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August 11, 2009

Ask Travelin' Joe: Golf Magazine's 50 Greatest Courses of the Last 50 Years

Posted at 4:36 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: Ask Travelin' Joe, Golf Magazine 50th Anniversary

Passov-78x73 GOLF Magazine's World Top 100 Course Ranking Panel has compiled a list of the 50 greatest golf courses of the last 50 years. Course Rankings Editor Joe Passov joined this forum to answer reader questions in a live chat.

Tom B. writes:
The biggest crime to the game of golf is the fact that the truly great golf courses OUTSIDE the U.S. are accessible for anyone to play without much difficulty. In the U.S. sadly that is not the case. Reading a story about Sand Hills is a waste of time for those who love the game and wish to play a course like it. Go travel outside the U.S., like I have, to play some of the great courses, where the members also love the game enough to share their course with those who also have a love of the game.

Several points, Tom. First, yes, it is unfortunate that nearly every one of the U.K.'s top courses is accessible, while those in the U.S. are not. That said, in this ever-spinning economy, you might see a few of those closed doors opening slightly in the future. However, in my humble opinion, it's not a waste of time to read about the excellence of the private Sand Hills Club. If you're a car enthusiast, you can still appreciate the merits of a Ferrari, even if you'll never drive one, let alone own one.

Steve Rice writes:
Joe,
Have you played Barnbougle? We are very proud of it here in Tasmania. Be assured you would receive a wonderful welcome if you could ever make it ... suddenly Sand Hills doesn't seem so inaccessible does it?

No, Sand Hills' west/central Nebraska location doesn't make it very remote compared to Tasmania...Steve, I've heard wonderful things about Barnbougle Dunes, though I haven't yet had the pleasure. Our panelists agree that it's a phenomenal layout--obviously, since it ranked No. 5 among the best 50 courses built in the last 50 years, worldwide. I also hear from at least three sources that the new Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course, currently under construction, has the potential to be SO good, it might catapult Barnbougle to be the finest 36-hole complex on earth. In that case, I won't be the only one making the long voyage to come and play!

Matt K writes:
Joe, I think your list is missing a course that deserves consideration on top 100 lists going forward. Tobiano, a Thomas McBroom course in Kamloops, British Columbia, possesses a quality and variety of holes, not to mention a setting that, if I dare say, compares to Cape Kidnappers, which makes it truly unique. The knock that the course is too difficult when the wind blows doesn't hold weight in my view because lots of great links courses will kill you if you play them in heavy wind. The fact that the course is not easily walkable due to deep valleys between tees and many fairways is one unfortunate problem that McBroom could do nothing about (and in my view deserves recognition for routing the nines in such a way that there are no funky or unfair holes). The only other knock I give it is the development of homes surrounding the course (a development community has been planned), which takes away from the natural beauty of the setting. Unfortunately, golf courses today, if they wish to be public, have almost no choice but to sell homes if they want to make any real money (at least it certainly appears that way from all I've read). At any rate, that's my take on Tobiano, and I urge any and all who can make the trek to central British Columbia to check it out.

Matt,
Tobiano was likley too new and too distant for enough of our panelists to have played and evaluated it. And of course, architect Thomas McBroom sits on our panel, but we have a rule that says architects aren't allowed to vote for their own original designs. I visited the Okanagan Valley/Kelowna region of British Columbia a couple of Septembers ago and played a fistful of fine courses, including Predator Ridge, Okangan Golf Club, Harvest Golf Club and Gallagher's Canyon, but I missed Tobiano as it hadn't opened yet. The spectacular lakeside and mountain backdrops, however, have put Tobiano on my "Must-Visit" list. Oh, and if you're an oenophile, the region's wines (and the views from the very accessible wineries) just get better every year.

W.T. Schmitt writes:
I noted your article of Sand Hills. There are still some of us golfers who want a golf course to look like a golf course, not a cow pasture. I understand that English style courses and English type TV commentators are all the rage right now, but these "links style" courses are about as attractive as a mud puddle. Part of the enjoyment of the game is lush green fairways, tree lined greens, and the posh atmosphere of a country club, not a barn yard.

Fair enough. I wonder myself sometimes if the wild, woolly, unkempt "natural" look is just a fad, like the mounds, waste bunkers and railroad ties were in the 1980s--and whether we will one day return to a preference for the "fully manicured" look, as best exemplified by Augusta National. Trust me, there's a vast reservoir of folks who feel just the way you do. My dad is in the same boat. In his mind's eye, a "great" golf course features lush, emerald green grass, brilliant white sand bunkers and tall trees framing the holes. He also likes the courses where each hole is an entity unto itself, where you can't see other holes or players from the hole you're playing.

However, many experienced, well-traveled course evaluators are smitten with the traditions of the game that trace to the roots of golf's origins, where golf was played on open, treeless, windswept, seaside links, with sandy soil, in the U.K. The presence of wind brings so many components of one's golf game into play that the variety encountered and skill required is unmatched. Also, lush and green is great in the eye-candy department, but for maximum enjoyment of shotmaking variety, firm, fast, slightly brown turf is the way to go, in my book.

Michael Delaney writes:
In the southern part of the Nebraska sand hill region near Gothenburg NB is another inland links called Wild Horse. It was designed and built by the Axtell and Procter, the people that did the construction at Sand Hills for Crenshaw and Coore. They used the same techniques for building the "blowout" bunkers" and utilized the similar natural terrain for the green complexes which are as maddening as you will find anywhere. While it is not located on 8,000 acres it is surrounded by unspoiled prairie vistas. The best part is that $40 will get you on the course on the weekend.

Amen, brother. You've put it so perfectly, I can't add a thing.

Steven Conway writes:
What about Augusta? Seems like a tough course to leave out.

We're all fans in one way or another of Augusta National, but it opened for play in January 1933, so it falls outside of our time limit of "50 Greatest Courses of the Last 50 Years."

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