Paul Rudovsky, 71, has been playing golf since he was 10. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, NY he played primarily at munis through the 1960’s. A self-described “Type A”, Paul graduated from MIT and then business school at Carnegie-Mellon University (explaining his clear mathematical bent) and worked in the business world until he retired in 2008. His interest in golf architecture started around 1970 and his preferences in courses evolved from loving the great championship tests to the more “fun” classical tests, or as he puts it, “courses you could play every day without ever getting bored.” He has been a member of Quaker Ridge GC (1975-2000), Atlanta CC (1997-2000), Country Club of North Carolina (since 1998), The Country Club (since 2008), and is an Honorary Member of The European Club (since 2014). He completed the 2013 Golf Magazine World Top 100 two years ago and all of the Golf Magazine World Top 100 lists in April 2016. Paul and his wife Pat live in Pinehurst, NC and Milton, MA.
When and why did you start rudogolf.blogspot.com?
It was really to make it easier to communicate with friends about my trips. Prior to setting up the blog, I would send an email to friends reporting on what I had played and funny, interesting experiences. As the list of folks who said they wanted to be included expanded, I realized that I needed to start a blog. That ended up making my comments more public, but I figured eventually that would happen in any case.
What are your personal biases? For instance, some people automatically dismiss any course where a cart is essential.
Regarding carts, I used to avoid them like the plague. However, in more recent years I have found that they can be very helpful when rating a course as carts make it easier to view holes from different angles and architecture is all about angles. Also, my schedules tend to get very crammed as I try to complete my personal bucket lists … and at my age, walking 36 tends to not happen. Plus, some of today’s new courses are simply impossible to walk. I just played Quivira in Cabo and I defy just about anyone to walk it. If I have a bias today about carts, it is the courses that are so difficult to walk that people must take a cart.
Other major personal bias is that I generally do not like courses that are “over-the-top” trying to climb the top 100 lists by throwing services at their members and visitors. Great golf courses should be about great golf courses, not the quality of the sushi at the food stops, the variety of martinis, the massages in the clubhouse, etc etc, or washing your car when you play. Of course, there are exceptions to this bias of mine, such as the lunch at NGLA, the locker room at Seminole, and the showers at places like Merion, PVGC, etc etc.
Seriously, picking great courses always is impacted by personal biases … that is unavoidable (although it can be minimized by have a large panel through the “law of large numbers”… but large panels tend to dilute the quality of the panelists).
You are on a quest to play every course that has ever been ranked. Please tell us the lists you include.
My quest (current bucket list) deals with World 100 rankings (as opposed to Top 100 in USA, GB&I, Australia, etc etc). I built an Excel spreadsheet over the past 5-7 years which for the World Top 100’s includes the following eight sources (totaling 37 different lists…and 286 courses have appeared on one or more of these 37 lists…as of right now, I have played 281 of these 286 and am hoping to complete the remaining five by the end of July 2016). Here they are in no particular order:
–Golf Magazine biannual 1979-2015 (was a Top 50 in 1979-83 and Top 100 thereafter…total of 19 lists and there have been 194 different courses that have appeared on one or more of these 19…as of April 26, 2016 with my playing Ellerston in Australia, I have played all 194 and have completed all 19 of the Golf Magazine World Top 50/World Top100
–www.top100golfcourses.co.uk—to date has published 7 lists starting in 2006 through its latest in 2016;
–Planet Golf, published by Darius Oliver. I have only been able to get his lists published in 2009, 2014 and 2015. I have asked Darius for other editions of his World 100 but he has very politely declined to provide them (I think worrying about my travel calendar, or perhaps he spoke to my wife, Pat!). At this stage, my email account is programmed to throw into my spam folder any more historical Planet Golf lists (!);
–Golf Digest—used to publish a list of the 100 Greatest overseas (non-USA), but I only include the two World 100 Greatest lists published in 2014 and 2016;
–Golf Architects Survey published in 2013 in Golf Course Architecture magazine;
–Golf World UK published lists in 2010 and 2011 (I have chose to ignore their 2005 list which was a humorous “spoof” including gems such as Kabul Golf Club, Prison View, Moscow CC, and Uummanaq in Greenland);
–Links Magazine, which was compiled from reader input and stopped being published as of 12/31/14…in this case I only included their final list as of that date. I called the magazine and they claimed to not have any record of all the courses that had ever been on their World 100;
–Rolex 1000…to date has published two editions of its Top 1000; they give each course a score of 100/95/90/85/… so as a proxy for a World 100, I chose to use their courses rated 100 or 95, which totaled 88 courses in their first edition, and 87 in their second.
By the way…of the 286 courses, 18 have been on all 37 lists (obviously some of the great new course like Sand Hills were not around for many of the earlier lists … remember the first one was published in 1979).
Aside from these eight sources there is one other which www.golfclubatlas.com originally published and that was Tom MacWood’s “spoof” list which “claimed’ to have found the “first ever” World 100 (alleged to be published in 1939). This list included 101 courses (#100 has two nine holers … Royal Worlington in England and Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kansas … then a nine holer), of which 5 no longer exist (in one case…Foulpointe, Madagascar, never existed). At this point I have played 89 of the 96 still existing courses and hope to finish the last seven by mid July 2016.
Which list is most in line with your personal tastes? What are some examples?
My sense at this point is Golf Magazine … although in many ways MacWood’s list absolutely is the best list ever for “fun” courses. Let me try to explain.
One reason I believe GM’s list is the best (and in terms of full disclosure I have been a GM panelist since early 2015) is that they have been at it longer than anyone else by decades (note that GM has published 19 of the total of 37 World lists I have on my spreadsheet … over 50%). Any organization that stays good at what it does gets better at it the longer they do it (so long as they don’t get stale). It is called a “learning curve” in business schools. First efforts almost always need more iterations to improve. As they say, “practice makes perfect” and pioneering tends to be risky. That being said, there is no list anywhere which doesn’t have some highly questionable selections (of course … sometimes “questionable selections” are a function of the critics’s biases!!). Net net, no list is perfect but I do think GM is still the best.
With regard to MacWood’s list…the focus on “fun” produced a very consistent list … courses that are merely “toughest” are not included. And the list included some real “hidden gems” including Humewood (S Africa), Le Touquet/Chiberta (France), St. George’s Hill/Saunton-East/West Sussex/(England), Royal Hague (Netherlands), Hollywood (NJ), Lawsonia (WI), and Eastward Ho! (MA) … and remember, I still have 7 to play (6 in England and 1 in Quebec). Of course there are ones that I can criticize on MacWood’s list as well … but generally these are because of changes made to the course since 1939 (e.g. Timber Point on LI was chopped up to create 27 holes from its original 18).
Which ranking is most out of synch line with your personal tastes? Why?
Like most mothers, my mother always said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” I often did not listen to her, but this time I will heed her advice to some degree. Frankly some of Rolex’s choices raise real questions in my mind (Torrey Pines one of 15 to score 100????, Cog Hill #4 ??). Rolex has awarded a score of 100 or 95 to ninety different courses in its two editions, and of those ninety, seven courses have never been included on any of the other 35 World Top 100 lists. That is a very large number of “unusual” selections. The seven are: Cog Hill #4 (IL), Devil’s Paintbrush (Canada), Harding Park (CA), Princeville-Prince (HI), Puerto de Hierro (Spain), Sandy Lane-Green Monkey (Barbados), Sea Island-Seaside (GA).
Additionally, Golf Digest’s World Top 100 list was published in early 2016 that included a lot of new entries … many of which in my opinion are highly questionable, such as the Alotian (AR), Punta Espada (Dom Rep), Els Club Teluk Datai (Malaysia), Emirates-Majlis (UAE), National-Old (AUS), Querencia (Mexico), Olgiata (Italy), and Sheshan International (China).
Which course have you gone the most out of your way to see? Was it worth it?
MacWood did it to me here. Stopped in Sri Lanka this year to play Nuwara Eliya. The “regular” lists have caused me to fly from Hong Kong back to Dubai and then back to Hong Kong (staying in Dubai for all of 12 hours) to play Emirates. And I am currently on a 10 day round the world trip to play Ellerston and a few others to get me closer to completing my “bucket lists”. Were these worth it? To complete a “bucket list”, absolutely worth it (at least for me), but worth it in regard to playing “great” golf courses, certainly not always.
But, even on courses I did not like (no names mentioned here) I find it intellectually interesting to try to figure out how it got on the list … I enjoy that thought process. Also, playing some not so great courses helps train the mind to appreciate the really great ones, so it is all part of the learning process.
We all understand the challenge and satisfaction with completing lists. Nonetheless, has your regimented approach allowed room for you to “stumble” upon a non-ranked course that created a memorable experience?
Absolutely … and that is the most fun … I call it the search for “hidden gems.” Few things are more satisfying. I mentioned some from the MacWood list and would add St. Enodoc, Siloth on Solway, and Woking (England), Island (Ireland), Minneapolis GC (MN), Anyang (S Korea), and the most hidden gem … Palmetto in Aiken, SC. I even think some of the well recognized Top 100’s are underrated … for example, Lahinch.
From what you have seen, what factor most determines ‘greatness’?
Track the availability of land well suited for golf and man’s ability to get to it and you have your answer … site location. In the Golden Age of golf architecture (approximately 1900-1935), there was a confluence of brilliant architects generally “finding” (given the lack of big earth moving devices) fabulous courses around the world. Back then, land well suited for golf course development (in terms of contours, topography, views, soil, etc.) was generally available within reasonable reach of city centers by train and increasingly, by automobile.
Golf course development restarted after WW II, but housing development beat it to the punch, and land values (and real estate tax increases) were forcing golf course development to less desirable locations in terms of both location and land “quality”. While I do not believe the top architects of the 1950-1985 period (Dye, Jones, Wilson, etc.) were comparable to those of the Golden Age, they labored under a major handicap…the lack of availability of affordable sites with quality land features. How do you create a NGLA, Oakmont, or Cypress Point when your site is where TPC Sawgrass was built? By the way, this was not my thought originally, it was told to me about 30-35 years ago by Herbert Warren Wind. As a side note, I think Pete Dye proved to be a genius at building great courses from seemingly worthless raw land.
Then along comes Sand Hills in Nebraska, and all previous assumptions about location are thrown out the window. The great architects of 1990-2016 all have benefitted from the ability and willingness of golfers to travel to previously inaccessible, but fabulous sites from a “land/site quality” standpoint. Think Ballyneal, Bandon, Barnbougle, Cabot, Cape KIdnappers, Cape Wickham, Shanqin Bay, Streamsong, Tara Iti, etc.
How have golfers’ tastes changed? What did define greatness and what does so currently?
During these three periods, golfers’ tastes evolved as well. From “Strategic” design (wider fairways with more options) and “unfinished look” in the Golden Age to “Penal” design (generally tougher courses with narrower fairways and fewer playing options) and “manicured look” in the 1950-85 period (with the look heavily influenced by ANGC and the televising of the Masters every April), and back to Strategic design and “unfinished look” over the past 20 years.
To be honest, I am not sure whether golfers’ tastes drove architectural design, or vice versa, but my guess is that architectural design drove golfers’ tastes.
How would you characterize the initial magazine ranking efforts?
When the folks at Golf Digest started their USA listings in 1966 and Golf Magazine their World listings in 1979, they both were pioneers/entrepreneurs having to walk thru fresh snow without the benefit of footsteps before them. People didn’t travel like they do now (certainly not like I do now … they were smarter than that) and there was far less publicity and media surrounding golf course design. Frankly, my sense is that the folks at both magazines were, in part, guessing with their initial lists. Want some proof? Here are two pieces:
1. In 1966 and 1967 Golf Digest published lists of their 200 Toughest courses in the USA. Between these two lists, there were 248 different golf courses. In the 42 Top 100 lists published since by GD, GM, top100golfcourses.co.uk , and Links Magazine’s final list, as well as the 20 annual Golf Week listings (100 Classic and 100 Modern), fully 134 (or 54%) of these 248 have never appeared on another list since then.
2. In 1979 and 1981, Golf Magazine published Worldwide Top 50 lists. There were a total of 53 different courses on these two lists, and since then, seven (Royal Hong Kong GC-Composite (now Hong Kong GC-Composite), Royal Selangor GC (Malaysia), Wack Wack, Philippines, Singapore Island-Bukit, Taiwan GC, Real Club de Campo, Spain and Champions-Cypress Creek, Texas) have never appeared on any other list published by Golf Magazine or any of my 7 other sources … a total of 35 lists since 1981.
This is not meant to be critical…it is what entrepreneurs and inventors do with their first efforts. Get a first effort out there and refine the process in the following editions.
By the way, anyone who thinks it is easy to pull together a personal Top 100 list needs to try it some time. My experience is you work till 1am and go to bed thinking you have the perfect list … till you wake up the next morning and take another look!
Is there any discernible rhyme or reason as to which courses have “aged” the best, worst?
TLC is the most important. As the game of golf evolves, courses must stay reasonably up to date without destroying their greatness. We belong to The Country Club (“Brookline”), which I think has done that superbly (there may of course be some “bias” in that opinion). The Old Course may be the best example of this worldwide. I should also note that some courses should remain as they always were … in effect as “museum pieces”. I played Machrie off Scotland’s west coast last year for the first time. It was pretty much as it had always been (e.g. seemingly far more blind shots than visible fairways and greens) but the bulldozers and other heavy equipment were there waiting to implement changes. That was sad to see.
I also think it is critical that clubs keep a focus on what their “reason d’etre”, and this can cause real trade offs to come into play. No club can be all things to all people. It is almost impossible to have a great championship course that is “fun” to play. For example, I believe ANGC had to implement the changes it went through about 8-12 years ago or The Masters would have become much less relevant. However, in making these changes, they have lost some of the “strategic design elements” of the original design, and the course as it existed in the late 1990’s was a better and more fun course for the members and their guests. I think they made the right decision, but there have been some real “costs.”
You are a GOLF Magazine world top 100 panelist. It has been opined that continental Europe is under-represented with only four (Morfontaine, Royal Hague, Valderamma, and Oitavos Dunes). Do you agree? If so, which courses do you think deserve in and/or you would remove?
There are historical reasons for this. First, continental Europe is densely populated and golf courses use a lot of space. Secondly, wars are generally not great for many things, including golf course maintenance. Over the last 120 years, continental Europe has been a major theater for two world wars (the British Isles were bombed but not invaded). Thirdly, golf has rarely (if ever) been described as an egalitarian sport … and for sure continental Europe has moved to the left politically over the past 70 years since WW II concluded.
Of the 286 on my “Ever” list, only 23 are in continental Europe (I have played all but one). As I look at the 22 I have played, only El Saler (Spain) and the original 18 at Chantilly (France) jump out as possible Top 100’s today. So statistically 4 seems small, but not necessarily wrong.
Do you mind sharing with us your ballot for GOLF and its geographic breakdown by region? How many in the United Kingdom? How many in North America? Asia? Australia/NZ? Etc.
The geographic mix of my ballot for 2015 was 50% USA, 33% GB&I, 7% Aus/NZ, 4% Asia, 3% continental Europe, and 3% Canada/Mexico. If memory serves me right, the ballot was due June 30, 2015. As of that date, I had played 327 (66%) of the 493 courses on the ballot. By region, at that point in time I had played 82% of the US candidates, 81% of the GB&I candidates, 68% of the Aus/NZ candidates, and only 32% of the other candidates (Other North America, South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and continental Europe). While I have not completed an updated ballot, I am sure that if my travel plans happened as scheduled through June 2016, by that time I will have played 368 of the 493 (75%), including 86% of USA candidates, 89% for GB&I, 89% for Aus/NZ, and 46% for other, so I would expect the mix of non US regions will grow. No question that in terms of great new courses in recent years the growth in Asia and Austalia/NZ has far outstripped that of the US and GB&I.
How often do you go back to a course and play it a second or third time? Any such occasions where your opinion has markedly changed?
Not nearly as much as I would like. Chasing my buckets lists hasn’t left time to do this, and I am hoping to correct this situation in the coming years assuming my legs keep going. But off the top of my head, some examples for me would include:
–Wild Dunes (SC) was brilliant when it opened in the early 1980’s but got encroached by housing and severely impacted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989;
–Old Town Club (NC) as the result of a brilliant restoration by Coore – Crenshaw; same for LACC North (CA), Quaker Ridge (NY), The Country Club (MA) and Sleepy Hollow (NY) thanks to Gil Hanse; in reality, I could go on quite a while citing major improvements due to renovations and restorations … and that list would exclude instances where I had not played “the before” and the best example I can think of would be the Cal Club.
No question that opinion changes are caused by a number of factors, some course related (e.g. renovations and neglect) and some “rater” or “evaluator” related (e.g. changes in “style” and education/growth in knowledge)
Which course do you most wish you had seen its prime (i.e. a once noble course that today is a shell of its former self)?
That is an easy one … both on Long Island … Lido and the original Fresh Meadow, but they are now both housing developments so I am not sure if they answer the question. The MacWood list provides some guidence here, for example Timber Point also on LI. BTW, that brings up one question of mine regarding the MacWood article … why was the original Fresh Meadow not included? Many have said it was Tillie’s finest work.
You raved to me at lunch about the 4th hole at Shelter Harbour in Rhode Island. Tell us about it.
The 4th at Shelter Harbor is a Biarritz, and a fairly wild one with a bunker front right, rough on both sides of the green (instead of the usual Biarritz side bunkers) and OB to the right of the right rough. The green has very severe slopes even for a Biarritz. I liked it a lot but thought the best hole there is #7, a short drivable (not by me) par 4 with a wide fairway that has a bunker dead center. You have to decide whether to play short, long, left or right of the bunker. The green has some severe breaks and is relatively small.
I really liked what Fry and Hurdzan did here. Very wide fairways with excellent usage of fairway bunkers to bisect them. Excellent shaping work and a challenging but fun course.
Tell us why Gozzer Ranch greatly impressed. Do you consider it Fazio’s best?
I played Gozzer in July 2014 with Fergal O’Leary, who I had been introduced to about a month earlier (and who is also now a GM panelist). We were playing about the 3rd or 4th hole and I said to him, “… isn’t this supposed to be a Fazio? … it feels like a Coore Crenshaw.” He firmly agreed. We were both astounded at how different it felt than most Fazio’s … wider, more options, more “rustic” aesthetically. I still think it is the best of Tom Fazio’s work that I have seen. Another GM panelist, John Dempsey, had told me that the 15th at Gozzer is the best par 4 he had ever played … I am not sure it is the best ever par 4 for me but it would be right up there. So, so many brilliant holes there.
You wrote in your blog, ‘ I felt the course was a poster child for everything that is wrong with golf today.’ Tell us the course and the circumstances.
Remember that well … Leader’s Peak “C” course at Stone Forest near Kunming, China. I was there in November 2015. The statement you quote was my reaction to several holes on the back nine that wind through beautiful natural stone formations. On two holes, you literally climb through these stone formations through very tight passageways. I felt like we were almost trespassing through sacred grounds. While few who know me would expect such an answer, I definitely thought that we should not be there.
The course itself is part of a complex that I would characterize as “over the top” although it would be far more accurate to refer to it as failed attempt to be an “over the top” resort/club. Frankly, the condition of the course was horrendous. It looked like the maintenance budget had been drastically cut. I heard rumors regarding the club’s financial condition but have no idea if these rumors were true.
What are your five favorite courses in Asia?
To date I have played 38 courses in 13 Asian countries. I probably should beg off answering this but here goes:
- Shanqin Bay, China
- Kawana Resort-Fuji, Japan
- Hirono, Japan
- Bluffs at Ho Tram, Vietnam
- Spring City-Lake, China
What about The Bluffs at Ho Tram in Vietnam caught your fancy?
The setting here is magnificent. All 18 holes run parallel to the beach and all are within 400’ or so of the beach. The setting and course are very dramatic. It played like a true links course, was firm and fast, and the greens were in perfect condition. It is built on a couple of large sand dunes. The fairways are very wide and are very well contoured. As I wrote in my blog, “the course offers both “eye candy” and architectural substance.” I think it is Greg Norman’s 2nd best, second only to Ellerston.
Wack Wack pleasantly surprised you. Tell us about it (including the origin of its wonderful name).
I first was at Wack Wack in 1974 or 1975. I was in Manila on business including a weekend there. I had brought my clubs with me in the hope of being able to play Wack Wack, which was reputed to be the best course in the Philippines. However, a little event called the Philippine Open precluded my play, but I did go by and spectate for a few hours.
Fast forward to about two years ago. I had started my Top 100 Ever quest and Wack Wack had been on GM’s World Top 50 list in 1979 and 1981 so now I needed to play it. Then in November 2015 my trip plans changed literally half way on a flight from Seoul to Bali due to a volcanic eruption forcing the closure of the Bali airport…my flight returned to Seoul. This created a couple of day “hole” in my schedule and a call to the Wack Wack club secretary was ably handled by his executive assistant who booked me for the next morning. I found the course to be much hillier than I remembered with several superb holes. It was fun returning to a course with “elephant grass “ (a very thick strand of Bermuda) which is really a very good playing surface that has been replaced by newer forms of Bermuda over the past few decades.
After the round, I had lunch with the Secretary (“Bones”) who related how the club came to be and the reason for its name.
In the 1930’s, an American named William Shaw was working in Manila and was a member of Manila Golf Club. He was a very good player and came in 2nd in a decent sized event at Manila GC (something like the Philippine Amateur) to a local, who obviously had dark colored skin. At the awards ceremony, the local was not allowed to enter the clubhouse to be presented his trophy. Shaw went nuts and railed against his club, saying his opponent was a perfect gentleman, a superb player, and won fair and square … and that those should be the only criteria. So he pulled together some wealthy friends, purchased land and starting a new club, which became Wack Wack and was (and still is) open to all. Oh … the name thing. Seems the land they bought and used to build the club was and still is inhabited by numerous crows. Shaw and his buddies heard them screaming one day, and the decided to name the club Wack Wack, after the sounds crows make. That makes it the #1 candidate for “best golf club name.”
Overall, your blog indicates that green keeping practices in Asia still lean toward being soft and overwatered. Is that accurate? What region presents the most consistently fast and firm conditions?
Yes, I think it is. No question in my mind that the courses in GB&I present the firmest and fastest conditions, with Australia/New Zealand next in line. Asia lags way behind in this regard (with some exceptions of course) but the USA ain’t exactly at the head of the class either. In this regard, I believe Augusta National, as great a club and course that it is, has provided a terrible example for the entire world. Yes, it is possible to be perfectly green and firm and fast … it just takes ANGC’s essentially unlimited budget (not to mention the flexibility provided by closing for 5 months of each year). I am not saying this in order to save water and/or the planet … but because firm/fast courses are so much more fun to play and generally make the game easier for players with higher handicaps, and harder for better players.
You are flying home now having just played Ellerston. How does this Bob Harrison design stack up with the best in Australia? Do you like it more than his Moonah course at National Golf Club?
I believe it acquits itself superbly … and certainly better than the Moonah course at National (which I also liked). It is big, bold and visually stunning….feels so “big” that it reminded me of Bethpage Black in that regard. And the surrounding countryside is something to behold (especially given it doesn’t have the visual benefit of an ocean next door). Course has 18 superb to magnificent holes. Only “flaw” in my opinion is the quality of the “flow”; large spacing between greens and tees make it almost impossible to walk and interrupt the “flow” of the entire course from hole to hole. Even with that, I currently would make it 5th in Australia behind (in order): Royal Melbourne-W, Kingston Heath, Barnbougle Dunes, and Cape Wickham.
I certainly have no inside knowledge regarding what will happen with Ellerston with the pending reported sale to Crown Casinos, but if it is to become more available to the outsiders, I think certain changes will be necessary, but they are not major. The biggest would be installing some forward tees. The current set of most forward tees totals 6550 yards (7310 from the tips), a bit long for many players. My untrained eye saw only a couple of situations where placing a forward tee would present any sort of challenge.
Off topic, given all your travels, what are some of the more singular non-golf sights that you have seen?
The clubhouses in Korea are something else, both in terms of their enormity and design level of sophistication.
For those who like their golf intertwined with history, I will never forget seeing Al Capone’s locker at Atlantic City G & CC.
You think NGLA’s entrance drive is special? What until you see Bali Handara’s! How can an entrance gate this fabulous lead to such a disappointment?!
I know this isn’t what you meant but for ‘sites’, if you are researching flight schedules, Kayak has the best “filters” to help you narrow the field.
What about favorite accommodations and most unusual meals?
Accommodations … best is Greywalls, love the place. Unusual meals, you are asking the wrong guy. I travel the world carrying my favorite breakfast cereal “Fiber One,” so don’t look to me for exotic ideas!