Curious about how we compile our lists, who compiles them and what our methodology is? The answers to all (hopefully) your questions is here
Who are these lists aimed at?
The discerning golfer. The golfer who cares most about the course they are playing.
Which types of courses do well in the lists?
The courses we value the most are those that are consistently interesting. We love distinctive courses that are full of good holes.
How much commercial influence is there on the lists of courses?
None. Our lists are compiled on merit.
What factors are you and aren’t you interested in when compiling an NCG Top ranking?
As far as we are concerned, the course begins on the 1st tee and ends on the final green. We don’t take into account anything beyond that. For the purposes of our course lists we are not interested in factors like practice facilities, clubhouses, catering or customer service. It’s not that these things aren’t important, it’s just they are beyond our area of speciality.
How can Course A be above Course B in one list and then below it in another? For example, Course A finishes higher than Course B in your Scotland list yet Course B finishes higher than Course A in your GB&I list?
We’ve thought long and hard about this because we understand that it may seem illogical.
The fundamental answer is that our lists work independently of each other: golf courses change and so do our opinions.
Each list is a snapshot of a moment in time. We use different panels and different methodologies.
We are yet to find the perfect panel or the ultimate methodology, let along both at the same time.
One list might be two years old. The courses may have changed in that time. Plus, we might now be wiser or better-informed.
Whenever we create a new list, we try not to be bound by our previous lists. We simply try to make the best possible list we can at that moment in time.
We like to think that whenever you are studying one of our lists, we are already well underway with the next one, which will be even better.
Does a course have to allow some public access to be included?
No, we simply aim to rank the best courses. A course is not better or worse for being public or private. We make no comment on membership policies. The only circumstance in which we won’t rank a course is if that club asks us not to. In which case, we respect their reasons.
Is the size of the green fee a factor?
No, we simply aim to rank the best courses. A course is not better or worse depending on the size of its green fee. We make no comment on green fee policies. The exception to this rule is when we compile a ranking themed on the size of the green fee – for example, the best courses in England for under £100.
How well do you have to know a course to be able to rank it in a list?
We believe that you need to have played a course multiple times, and ideally recently, to be qualified to make a judgment on where it should appear in a list. The foundation of our rankings is that our staff and panellists are out there updating and adding to their knowledge on a constant basis.
We believe you learn something every time you go back to a course. 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.
To what extent can one’s golfing memory be trusted?
We’re all different but our experience is that if we’ve played a course once and go back 10 years later, what we find is vastly different to what is in our memory banks.
It’s also the case that courses change over the years – sometimes dramatically.
Ranking lists can be extensively populated with courses trading on distant memories. That’s why we try so hard to ensure we have up-to-date opinions.
Have all the panellists played all the courses on a given list?
Ideally, yes. In practice it’s rarely possible to find such panellists. Our chairman, Dan Murphy, has played the vast majority of the courses on any and every list he puts his name to.
Typically, we will then aim to augment our knowledge by carefully selecting panellists with relevant areas of expertise. For example, when compiling an Ireland list, we seek contacts from the world of Irish golf who can add expertise and insight.
How do you compare, for example, a modern parkland to an ancient links?
With some difficulty. But we 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 new courses fit into the rankings?
We aim to retain an open mind. A new course is a source of great excitement for us as lovers of golf courses. However, we do believe it takes multiple visits over a period of time to be able to put a course into its true perspective. It is our broad view that new courses often appear too high initially in lists and then gradually slip down. Their initial rankings are unsustainable. We don’t believe that a brand-new course is inherently better than one that is 10 years old.
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?
We’d like to think that we can put such things to one side. In fact, we sometimes wonder if we over-compensate in such circumstances. Slow play can be the biggest problem. Standing on a tee for five minutes can lead us to being overly critical of a hole or thinking less fondly of a course. And that’s not fair – it’s not the course’s fault.
But the short answer is that we have to rise above all these factors to deliver an objective assessment.
Dan Murphy, NCG Top 100s chairman