6 min read


Hello Golfers,

8,000 yards! 7,876 yards to be exact, is how far Kiawah Island is going to play during the PGA Championship. This doesn't include playing into the wind! Add another 500 yards. And then minus 500 yards while playing downwind! That's an extra 1,500 yards.

We use the same math when calculating our competitor's scorecards.  

Rating The Ranker

The Golf Digest and Golf Magazine course ratings are out. Bad news - your local 9-hole goat track didn’t make the cut...not sure those pleated shorts wearing rankers even dropped by.

We found a handful of rankers willing to anonymously answer our inane questions about the golf course ranking business.

Your cynical assumptions are likely wrong.

These folks must be paid, and well, to do this

  • They are not paid, they pay to be part of the club (you need a “rater card” to do the job)
  • Initiation fees/dues are required (like your local club), attending corporate retreats
  • Most raters are in the middle-age-to-older age bracket, but younger folks are joining

Not just anybody can volunteer to do this

  • Freedom to travel and financial wherewithal to trot around the continent are musts
  • Having played well-known, top-ranked tracks (also many different courses in general)
  • A deeply developed judging baseline is needed for assessing new courses

These folks can just go play wherever they want in the name of a ranking assessment

  • Courses that have lots of ratings aren’t priorities for the publications (e.g Sawgrass)
  • Lesser known courses under the minimum threshold to qualify for ranking are priorities

These folks get wined and dined to, umm, assist with assessments

  • In Canada, most courses generally provide complimentary green fees
  • In the USA, if unaccompanied by a member, expect to pay for the round
  • If accompanied by a club member, golf is usually covered, but caddy costs are not
  • It is heavily frowned upon for clubs to provide enticements (e.g. accommodations, etc.)

Many top ranked courses must compete heavily to outrank one another

  • Perennial top dogs (e.g. Shinnecock Hills, Cypress Point) don’t care about relative rank
  • Lower ranked courses tend to care deeply (as do courses that were ranked years ago)
  • These rankings matter way more to Canadian courses than to American courses
  • Some courses go out of their way to make the course very tough the day a rater plays it

Bribery must be prominent for courses to maintain or improve rankings or get into the list

  • Our contacts have never dealt with cash bribery, nor even heard stories of it occurring
  • Raters are expected to decline gifts, however, a free meal tends to be the worst offense
  • General feeling was courses don’t really care about you, they leave alone to your duties

From our threadbare vinyl-covered pedestals here at the Starter Shack, this sounds like a much better gig than writing a newsletter.

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  • A wet 59: A fellow Canadian finished his round with an eagle to break 60. (we did that once...on the 9th green)
  • Bones on the bag: Jim McKay will be packing Max Homa's heat for the PGA Championship. Phil has not got back to us for comment.
  • 124 yards short: The PGA Championship, being held at Kiawah Island will play just under 8,000 yards. Not even sure we could walk that far let alone be expected to golf the entire time.
  • 1-487: It's never too late to start winning, just ask Richard Bland who won for the first time on the European Tour at age 48...after 478 starts.
  • Bunch of Amateurs: The NCAA canceled the Division I Women’s Golf Championships regional event in Baton Rouge, La. because of rain. Apparently the organizers didn't bring umbrella's...or common sense.

Picking The Top 100 Golf Courses

Golf Digest’s biennial listing of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play compilations were recently released.

Rather predictably, Pine Valley out-dueled Augusta National to gain top course honors on Golf Digest’s list. Pebble Beach, to nobody’s surprise, once again took home the Public “Belle of the Ball” honors with Golf Magazine.

As In Life, The Rich Get Richer With These Highest Ranking Courses

Digging further into the ranking machinations:

Golf Digest

  • 1900 evaluators, assessing 1600 courses in USA/Canada
  • 7 criteria used (Shot Options, Challenge, Layout Variety, Distinctiveness, Aesthetics, Conditioning, Character)
  • For the America’s 100 Greatest list, courses need 75 evaluations over a 10-year period
  • For the Top 100 Public list, 35 evaluations in the same period are required

Golf Magazine

  • 100 evaluators vote on 460 candidate courses
  • can only evaluate the courses they have played
  • evaluators: professional golfers, architects, “industry experts”
  • criteria for course evaluation include: Design, Setting, Course Condition, Creativity

Golf Magazine publicizes names of their evaluators; Golf Digest is a nope.

Many of the courses on Golf Digest’s list (including the top 7!) are ultra-private and not available to the golfing masses. As Del Griffith once proclaimed, you’d have better success playing Pick-Up-Stix with your buttcheeks than getting a tee time at these fabled clubs.

Just because it’s public don’t make it cheap!

Tackling the list of publicly-accessible tracks from Golf Magazine - tee times are surely available, but at a pretty significant cost. Playing the top 10, you will fork over almost $4000 (even “slumming it” on the next 10 is a whopping $3100).

Does not include your beer.

These costs are exclusive of the required lodging at many facilities as well as the usual travel-associated costs; so much for making the game more accessible.

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What Makes a Good Golf Course?

We’ll tell you right now, it’s not the water pressure in the showers...if they even have showers.

There are many things that make a great course great, and a track a track. But let’s not confuse golf with everything that isn’t golf.

  • Shower pressure
  • Variety of golf gloves in the pro shop
  • Conditions of the cart paths
  • What kind of pull carts are on hand

Do these things add to the experience? Sure. But, hey, we ain’t showering on the 5th tee box. Although there are times one would like to scrub away the bogey train we’re riding.

Our thoughts (if they’re worth anything) on what makes a great golf course:

  • Course routing that provides an interesting variety of shots
  • 2-3 holes that require strategic thinking and offer up playing options
  • Walkable (yeah, we’re woke AF)
  • Fresh chunks of onion for the pork missile (this is not a joke)

What do actual course designers think?

Keith Cutten of WAC Golf dropped us his top three:

  • An interesting routing making the most of a site by visiting/revisiting its best features
  • Unique green complexes that maintain interest day-to-day with changing pin locations
  • Variety...in all things and the strategies of each hole. Great courses ideally require all one’s clubs to be used, require you to pay attention and use your creativity on every shot

Not much in here about the free pretzel sticks they serve with your dinner, right?

A great golf course doesn’t always have to be the most beautiful. Or the best conditioned. Or the highest-ranked. Or the most expensive.

It can just be the one that you have the most fun on. And maybe, just maybe, water pressure in the showers that can debark a tree.

What are your thoughts about what makes a good golf course? Let us know by clicking here.

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Golf Term

Goat Track: a golf course in less than ideal conditions...it's garbage.

We pulled up to the 3rd tee of this goat track to find 4 different foursomes waiting to tee off, and only 2 people wearing shirts. (an actual quote from a GolfWRX forum)

The Bushwood Experience

Back in the day, I attended our regional Pro/Junior event...as the junior. I carded a 69 that day while my "pro" handed in a tidy 82 (if I remember correctly). Our team missed the $$ by one stroke. Seems Bushwood worthy...right?

We'd love to hear your most outrageous "BUSHWOOD" story...all completely anonymous (we don't even need your email): follow this link

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