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Review of the Month - August 2022

26 September, 2022
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Ryan Book

The purpose of the Review of The Month feature is twofold. Top100GolfCourses has always aimed to salute and encourage those who are putting admirable effort into reviewing the world’s great golf courses. Moving forward, we are also looking to learn from these experts! We’ll be chatting with the month’s star authors and discussing topics such as golf in their area, what they like to see in a strong course review, and of course dig a little deeper into their own winning review.

August 2022’s Review of The Month comes from Ron Stelten, a former European Tour pro who sheds some light on Soule Park Golf Course, a California municipal course given a new lease on life by Gil Hanse.

The tough question first: One quote that caught my eye: "One might say there are no great holes but all eighteen holes work well together." Would you prefer a few great holes among a few weak holes, or a consistent 18?

For me the clear answer is that I love both types of courses. Addressing “a few great holes among a few holes” first: I am one who is of the opinion that the 18th hole at Cypress Point is a weak hole and a weak finishing hole. That said, I wouldn't change a thing about the 17th to improve the 18th. I feel the same is true of Pasatiempo. The weak holes are still good golf holes and may be strong holes on another course. Cruden Bay is one of my favorite courses in the world. A great balance of strong and quirky holes. As for “a consistent 18”? Ganton and Swinley Forest are two of my favorite English courses. I describe both as having 18 solid holes. No standout holes and no weak holes. In the United States, I see Olympic Club and Prairie Dunes as courses with 18 very good, consistent holes.

Interestingly, the question really brings to mind the saying “eye of the beholder.” The par 3 finish at Pasatiempo could be considered by some to be a weak hole while others may think of it as a consistent hole that balances the 18th. Are the first two holes at Royal Dornoch a weak start considering what's in store when you get to the dogleg on three and beyond, or are those same two holes just as consistent as the rest of the course?

A reason why I am such a fan of Top 100 Golf Courses is because of the various opinions stated in the reviews. Seeing eye-to-eye, or not seeing the same thing that others see in a golf course, is what makes my hobby of playing the best golf courses in the world so much fun.

Although William F. Bell got around, many of his designs reside in California. Anything you've noticed that stands out among his works?

This question caused me to wonder just how many Bell courses I have played. The answer is a lot! I have lived in California for over 45 years. Without counting, I believe I have played more golf courses designed by Bell than by any other architect. The William Bell Society website credits Soule Park to [William] P Bell while Top 100 Golf Courses has [William] F Bell as the architect. No matter, I will refer to the Bells’ golf courses. The spectrum of courses is great. Bel-Air, Sandpiper and Stanford at one end…Blythe, Skylinks, and San Luis Rey Downs on the other. The Bells covered California and the western states with golf courses for all walks of life. What I notice more than anything about the work of the Bells’ courses is how many have gone through the now-so-popular renovation. As my review of Soule Park tries to make clear, the renovation has restored and helped make a good golf course better. That said, I want to play the remodeled Bel-Air, where the first reports I have heard from golfer friends are not flattering; a move away from the Bell design. A more well known example may be Torrey Pines North and South. I have played both many, many times before and after renovations. I ask myself “are they still Bell design courses?”

The Los Angeles region is obviously widespread...are there any other "gems" that you might recommend to visitors, or even residents?

To answer this question I am going to extend the Los Angeles area to include the greater Palm Springs area, my previous home for over 30 years. Because the area has grown so much we now refer to it as the Coachella Valley. There are only a few golf courses in Palm Springs and over 100 in the towns east of Palm Springs. My gems include Mission Hills Dinah Shore, Tamarisk, Bermuda Dunes, The Palms, The Plantation, PGA West Norman.

In my opinion all of these courses have a place in the Top 100 Golf Courses in California. How the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills is not on the list and the Mission Hills Pete Dye course makes the list is beyond my imagination. Tamarisk Country Club is a William F&P Bell design of the 1950's and has perhaps the best classic design back nine in the Coachella Valley. Bermuda Dunes Country Club was designed by William F. Bell and a perfect example of country club golf in this winter haven for snowbirds. The Palms and The Plantation, both the product of Fred Couples and Brian Curley, are outstanding golf courses and must-plays if in the Valley. I personally rate the PGA West Norman better than the Palmer and two Nicklaus courses [Nicklaus Private and Nicklaus Tournament] at PGA West.

About a year ago I got married and relocated to Carlsbad, CA just north of San Diego. My wife and I are members of Shadowridge Golf Club. Shadowridge is a fine course with challenging green complexes. Slope and speed test my iron accuracy every day. I am happy to extend an invitation to Top 100 members who are visiting Southern California.

Now that you're a celebrated "Review of The Month" winner, let us know what factors you appreciate in a strong golf course review!

First and most important, I am a golfer and want to know about the course. I enjoy reading opinions and will cross reference writers who I believe know their stuff. I care little for reports on service and amenities. Memorability is what I value most in a golf course. It has been decades since I played Pine Valley and believe I still remember every hole and every shot. Someone who can get that concept across in a review will get my attention.

I believe that walking is an important part of good course design. If a ride is needed to get from one green to the next tee I can't give the course a high rating. Some reviewers that I respect are more flexible on this walking thing. I can value their description of the course but stop short of the same overall rating they may assign.

I like personal takes on the golf course experience. When I travel I try to play a golf course twice. The first round is for reconnaissance. I want to take a good look and get to know what the course has to offer. This is a throwback to practice rounds when I was playing golf for a living. The second round is for score. I live to shoot good scores on great golf courses. I enjoy reading about actual golf and not just golf courses.

I am not a course rater. As for architecture and design I am a novice, but am a novice with a lot of experience. What I have is the luck of having played hundreds of golf courses. Many were played in major competitions offering a very different way of seeing a golf course. These days playing Top 100 Golf Courses is my number one hobby. If I get a hint that a review may be slanted because of the perks offered by a course I close the page.

Because this is a golf course rating site, I like reviewers that put a golf course in perspective. Better than this course, behind that course. We all have our opinions and all opinions can have some merit.

I favor Top 100 Golf Courses over other golf course rating sites because I believe it to be less biased than the others. That said, I am still careful with my favorite site. California is my area of expertise. For me, there are a half dozen courses in the California Top 50 that are not in my personal top 40.

What's one course that you'd love to write a review for during 2022 (or plan to)?

This is a good one! My wife and I have a full slate of golf planned for the remainder of this year. We will be in Ireland/Northern Ireland the last week of September and first week of October. Decades ago I played in many Irish Opens at Portmarnock (a course that I love and played well) but this will be the first time I travel the country. I try to play top golf courses twice so this trip is quality not quantity. Ballybunion, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Lahinch... all have long lists of reviewers and I will see if there is anything I can add. St. Patrick's Links is a new kid on the block. I am very interested in seeing if the links is for real or another example of the overblown hype brought on by too many new golf courses. I will let you know!

As most Top 100 readers know, Ireland/Northern Ireland golf is very busy this year. My wife has agreed to a return trip in May 2023 to play the courses we will miss this trip. Two days at Royal County Down are already booked and paid for.

The days before Thanksgiving 2022 we will be in Carmel, CA. Golf at The Preserve is set and we hope to see both Monterey Peninsula courses [Dunes and Shore]. With the addition of Monterey Peninsula Dunes I will have played all of California's top ten.

Of course, if I am in the right place at the right time to meet a member of Cypress Point I would love to play it again. Imagine being 66 years old, playing the best golf course in the world, and hitting the same irons into the greens as I did back in the days of the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-am. That would be something to write about!

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