travel and have played the great majority of the courses on the various lists over the years.  The rankings are useful for this purpose. 

Where I become frustrated with the rankings is in how people believe that the only courses worth playing in a given area are the ones on a list.  When I travel I don’t limit myself to just the courses on a particular list.  I always take the time to seek out the “hidden gems,” the local municipals that everybody talks about, the sporty courses that are too short for modern standards but still a ton of fun to play, the course that is just far enough away to be inconvenient to get to.  Unfortunately I’m one of the few that does this.

The best example I can give of this is the DC area.  Everybody comes into town to play the Blue course at Congressional.  The Blue course exists on the various lists because of its history and presence on TV and in the media.  Raters and people trying to play a list come into town, play the Blue and leave.  They don’t realize that the Blue is just one of many great courses in the DC area.  Columbia(pictured below), Chevy Chase, Burning Tree, and Woodmont (North) are all courses that could be better than the Blue in my opinion. 
Columbia Country Club 18th Hole Courtesy of Jon Cavalier

If we expand to Baltimore we find yet another example.  Everybody wants to play the East course at Baltimore Country Club, which they should, because it really is one of the best Tillinghast courses in the country.  But again, they will only play it or maybe try to play Caves Valley, the high profile Fazio course that has been in top 100 lists over the years.  They will never play Woodholme, an amazing Herbert Strong course that is much better than Caves, and may even challenge BCC for sheer fun. 

This brings up the biggest problem with rankings.  Raters and list seekers are very hesitant to try a course not already on the rankings.  Rankings are flawed by their nature and beyond the top 40 or 50 about 250 courses are worthy of consideration for the top 100 and yet some of these will never have a chance because of their location and lack of marketing.  Some high-end destination courses with high budgets can get the word out and entice people to their remote locations like Rock Creek Cattle, Dismal River, Gozzer Ranch, etc.  

The best example of this I can give is Davenport Country Club in Davenport, Iowa(pictured below).  Davenport is in my top 50 golf courses played.  It absolutely belongs in all of the top 100 lists after an amazing renovation by Ron Forse & Jim Nagle, but it will never be on most of the lists because of the requirement for a certain number of raters to see the course and most raters aren’t willing to drive 2 ½ hours each way to see a course they haven’t heard of.  I beg every rater I meet to play Davenport and yet I doubt many will actually do it. 
Davenport Country Club 18th hole

If you are a rater or somebody trying to play a list please do some research before you travel to an area.  You might find some of the courses not on a list to be more enjoyable and better than the ones you are traveling to see.  I’ve included a list below for some well-traveled areas:

Atlanta                                            Palmetto, Rivermont
Baltimore                                        Green Spring Valley, Woodholme
Boston                                            Whitinsville
Chicago                                          Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Old Elm
Dallas/Fort Worth                           Shady Oaks
Detroit                                             Franklin Hills, Indianwood(Old)
Long Island                                     Engineers, St George’s
Los Angeles                                     Lakeside, Santa Ana, Wilshire
Philadephia                                     Gulph Mills, Llanerch, Radnor Valley
Pittsburgh                                        Bedford Springs, Rolling Rock, Sunnehanna
San Francisco                                  Meadow Club, Orinda
Washington DC                               Columbia
Westchester County                        Fenway, Tamarack

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