TV's ratings debate continues

Funny, I think I’ve rarely had such debate on G4G as we’ve witnessed over Tom Vanderlip’s commentary on golf course ratings. I’ve had one reader email to tell me to grow up, another assuring me that Tom’s a fine guy (he is, that’s true) and others who think he is off his rocker on this one.

I called Tom on Friday to talk about this further and it is safe to say we agree on more than we disagree. Even if you feel Score’s ratings system, for example, comes out with the right order of courses, you probably have issues with the system. Tom is right when he says there are flaws with every system. I agree — and I participate in three of them. Oh, and to the reader who told me I need to get a grip — this isn’t personal. Tom Vanderlip is a stand up guy. He defends his position and his ideas. That’s good enough for me, even if I disagree. And yes, most of his columns are meant to be tongue planted firmly in cheek, this one didn’t come off that way.

However, there’s been a lot of thoughtful commentary on the subject, so I’m going to make a quick review. Let’s start with Tom’s reply:

Seems I hit a nerve with some people. Lets get one thing straight, this wasn’t to boost the ranking of Peninsula Lakes. The golf course stands on its own. It wasn’t aimed a one specific magazine, web site or newspaper. I just wondered if we could have a list that consisted of those things. Why is it that everything is so holy when it comes to course rankings? Sorry if I had an opinion on something.

Okay, I’m with you so far…

In addition to this I was offended that indicated I only wanted low handicap players. I just asked that you be honest about what you shot and go ahead and play whatever tee you want. I don’’t care! Just be honest. You are going to tell me that some courses aren’t extremely difficult and not suited from some players?

This is a key point, I think. Difficulty is a part of golf fashion. Some, especially golf pros, often place too much emphasis on difficulty. Reader and Hamilton Spectator golf writer Garry McKay, who felt that keeping score has little do to with evaluating a golf course. I agree with Garry’s take:

I have to say that the point that I really disagree with Tom on is that rankers should report what score they shot. When I’m playing a course for rankings purposes I virtually never keep score. I don’t want to spend all my efforts concentrating on my game. I want to concentrate on the course and I want to see all of it. I don’t want to keep out of every bunker on the course. I don’t need to hit out of every one of them but I sure want to hit out of a few. I want to see what the vistas are like (if there are any) so I wander around a bit.

Anyway, back to Tom:

It appears to me that we can all agree on one thing that the system isn’t perfect, but who or what is. i just gave my personal thoughts. As bad as you think they might be, I can assure that I have received a number of e-mails from “Every day Joe Golfer” agreeing with me. I had just finished reading an article on new courses and it came to me how unfair most ranking systems are and I thought why doesn’t someone do a list from the average guy. It could be a great promotion. Think of it? Pay for him or her to fly to Capilano or wherever. Have a contest. i am sure you would get a million people signed up for a chance to be a rater. I am asking these pubs to be creative and come up with something new that really allows the average golfer a chance to have a voice. Everyday I hear people coming through here telling me courses they enjoyed or disliked. A completely unbiased opinion! Interesting.

Longtime reader and regular commentator Kerry had lots in reply:

We disagree on the the public’s savy. I say they are less informed. Their is more than one Toronto area golf forum where the average joes post course reviews and they are pretty universal in their praise of “challenge” and “fairness”. What does that mean? What is a “nice” course?
Your point seems to demonstrate that value is a moving target. For each individual value is different. For those with higher disposible income they see Copper Creek as good value. For the average joe, it’s often overpriced. So “value” is often related to income of the individual. It moves. That is what I am talking about. I understand that golf industry survives on the average joe and they vote every day with their dollar, but it does not mean they understand what makes a golf course great.

Though Kerry might sound like a bit of a snob here, I generally agree with what he is saying. Kerry, in some ways, is your average golfer. He pays to play as a member or on public courses. He loves Osprey Valley, but hasn’t had the chance to tee it up on the best courses in the country. I’m sure in time he will. In the meantime he reads about CB Macdonald and Tom Doak and Pete Dye. He takes in what those great architects feel makes a great golf course. The average guy still doesn’t know who Tom Doak is and they surely haven’t read The Anatomy of a Golf Course. Tom probably gets lots of emails from “average Joes” saying, “Right on, Tom. We should be a part of the ratings too.” I think they are should be part of the lists, but only if they’ve seen courses from Highlands Links at the tip of Cape Breton to Capilano in Vancouver and all things in between. They’ve got to be able to explain why a course is great, not just express that it is. And yes, I know that a lot of guys on the lists by Golf Digest, Score and Ontario Golf can’t do that. But they should be able to.

Tom suggests in another exchange with Kerry that a lot of average players have played a lot of the great courses:

Trust me…if you think that there are people out there who haven’t have played a great number of these courses you are kidding yourself, because I hear everyday where people have played and what they say and believe me they know good or great or average golf. Even if a course does only 30,000 rounds a year I assure you not all of them are panelists. so somebody is playing all these great courses.

That might be true. And if they have played more than 60 of Score Golf’s list and are anxious to try and play more, then they should email the editor of the publication and ask to be included. The list can only be improved by such individuals. That said, it is tough to do. How many people outside of the golf business (or even within it for that matter), have actually played Twin Rivers, Mount Bruno, Glen Arbor, Toronto GC, Jasper and Shaughnessy. Not that many, I’d wager. It is tough for one to ever see all of what Canada has to offer. I’ve been trying for nearly seven years, during several of which I traveled with some regularity — and I still haven’t been to Victoria to see Royal Colwood.

Reader “B” suggests the average golfer can have his say on sites like, where readers can submit their remarks on courses. Interestingly, just as on, most are obsessed with conditioning. In most cases golfers would rather play an average design in great condition than a great design in average condition. That’s not my take, but it seems to be the concensus.

There are lots of websites where users can submit their reviews of golf courses, restaurants, movies, etc. Yet there are still movie reviewers, food critics who make a living writing on the subject. You could choose to go to a site where everyday people rank whatever and I can choose to read people who do it for a living.

Which is why I always have time for people like Ron Whitten.

“B” also comes on strong with this:

Lastly, as a CPGA member, I am sure you rarely pay full price for your golf. Do you find that not paying full price (or anything at all) clouds your opinion of the golf courses you play?

Interesting. Do people truly value golf courses if they don’t pay? I assume they can, just like someone can evaluate a great piece of art without owning it. One reader said that movie critics don’t pay for movies, but they have no problem establishing what is good and what falls short.

Oh, and Kris gets to finish off this issue with a remark that has nothing to do with rankings:

As a long time reader of your work, I can’t forget the articles you wrote for the NP where you would join a business exec on his home course and detail how handily you beat him. We readers were often given a hole by hole account of the day’s events along with the final tally. I’m disappointed you no longer feel it’s important to include such detail. It gave us guys that really know your game something to snicker about. (Did he really say he shot 70 something?). Keep up the good work.

You know, I used to be a strong golfer and it wasn’t much of a stretch to manhandle CEOs who only played 12 times a year. Then I had a baby and developed a hook. Maybe that’s why I don’t keep track of my score as often. For the record, I’ve broken par twice this year and played some pretty good golf recently, Mr. Finnegan. I even managed a 35 on the front nine of Copper Creek (we’re not discussing the back nine), and 75 at Western Gailes in Scotland. That said, like Kerry, I don’t think what I score really influences my take on a golf course, but I’ll tell ya, that Western Gailes is some sort of track….

Anyway, what do G4G readers want to see in the ratings game? What works and what falls short? Who has conflicts that are not discussed? I want to hear from you.

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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.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert
    I stop in often to read your thoughts, and have for the last year, and enjoy doing so – but I’d prefer to read YOUR thoughts and not someone else’s, i.e. not your thoughts on what Lorne Rubenstein had to say, or on what Score Golf had to say, or on what Tom Vanderlip had to say (or, worse, what readers had to say about what you had to say about what Vanderlip had to say). I know it’s a slow time in golf right now, and maybe that kind of writing is a big part of the blogging world, but I can read Lorne or the others all by myself; what I would prefer is YOUR thoughts on subjects (players, courses) that genuinely interest you, or that you think genuinely important.

  • robert
    I believe you and Tom do have valid points on both sides of the argument. For an average but very active player, my ratings on courses are HIGHLY conditional on many factors (weather, conditioning, pace of play, difficulty of the course, playing partners and how well I shoot). Is it a fair ranking? ONLY TO ME!

    At one time I placed a strong value on just playing everything as NEW/never played before. Then the more I played and as I improved, I started to focus on difficulty of the course and the conditioning. I know it’s hard to believe but a beautifully conditioned course for a weekend hack with friends is still more fun then an average conditioning course with a good routing. It’s a lot nicer to enjoy the moment with perfect conditioning. Now that that phase is over and as I steadily improve, I’ve gone to my current phase and that’s the actual course and REALLY seeing how it plays and was designed. I think being able to hit drives or shots where the designer places hazards meant to guard drives/approaches really is interesting. Reading Ian Andrews blog also adds to my appreciation of courses. Revisiting courses really drives home how you enjoy a place changes with time, your playing ability and conditions for the day. Also your preference in the types of courses you enjoy playing on (parkland, flat, links-type, wide open, traditional)

    one thing I RARELY take into account and can easily over look is BAD service. RARELY do I take that into consideration in an appreciation of a course. The food could suck, the staff could be rude…It won’t matter.

    As for my playing experience, I haven’t played that much variety or that many off the “score100” but I have been fortunate through travelling to play a few of the mentioned course above on the East and West coast.

    I’ve been reading your columns in NP, Torontogolfnuts and this blog for awhile now and have at times disagreed and been troubled by your comments BUT NEVER have I stopped reading.



  • It’s interesting that you chose to highlight ‘B’s’ quote,

    “There are lots of websites where users can submit their reviews of golf courses, restaurants, movies, etc. Yet there are still movie reviewers, food critics who make a living writing on the subject. You could choose to go to a site where everyday people rank whatever and I can choose to read people who do it for a living.”

    I don’t want to pick on poor old ‘B’ too much here, but I guess my question is: Are there really a lot of Golf raters who do it as a living? Would it be fair to categorize the individuals on the Canadian publications ratings panels as professional critics? How are these professionals chosen and what credentials do they have?

    Sorry guys. I wouldn’t have commented, but Bob decided to highlight the quote again.

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