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Review of the Month - December 2022

27 January, 2023
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.

December 2022’s Review of The Month comes from Chris Kaneb, who, despite his relative youth among our audience, manages to provide insights about his round at Medalist Golf Club.

Your opening line is "Medalist might just be the hardest golf course I have ever played." Does difficulty, or lack thereof, measure into your final rating for a golf course?

Yes and no. Courses being too challenging doesn’t affect my final rating for a course but if I consider a course to be too “easy”, it does. Before I elaborate on this take, I want to preface it by saying that I am not an elite golfer by any means. I currently am playing to a 3 handicap and play golf because it is something I love to do and not because I want to make a living doing it or want to win a USGA event. I also want to say that I define a golf course as being easy as a course that lacks shot value. If I can play a course on repeated occasions and find that I am not mentally stimulated or challenged when I am about to hit the ball or know exactly where the ball is going to end up regardless of how I hit it, that is a course I would consider easy and a course that lacks shot value. However, just because I am not a tour pro or even a high-level amateur, that does not mean I am not allowed to say a course is too easy and allow that view to affect the architectural merit of a course (in my opinion of course).

Take Tobacco Road for example, I am not very fond of that course. As I state in my review of it, I think it is visually one of the coolest courses I have ever played and I had an absolute blast playing it, however, it is not a course I could play every day or even more than two or three times a year because it is too easy. In the case of Tobacco Road, the difficulty of the course dramatically impacted my view because I found the course's shot value to be very low. Now, I know that this may not directly contribute to a golf course being “easier” than another, especially in the place of Tobacco Road because the course also has some very punishing aspects to it, but the whole idea of shot value is extremely important to me when looking at a golf course as a whole but also when I think about the difficulty of a course. The shot value at Tobacco Road is low, chances are if I play the course many times, my drive is going to end up in the same spot in the fairway and my approach shot is going to end up in the same spot on the green regardless of how good or bad the quality of the shot was.

Medalist’s shot value is the exact opposite, the surrounds of its greens as a whole are a lot more penalizing and the contours on the greens require much more thought when considering where to aim or what club to hit. That, in my opinion, dramatically improves the architectural merit of the course.

Following that theme, do you have a mental line that differentiates between "difficult" and outright unfair?

Absolutely not. When someone says a course is unfair, I automatically assume that they are not playing the correct tees for their skill level. The majority of Top 100 or “Bucket List” courses, whether it is a golf resort or private club, are played mostly by “normal” golfers. Whether it is a member of a private club, their guest(s), or a resort-goer that has paid a greens fee to play a course, these are the predominant kind of people who are playing these courses. Especially in the case of the elite private courses around the country and the world, the majority of their members tend to be a little more on the older side of the age spectrum. As a result, it is very unlikely that you have many guys playing to a 0 index or driving the ball 300-plus yards. Despite this, they seem to get around their respective course just fine and still enjoy playing the course. This is directly related to them playing the course from the correct distance.

If a 65-year-old with a double-digit handicap were to play Medalist from the tiger tees, they wouldn’t be able to get off the first tee and would say the course is extremely unfair. This is an extreme example but the concept can be applied to any golf course in the world, not everyone has to play from the tips and should play from a distance that makes the course fun yet challenging.

Pete Dye — who designed Medalist alongside Greg Norman — is renowned for not shying away from difficulty. Have you had the opportunity to play any of his other teeth-clenchers?

Unfortunately, Medalist is the only Pete Dye course I have played. However, a friend of a friend is the Director of Golf at Kiawah so hopefully I’ll be able to get out there at some point during the year.

You specified a "best" and your "favorite" hole at the end. Would you mind shedding some light on how you, as a knowledgeable golf course architecture observer, differentiate between what's best and what's your personal favorite?

It’s actually a pretty simple scale; the hole that I identify as the best is the hole that in my opinion has the best combination of looks, challenge, shot value, and makes the best use of the land it’s on. The hole that I identify as my favorite is the hole that I had the most fun playing and the hole that made me say “whoa, this is a really cool hole.” It really isn’t more complex than that and is honestly more of a gut feeling then something I really think about in depth.

Were you an avid golfer prior to your interest in golf course architecture? Has access to the internet's wide array of content oriented around that subject made the sport more enjoyable for you?

Very much so. Although it may be a shocking answer, I didn't start taking golf very seriously or played all that much until COVID-19 cut my time on campus during my freshman year short and golf was really the only activity I and those around me could do while at home during quarantine. However, after a few rounds, I was completely hooked and since then I have made it my mission to educate myself on every, and I really do mean every, aspect of the game.

Obviously, with golf course architecture being one of the many aspects of golf, it is something I have really tried to educate myself on and is something I really enjoy being knowledgeable and passionate about. Being passionate about architecture is really satisfying to me because it allows me to be able to rank courses in my own way instead of just referring to what the various publications tell me how I should view a golf course. Fortunately for myself, the internet has made it super easy for me to consume as much content as possible surrounding this topic and it has definitely made golf a lot more fun because it gives me an entirely new appreciation for the course I am playing and it gives me another thing to pay attention to when I am playing a round.

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

The thing that I appreciate the most when looking at a lot of the reviews on the site is making the review unique to you. Not every review has to be written in the same style or have the same content, but as long as it is clear that you took the time to display your thoughts on the course and do a good job articulating why you gave it the rating you did, I consider it to be a good review that I enjoy reading.

What's one course that you're excited to write a review for in the upcoming year?

Pinehurst No. 2. I’m currently a senior at Wake Forest University, and it’s a course that has been on my bucket list since I started caring about golf course architecture and golf in general. I really hope that in my last semester as an undergraduate student I’ll be able to make it out there and play the course.


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