The World’s Finest Tests
by Thomas MacWood

Editor’s Note:  Though the following is pure fiction, Tom’s research turns this enjoyable read into something that is also highly educational.

My research led me to this fascinating article and list. The National Golf Review was a short lived magazine (maybe 3 or 4 years) that was created shortly after The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated went under. It was founded by many of the same characters and absorbed talented contributors from both magazines – Rice, Richardson, Keeler, Martin, Hesse, Brown, Jones, Darwin, etc. It was a bi-monthly (actually monthly in the Summer and one issue each in the Winter, Spring and Fall) They also produced an Annual Review supplement. A look at the finest tests was a feature of the Annual Golf Review of 1939.

The World’s Finest Tests

An Expert Panel Surveys the World’s Best Golf Courses

Not so long ago naming the world’s outstanding golf courses was a fairly easy task–one would simply look toward the historic links of Scotland and England. Thankfully the Scots are a generous lot and Scotland’s gift has been graciously accepted worldwide. Stretching from St. Andrews to Ceylon to San Francisco to South Africa, far and near you will not only find wielders of driver, brassie and humble niblick but also an astonishing number of links of the first class.

Perhaps it is human nature, the desire to identify the best. The game has seen various attempts to list golf’s ideal holes–Horace Hutchinson, Charles B. Macdonald, Bernard Darwin, Bobby Jones and many other noted men have attempted this assignment. Far fewer have tried to rate the very best courses. Joshua Crane’s scientific approach of some years ago comes to mind and unfortunately the results were quite disappointing–his folly, too much science not enough art. Today this assignment is even more difficult. To begin it is nearly impossible for a single man to reach every corner of our expanding golf world. And if he were able to overcome this daunting requirement, we are still be left with just one golfer’s opinion, tainted by his own singular tastes and prejudices.

Last spring our editors presented an informal look at America’s toughest courses. Although a brave attempt, and it did create considerable interest, the exercise was not totally satisfactory. The over emphasis on toughness was ill advised. Mindful of the past and present dilemmas THE NATIONAL GOLF REVIEW tackles this most difficult but exciting problem–identifying the world’s finest tests.

Our initial task was to set forth a proper method. The editors-namely Mr. Grantland Rice and Mr. William D. Richardson–began by assembling an eminent jury of experts. The first requirement for these prospective jurors: an understanding of the elements that contribute to excellent golf. The test of a golf course doesn’t concern its difficulty or its hardness. That is only part of the story. Some of the hardest courses are also some of the most dull. ‘We have one of the hardest courses in the country’, is often the proud boast of a club member. This may be true. But has he also one of the most interesting courses to play? The true test of a golf course is the amount of interest it can stir in the breast.

The second qualification was international experience. The game’s great tests are now found on far off shores. Each juror must have had occasion to play and study golf courses from around the world. Finding these globe-trotting golfers was a most difficult chore. Fortunately, we are pleased to report the illustrious group assembled has played over 7000 golf courses on every continent–excepting the South Pole and one or two of these gents may soon give that a try.

The jury consists of two women and fifteen men: Lady Heathcoat-Amory (nee Miss Joyce Wethered); Mrs. E. H. Vare (nee Miss Glenna Collett); Edward, Duke of Windsor; Robert T. Jones, Jr.; Walter Hagen; Arnaud Massy; Joe Kirkwood; Gene Sarazen; Percy Alliss; T. Simpson; C. H. Alison; Robert Trent Jones; D. Scott Chisholm; Hans Samek; Bernard Darwin; Mr. Rice and Mr. Richardson.

Every juror presented a list of golf courses with their corresponding numeric grade reflecting golfing merit. An easy task in theory but not so in practice. The predicament facing these judges would stymie the best of us. It involves a lot of mental sorting and reassorting, considerable memory work recalling what features made one course stand above another. Once the scores were submitted it fell upon Mr. Richardson, Mr. Rice and Mr. Darwin to tabulate and arrange the final poll.

It is fascinating to review the individual ballots, you will find both a diversity of opinion but also a fair number of like-minds. To illustrate we have listed the panelists’ top courses. Lady Amory, considered by Bobby Jones as the greatest golfer–gentleman or lady–chose St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Augusta National. Arguably the greatest American lady golfer, Mrs.Vare listed Cypress Point, Newcastle County Down and Merion. The well-traveled Duke of Windsor also likes St. Andrews as well as Banff Springs and Walton Heath. Bobby Jones again has the Old Course followed by Cypress Point and Augusta National.

The flamboyant and colorful Mr. Hagen named Sandwich, Foulpointe and Hirono; his world-touring pal and showman, Joe Kirkwood chose St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne and Royal York. French champion and private pro to the Pasha of Marrakech, Arnaud Massy favors North Berwick, Hoylake and St. Andrews. Another links wayfarer Gene Sarazen is fond of Oakmont and Sandwich. British professional Percy Alliss, formerly attached to the Wansee Club in Berlin, has Porthcawl and Knocke on top. The majordomo of the Pacific golf scene ‘Scotty’ Chisholm lists Cypress Point and Gleneagles.

British golf course architects Simpson and Alison both like St. Andrews followed by Pine Valley, after that Simpson goes with Portmarnock and Alison with Burnham. Talented American architect Robert Trent Jones lists Augusta National, Jasper Park and Banff Springs. Noted golf czar of the German Republic Hans Samek places Le Touquet, Havana and Bel-Air at the head of his list. And our final threesome, Mr. Darwin: St. Andrews and National Links of America; Mr. Rice: Cypress Point; Mr. Richardson: Pine Valley and Timber Point.

1. St.Andrews, Scotland26. Seminole, Florida51. Kawana, Japan76. Carnoustie, Scotland
2. Cypress Point, California27. Rye, England52. Engineers, N.Y77. Burnham, England
3. Pine Valley, N.J.28. Knocke, Belgium53. Swinley Forest, England78. Scioto, Ohio
4. Pebble Beach, California29. Yale, Conn54. Brookline, Mass.79. Capilano, Canada
5. Sandwich, England30. Gleneagles, Scotland55. Saunton, England80. Hot Springs, Virginia
6. National Links, N.Y.31. Le Touquet, France56. Bethpage, N.Y.81. Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon
7. Hirono, Japan32. Winged Foot, N.Y.57. Addington, England82. Ballybunion, Ireland
8. Banff Springs, Canada33. Pasatiempo, California58. Lakeside, California83. Porthcawl, Wales
9. Royal Melbourne, Australia34. Muirfield, Scotland59. Hollywood, N.J.84. Liphook, England
10. Foulpointe, Madagascar35. Walton Heath, England60. Woking, England85. Knoll, N.J.
11. Augusta Naional, Georgia36. Jasper Park, Canada61. Wildhoeve, Holland86. Tokyo-Asaka, Japan
12. Timber Point, N.Y.37. Portmarnock, Ireland62. Royal York, Canada87. Maccauvlei, S.Africa
13. Oakmont, Penn.38. Pinehurst No.2, N.C.63. Oakland Hills, Michigan88. Kingston Heath, Australia
14. Hoylake, England39. Prestwick, Scotland64. Morfontaine, France89. Chicago, Illinois
15. Newcastle Co. Down, Ire.40. Birkdale, England65. Brancaster, England90. Sea Island, Georgia
16. Westward Ho!, England41. Lido, N.Y.66. Pulborough, England91. Alwoodley, England
17. Merion, Penn42. Ganton, England67. Manoir Richelieu, Canada92. Eastward Ho, Mass.
18. Riviera, California43. Durban, S.Africa68. Royal Adelaide, Australia93. Mid Ocean, Bermuda
19. Sunningdale, England44. Oyster Harbors, Mass.69. Hamburg-Falkenstein, Germany94. Ville de Delat, Indo China
20. Bel-Air, California45. Ponte Vedra, Florida70. Olympia Fields #4, Illinois95. Zandvoort, Holland
21. Shinnecock Hills, N.Y46. North Berwick, Scotland71. Chiberta, France96. Five Farms, Maryland
22. Portrush, Ireland47. San Francisco, California72. Lawsonia, Wisconsin97. Turnberry, Scotland
23. Laksers, Illinois48. St.Georges Hill, England73. Los Angeles, California98. Spa, Belgium
24. CC of Havana, Cuba49. Garden City, N.Y.74. Maidstone, N.Y.99. Fishers Island, N.Y.
25. Humewood, S.Africa50. Deal, England75. East London, S.Africa100a.Royal Worlington, Englandb.Prarie Dunes, Kansas

The final product of this distinguished group is most impressive. They have selected one hundred first-rate golf courses from eighteen nations. Actually one hundred and one–in the final position two nines have been combined to form a full sized course, Royal Worlington considered by many the world’s premier nine-holer and Prarie Dunes a fine new links featured on these pages last year.

With the splendid progress of modern golf architecture is it a little surprising which course stands above the rest? We can still say, as Mr. Hutchinson said nearly fifty years ago in the Badminton, that ‘there is one point which is happily and incontestably settled for us–namely, with which we should commence,’ St. Andrews still comes first. As Mr. Darwin explains, the Old Course is still ‘the most enchanting, exciting, interesting place in which to play golf.’

The runner-up to St. Andrews is the ethereal Cypress Point at Del Monte. Situated in a region of sand and pines, number three Pine Valley is regarded as the toughest course in the world. Playground to the Gods, Pebble Beach falls next and then the dramatic sand-hills of Sandwich. Charles B. Macdonald’s exemplar, the National Links of America, is number six. Seven is Japan’s tranquil Hirono. The majestic Banff Springs cradled in the Canadian Rockies and Royal Melbourne in the native heath and bush are eight and nine. The rugged seaside links at Foulpointe is ten followed by Bobby Jones and Dr. MacKenzie’s handiwork Augusta National–the very finest in modern golf architect. And rounding out the gilded dozen is Long Island’s brutal and beautiful Timber Point.

We suspect this exercise lays the ground for a heated argument. Agree or disagree, we’d like to hear from our readers.

The End