Is This Why Architects Should Not Be On Course Ranking Panels?

In this week's SI Golf Plus, a stand alone FedEx Cup playoff preview (not posted online), Michael Bamberger profiles architect Tom Doak's rise to prominence. For synergy purposes, included with the piece is a Doak assessments of each FedEx Cup playoff venue, including the TPC Boston, recently renovated by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon.

Here's what Doak says:

I've never been there, and I'm not in a good place to judge it. It's an Arnold Palmer course, and his stuff is all over the map. Gil Hanse, who used to work for me, did the renovation work there. It's a weird relationship--I admire what he's doing, but I'm not going to be his biggest booster. I have to compete with him.

Of course Tom is welcome to feel whatever he likes and you have to admire his honesty, however, he seems to be implying that he doesn't want to say anything positive about a potential competitor.

And in light of the recent release of the Golf Magazine Top 100, I'm uncomfortable with the notion of Tom, one of 100 Golf panelists, evaluating Gil's work when he's openly stating that he does not want to promote his competition. Wouldn't this make him less likely to fairly evaluate the work of Hanse or anyone else he considers competition?

This seems to me to be example A for why architects in today's cuthroat business should not be allowed to vote on course ranking panels.

How They Do It

The Golf Magazine panel (see post below) works from this criteria, posted online but not printed in the current issue beside the list:

Our 100-strong rating panel includes major championship winners, Ryder Cup players, architects, leading amateurs, administrators and others respected for their golf knowledge. Each is asked to assign a letter vote, from A+ to F-, to each of the 575 nominated courses they have played. A’s are reserved for the world’s top 10 courses, F’s for those that don’t deserve to be on the ballot. Write-ins are permitted. Consideration is given for strategic design, playability, setting, tradition, condition, examination, etc.

Examination? This is golf. Not school. It's supposed to be fun. Right? Why can't Fun be a category? Sorry, continue...

The panelist determines the importance of the criteria in each case. Votes for courses played during the past five years are weighted 1.5 times those that have not. Architects cannot vote on their own designs. Once the panel’s nearly 25,000 votes are received, letter grades are translated into numbers. Finally, we simply do the math by dividing a course’s total by the number of panelists voting on it. The result is the most respected ranking in the world.

They were going strong there until that last sentence. I still like the setup. But only prohibiting architects from voting on their own designs isn't enough. Golf administrators should be prohibited from voting on courses they host events at. Photographers shouldn't be allowed to vote on client courses they're also paid to photograph, etc...

And architects also should not be allowed to vote on older courses they restored/renovated, which I believe they currently are allowed to do (ex: Rees Jones can vote on Torrey Pines, Tom Doak can vote on Chicago Golf Club, etc... I bet you can guess which example I think poses a legitimate conflict of interest). 

Golf Magazine Panel 2005 v. 2003

sep05.gifThe 2005 Golf Magazine lists are up at Golfonline. Still working out the kinks. They have a photo of Sand Hills on the homepage with a caption that reads "Torrey Pines, No. 60 on the list."  

Since there's very little going on in the golf world, I'm going to take my time dissecting this a bit more.

Posted online is the 2005 panel, the lists, the criteria, etc. The article on panelist Leon Wentz is also posted, but I have been assured that Wentz (who recently finished playing the 2003 Top 100 World) did not see the current list early because he was trying to finish off the 2003 list. The article did not mention which list Wentz was trying to play, I'm told we were supposed to know it was the 2003 list.  But this being the 2005 rankings issue, naturally I (and many other readers who emailed) assumed that the article was on Wentz conquering the current list.

Anyhow, it's worth looking at the panel because there is a bizarre mix of non-golf industry architecture aficionados and golf establishment types with conflicts-of-interest ranging from minor to raging (architects, developers, photographers, PR rep, magazine staff, USGA, golf association execs, etc...).

I see several of the people on the list who are not connected to the golf industry. They really make an effort to study and contemplate their votes, discuss the architecture with their peers or the architects themselves, and in general take the list very seriously. Which makes me wonder why they can't just have non-golf industry aficionados.  Because let's be honest here, how many courses other than their own or those they played in tournaments did Jack, Arnold, Gary, Annika and Karrie rate last year?

Anyhow, I've underlined the new panelists for 2005.

George Bedard, Canada
Judy Bell, Colorado
Prakash Bhandari, India
Michael Bonallack, Scotland
Niall M. Cameron, Bahamas
Malcolm Campbell, Scotland
Steve Carr, England
Paul D. Caruso, Jr., Montana
Bob Charles, New Zealand
David M. Clarke, New York
Tom Clasby, California
Tom Crow, California
Robert E. Cupp, Georgia
Bob Currey, Massachusetts
Gordon Dalgleish, Georgia
Michael R. Davis, New Jersey
John R. Dempsey, North Carolina
Tom Doak, Michigan
Luke Donald, England
Joann Dost, California
James J. Dunne III, New York
Pete Dye, Florida
David B. Fay, New Jersey
Jim Finegan, Pennsylvania
Marvin A. French, Arizona
Dana Fry, Ohio
Jim Furyk, Florida
Gary A. Galyean, Florida
Sergio Garcia, Spain
Christopher Goodwin, Canada
Kendra Graham, New Jersey
John Harris, Minnesota
Gary Hart, Arizona
Philippe P. Hermann, Switzerland
Alan Heuer, New York
Arthur Hills, Ohio
Richard Hills, England
Bill Hogan, Texas
John Hopkins, Wales
Tony Jacklin, England
Peter Jacobsen, Oregon
Terry Jastrow, California
Rees Jones, New Jersey
Bill Jones III, Georgia
Sunil Kappagoda, Connecticut
Taizo Kawata, Japan
James Keegan, Colorado
Ortwin Klang, Germany
Norman Klaparda, California
Samm Klaparda, California
Mike Klemme, Oklahoma
Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., Wisconsin
Laurence C. Lambrecht, Rhode Island
Jeffrey Lewis, New York
David Mackintosh, Argentina
Joe Marengi, Texas
Peter G. Mathieson, England
Thomas McBroom, Canada
Peter McEvoy, England
Thomas J. Meeks, Indiana
Brian Morgan, Scotland
Ran Morrissett, North Carolina
Jay Mottola, New York
Jack Nicklaus, Florida
Frank Nobilo, New Zealand
David S. Nolan, New York
Michael O'Bryon, Florida
Kazuyuki Ohashi, Japan
Kazunori Ohtsuka, Japan
Peter Oosterhuis, Arizona
Arnold Palmer, Pennsylvania
John Paramor, England
Harrie P.W. Perkins, Texas
Hal Phillips, Maine
Gary Player, South Africa
Tom Ramsey, Australia
Luke Reese, Illinois
Ron Riemer, Illinois
Cabell Robinson, Spain
Justin Rose, England
Michael C. Roseto, New Jersey
Lorne Rubenstein, Canada
Pat Ruddy, Ireland
Mitsutaka Sado, Japan
Isao Sato, Japan
Bill Shean, Illinois
David V. Smith, California
Annika Sorenstam, Sweden
Donald Steel, England
George Sweda, Ohio
Charles H. Tadge, Ohio
Oliver A. Thompson, Ohio
Sho Tobari, Japan
Daniel C. Ulmer, Jr., Kentucky
Fred Vuich, Pennsylvania
Karrie Webb, Australia
Tom Weiskopf, Arizona
Christopher P. Wightman, New Jersey
Michael Wolveridge, Australia
Walter Woods, Scotland

2003 panelists not on the 2005 list: Robert Trent Jones Jr., Henry Kravis, Joe Luigs, Masa Nishijima.

Final count: panel is up to 100 (still not nearly enough). 5 women, 4 on USGA payroll, 18 architects (including photo-op player architects) and 3 free lance photographers. 

Bridging The Divide Between Panelists and a Ranking

JEJU ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA--Armed with call waiting for over a year now, the task of fending off public relations gurus has been made easier. 

But then I realized what I was missing: an all-expense paid trip to visit South Korea's The Club at Nine Bridges.

After turning down two offers (one in person, one when I picked the phone up by accident), I decided to say yes because if nothing else, I've always wanted to see Jeju Island in the summer monsoon season. So here I am, blogging to you live from Jeju, safely off the coast of South Korea and well out of reach of projectiles controlled by Kim Jong iI (well, I'm not really here and they're not really out of Jong il's reach).

Making the 21-hour flight just a bit longer was news I read in the September Golf Magazine (not linkable yet). While trying to set my new speed record for fastest ever flip-through of a Golf Magazine instruction section, I stopped to read that The Club at Nine Bridges cracked the latest installment of the once credible Golf Magazine "Top 100 Courses in the World."

Nine Bridges's 95th spot in the World 2005 ranking comes after a relentless PR firm based in Los Angeles spent years suggesting to writers and panelists that they should come visit this Ron Fream masterpiece. Imagine the coincidence! And you'd think one of the panelists was the former founder of a well known club company who served as the honorary chair of an event at Nine Bridges, all the while asking other panelists to visit. Or some such thing!

But you see, anyone who has played masterworks like Carmel Mountain Ranch or Desert Falls knows that Fream is a misunderstood genius. And in the case of Nine Bridges, it takes a special talent to create something out of just $100 million. (Though I bet Fream had much less than $100 million to work with since some of the money had to pay for panelists and writers to visit the course! People, come on, priorities!) 

The piece de resistance came when reading in the magazine that none other than Chi Chi Rodriguez--keen observer of all things cultural--described Nine Bridges as the Taj Mahal of golf.

Now that says it all, don't you think?