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The Completely Unbiased, 100% Scientific Golf Course Ranking System

By Mason Savage, A Good Walk Spoiled Contributor


The 13th Hole at the Quarry at Giants Ridge

There are numerous rankings of Golf Courses in the world. Golf Magazine, Golf Week and Golf Digest are the most consulted rankings in the golfing world. They rank the best courses in the world, the best courses in the United States and even break it down to each state as well. While it is awesome to peruse these rankings and to daydream about the courses, I personally find it discouraging. These rankings, in my opinion are flawed as they are blind to the “Everyday Golfer”.


These rankings are flawed for a couple of reasons.

  1. Most of the courses on the list are private courses. So right off of the bat, there is never a chance to play these awesome courses without personally knowing someone. Maybe one of the great downfalls of American golf is the mass privatization of its top tier courses.

  2. Even if the courses are not private, most likely, the greens fees are unreasonably high. For example, it costs $595 to play Pebble Beach in California (14th best course in the world, Golf.com) and can cost up to $350 to play golf at one of the Bandon Dunes Resort golf courses. For a majority of people, this price is a HUGE barrier of entry to even playing these courses.

  3. Lastly, and maybe the least talked about issue with most Golf Course rankings, is that there are politics involved in the calculation and recording of rankings. Golf Courses rely on these rankings for marketing purposes and being ranked higher than a different resort or having your course jump up the rankings is great for business. It is so great for business that courses can use monetary offerings or certain relationships to elevate their courses status. For example, Golf.com is owned by a large group of companies called 8 AM Golf. 8 AM Golf is owned by Jack Nicklaus. Look at the emphasis that Golf.com puts on Nicklaus designed courses. You will see an inflated perception that Golf.Com rankings has for his courses. This is just one example of the many that corrupts these Golf Course rankings.


Enter in, “The Completely Unbiased, 100% Scientific Golf Course Ranking System” created by A Good Walk Spoiled. You know that show on ESPN, Numbers Never Lie? What if there was a ranking system based on numbers and numbers alone? With such a system, you could see the components that went into the ranking of the Golf Course instead of seeing an arbitrary list in order of the courses. While this task is daunting and hard to quantify, A Good Walk Spoiled has created a first pass at achieving such a ranking system. More importantly, a ranking that was representative of the “Everyday Golfer”. So I know what you are asking “What would that ranking look like and what factors would be going into the ranking? We would love to break down the factors, what they mean and how we landed on the system that we did.


THE FACTORS


When ranking a golf course there are lots of different things that add to the overall experience. No matter how small that thing or detail is, it should be accounted for in the ranking. To keep the list from getting too complex, we landed on 6 key criteria. That said, the one thing that we did not account for in this ranking system is the Location of the Golf Course. Location is important as there is merit to a golf course being near a population center or close to where you live. However, the bias of where we live would heavily taint any rankings we could lay out. To account for the lack of location in our rankings, it is lumped in one of the factors we did lay out (which we will get to later). Now let's get into the factors that we decided on and what they mean.


Culture

Whether you know it or not, the Culture of a golf course is important. It permeates everything on the golf course from the clubhouse, to the pro shop, to the people who play it and even to the “vibe” you get when you play it. For our younger readers, think of Culture as the vibes you get when you are at the course. Ever had the privilege to play somewhere very private and you felt like you were walking on eggshells the whole time? You had to worry about whether your shirt was nice enough, you caught unwelcoming glares from members and you felt like everyone in the group would get mad at you for taking a divot? This is an example of bad culture. However, Private golf does not equal bad culture, there are plenty of private clubs that take pride in their course, express joy in showing guests around and understand that divots are part of golf.


Inversely, public golf does not automatically mean the Culture is great. Some public golf courses in fact can be the most hostile and unwelcoming to the newest of players. Some public golf courses can think they are better than they are and create a barrier to new players, have rangers on the course that are unnecessarily stern or even create a culture that is unwelcoming to total outsiders.


In summary, Private Golf does not equal bad Culture and Public Golf does not equal good Culture. Rather Culture is the overall feeling (Vibe) you get on the property. Some examples of some courses with great culture would be Braemar Golf Course (Edina, Minnesota) and Aiken Golf Club (Aiken, Souther Carolina). Some examples of some courses with lower Culture would be Troy Burne (Hudson, Wisconsin) and Bear Path Country Club (Eden Prairie, Minnesota). We won’t get into the specifics of those examples but hopefully for those of you that have played any of the courses, you understand why I used those courses for examples.


The first green complex at Aiken Golf Club. In addition to being a great golf course, the culture of the club is amazing. Great staff, awesome club house and it embodies the town so well.

Place

Place is important in a golf course. When you step on a golf course, you get a sense of “place”, or put another way, does this golf course belong and represent the surrounding land and community well? Some golf courses feel disconnected from the surrounding land, artificial and even out of place entirely. Conversely, some golf courses feel connected to the surrounding land, natural and it just feels right that the space is a golf course.


When referring to the connectedness of the surrounding land, it can be both the physical land or the community that encompasses the golf course. Both of these contribute to place. The first two courses that jump to mind when I think of “Place” are Northland Country Club (Duluth, MN) and Highland National (St Paul, MN). However, both of these courses jump to mind for “Place” for different reasons.


Northland Country Club connects to the physical land that it rests on. It weaves through the great Northern Pines and up the hill that defines the topography of the entire city of Duluth. In addition to this, it offers fantastic views of Lake Superior and takes on the tiny ripples that liter the Duluth landscape. It feels like God Designed a Golf Course and Donald Ross simply revealed it.


Highland National connects to the community that surrounds the golf course. Nestled within the city limits of Saint Paul, Minnesota and 5 minutes from Downtown, you consistently know that you are in the city. The Exterior of the course is lined with city roads with residential houses across the street. You get close to (and see tons of glimpses of) the local High School in the area that supports all of the children of the community. Additionally, you go up and down and around the land that surrounds the historic Highland (neighborhood in Saint Paul) Watch Tower. It is impossible to play Highland National and not feel like you are connected to the community in which it resides. This golf course is interwoven to the fabric of the city of Saint Paul and Highland Neighborhood.


Quality

If you have gotten this far in the blog post, thank you for sticking with me. I promise the rest of these factors will have a much shorter description. The Quality factor simply refers to the quality of conditions of the golf course. However, one aspect where A Good Walk Spoiled may differ from the general public is that we put a heavy emphasis on smooth consistent greens and the rest of the factors are minor contributions to this score. There seems to be an overwhelming consensus in the golf community that green equals good and we are here to tell you, that is not the case. A course could have slight brown greens and spots in the fairway but as long as the greens are consistent and smooth, that is all that matters. To summarize where A Good Walk Spoiled may differentiate from the general public is that Quality of the course refers to how it plays, not how it looks.


Price

There is not much to say about price other than it is a hard number on the score. The more expensive a course is, the lower the score. We pull this data from the courses website and base it on what Walking on a Weekend costs (no Carts).


Architecture

Architecture is a HUGE topic and since I promised to keep the rest of these factors short, we will throw out some factors that contribute to this factor and save a LONG future blog post regarding architecture. Good architecture is making the most of the land that architect was given, creating thoughtful and strategic golf holes, creating a walkable golf course and any fun additions that create unique and memorable experiences on the course. Some great examples of architecture would be Lawsonia Golf Course (Green Lake, WI) (how memorable is that course) and something as simple as Southern Hills (Farmington, MN - not the big fantasy course in Oklahoma) (the sum of the parts of that course definitely punch above the weight of the individual holes and get the post out of a fairly small piece of land).


The Links at Lawsonia is an excellent example of great architecture. Look at the first hole where the use of elevation changes is used as a hazard.


Value

Value is the final Factor in the Completely Unbiased, 100% Scientific Golf Course Ranking System and maybe the most important factor. Value takes into account all of the above mentioned factors (aside from price) and divides it by the price. Basically the Value is the ratio of what you are getting out of the golf course against the price. So a course could have a really high price but if the golf course is amazing, it still has a very high value rating. Courses with good Value ratings would be Keller Golf Course (Maplewood, MN) and White Bear Yacht Club (White Bear Lake, MN)


THE RANKING


So now that we have all of the Factors laid out, we need to get into how the total score of the course is calculated. It is fairly straightforward but there are a couple details that we want to dig into. All of the categories will be rated on a scale of 1-10. 10 is the best, 1 is the worst. At the end all of the scores will be tallied up for a total of 60 possible points. So the closer to 60 a course is, the better the course (according to our rankings)


There are two categories that might need a little further explaining. One of them is the price. As stated above, price is based on a Saturday walking greens fee and that is a “hard” number based on ranges that AGWS has selected. The more expensive the course is, the lower the number for the “Price” score will be. The other category that needs some slight elaboration is the ‘Value” score. Value has stated previously is the summation of the architecture+quality+place+culture, divided by the Cost. It, unlike the price, is not a “hard” number that we calculate as the Price scoring would make the math abnormal. Because of this, the value is more of a “mental” assessment assigned based on the other numbers that we tabulated. This is to simplify the ranking system and for easier intuition when reading our rankings.


The explanation of those two Factors may have made it more confusing but hopefully once you see the courses with the scores laid out, you will see the scoring makes sense and validates the title of “The Completely Unbiased, 100% Scientific Golf Course Ranking System.”


DECIDING THE SYSTEM


As covered in the intro, We at A Good Walk Spoiled felt that most popular Course Ratings were inaccurate when it came to referring to the “Everyday Golfer”. We wanted to make a new ranking system that would be more representative of this demographic and therefore, docks points for being expensive and doesn’t necessarily require immaculate conditioning on the course. That said, despite having the word “Unbiased” in our ranking system, this ranking system will show a tad bit of favorability to courses with lower greens fees but that does not mean that all of the top ranked courses are expensive or public. In fact, some of our highest ranked courses are in fact private.


Now unlike the big name publications and their rankings, we do not have the luxury of having a team, connections and unlimited resources to travel and play these exclusive/famous golf courses. Instead, this ranking system is limited to the courses that A Good Walk Spoiled contributors have played. So when you are looking at our rankings and you notice there is a course missing, it may be because we have not played it. Comment if you see a course missing and we will tell you if we have not played it and who knows, maybe we have and the numbers have spoken and the course stinks.


We are excited to start publishing our course reviews and to provide some more written material in addition to our other content (Photos on Instagram and Videos on YouTube). We will be starting next month (January 2023) by publishing our Top 10 Public Minnesota Courses and doing one course a week. We still start at number 10 and work our way to what we have as the best Public Course in Minnesota. Could it be The Quarry at Giants Ridge?



Or could it be the historic Keller Golf Course?



You will need to wait and see next month. In the meantime, feel free to guess in the comments on some courses that you think will be in the top 10 and be sure to subscribe to the email list so you will be notified when the first ranking goes live.













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