I get a lot of questions about how we rank the best golf courses in England. Hopefully the next few hundred words will clear it all up…
Which types of courses have done well?
When you put together a top 100, you have to decide what it is that you are valuing. The courses we have valued the most are consistently interesting ones. We like distinctive courses that are full of good holes.
How much commercial influence has there been?
None. The list was compiled on merit.
How do you compare a modern parkland to an ancient links?
With some difficulty. But you ask the same questions about things like the quality of the design, the presentation, the variety, and the overall memorability to reach a verdict.
How do you compare a sleepy members’ club with a resort course?
Again, it can be tricky. For the purposes of our list, a course begins on the 1st tee and ends on the final green – we are not judging clubhouse facilities, the quality of the catering, the visitor experience, or the new short-game area.
Which is not to say that these things aren’t important, far from it, just that our area of expertise only extends to the playing experience. It might explain why some high-profile names are a little lower down the list than you would expect.
What if it was raining (or you had the shanks) when you visited?
I’d like to think that we can put such things to one side. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I over-compensate in such circumstances.
Slow play is the biggest problem for me. Standing on a tee for five minutes can lead me to being overly critical of a hole and course. And that’s not fair – it’s not the course’s fault.
But the short answer is that you have to rise above all these factors to deliver an objective assessment.
Why and how have you weighted the opinions of the best courses in England?
In an ideal world, every panellist would have played every course on the shortlist this year. In fact, better still, they would have done the same the year before as well. That, clearly, is an impossibility.
Let’s say that one panellist has played a course once, 20 years ago, whereas another has played it a dozen times, most recently this year. The latter’s opinion is surely more valid than the former’s.
So we have up-weighted the opinions of panellists who a) know a course well, and/or b) have played a course recently.
How often do you need to play a course to judge it?
Ideally at least twice. You learn something every time you go back. Opinions based on one-off visits can be unreliable – like prosecution cases that are based on a testimony of a single witness.
Some courses offer instant gratification while others are slow burners.
Play the former type of course several times and you may steadily rate it less highly; with the latter, the opposite is likely to be true.
Can your golfing memory be trusted?
We’re all different but my experience is that if I’ve played a course once and go back 10 years later, what I find is vastly different to what is in my brain.
It’s also the case that courses change over the years – sometimes dramatically.
I think there’s a danger that ranking lists can be extensively populated with courses trading on distant memories. That’s why we tried so hard to ensure we had up-to-date opinions.
The classic scenario for me is that golf writers arrive for the opening of a spectacular new course, are treated like royalty, meet the owner, speak to the designer and go away in awe declaring it a nailed-on top 100 course. Only years later does the truth gradually dawn that it’s not quite as special as they insisted.
Why aren’t there more new courses in the list?
It is striking that you have to go all the way down to No 53 (Saunton West was extensively redesigned in the 1970s) in the list to find a course that is less than 100 years old. While Scotland has Kingsbarns and Trump International, and Ireland has, well, pretty much everywhere apart from County Down, Portrush and Portmarnock, England does not have a truly stellar ‘new’ course. There are many very fine new courses – but not, according to our panel, any to rival the likes of Birkdale and Sunningdale at the very top of the list.
NCG Top 100s: The best golf courses in England
- METHODOLOGY: How the NCG Top 100s lists are decided
- CLOSE CALLS: The courses that just missed out
Visit the NCG Top 100s homepage for all this and much, much more.