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The Confidential Guide revealed

18 November, 2014

The Confidential Guide revealed

Tom Doak’s updated “Confidential Guide” book: a Scottish perspective

The updated version of Tom Doak’s cult golf book “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses” will be released in five volumes, the first of which has just been published. For those who don’t know, earlier editions of The Confidential Guide – where Doak reviews and marks courses on a scale of 0 to 10 – change hands for substantial amounts of money amongst acolytes of the minimalist designer.

Along with Ran Morrissett (founder of the Golf Club Atlas website), Darius Oliver (writer and publisher of the Planet Golf books) and Masa Nishijima (long-time international consultant at Top 100 Golf Courses and author of Analysis of a Golf Course), Doak now aims to rate and critique more than 2,000 golf courses around the world, the first 289 of which, in Great Britain and Ireland, appear in Volume 1.

There’s quite a bit to digest in this particular volume, so we thought it might be worth having an initial look at the book from a more specific Caledonian perspective, leaving an examination of the other countries for future articles.

The original Confidential Guide first appeared in 1988, when 53 of the layouts assessed by Tom Doak were located in Scotland. The new revised edition of the book almost doubles the number of courses that lie to the north of the border with England, adding all the top courses that have opened for business in the last quarter of a century, with three glaring exceptions.

Most prominent of these is Spey Valley in Aviemore, an exuberant Dave Thomas-designed layout that sits comfortably in the top half of our Scottish Top 100 chart. The exclusion of the other two courses is even more puzzling because the Fidraand Dirleton courses at Archerfield Links – currently number 32 and 39 in our Tartan Top 100 – are located immediately adjacent to Tom Doak’s only Scottish design at Renaissance Club in East Lothian, which is ranked above both its near neighbours at number 27 in Scotland. Cynics might speculate the absence of both Archerfield courses from the book is understandable due to commercial rivalry – we’d like to believe it was simply an oversight.

Actually, there are a number of other noteworthy courses that are also missing, three of them on the west coast at Glasgow (Gailes), Kilmarnock (Barassie) and Irvine (all of which have been used in the past as Final Open Qualifying venues) and the expansive parkland layout of Downfield in Dundee. The reason given in the book for leaving out Downfield (a former Scottish Open venue) was that it couldn’t be found after driving around for half an hour in search of it. A rather lame excuse surely?

In fairness, to counterbalance any controversy over leaving out (inadvertently or otherwise) those leading Scottish courses, the book does make reference to a raft of lesser layouts, such as Braid Hills, Peebles and Strathpeffer Spa. Also, dare I mention it, there’s even appraisals of other little-known courses, such as Braemar, Cullen and Dunaverty. Furthermore, several wee 9-holers – Carradale, Killin and Rosehearty amongst them – are also considered, so full credit to the authors for this depth of coverage.

As it’s perfectly entitled to, the new volume reappraises the “Doak scale” ratings that were originally given to more than a dozen Tartan tracks, with most of these layouts marked up one point from 3 to 4, 4 to 5 or 5 to 6. Nevertheless, eyebrows will be raised at three courses – Lundin, St Andrews (Jubilee) and Dunbar – which have jumped up 2 points from a 3 (“about the level of the average golf course in the world”) to a 5 (“well above the average golf course, but probably about the average among courses covered by this book”). If those ranking alterations are surprising, the three point jump of Shiskinefrom a humdrum Doak scale-2 (“a mediocre golf course with little or no architectural interest”) to a more than respectable 5 (where although “it’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea… Shiskine is not to be missed”) might well have some people wondering if Arran was under a blanket of fog when the course was first visited.

Eighteen of the courses in the book have been selected for special attention, forming what’s been termed “The Gourmet’s Choice,” and five of these favourite tracks – all links layouts – are located north of Hadrian’s Wall: St Andrew’s (Old), Prestwick, North Berwick (West), Royal Dornoch (Championship) and, rather surprisingly, Askernish. These courses are described as “places that stir our souls, and will reward the visitor with something out of the ordinary”. Simply put, the authors think that they’re “courses we would take a good friend to play”.

An eclectic 18-hole course for GB & I has also been assembled in the new Confidential Guide, with eight of the holes fashioned from Scottish links courses. The more predictable of these – No. 1 (“Battery”) at Machrihanish (Championship), No. 8 (“Postage Stamp”) on Royal Troon (Old), No.14 (“Foxy”) at Royal Dornoch (Championship) and No. 17 (“Alps”) on Prestwick – are joined by the par four 2nd on St Andrews (Old), the par five 6th at Carnoustie (Championship), the par three 13th at Muirfield and the par three 15th at North Berwick (West).

Individual holes on a number of courses attract criticism from the authors – the “uncomfortably American” 18th at Skibo Castle – Carnegie Club and the “ridiculous uphill par-3” 3rd at Gullane No.2 are two that spring to mind – but the most damning narrative is reserved for all 18 holes on the St Andrews (Castle) course, controversially awarded a score of 0 (“a course so contrived and unnatural that it may poison your mind”), where the considered opinion is that “trying to one-up Kingsbarns turned out to be a formula for excess”. Unnecessarily harsh words indeed for a modern layout that currently resides at number 22 in our national rankings for Scotland, only one position behind its illustrious stablemate St Andrews (New). Then again, it’s very fashionable amongst many in the golfing architectural fraternity these days to lambast just about anything the St Andrews Links Trust does.

Despite the gap of "local" European knowledge, the authors have, overall, performed a reasonable job from a Scottish golf course perspective. Ralph Thompson and the other golfing islanders on South Uist will no doubt be delighted to have their Askernish course lauded so loudly in the book. However, I'm doubtful that architects David J. Russell and David McLay Kidd will be overwhelmed.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses of the World


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