Many of you probably received your May 2011 issue of Golf Digest in the mail last week. If you made it past Rickie Fowler's bright orange pants, you probably noticed that this issue included Golf Digest's latest ranking of America's 100 Greatest Courses. You can find the rankings online here. Augusta National maintains its edge over Pine Valley for the top spot, although Pine Valley sits only .38 behind. The Alotian Club, a Tom Fazio-designed Augusta clone in Arkansas, debuted at 14th, making it Golf Digest's course of the decade for the 2000's (just edging out Pacific Dunes).
Golf Digest uses a strict formula of seven categories to differentiate between good and great. Panelists rate Shot Values, Resistance to Scoring, Design Variety, Memorability, Aesthetics, Conditioning on Ambience on a scale from 1 to 10, with Shot Values counting double in the final tally.
The category-by-category scores for the top 100 courses are usually included in print, but this time they just put them up online (here).
For the most part, the category scores are very highly correlated with each other and the course's overall score - for instance, Memorability is 93% correlated with Design Variety, 86% correlated with Aesthetics and 88% correlated with shot values. Instead of just rehashing best and worst in each category, let's look at a course's relative strengths and weaknesses as measured by a given category's contribution to its overall score. Since each score contributes 1/8th to its total score, the baseline contribution is 12.5% for each category score.
The numbers below are interesting in they help explain why a course is on the list, or perhaps why it isn't ranked higher. This may also show what a course "is all about" or "not all about" (assuming you can decipher the category definitions), relatively speaking. If a particular group of courses in a category strike you as being overrated, that probably means you think the category is less important in defining greatness, and vice versa. And perhaps courses included in a highest or lowest category along with a personal favorite are likely to be courses you'd also enjoy.
[Note: these numbers were first published on GolfClubAtlas and are shown here courtesy of Jim Colton, the original author.]
1. SHOT VALUES
How well does the course pose risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse?
|1||Hazeltine National||12.76%||Sage Valley||11.93%|
|2||Inverness||12.71%||Diamond Creek Golf Club||12.00%|
|3||Harbour Town||12.71%||The Quarry at La Quinta||12.01%|
|4||Pinehurst (No. 2)||12.70%||The Alotian Club||12.07%|
|5||Southern Hills||12.67%||The Club at Black Rock||12.07%|
|8||The Prince Course||12.63%||Maidstone Club||12.13%|
2. RESISTANCE TO SCORING
How difficult, while still being fair, is the course for a scratch player from the back tees?
|1||Bethpage Black||13.44%||Cypress Point||11.13%|
|3||Butler National||13.17%||Maidstone Club||11.45%|
|4||Spyglass Hill||13.14%||Fishers Island||11.50%|
|5||Ocean Forest||13.13%||National Golf Links of America||11.57%|
|6||The Ocean Course||13.13%||Somerset Hills||11.68%|
|7||Winged Food (West)||13.08%||Shadow Creek||11.69%|
|8||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||13.04%||Monterey Peninsula (Shore)||11.73%|
|9||Oakland Hills (South)||12.99%||Sage Valley||11.73%|
|10||Victoria National||12.94%||San Francisco||11.75%|
3. DESIGN VARIETY
How varied are the golf course's holes in differing lengths, configurations, hazard placements, green shapes and green contours?
|2||Pete Dye Golf Club||12.93%||Baltusrol (Lower)||12.00%|
|4||Friar's Head||12.85%||Medinah No. 3||12.01%|
|5||Crystal Downs||12.85%||Diamond Creek Golf Club||12.02%|
|6||National Golf Links of America||12.81%||East Lake||12.03%|
|7||Boston Golf Club||12.78%||Sage Valley||12.07%|
|8||Fishers Island||12.75%||The Alotian Club||12.08%|
|9||Cypress Point||12.75%||The Preserve||12.12%|
How well do the design features (tees, fairways, greens, hazards, vegetation and terrain) provide individuality to each hole, yet a collective continuity to the entire 18?
|2||Cypress Point||13.39%||Double Eagle||12.01%|
|3||Fishers Island||13.35%||Olympia Fields (North)||12.11%|
|4||Maidstone Club||13.23%||Butler National||12.11%|
|5||Augusta National||13.09%||Hazeltine National||12.12%|
|7||National Golf Links of America||13.02%||Eagle Point||12.14%|
|8||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||13.00%||Sahalee (South/North)||12.21%|
|9||The Prince Course||12.98%||Diamond Creek Golf Club||12.21%|
|10||Shadow Creek||12.88%||Baltusrol (Lower)||12.22%|
How well do the scenic values of the course (including landscaping, vegetation, water features and backdrops) add to the pleasure of a round?
|1||Maidstone Club||13.54%||Oakmont C.C.||11.82%|
|2||Cypress Point||13.49%||Hazeltine National||11.83%|
|3||Fishers Island||13.49%||Butler National||11.89%|
|4||Monterey Peninsula (Shore)||13.45%||Bethpage Black||11.90%|
|5||Pebble Beach||13.45%||Crooked Stick||11.90%|
|6||Arcadia Bluffs||13.30%||Pinehurst (No. 2)||11.95%|
|7||The Club at Black Rock||13.26%||Winged Food (West)||11.97%|
|8||Bandon Dunes||13.24%||Baltusrol (Lower)||12.00%|
How firm, fast and rolling were the fairways, and how firm yet receptive were the greens on the day you played the course?
|1||The Quarry at La Quinta||13.84%||The Prince Course||10.94%|
|2||Double Eagle||13.82%||Fishers Island||11.28%|
|3||Diamond Creek Golf Club||13.49%||Pebble Beach||11.31%|
|5||Canyata||13.25%||Whistling Straits (Straits)||11.57%|
|6||The Preserve||13.10%||Maidstone Club||11.61%|
|7||Eagle Point||13.10%||Pacific Dunes||11.62%|
|8||Forest Dunes||13.06%||Harbour Town||11.64%|
|10||Flint Hills||13.00%||Pinehurst (No. 2)||11.71%|
How well does the overall feel and atmosphere of the course reflect or uphold the traditional values of the game?
|1||The Country Club||13.53%||Arcadia Bluffs||12.15%|
|2||Garden City||13.52%||Bethpage Black||12.03%|
|3||Maidstone Club||13.41%||Forest Dunes||12.19%|
|4||San Francisco||13.41%||Forest Highlands||12.28%|
|5||Winged Food (East)||13.32%||Friar's Head||12.24%|
|6||Sage Valley||13.29%||Galloway National||12.02%|
|7||Chicago Golf||13.28%||Pete Dye Golf Club||12.01%|
|8||Seminole||13.25%||The Prince Course||12.11%|
|9||Merion (East)||13.25%||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||12.15%|
|10||Cypress Point||13.23%||Victoria National||12.20%|
To add a twist, now let's compare the difference in relative strength between one category and another. I think is even more telling in identifying what kind of courses you tend to favor. Looking at the courses listed, I tend to be a Shot Values and Design Variety guy versus Conditioning and Resistance to Scoring. Ask yourself if you had to pick between only playing the 10 courses on one side of the list versus another, which one would you choose?
Memorability vs. Aesthetics (Correlation: 85.9%)
I tend to get the definitions of Memorability and Aesthetics confused in my head, especially because the scores are highly correlated (have ocean, will travel). But looking at the difference in relative scores, you can see which courses are high in one but not the other. Viewed this way, it is clear that Memorability is in viewed in terms of having memorable, photogenic and/or famous holes, where Aesthetics is more geared towards the surroundings and/or backdrops.
My pick: Memorability
|1.||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||0.93%||--||Diamond Creek Golf Club||-0.83%|
|2.||Bethpage Black||0.86%||--||The Quarry at La Quinta||-0.71%|
|3.||Oakmont C.C.||0.68%||--||The Preserve||-0.71%|
|4.||Prairie Dunes||0.58%||--||Monterey Peninsula (Shore)||-0.67%|
|5.||Riviera Country Club||0.52%||--||Mayacama||-0.57%|
|6.||Pinehurst (No. 2)||0.49%||--||Mountaintop||-0.57%|
|7.||Merion (East)||0.48%||--||Sahalee (South/North)||-0.53%|
|8.||Chicago Golf||0.44%||--||The Alotian Club||-0.52%|
|10.||Crooked Stick||0.43%||--||Wade Hampton||-0.46%|
Shot Values vs. Conditioning (Correlation: 37.8%)
Golf Digest changed the definition of Condition before the 2009 rankings to incent less watering and firm and fast conditions. Looking at the individual category rank above, it begs the question whether it's really having an impact. Most of the courses known for having the epitome of links golf in the U.S. (the courses at Bandon, Fishers Island, etc) are among the bottom 10 in relative strength in that category. Fazio owns the right side of the table below.
My pick: Shot Values
|1.||The Prince Course||1.69%||--||The Quarry at La Quinta||-1.83%|
|3.||Harbour Town||1.07%||--||Diamond Creek Golf Club||-1.49%|
|4.||Pinehurst (No. 2)||0.99%||--||Sage Valley||-1.42%|
|6.||Fishers Island||0.96%||--||The Preserve||-0.94%|
|7.||Whistling Straits (Straits)||0.82%||--||Mayacama||-0.93%|
|8.||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||0.76%||--||Eagle Point||-0.80%|
|9.||Pine Valley||0.74%||--||The Alotian Club||-0.71%|
|10.||Pacific Dunes||0.70%||--||The Estancia Club||-0.71%|
Shot Values vs. Resistance to Scoring (Correlation: 82.3%)
No big surprises on this list. A lot of shorter, classic courses on the Shot Values side. Mostly well-known brutes on the Resistance to Scoring side.
My pick: Shot Values
|2.||Cypress Point||1.01%||--||Bethpage Black||-0.77%|
|3.||Fishers Island||0.74%||--||The Ocean Course||-0.74%|
|4.||National Golf Links of America||0.69%||--||Spyglass Hill||-0.69%|
|5.||Maidstone Club||0.69%||--||Butler National||-0.66%|
|6.||Somerset Hills||0.64%||--||Hazeltine National||-0.62%|
|7.||Shadow Creek||0.61%||--||Oakland Hills (South)||-0.54%|
|8.||Monterey Peninsula (Shore)||0.54%||--||Winged Foot (West)||-0.51%|
|9.||Garden City||0.50%||--||Rich Harvest Links||-0.47%|
Memorability vs. Ambience (Correlation: 77.8%)
Ambience tends to reward classic courses that are more likely to support the traditional values of the game, probably because they played a large role in setting those traditions. Golf Digest doesn't predefine what these traditional values are, but I would assume things like caddie programs, walking only, etc.
My pick: Ambience
|2.||The Prince Course||0.87%||--||Winged Foot (East)||-0.95%|
|3.||TPC Sawgrass (Players)||0.85%||--||Peachtree||-0.95%|
|4.||Pete Dye Golf Club||0.82%||--||Baltusrol (Lower)||-0.92%|
|5.||Bethpage Black||0.74%||--||The Country Club||-0.88%|
|6.||Pebble Beach||0.66%||--||Garden City||-0.85%|
|7.||Galloway National||0.62%||--||Double Eagle||-0.84%|
|8.||Kapalua (Plantation)||0.57%||--||Winged Foot (West)||-0.84%|
|9.||Victoria National||0.50%||--||East Lake||-0.79%|
|10.||The Club at Black Rock||0.49%||--||Cherry Hills||-0.78%|
Resistance to Scoring vs. Design Variety (Correlation: 56.2%)
This one looks very similar to the Difficulty vs. Shot Values comparison above, with many shorter, classic courses making the right side and many major championship tests included on the left. Other than Shadow Creek, I could play out on my string on the right side and die a happy man. A true murderer's row.
My pick: Design Variety
|1.||Hazeltine National||1.04%||--||Cypress Point||-1.62%|
|3.||Butler National||0.98%||--||Somerset Hills||-1.33%|
|4.||Ocean Forest||0.95%||--||Fishers Island||-1.25%|
|5.||Bethpage Black||0.89%||--||National Golf Links of America||-1.23%|
|6.||The Ocean Course||0.89%||--||Maidstone Club||-1.05%|
|7.||Baltusrol (Lower)||0.86%||--||Shadow Creek||-1.01%|
|8.||Medinah No. 3||0.85%||--||Monterey Peninsula (Shore)||-0.84%|
|9.||Winged Foot (West)||0.81%||--||San Francisco||-0.83%|
Shot Values vs. Design Variety (Correlation: 87.8%)
It looks like Shot Values and Design Variety are definitely my personal favorites, so what happens when you stack them up against each other? Initially, I would've considered my self a Shot Values guy, but I have to side with any list that includes Cypress Point, Crystal Downs, NGLA and Friar's Head.
My pick: Design Variety
|.||Medinah No. 3||0.55%||--||Cypress Point||-0.61%|
|.||Inverness||0.53%||--||The Club at Black Rock||-0.55%|
|.||Sahalee (South/North)||0.45%||--||Crystal Downs||-0.54%|
|.||Hazeltine National||0.42%||--||National Golf Links of America||-0.54%|
|.||Baltusrol (Lower)||0.41%||--||Fishers Island||-0.51%|
|.||Southern Hills||0.38%||--||Boston Golf Club||-0.47%|
|.||Butler National||0.32%||--||Friar's Head||-0.44%|
|.||East Lake||0.31%||--||Shadow Creek||-0.41%|
|.||Winged Foot (West)||0.30%||--||Pete Dye Golf Club||-0.38%|