Shackelford takes a run at Golf Digest's Top 100

Geoff Shackelford, the noted golf architecture gadfly, has an interesting story in Golfobserver today about the issues facing Golf Digest’s much discussed Top 100 in American course ratings.
Shackelford raises a number of legitimate issues that the magazine should address and architecture editor Ron Whitten seems to touch on in several sidebars that accompany the list.
Geoff’s main problem seems to be with the panel itself. GD has 800 panelists that vote on the list, which appears every second year. Shackelford says about half of them appear to be interested in golf architecture, take some time to consider their rankings and make a fair vote on what they’ve seen. He adds that the other half seem more impressed by glitz and conditioning and don’t really consider what makes a great golf course.
In an effort for full disclosure, I participate in the GD course ratings panel. That means I get access to some pretty outstanding golf courses and help rate the Best New in Canada course.
I like to think I’m part of the group Shackelford discusses in his story — I read about architecture, have made an attempt to search out great golf courses and read about their designers. I’m not that swayed by nice conditions, and would rather play the Old Course than Trump National, or Augusta National, for that matter.
That said, I’m confused by both the Top 100 and the Best New in Canada award.
Let’s start with the latter.
Best New Course last year was awarded to The Rock, a marginal Nick Faldo course in Muskoka, Ontario, that hardly anyone I know actually enjoyed. It is penal, and difficult, unfair in spots, but it is pretty. That is pretty much the factor that attracts raters, according to Shackelford, which can be the only thing that explains how The Rock could win such an award. The problem is that in awarding Best New to The Rock, GD’s credibility took a large hit.
If you read Shackelford’s comments on the Top 100, you’ll find he thinks most GD raters are wowed by brilliant conditions and exclusive private golf. They don’t care much about good golf, he argues, and certainly are not interested in the factors that make golf courses timeless.
With that in mind, GD’s Whitten has a stunning article that takes a full-on run at Tom Fazio and the multi-million dollar golf course. It is a damning criticism of the state of modern golf, and strangely, also appears to be offering an explanation for why 14 Fazio courses now appear on the list. Seems odd that Whitten would have to come up with excuses as to why Fazio courses are so common on the list and then write an accompanying story saying Fazio is bad for golf.
Is Tom Fazio bad for golf? Well, if you are in the camp that feels golf should be open to the masses and the exclusive and expensive nature of the current game is leading to diminishing participation numbers, then yes, Tom Fazio is bad for golf.
Of all the Fazio layouts I’ve played, only Pine Barrens at World Woods in Florida stood out as a great track. The rest are pretty, and pretty expensive. At one point, you could play the Barrens and its sister track, Rolling Oaks, for around US$100. That was affordable golf. That’s the type of golf that brings new people to the game.
But that’s not the type of golf course Tom Fazio builds anymore.
Is he bad for the game? In the same way that the conditions at Augusta have led to increased maintenance costs and raised green fees, I think the answer regarding Fazio is clear.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree that architecture should be the more important parameter. I play a small course at the Naval Air Station here which is not maintained at all. But, it is still an excellent course–unforgiving of errors and easy to play if you keep it in the fairway.

    Having said that, can you sponsor me to be part of that group that rates courses?

  • The first link in your article has a spelling error making it unreachable ,


    Might remove the ‘l’ at the end of the url so users can reach it a bit easier.

    Another excellent blog entry though, love reading your thoughts Robert.


  • Excellent coverage albeit sparce of one of the great constructive critics of golf architecture like Dr. Alistar Mackenzie.
    He counterpoints Dr. Alistar’s work with the the likes of the Brothers Fazio, two designers sharing an identical genotype. Unique individual as they are, the strong genetic linkage does not mean personality differences are identical. In dollar volume alone and the ability to attract enormous fees from that small but important body of decision makers who influence golf by the way they can throw tens of millions at a hole in the desert rather than contribute to the development of the game in some thoughtful fashion.The unique and independant way the likes their predecessors such as Dr. Mackenzie or contemporiaries like Ben Crenshaw or Tom Watson influence the game through skillfully considered architectural changes advanced the game more than the glitz and stunts of Hollywood, Los Vegas and Florida ever might.

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