Feature Interview with Norman & Samm


November, 2011

If not the first, you were one of the first people in the world to play GOLF Magazine’s World Top 100 list. When did you go from just liking to play great courses to setting that as a goal?

During the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, Samm and I decided to leave the LA area and travel to Ireland, Scotland and England since we had not traveled to these countries before. After playing the Turnberry course in Scotland, I noticed a plaque at the hotel that displayed GOLF Magazine’s 1983 list of the top 50 golf courses in the world. If I counted the courses I’d played to date and added the ones I’d play on the trip, I already had played 28 of those top 50. Why not play the rest??!!! At that time, there was no record of who had accomplished this noble task. I believe I am one of five.

How did you become a panelist for GOLF Magazine?

That’s a great story. I believe it was sometime in early 1986. I was on my way to play Oakland Hills in Michigan. A friend of mine mentioned that there was a great McKenzie golf course in Northern Michigan called Crystal Downs (a hidden gem). I called Crystal Downs and said I was a member of Riviera Country Club and wanted to play their course. “Come right over,” I was told. When I arrived, Fred Muller, the pro said, “What the hell are you doing here. We are just opening up for the season. No one knows we are even here. Go get a cart, tee it up and I’ll join you on the back nine.” Following the round, Fred said he wanted to introduce me to Tom Doak, the then head of GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 panel. I received a call from Tom about a month later. Tom was coming to LA and wanted to play Riviera with me. He invited me to be a panelist after the round.

Norman Klaparda escapes from the greenside bunker at the third at Riviera.

There is the The Confidential Guide that was sold in book stores. Prior to that, there was the maroon leather-bound limited edition. However, your first copy of The Confidential Guide dates to 1989! Tell us about it.

That was the 1989 Limited Edition #7 of 20 which Tom Doak sent to me. Tom inscribed it:
“To Norman Klaparda, a gracious host and an extraordinary traveler, Tom Doak, Christmas, 1989.”

In 1994, Tom Doak sent me the second edition of The Confidential Guide, Limited Edition #28 of 1000, and inscribed it:
“To Norman, The original edition can now be retired to preserve its value as a collector’s item. Tom Doak”

In June 1996, Tom Doak sent me the third edition of The Confidential Guide and inscribed it:
“For Norman Klaparda, Who can now put his two early editions of this book under lock and key. Signed Best Wishes, Tom Doak, 1996”

You have an extensive golf course architecture library. What are a few favorites?

Two of my very favorite books are Golf Architecture in America by George Thomas and Golf Architecture by Alister MacKenzie.

Please discuss your adventurous trip to Japan with Tom Doak and Bob McCoy in 1993. What are the similarities as well as differences between how Tom, Bob and you look at courses?

Tom Doak, Bob McCoy and I traveled to Japan in July, 1993. If I remember correctly, Tom was making a CD of the best 18 golf holes in the world and was planning to film #15 at Hirono. Tom asked Bob and me if we would like to join him. Tom, Bob and I did not analyze the courses we played after each round. Instead, we discussed our ratings of the courses as to whether or not a course was worth being a candidate for the Top 100. Interesting, we were remarkably in sync! As you would expect, Tom paid more attention to the architecture of the course. Bob and I looked at the course as being fun, interesting and a great variety of holes and shots. On this trip, I met the famous Masa Nishijima for the first time. Masa was a tremendous help in navigating us around Japan. We played approximately 20 different courses and there is was no way to do so without Masa’s help. I’ve remained close friends with Masa through the years.

Another long haul trip was to South Africa when you completed the World Top 100 at Durban Country Club in 1991. Did Durban live up to its reputation as being the best golf course on the African continent? Gary Player’s Sun City was also ranked in the world top 100 at the time. What did you think of it? Did you discover any hidden gems while in South Africa?

Durban Country Club met my high expectations! The course began with undulating fairways running through huge sand dunes and great green complexes. The visuals were spectacular and continue from hole to hole right through to #18. Samm and I will never forget this trip. It was a real high to complete the play of The Top 100 at Durban Country Club. But the entire trip was gratifying. Besides playing great golf courses, the members of each of the clubs were gracious and extended their hospitality. They hosted us at receptions in their homes and at their country clubs. The friendships we made are invaluable.

Durban Country Club’s random fairway contours help make it a standout course in the southern hemisphere.

As far as Gary Player’s Sun City goes, Samm and I really enjoyed the course. There is such competition to be in the Top 100 and because of this my ranking of Sun City might not be as high as other panelists. As far as South Africa’s “hidden gems” yes, I find Humewood GC in Port Elizabeth, Glendower GC in Johannesburg, Wild Coast CC in Port Edward and Royal Cape GC in Cape Town are “hidden gems.”

When filling out your ballot, how important is it to each of you that countries like South Africa, Korea, Mexico, etc. be represented?

Golf Digest and Golf Weekly rank the Top 100 Golf Courses in the United States. Golf Magazine prides itself on ranking the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World. As panelists, we are diligent in our efforts to play and to evaluate courses throughout the world so that the final list is credible. There are parts of the world where we plan to do more playing and evaluating in order to have the best representation possible. The golf courses in countries like China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and in the European continent are garnering more attention today.


Cabo del Sol has represented Mexico on GOLF’s world top 100 ranking since opening in 1994.


Samm, you are the first – and, perhaps, only woman to play Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World. How did you happen to play some of the courses that have so many restrictions for when and who can play?

As far as we know, I am the only woman to have played GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World. When the 1993 list was published, Norman and I counted the number of courses I still needed to play to have played them all. We agreed—why not!!! I reached my goal on my birthday in 1998—finishing all 100 by playing Augusta National. I’ll never forget that birthday present I gave myself. It wasn’t always easy to make arrangements to play a golf course. As you know, there are restrictions on tee times for persons who are not members and some courses are for men only. Further, I traveled by myself at times. But, I don’t give up easily. And, I had a very supportive, empowered husband and we have friends throughout the world who were willing to extend themselves for me. I also will share that there are professionals at clubs who have restrictions that very much value the opinion of a woman like myself who made the commitment to play the Top 100 Courses in the World.

Samm plays a recovery shot from the infamous bunker found in the middle of the sixth green at Riviera.

Samm, how does your perspective differ from Norman’s, if at all?

I played the same set of tees as Norman before I became a panelist. By doing so, the two of us could discuss our views having the same perspective. As a panelist, I play each golf course from the forward tees and many times a combination of tees to make up each course somewhere around 5600-5800 yards. During my round, I visualize what the architect had in mind when the position for the forward tee was selected and how the hazards come into play. Norman and I both consider the following in our assessment: course balance, routing, green complexes and bunkering. We also consider aesthetics. We agree on many assessments of golf courses, but also have differing views. For example, with regard to aesthetics, Shinnecock and Maidstone are both considered links courses. Norman prefers Shinnecock and I prefer Maidstone. It is difficult to pinpoint, it is what is better to your eye and more comfortable and playable to our individual games. I think Joe Passov says it best “FUN and VARIETY”.

After all, one’s individual game and visual preferences will differ.

Samm, which courses (either to the plus or to the minus) on your personal ballot differ the most from GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World—2011?

Prairie Dunes and Maidstone are two of my favorite golf courses and ranked 25 and 72 respectively. Both of these courses are suited perfectly for my game and I can play them over and over again with the same enthusiasm. I feel the same way about the European Club which is ranked 95. Quaker Ridge is ranked 70 and I feel it deserves to be in the top 50 at least. For me, this course is visually appealing and has a good variety of holes. Augusta National is ranked #3. I believe it garners much publicity from hosting the Masters which familiarizes golfers with the different holes. There are a few other courses that I believe are as good or better. I do feel that Pine Valley is deserving of its #1 ranking. The course is so different from any of the other courses that it always has my attention.

Perry Maxwell built a number of world class green sites at Prairie Dunes, including this one at the par three second hole.

Norman, which courses (either to the plus or to the minus) on your personal ballot differ the most from GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World—2011?

Galloway National in New Jersey is one of Tom Fazio’s best courses and yet it is nowhere in the rankings. Another course I deem to be excellent is Gozzer Ranch in Idaho. It made the list for courses in America but I feel it also should be on the world list. Augusta National is ranked #3 but since I have not played it in at least 25 or 30 years, it is not fair for me to say whether it deserves this ranking. However, if anyone would like to invite me, I will be ready to play on very short notice! Swinley Forest in England is one of my favorite courses and yet it is only ranked #92. Swinley Forest is one of the best heathland courses around and the most exclusive golf club in England. I believe it is as good as Sunningdale and Walton Heath. It has great bunkers, great routing, the visuals are incredible and it is fun to play. I’ll never forget the first time I played Swinley Forest. When I got off the 4th green and walked to the par three 5th hole, the only thing I could say was “WOW” and it not that often I say that. Otherwise, I am pretty much in line with the list.

Which three courses do the two of you disagree the most on and why?

Norman and I differ on our assessment of Muirfield Village in Dublin, OH. I love the aesthetics and feel the course suits my game. Norman loves the majestic views but prefers courses where there is tremendous variety from hole to hole. Of course, our assessment is influenced somewhat by the different tees we play. Norman and I are both passionate about golf and committed to our job as panelists. We have a healthy respect for each other’s viewpoints, however, we each vote our own way and often do not vote alike.

Norman, you are called the “Mayor of Riviera”. Discuss Riviera and some of changes over the years.

The reason I am called “Mayor of Riviera” by some members is because I am a longtime member of Riviera and very active in the club. Everyone knows me and respects my opinion. One day, a member joked and called me “the mayor” and it stuck. As for the changes, the biggest change was when Crenshaw came and redid all the greens and bunkers. The course became a lot tougher and much better. Tweaking of the course is being done all the time so it just keeps getting better. In my thirty years plus at Riviera, I have never seen the course in better shape, playability or toughness.

One change you are quite fond of occurred at the seventeenth hole. Tell us about it and what you like the most about it.

One of the biggest changes to a single hole is #17. To me, it is one of the most dramatic and best holes on the course today. Visually it is terrific. The way it came about, if my memory serves me right, was– one day, Mr. Yamaki, president of Riviera, asked me if I had some time to review the changes they were contemplating to make to the golf course. We reviewed each of the holes. When we got to the 17th hole, I described the changes that I thought should be done. It was put on paper and sent to Japan for approval….and the rest is history….

The seventeenth at Riviera plays today better than ever thanks to its improved bunkering scheme.

By all accounts, the extensive work performed on The North Course at The Los Angeles Country Club has yielded fabulous results. Do you think such positive results will in any way influence Riviera and/or Bel-Air to undertake similar work to restore George Thomas design features?

Samm and I both have seen the changes at LACC. Gill did a great job rebuilding the bunkers and greens. However, neither one of us feel feels Riviera will make revisions because The LACC did. As for Bel Air CC, we do not know if the extensive revisions at The LACC will impact their plans.

Question – You were on the greens committee at Riviera when Coore & Crenshaw rebuilt the greens using sod that ultimately did not take root. It was a regrettable episode for all parties. In hindsight, is there something that should have been done differently?

I am not an agronomist but I do know one thing… you cannot fool with mother nature. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t think anything wrong was done and I don’t think anyone was at fault. Things just happen.

What courses are you most anxious to see in the next twelve months?

We are anxious to see Lost Farms in Tasmania, some of the courses on Hanin Island in China, the three courses in the Stone Forest, Kunming China, Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, and Ria Bintan in Indonesia. As I mentioned, I’d love to play Augusta National as there have been many changes to the course over the last decade. We just keeping looking and listening to the rumors.

Do you have any additional comments?

Samm and I are grateful to be panelists for GOLF Magazine. We have much respect for the dedicated “team” with whom we work. We are especially grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from Joe Passov. We count our blessings—we have our home course, Riviera Country Club with great friends there, we travel the world and meet amazing golfers who become friends and we are panelists associated with the most prestigious of all golf lists, Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World.

The End