Is Pine Valley or Pebble Beach No. 1? “ BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
by Dick Sayer

Since ‘Golf Digest’ first announced its latest course ratings, we’ve been inundated with commentary about whether Pebble Beach of Pine Valley is really the number one rated golf course in the country, if not the world. In the line up of the world’s problems, this probably ranks about 1.5 on a scale of 10, however, it makes good press, particularly when it’s our geographical area against the rest of the universe.
As I was reading the dozens of opinion pieces explaining why one should be No. 1 and the other should not be, I couldn’t help but think about the criteria that were not used as part of the evaluation process. Here are some factors that probably weren’t considered, and they might have tipped the scales in an entirely different direction:

Most Distracting Playing Conditions: The ground level fog at Pebble Beach and the North Sea winds at St. Andrews rank high in this category, but if you haven’t played Commonwealth National, which is next to the Willow Grove Naval Airbase, you don’t know the heights to which distraction can rise. The 1st, 2nd, and 18th holes parallel one of the main runways, and on most days you might think you’re in a combat zone. First there’s jet fighter practice, followed by transport plane practice, followed by helicopter practice, and all of this takes place a mere 50 yards from where you’re trying to play golf.

Greatest Single Hole Distraction: The 4th hole at Carnoustie in Scotland rates highest in this category. It parallels a Royal Marines firing range, and when it’s in full operation, which is most weekdays, it’s a little hard to concentrate on your second shot on this long par four. You keep hoping that a member of the Royal Marines doesn’t hate golfers and move his machine gun left 10 degrees, because that could take out the players on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th holes. This probably wasn’t part of the rating formula.

Greatest Single Hole Obstacle: When you stand on the 17th tee at the Old Course at St. Andrews and realize that the line for your tee shot is over the corner of the hotel, the phrase ‘tightening up’ takes on a whole new physiological meaning. Hit your ball too far right and you might kill a hotel guest, and too far left turns the hole into a par 8. The ‘tightening up’ factor has to be worth 20 points in the course rating system.

Most Constrained Playing Conditions: You might think the PGA Stadium Course at Sawgrass or Pine Valley would rank at the top in this regard, but no, there’s no competition in this category. Blue Bell Country Club takes this honor hands down, because they’re probably the only club that has a local course rule that addresses what you should do if your ball strikes a Weber grill on a neighbor’s deck. There are places on that golf course that rival the ‘Road Hole’ at St. Andrews.

Libation Point Closest to the First Tee: This one goes to Merion Golf Club’s East Course, hands down. The tables on the lawn are so close to the first tee that you can read the label on each player’s golf ball before he or she hits their tee shot. When a lefty steps onto the tee, everyone at the nearby tables quietly takes shelter behind the low stone wall near the bar. I’ll bet this wasn’t part of the evaluation.

Best Logo Golf Ball Collection: There’s no doubt that the logo golf ball collection in the halfway house at Pine Valley is one of the most extensive in the world, and I would guess that everyone who’s played there has put at least one ball in the display cases across from the drink counter. This might have pushed Pine Valley over the top.

Best Tournament Concession Stands: Without a doubt, Augusta National Golf Club has the best concession stands during the Masters Golf Tournament. First, they’re green so they blend in with the pine trees, and second, you can get a good ham and cheese sandwich and a beer for $2.25, unlike Veteran’s Stadium where the prices rival Le Bec Fin for something less than gourmet food. Was this part of the evaluation criteria ?

Best Vistas on a Golf Course: You might think that Pebble Beach or Shinnecock Hills would rate highest in this category, but no. My vote goes to the Sedona Golf Course in Arizona. This is a photographer’s paradise, because on every hole there’s a different view of the towering red rock buttes that frame Oak Creek Canyon, and when I last played there, the green fee is $35 per round, including your cart. Spectacular vistas probably weren’t considered as part of the rating process.

Best Mosquitoes on the Golf Course: Pinehurst (No. 2) was certainly in the running for this distinction, but the award goes to Galloway National in Absecon New Jersey for its 17th and 18th holes, although the back nine at Atlantic City Country Club ranked a close second. On a windless day, two or three of these blood sucking critters can carry you into the adjacent marsh and eat you at their leisure. This factor probably wasn’t used in the ‘Top 100’ courses evaluation.

Least Known ‘Top 100’ Golf Course: Even though the 2002 U.S. Open will be played there, few people are familiar with A.W. Tillinghast’s Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island. Remodeled in 1998 by Rees Jones, in preparation for next year’s U.S. Open, the green fee for this course is $39 for outsiders and significantly less for in-state residents. I suggest that you try to play Bethpage Black this coming summer, because after the national exposure it will be afforded during the 2002 U.S. Open, you won’t be able to get close to it after that.

Having done some course rating myself, it seems somehow ludicrous to try to place so many wonderfully diverse and challenging golf courses into specific numerical slots from 1 to 100. So to the powers that be at ‘Golf Digest,’ maybe an alphabetical listing of the top 100 courses might be more appropriate, however, that would eliminate all the subjective and slightly prejudiced articles that have been written since the most recent course rankings were announced.

The End