Shaking up the Top 100
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.