Inside the Numbers: Golf Digest's 2015-16 America's Greatest 100 Courses

1/06/2015 0 comments

Today, Golf Digest published its updated Top 200 greatest courses in the U.S. list. You can find the Top 100 list here and the second 100 here. The ratings methodology and detailed category numbers for the top 100 can be found here.

Similar to in the past, I like to dive into these category numbers and try to understand what makes these courses tick. If you believe the category scores represent what their meant to represent, then the scores should provide some indication what areas a given course is great in relative to others. For instance, while the Aesthetics category is 12.5% of the total score in the Golf Digest formula, it comprises 13.39% of Cypress Point's total score, the highest relative score for that category. Cypress Point's "DNA" for greatness is driven by the Aesthetics, Memorability, Design Variety and Ambience category and relatively less by Shot Values, Resistance to Scoring and Conditioning. Bethpage Black, on the other hand, has the highest relative score in Shot Values and Resistance to Scoring and the lowest relative score in Ambience.

For reference, here are the highest and lowest scoring courses for each category, not based on the absolute number (you can get that from the Golf Digest site), but based on the category score relative to the course's total score:

Shot Values: Highest - Bethpage Black; Lowest - The Quarry at La Quinta
Resistance to Scoring: Highest - Bethpage Black; Lowest - Cypress Point
Design Variety: Highest - Somerset Hills; Lowest - Baltusrol (Lower)
Memorability: Highest - Pebble Beach; Lowest - Aronomink
Aesthetics: Highest - Cypress Point; Lowest - Oakmont
Conditioning: Highest - The Quarry at La Quinta; Lowest - Pebble Beach
Ambiance: Highest - The Country Club; Lowest - Bethpage Black

I also like to juxtapose the various categories with each other and see which courses are relatively strong in one versus another. Many of the categories are highly correlated with each other (Memorability and Design Variety scores for the top 100 are .9397 correlated for instance). Below I just focus on the pairs that are least correlated, as it is bound to cause to most jarring differences between the two sets of courses. Resistance to Scoring and Conditioning are the two categories that are least correlated with other categories. They are also the least correlated with the overall score for the top 100 courses (perhaps they shouldn't be weighted as high as the others). In any case, most of lowest correlated pairs involved one of these categories.

The Golf Digest U.S. list does tend to create the most buzz and probably the most controversy of all the major publications. It is the only one that asks its panelists to follow a strict set of criteria to differentiate between good and great. When looking at the category pairs below, you may tend to think more courses on one side are over/underrated relative to the courses on the other side. That likely just means your personal, inherent weight for that category is more or less than the fixed weights that Golf Digest uses.

Design Variety vs. Conditioning (Correlation: .4433)
Fishers Island [10] 1 The Quarry at La Quinta [77]
Pebble Beach [7] 2 Diamond Creek Golf Club [94]
TPC Sawgrass (Players) [47] 3 Double Eagle [76]
Pacific Dunes [18] 4 Baltusrol (Lower) [41]
Cypress Point [3] 5 The Alotian Club [27]
Pete Dye Golf Club [53] 6 Aronimink [90]
Bethpage Black [43] 7 Eagle Point [89]
Maidstone Club [98] 8 Canyata [60]
Somerset Hills [73] 9 Baltusrol (Upper) [58]
Pine Valley [2] 10 Butler National [46]
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