Shak­ing up the Top 100

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean, Edi­tor stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

Rat­ing golf cour­ses has al­ways been a sub­jec­tive ex­er­cise. When Golf Di­gest started rank­ing cour­ses in 1998, ini­tially with the top 50 cour­ses in South Africa, we did so us­ing a rat­ing cri­te­ria that had been tried and tested by Golf Di­gest in the United States.

We em­ploy seven cri­te­ria when rat­ing cour­ses. These vary from the Playa­bil­ity of a course, by which we mean the plea­sure it brings both high- and low-hand­i­caps, to how well it is pre­sented in terms of Con­di­tion­ing. Cour­ses earn ex­tra points for be­ing tough but fair chal­lenges, while the beauty of the golf­ing ter­rain is an un­de­ni­able plus in boost­ing a course’s cre­den­tials.

Most golfers play the same course each week, and with­out any va­ri­ety in the way it can be played, they wouldn’t stay at that course for long. To have 18 iden­ti­cal look­ing holes would re­duce the chal­lenge and sense of un­pre­dictably that is the essence of golf. So if a course has design fea­tures which make it more in­ter­est­ing, fun and cere­bral to play, then that’s an ad­di­tional bonus in terms of rat­ing points.

In a nut­shell, that’s how Golf Di­gest rates the cour­ses in this coun­try. There are no ex­tra points for com­fort­able clubhouses, revitalising locker room show­ers, prac­tice ranges or pro shops, even though these are im­por­tant as­pects of a golf ex­pe­ri­ence and the rea­son why we be­come mem­bers of a golf club. Take all those away though, and you can still play golf. Which is why we dif­fer­en­ti­ate golf cour­ses on the strength of their 18 holes alone, not all the ex­tras they pro­vide.

In the be­gin­ning we had a small group of 16 raters, and rat­ings were slowly ac­cu­mu­lated. As the num­ber of raters grew – now more than a hun­dred – so did the need to visit ev­ery 18-hole course. We have more than 200 of them. In fact, the South African Top 100 is the most unique of its kind in the world, be­cause we rank al­most 50 per­cent of our 18-holers. And we also pub­lish a list of the cour­ses ranked from 101 to 150. That means that al­most 75 per­cent of the golf clubs in South Africa have a vested in­ter­est in our bi­en­nial rank­ings.

But there reached a tip­ping point when we ac­cu­mu­lated so many rat­ings that they were start­ing to sti­fle the Top 100. We no­ticed that cour­ses were be­com­ing en­trenched in cer­tain seg­ments of the rank­ings. The Top 100 was in dan­ger of be­come dull and un­pre­dictable. Cour­ses on the up were not al­ways re­warded, and those go­ing back­wards were sim­i­larly not be­ing no­ticed quickly enough. For this lat­est bi­en­nial Top 100 sur­vey we sought opin­ions and com­ments from our raters about cour­ses, rather than just ask­ing them to sub­mit num­bers.

Armed with this in­for­ma­tion, a group of ex­pe­ri­enced raters sat down over two days to dis­cuss the Top 100 in depth, and an­a­lyse each course’s po­si­tion within it. The re­sult has been a shake-up which is ex­cit­ing for the fu­ture of the Top 100. The point is, things change, in­clud­ing our rank­ings. What has changed the most is the im­pact of the Top 100. The list has trig­gered com­pe­ti­tion, which is healthy, and es­ca­lated costs, which is not. Would you be­lieve that 32 of the cour­ses in this lat­est Top 100 didn’t even ex­ist when we pub­lished that rst rank­ing 18 years ago. ago.

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