Golf Digest’s Top 100…And What YOU Hate About It. A Statistical Analysis of The “Best” Courses

So Golf Digest released its list of the Top 100 golf courses in the United States and, as can be expected, nobody liked it. Or at least those who did like it didn’t talk about it on social media. That’s how lists work. Long before we took any interest in golf, we worked for a music publication. We saw firsthand how the year-end lists were only good for generating hatred and loathing, even among the staffs compiling them (especially among the staffs compiling them). Our advice to you: Don’t take lists too seriously.

Music, and especially metal music, should be an indicator how ridiculous the concept is. That 10 separate publications could all conclude that one album is the best (which is what often happens) is an absurdity of statistics for an industry (reviewing) that is based on no actual hard data. The same applies to golf courses. That’s why we enjoy; it almost seems ballsy for them to suggest that Augusta National is only the No. 8 course in the United States.

Granted, we accept the desire for lists. We review the lists when traveling. There is no Bandcamp for golf courses. No way to try before you buy and—although we understand the joy of finding the hidden local gem—odds are that we will never visit Japan a second time. We are going to home in on two or three courses and we’re going to do it. Lists help with this.

So how do you figure what list is the most legit, and which is only halfway legit? That’s what we aim to do today. Kind of.

We identified three major complaint categories during our research into Golf Digest’s work:

  1. That designer has way <too many / too few> entries on the list.
  2. That region has way <too many / too few> entries on the list.
  3. That course is ranked way <too high / too low / not at all>.

There is only one real way to prove or disprove any of this, and that’s by doing in-depth statistical comparisons to other Top 100 lists. And, uh, that’s our first problem. Not many publications run Top 100 lists. We only found two that we deemed worthwhile for “legitimate” analysis: the aforementioned Top100 and Golf magazine. We’re a fan of Golf Course Gurus, but they acknowledge their list only accounts for courses they’ve played (i.e., Augusta National hasn’t happened yet), and Breaking Eighty is also a worthwhile blog, but it’s based on the opinion of one dude. So we’ve got a total of three lists to compare between, which hardly makes for hard science. STILL, we ran those numbers and found at least somewhat interesting trends between the three complaint categories, which you can review below.


Photo Cred: Wade Hampton Golf Club



We’ll handle this section by noting if a particular publication has an unhealthy obsession—or an unspeakable loathing for—the architect in question. It should also be noted that we required an architect have at least five total courses between the three lists, or else Warren Henderson could accuse 100 and Golf for hating him.



UNHEALTHY OBSESSION: The biggest complaint against GD was that Tom Fazio is the most popular designer by a long shot, with 13 total entries. So we had to ask…is that so weird? As it turns out, yes. Yes it was. Top100 gave Fazio five nods, while Golf settled for three. It’s more impressive when expressed as a percentage: Golf Digest likes Tom Fazio 433% more than Golf does. The conclusion many readers settled upon was strange: “Golf Digest loves difficult courses, and therefore hates common golfers!” Well…maybe. The other two designers they liked at a higher ratio were Jack Nicklaus (5-2-2) and, to some degree, Pete Dye (9-7-7). That pair tends to give tough love, for sure. But they also tend to design courses that stand out visually—see Valhalla for Nicklaus and every goddamn thing for Dye. Is pure aesthetics a good measuring stick for design? Not entirely, but you shouldn’t hate it. Still, 433% is a huge disparity.

UNSPEAKABLE LOATHING: Few architects (maybe Robert Trent Jones) are more often cited negatively by hip architecture critics than Fazio. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the trio of Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, and Coore & Crenshaw get the most love for the new age of design. So it might lend some tinder to the fire of critics to note that Doak and C&C were the biggest disparity between Digest and the others these three. Not as dramatic as Fazio’s own inclusion rate; Doak came in at 3-5-5 and C&C at 4-6-7. This contrast can almost be explained by one factor, however: Golf Digest included no Streamsong courses in its 100, while the other two parties included all three Streamsong entries. Why? That’s a good question. One we don’t have answers for right now, but our hunch would be that none of the Streamsongs were able to gather the required 60 reviews on account of relative newness.



UNHEALTHY OBSESSION: None to speak of. Ten architects qualified for our five-course inclusion limit, and Golf had more entries than the other two for only one of those designers (Tillinghast, and even then, it had ten entries to Top100’s nine).

UNSPEAKABLE LOATHING: Again, not much going. As noted above, it only had three Fazio citations…but that doesn’t seem so weird compared to Top100’s five, versus the 13 Golf Digest somehow found.



UNHEALTHY OBSESSION: Donald Ross was an interesting name when comparing these three; all featured him plenty, but there was a significant variety among which courses were chosen. Both Golf and Digest came in at eight citations, but Top100 went extra and provided 11—including a range of otherwise unmentioned W’s: Whipporwill, Wykagl, and White Bear Yacht Club.

UNSPEAKABLE LOATHING: Nothing worth noting.


Photo Cred: Wikimedia Commons



This was the most interesting complaint…the idea that Golf Digest’s list skewed toward one part of the country over the others. The obvious response is “LOL yeah. And guess what: Their outlook on Europe is pretty skewed toward Scotland too.” In other words, “no kidding.” That said, let’s take a look at whether some publication’s mistake your state to be a hidden Xanadu, or maybe a meaningless void.

SIDE NOTE(S): Between our three sources, 15 states managed to not land a course on any of the Top 100 lists. Sorry about your luck: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Also, we thought by the grace of Satan himself that Ohio was going to have six courses from each source. And then, at no. 99, Top100 added Cleveland’s The Country Club. God dammit. BPBM will have to settle for 6-6-7.



HIDDEN XANADU: You’ll recall above that we suggested maybe Golf Digest just had a thing for good-looking golf courses…which might imply that they also have a preference for more beautiful states as well. Well…there’s one state where Golf Digest loves about three-times more than Golf…and it’s Illinois. We’re talking about the only state that manages to make the Great Lakes ugly. Chicago Golf Club is the only to appear on all three, and Medinah No. 3 and Butler National also appear on Top100’s list. Butler, however, is the only correlation between Digest’s designer and state skew.

MEANINGLESS VOID: You’ll recall above that we suggested maybe Golf Digest just had a thing for good-looking golf courses…which might imply that they also have a preference for more beautiful states as well. Well…they only chose three course from Florida—half the number chosen by Golf and Top100. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll instantly realize the three they missed were the three Streamsong courses. It kinda seems like the all complaints about Golf Digest’s distrust of Streamsong. STAY TUNED.



We don’t intend to make Golf look like the most beige golf publication ever, but again: It makes no bold moves here.



MEANINGLESS VOID: Haha…it seems especially exaggerated to use the term “Meaningless Void” when describing this disparity…but Top100 comes in with only 11 California courses…unlike the 14 shown by Digest and Golf. And, as you noticed, there’s no “Hidden Xanadu” to explain it. Just an extra course here, extra course there…LIKE AN EXTRA COURSE AT NO. 99 IN OHIO TO KEEP IT FROM 6-6-6. THANKS GUYS.


Photo Cred: California Golf Club of San Francisco


Believe it or not, this complaint category covered the most ground, with possibly thousands of courses represented. Many people are surprised that more than 100 courses exist, much less that their favorite Disneyworld offering isn’t on it. So let’s run through this one really quick, pointing out the course that each publication had an unusual affinity for (which was otherwise unranked by the other two) as well as which course they simply snubbed when the other two were all-in.



BIGGEST SNUB: This one was interesting, considering how evenly both Golf and Top100 held it. The former ranked The California Golf Club of San Francisco no. 35, while the latter bumped it back to No. 36. It’s tough to deny that CGSF is a Golden Era-classic, which might suffer from having a smaller name behind its design (Arthur Vernon Macan), or being surrounded by San Francisco’s other iconic entries (Olympic Club, San Francisco Golf Club). Of course, a density of championship courses certainly didn’t hurt Long Island.
ARE YOU NUTS?: Golf Digest’s fascination with The Alotian Club is maybe the firmest confirmation that the publication likes dropping its jaw. This Arkansas club (yes, designed by Fazio) has several tees that sit well more than 50 feet above fairway or green. Towering tees is something that tourists (and we include ourselves among them) appreciate more than critics. Ironically, Alotian is private AF. Most could agree that Alotian isn’t out of place somewhere in the 80 – 100 range. But Digest ranked it no. 31.



BIGGEST SNUB: We’ve established that Golf Digest is biased toward Tom Fazio. But isn’t it possible, in the slightest, that Golf is biased against Tom Fazio? The best proof of this is Victoria National, what many consider to be the best course in Indiana. Digest may have it ranked much higher than Top100 places it (43 versus 65), but Golf sees fit to leave it absentee. We’ll go with the majority.

ARE YOU NUTS?: Not nearly as skewed as Alotian, you’ve got to scroll all the way to No. 71 to find a course that doesn’t make either of its competitors’ lists. That course would be Newport National Golf Club, a Willie Davis classic serving to keep Rhode Islanders high on their horses about their supposed membership in the New England elite.



ARE YOU CRAZY?: White Bear Yacht Club lists proudly on the golf section of its page that it is “ranked 5th in the state of Minnesota by Golf Digest and 72nd in Classic Courses in the United States by Golf Week.” They are going to go nuttttttttts when they find out Top100 has them ranked No. 63 in the whole goddamn country!

BIGGEST SNUB: Although it seems odd that Top100 dropped Erin Hills (maybe a bias against poorly-received U.S. Opens…Chambers Bay also missed its list), the course that both Golf and Digest were hand-in-hand for was Medinah No. 3—coming in at 51 and 53, respectively. Top100 saw no need to throw further accolades at Illinois, apparently…or perhaps the great grandmother of the Top100 Editor-in-Chief was scorned by Tom Bendelow. And now he has his revenge.

What do you hate most about these lists? What do you hate most about BPBM? Let us know @BPBlackMetal.

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