Boxing has the World Boxing Council, The World Boxing Association, the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Organization and because of this we pay no attention to them. Golf has lists from Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golfweek, Links Magazine, Scoregolf (for Canada), Golf Monthly, etc. etc.
To be frank I only follow just a single list, Golf Magazine’s Top 100 in the World. It provides me with a rough idea of what I need to see. I have played or walked 70 courses on their list. I figured it out a few years back that I will never play them all because around a dozen courses don’t match my taste in architecture and I would rather go see an obscure Raynor.
The original golf course ratings were done by Golf Digest in 1966 and it was put out as a list of the 200 toughest courses. It quickly morphed into a list of the 100 Greatest Courses and eventually became an important issue for the magazine. As the popularity grew, so did the controversy, which in turn drove additional sales and subscriptions. Other magazines saw the popularity and attention Golf Digest was receiving and set out to have their own ratings issue.
Golf Digest eventually set out criteria that asked panelists (now over 1000) to rate courses on the following criteria: Shot Values, Resistance to Scoring, Design Variety, Memorability, Aesthetics, Conditioning and Ambience (added later than the other criteria). My criticism of their list has always stemmed from the fact that all players have to be single digit making resistance to scoring and conditioning too large a focus in their rankings. I’ve played with enough panelists to know this is the case.
Golf Magazine started a Top 100 Course in the World list in 1983. They pulled together a group of well-travelled and respected industry members to rank the world’s best courses using their own criteria. The list became as popular as Golf Digest because it opened up more new interesting courses and difficulty seemed to have less impact on the ratings. I particularly liked this one because it took me to places like Crystal Downs.
The two initial rankings complimented each other. This meant there were approximately four to five hundred people rating courses for these publications in the world. But with the birth of dozens of these new lists and each publication branching out into more, we now see thousands of individuals with some sort of rater’s card.
My issue with rankings is the magazines look to control the rankings by dealing with what they refer to as outliers. They want their ranking numbers to be consistent and focused on their view of how the rankings should work.
In my opinion a useful ranking is a smaller well educated group. It contains as many outliers as it does middle of the road personalities. I trust a group like this to wade through and find the special and unusual gems that are worthy of consideration. A list that plays it safe and down the middle is useless to me. The consensus teaches us nothing new.
Like Boxing, there are far too many lists, panels and people rating courses that everything has become noise and I no longer pay attention to any of the lists. I now look for people who can provide me with an outlier’s point of view. On a recent trip I played Delemere Forest simply on a friend’s recommendation and it was one of the greatest golfing experiences I have ever had. Perhaps were now too reliant on lists and I need to travel as others originally did. Pick a spot of interest and play everything and wait for the surprises that do come if you make the effort. We did that in Wales and I had the time of my life and none of those courses were on a list!