Golf Digest's "100 Best Courses Outside the United States," is but the latest in a long list of lists that contains the likes of America's 100 Greatest ... Best New Public ... Best New Private ... America's 50 Toughest Courses ... America's Best Resorts ... America's Best Golf Cities. Just about the only list they haven't done is a list of the 100 best courses that have not yet appeared on a list. Maybe next year.
Top of this year's rankings is the links of Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, which has bumped the Old Course at St Andrews down to second. Third is Royal Dornoch, with Royal Portrush fourth. Muirfield is a surprisingly lowly fifth, with the top ten rounded out by Royal Melbourne's composite course, Ballybunion, Turnberry, Carnoustie and New Zealand's Cape Kidnappers.
Having played nine of the magazine's top ten (not Ballybunion), I am somewhat qualified to comment on the real order, which should read: 1) Muirfield; 2) St Andrews; 3) Royal Melbourne; 4) Royal Dornoch; 5) Carnoustie; 6) Royal Portrush; 7) Royal County Down; 8) Morfontaine; 9) Sunningdale; 10) Portmarnock.
Elsewhere, there are even more outstanding examples of the inexplicable. Loch Lomond is as high as 11th. It's a good course and the scenery is lovely, but how anyone not addled by either old age or an excess of alcoholic beverages could rank it above the likes of Sunningdale (12th), Morfontaine (13th), Kingston Heath (15th), Portmarnock (24th), Hoylake (33rd) or Barnbougle Dunes (57th) is a mystery on a par with the current location of Lord Lucan. Perhaps the voters meant to say that Loch Lomond is the best course in the world hardly anyone from Scotland ever gets to play; that makes more sense.
Then there is dear old North Berwick. Many of the self-proclaimed experts on a favourite architecture website (golfclubatlas.com) of mine are quick to extol the virtues of this eccentric East Lothian course - they love what they love to call "quirk" - but to rank it 50th in the world outside of America is more than a bit of a stretch. Only if the thought of hitting over improbably placed walls or to impossibly contoured greens is even remotely appealing could one rank North Berwick above Walton Heath or Melbourne's Metropolitan, to name but two.
Other oddities leapt to my attention. Most Australians will be wondering at the admittedly stunning New South Wales finding a spot above the cunning Kingston Heath. Had it not been for the tragic and wholly inappropriate redesign of a couple of greens on the back nine (what were you thinking, Donald Steel?) I have no doubt that the always fun Royal Aberdeen would be a lot higher than 56th. And that Royal St. Georges - where someone called Ben Curtis was singled-out as the best player in the 2003 Open - is apparently the second-best course in England will lift more than just a few eyebrows skyward.
Some rhetorical questions came to mind, too. Porthcawl is better than Troon? Cruden Bay is better than Hoylake? And Kingsbarns is better than Birkdale, Troon, Lytham and Portmarnock? Come on!
My last shakes of the head came upon discovering some courses that have no business being in the top 500 never mind 100. I'm talking about the beautiful but architecturally flawed Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand; Spain's overrated Valderrama (ask almost any of the competitors in the Volvo Masters); Old Head in Ireland - a caricature of a links; and the nice but hardly memorable Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda.
The ideal hole should provide an infinite variety of shots according to the varying positions of the tee, the situation of the flag, the direction and strength of the wind, etc... It should also at times give full advantage for the voluntary pull or slice, one of the most finished shots in golf, and one that few champions are able to carry out with any great degree of accuracy. ALISTER MACKENZIE