The value of ranking golf courses

Ranking golf courses, in my mind, is the equivalent of placing rock albums in some sort of order. It is a fun pastime with little real value. I mean, everyone should know that The Beatles’ Revolver is the greatest album ever made, just like they should be aware that Royal Portrush is the best course ever created. It is just too bad then that there are some people who feel Sgt. Pepper’s is the best album ever made and Pine Valley is the the best 18-hole course ever to have a score card.
Anyway, with Golf Digest’s new ratings for Best New courses in the US and Canada supposedly out on Tuesday, but really already leaked out on Friday night, and given the fact that I’ve been digesting a lot of Chuck Klosterman’s stream of consciousness rants on records and women, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the ratings concept. That’s led to the record analogy. More specifically, the GD Best New awards are like any year-end ranking of music that comes out. Some records seemed destined to be the best in the specific year they hit the market, and rank highly on best of lists. But people appraise these albums without much perspective. What might seem like a great record in June, may not appear so terrific two or five years later. This year the critics are falling all over themselves to discuss why My Morning Jacket’s Z is the best of the year. I’m not as convinced. Similarly, The Lynx at Kingswood Park won the GD award a few years back and I don’t know anyone who thinks it is any good.
This year I’m having a hard time getting my head around the ratings of the Best New Canadian Courses. Now, it isn’t as big a deal as last year, when the Rock won Best New. That was just wrong. This year, Dakota Dunes has won. I suspect it is wrong again, but I have not seen the course.
The real issue is with Georgian Bay Club rating ahead of Eagles Nest. Now Georgian Bay Club’s designer, Jason Straka, is a regular G4G reader and an emerging talent. But his course doesn’t have the greatness that can be witnessed at Eagles Nest. There is no single hole at GB that rivals the third at Eagles Nest, or the 11th for that matter.
In my mind, much of the problem rests with GD’s system of ranking. Raters issue course points on a scale of 1.0-10 in several different categories. The problem is that if I think a really good course in Ontario is a 6.5 in several categories and another rater feels that his course in, say, Saskatoon, should have 8.5 in all categories. In other words, there is no real way of keeping consistency in the ratings.
I could go on and on about the nuances of this latest ranking, but to be honest, it is making me depressed. Like all artistic forms, golf courses are open to interpretation and some will find greatness where’s others see only adequacy. In my mind, there is no doubt Eagles Nest is a better golf experience, both aesthetically and functionally, than Georgian Bay. But does it really matter? Would winning this award have added more members to Georgian Bay, even if those same members have no idea how the award was determined?
If anything, maybe a few people will go to Saskatoon (god knows there’s no other reason) and seek out Cooke’s Dakota Dunes. Maybe some of those people will say it lives up to the hype, that it is Canada’s version of Sand Hills.
We can only hope.

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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.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Well said Rob. I have abandoned the idea of a numerical ranking of courses I’ve played. I now simply put them in certain catagories (Great, Excellent, Very Good, etc.)


  • At the Golf Digest site how you can view ‘Additonal photos’ as a web exclusive. What was interesting to me was the fact that out of 20 pics, 5 of them are for Eagles Nest, more than any other course. I guess they liked the ‘look’ of it. They have 2 pics of Dakota Dunes, but they are of the same hole – I gotta think there is more than that. I will hope to get out to Dakota Dunes at some point, though, as I am a Manitoba boy (now living in southern Ontario) and enjoy the prairie golf experience. Really hope to get down to North Dakota to do the 3 course trip with Bully Pulpit, Hawktree, and the Links of North Dakota – seems like some pretty good, and very affordable, golf out there.

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