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Golf Course Rankings Compared

By ausgolf/Golf Course Guide Editor Selwyn Berg Feb 2014

It’s course ranking time again.

The GOLF Course Guide published its 2014 Top 100 last November, followed by Golf Australia Magazine January edition and Golf Digest (March) published in February.

Two years ago I wrote an article comparing the methods used by the three publications (click here). Since then, GA has defined the weightings they used – 60% for design, 20% each for Condition and Visual Appearance. This has addressed my principal criticism of their process which was that it was vague. Flatteringly, the Magazine now uses precisely the same three criteria established by The GOLF Course Guide, albeit with slightly differing weightings. Only the Guide, however, publishes three separate lists so that readers may select courses based on their personal preference for Design (40%), Conditioning (40%) or Aesthetic (20%) factors. Golf Digest does not print their criteria, but they are here.

Since the Guide is aimed at pay for play golfers it is natural that course conditioning receive a significant weighting, and the criteria quite specifically state that greens receive the greatest attention. Golf Digest calls for ‘fast, firm and rolling fairways’ and the Guide would support that – it makes for fun golf whilst allowing the skilled golfer to use the contours to run his ball towards the hole. GA is far less prescriptive, simply mentioning ‘overall condition of playing surfaces’ and ‘bunker presentation’. GA asks its judges to consider ‘are the fairways cut to be well-defined from semi-rough and rough?’ We would argue that for many courses a seamless, natural blending of these areas is most pleasing, and any notion of prescriptive mowing patterns works against the principle of giving the golfer width and letting him work out his own strategy to suit his game.

Brad Clifton, editor-in-chief of Australian Golf Digest is quoted in the Herald Sun "The fact that Nicklaus and two of our modern day greats – Jason Day and Stuart Appleby – got involved this year to rank Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath as Australia’s best layouts only validates why this ranking is the fairest and, importantly, most accurate of all." Despite offering their comments and helping to boost sales, these three greats are NOT listed on the magazine's judging panel (thankfully, since I'm not sure how many of Australia's courses Nicklaus has played or seen in the last few years) - and moreover, the magazine's Architecture Editor, Darius Oliver, acted in a non-voting capacity!

Clearly I believe that The GOLF Course Guide methodology is the most useful and most transparent. As a Digest judge, I truly struggle to differentiate between Shot Values and Design Variety (is a lot of variety necessarily a good thing?) and I feel that aesthetic values are important enough to be considered as a separate category (and even PUBLISHED as we do with The Guide) rather than being part of 'Memorability'. However, I steer clear of claiming that we are the 'most accurate' or that any list is 'right' or 'wrong' - that is PRECISELY why The GOLF Course Guide publishes 3 lists - Design, Conditioning, Aesthetics - so that golfers can choose courses based on their own preferences.

In order to compare the actual lists and highlight differences it is necessary to exclude the private member-only courses that are not considered in the Guide. It is then more relevant to compare the Magazine Rankings with the Guide’s Design Ranking.

All lists have Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm at the top. The Guide’s judges placed The Dunes next as did Digest, above St Andrews Beach and Kennedy Bay – but Digest then ranked Joondalup in fourth spot - much higher than the other lists, and above its WA compatriot.

We found it hard to understand Digest's assertion that there is no 'better value public-access track anywhere in the country' than ST ANDREWS BEACH (No.5) given that we both rate THE DUNES No. 3 and green fees are $89 and $85 respectively on weekends with considerable green fee savings for users of the GOLF Course Guide (see details). Both these fantastic layouts on the Mornington Peninsula also guarantee Guide users will always receive the BEST GREEN FEE OFFER (details here).

The next bunch of courses – Barwon Heads, 13th Beach - Beach, Moonah Links Legends, Portsea, The Cut, Joondalup are incredibly close, with The Guide ranking Glades, Magenta, Moonah Links Open (surprisingly, since it’s so tough), Pacific Harbour, Kalgoorlie and Capricorn more highly than GA. Digest ranked The Glades down, reportedly due to less than pristine surfaces on the Bent grass greens that have always been a welcome highlight and point of difference in Queensland - The Guide overall score reflected that at #15; and Portsea was downgraded as it lost a couple of quality holes with clubhouse and hotel construction, althought the GA panel did not agree. To a lesser extent the Guide and Digest also favoured Bonville, an absolute gem beloved by many travelling golfers, which has pleasingly gained a few spots on GA’s list without the ‘purist’ design criticisms of Mike Clayton and other architects who no longer appear on GA’s panel. Unsurprisingly, The Guide ranked Brookwater and Stonecutters Ridge lower than the magazines, as we are concerned more about playability for lesser golfers. Interestingly, the two magazines were more polarised in their differences - apart from The Glades, The Guide's Design ranking for courses right down to Brookwater at #18 lay between the two others.

Design Rank in GOLF Course Guide COURSE GA Rank GD Rank
1 BARNBOUGLE DUNES 1 1
2 BARNBOUGLE LOST FARM 2 2
3 THE DUNES 7 3
4 KENNEDY BAY 4 7
5 ST ANDREWS BEACH 3 6
6 MOONAH LINKS - LEGENDS 8 5
7 BARWON HEADS 5 8
8 THIRTEENTH BEACH - BEACH 6 10
9 JOONDALUP - QUARRY/DUNES 11 4
10 GLADES 18 24
11 MAGENTA SHORES 15 9
12 THE CUT 10 13
13 PORTSEA 9 21
14 MOONAH LINKS - OPEN 29 11
15 HOPE ISLAND 19 15
16 HAMILTON ISLAND 17 14
17 BONVILLE   22 16
18 BROOKWATER 13 12
19 PACIFIC HARBOUR 31 19
20 PELICAN WATERS 21 25

 

Digest's US counterpart have just published a world Top 100 and here's how our contenders fared:

Royal Melbourne West is  ranked  at  #9, and amazingly Barnbougle Dunes has been ranked 11th in the world.

Kingston Heath is ranked in 20th position despite Digest Australia's judges placing it above Barnbougle Dunes!

Barnbougle Lost Farm has been ranked in 23rd position, above Royal Melbourne East ranked 28th in line with the local list, but New South Wales GC appears in 33rd position despite Digest Australia placing it ahead of Lost Farm.

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