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How to play the world’s most exclusive golf clubs

22 August, 2016
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How to play the world’s most exclusive golf clubs

We review John Sabino’s new book

There’s no shortage of correspondents with extensive golfing experience in the Top 100 Team, with several of them setting formidable personal targets in their quest to play as many of the top tracks as possible.

For instance, our US consultant Fergal O’Leary completed an 8-year pursuit to play the Top 100 in the World last year when he travelled to the Durban Country Club, South Africa. At 32, he became the youngest member of an elite group of thirty people who have so far managed to accomplish this global golfing feat.

Our Netherlands-based International Correspondent David Davis recently undertook an extensive trip to Japan, China and several other Far Eastern countries as he also strives to play the World Top 100 (and quite a number of other courses that just fail to make the top rankings) – and with fewer than a dozen to go, it won’t be long until he also become a member of the exclusive World Top 100 Club.

Another self-confessed golf nut named John Sabino set off “in pursuit of golf’s Holy Grail” a few years ago and his task was to play all of Golf Magazine’s World Top 100 as defined in their 2003 rankings. He wrote a blog as he progressed along his golfing journey before being approached by a book publisher to write about his experiences and give insights into how he gained access to some of the most restricted golf courses in the world. The highly entertaining book How to play the world’s most exclusive golf clubs is the result of his literary efforts.

Strangely enough, more than half the Top 100 courses were played by following the standard booking procedure for guest play – no great mystique in that process then when all it takes is a letter or an email! Direct invitations from members, architects, greenkeepers or professionals accounted for another eighteen rounds and a further nine tee times were secured through hotel/tour operators or by a corporate invite or charity outing. Unsolicited invitations via the author’s blog gained him access to another few courses and one club in the United States rather surprisingly allowed him to play after he cold called to ask for a game!

There’s extensive coverage in the book of a number of “special experience” venues like the Californian trio of Bel Air Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club and Cypress Point Club. Overseas clubs warranting particular attention include Morfontaine, Loch Lomond and Durban Country Club whilst there’s sizeable multi-page spreads devoted to both Augusta National and a handful of Japanese clubs, where the author thinks at least seven hours has to be devoted to playing golf, including pre-match coffee and post-round hot bath then drinks.

A number of other private facilities are examined, most of them located in the United States. Sanctuary in Colorado, Porcupine Creek in California and Pocantico Hills in New York are just some of the ultra-exclusive tracks discussed. Elsewhere in the world, Ellerston in Australia, Goodwood in Canada and Prince de Provence in France – all three of which are nationally ranked by Top 100 Golf Courses – are also considered, though the author diplomatically offers no hints on how to gain access to any of these very privileged golfing playgrounds.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are those that have nothing to do with the author or his stated aim of getting golfers onto tracks that are tough to gain entry to. For example, chapter 6 (“Playing the World’s Elite Courses in an earlier era”) details the exploits of Ralph Kennedy, a traveling salesman for a pencil company who played Augusta National just after it opened in 1933 when the nines were played in reverse order. Known as “The Peripatetic Golfer,” it’s reckoned he walked the equivalent of twice the circumference of the earth, playing more than 3,000 courses in fourteen countries, over a forty-two-year period starting in 1921.

Similarly, chapter 12 (“The Kiwi Miracle”) tells the story of two young New Zealand golfers who set out on a golfing adventure in 2010 to raise money for charity and play a round of golf every day around the world, starting at Kauri Cliffs on 1st January and ending at Cape Kidnappers on 31st December, passing through Australasia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Plenty of top courses were played in a semi-impromptu fashion along the way, from Cypress Point to Pine Valley in the United States, Loch Lomond to Ballybunion in Great Britain & Ireland, and from Morfontaine in France to the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.

John Sabino certainly calls it as he sees it, without fear or favour – early in the book, he states that he’s no great lover of the Old Course at St Andrews, going on to mention a caddy at Crail Golfing Society that was also not a big fan and who told him about a dozen times, “The Old Course is s****, and a lot of locals are afraid to tell you for fear of getting in trouble.” The author also cites eight courses (including the Vineuil at Chantilly, Old Head and Prestwick) that merit a place in the World Top 100 in his view but he doesn’t name the courses that should be excluded to make way for the newcomers – now that’s an opinion which might have ruffled a few feathers!

How to play the world’s most exclusive golf clubs doesn’t really reveal anything the reader shouldn’t already know – that “the best way to access private courses is to find a member.” By networking with the right people, the author was able to play at many hard-to-access clubs through making the right connections. Other means of getting onto the best courses (such as playing in a pro-am, through membership of a golf society or becoming a course reviewer) pale into insignificance in comparison. John Sabino writes with unbridled enthusiasm, delivering lots of little snippets about life in and around the locker rooms at many of the best clubs in the world, and these anecdotes go a long way to make this book the enthralling read that it undoubtedly is.

John's book is available at Amazon.com.

Jim McCann
Editor
Top 100 Golf Courses

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