Looking for the Ultimate Open Experience? Look no further!

 The 18th at Carnoustie. Photo from visitscotland.com

The 18th at Carnoustie. Photo from visitscotland.com

Monetising The Open is something that the R&A have become increasingly adept at over the last years. Anyone who has witnessed the sharp rise in entrance prices and the costs of a portion of fish and chips will bear testimony to that. But this year they have come up with another wheeze that may just put the other majors' attempts into the shade - 'The Open Experience' is a week of golf and wining and dining unlike any other, with a very happy finish.

The itinerary is pretty attractive. You rock up on the Thursday morning and your on-course hospitality for the week is all based in the Hogan Suite n the famous hotel overlooking the 1st tee and 18th green. It also has the benefit of a balcony never before opened to members of the public during Open week. It's all yours. All food and drink is included, as well as VIP transport from your accommodation in the Malmaison Dundee.

OK, that's all pretty vanilla so far, although the Hogan Suite and balcony is a nice touch.

Here's where it gets a bit special. On the Thursday and Sunday you can take part in a 'behind the scenes at Carnoustie' tour. You get to go inside the giant yellow scoreboard at 18, tour the media centre and stand behind the players as they warm up on the practice range.

Then on Friday you nip down to St Andrews to play the Jubilee Course. You will also enjoy a gourmet lunch inside the R&A with a tour from a member. Remember your tie. 

Saturday night brings the party. There will be more champagne (you will be sick of it by now) and you can 'Join golf ’s elite competitors, commentators, and personalities in The R&A Trophy Room to unwind, mix and mingle, at The Open Experiences’ Official Party'. Padraig Harrington will pop in to do a Q&A. More champagne will be required to get through some of his answers I suspect.

Sounds good? Arguably the best is yet to come. On Monday afternoon you will get to tee it up at Carnoustie. Same pin positions, grandstands up, the works.

That really does elevate this to something quite special. The Masters have upped the ante over recent years with Berckman's Place and all it brings. Let's just pause there for a second, can you imagine what a week's hospitality of this class and a round at Augusta on the Monday would go for?!

Carnoustie isn't my favourite Open golf course. In fact, it is possibly my least favourite - you can read my review here. The course has beaten me up badly both times I played it but I would be willing to go back to have another go as part of this deal if they are looking for enthusiastic bloggers.

I think that sort of invitation is the only way I'm going to get there as it's just over £10,000 for the whole thing - if you share a room - add on a few grand to that if you want the privacy of your own room. Clearly you need to quaff a lot of champagne and oysters to maximise the value of this experience, but if you have that kind of money burning a hole in your pocket then this could be quite a trip to take!


Discover the fast-track way to a Muirfield tee time

Scotland is blessed with many of the world’s best links golf courses. From the historic majesty of St Andrews to the more recent, and very worthy, additions of Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns you are spoilt for choice. All of Scotland’s best courses are accessible, but at a price, and often a lot of planning is required.

Muirfield is one course that usually requires advance planning. However, there is a way of playing this great course, in the peak season, at less than a week’s notice.

Muirfield is consistently ranked as the second best golf course in Scotland, just tucked behind St Andrews. Indeed, in the Ultimate Top 100 rankings it is ranked at 15th in the world.

The course is fantastic and I have it in the rare ‘19’ category of courses I have played. The conditioning is always amongst the very best in the country and it presents a strong challenge. This is a golf course which doesn’t go out of its way to trip you up. There are very few blind shots and, for want of a better expression, it’s ‘all in front of you’.

It is very easy to book a tee-time at Muirfield. At the end of March, they release tee times for every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the following year. The 1st and 10th tee is available between 8:30 and 10am. You can play in a fourball (the only time in the week such a format is tolerated) and if you would like to play in the afternoon you can do so as a foursome - only 2 balls are allowed in play.

It’s £235 a round in the summer months and you will have an experience that will give you a lifetime of memories. The only problem is, these tee-times are incredibly popular. At time of writing (mid February) there are no times available at all between the end of April and mid October this year. So it takes a lot of planning to make this work, but, if you are organised, hats off to Muirfield for the ease of booking. You can get all the details and have a look at availability here.

So, let’s pretend it’s the beginning of July and you really fancy a trip up to East Lothian that week for a game. Forget calling up the the club and throwing yourself at their mercy. That won't work. But fear not, there is a way! 

The key is Greywalls Hotel. Greywalls is a lovely hotel which overlooks the 9th and 18th holes at Muirfield. This is no Marriott-style golf hotel, rather a quaint, quirky, traditional Scottish hotel with a rich heritage and history. There is a fantastic Albert Roux restaurant and while this hotel is definitely pricey, if you can afford, it it will certainly enrich your stay in the area.

On a selection of Mondays and Fridays, between the beginning of May and mid September, Greywalls has access to the 1st and 10th tees for its guests. You will not be able to use the Muirfield clubhouse, but Greywalls is actually closer to the 10th tee and practice range than the clubhouse anyway.

Very helpfully, Muirfield post the take-up of these tee times on their notice board! Last year the slots were full on only 4 of the 19 slots allocated, so there is a very good chance you will get a tee time at short notice through this route. 


You do have to stay 2 nights at Greywalls to qualify for a tee time booking so this will be an expensive trip (rooms in peak summer will set you back around £300 a night) but you will be spoilt for choice for great golf around and about Scotland's Golf Coast. All the details of the offer and how to book are on the Greywalls website here.

If that sounds all sounds a bit too expensive, do consider trying out Muirfield out of season. It’s £110 for a round between mid-November and mid-March and there’s always tons of availability. The condition of the course is great all year round and winters here are amongst the driest in the UK. In fact there’s a tee time on Tuesday morning at 8:30 going spare if anyone fancies it.....!

My search for the perfect golf iron has ended!

Let me start by being very clear about something. I am not a very good golfer, and will probably never be. My handicap is 14 and I have never been lower than 13. I think that if I played more, practised at all and had more than one lesson every three years I could maybe get down to 11. Anything beyond that is pure fantasy really.

Like many golfers my issue has been consistency. I actually have a pretty good short game by and large but I am capable of hoiking balls to the left and the right without any warning and fat and thin shots could enter my game at any time.

I always used to change my irons every year or so in the pursuit of something better. I am fully aware that the advice to 'save your money and just take a lesson' is probably very wise, and believe me I have tried it, but I am a sucker for marketing and am quite happy to buy into the hype behind the latest clubs in the hope they are a bit better than the last lot.

Just over two years ago the PXG noise was beginning to grow. The philosophy was one that made sense - rather than try and design clubs to hit a retail price-point they were trying to create the best club they could. The billionaire founder, Bob Parsons, was fairly strident in his view that these clubs were the best money could buy and some of the reviews seemed to back that up. The good folk at MyGolfSpy seemed in love and there were many reports on social media eulogising this game-changing equipment. If you want to hear from the man himself this gives you a good idea of how big his thinking is!

This was more than enough for me to decide to give them a go, so on a snowy afternoon in January 2016 I found myself hitting balls into a screen with Scott Gourlay in the south of Edinburgh while his trackman measured my efforts.

Now I should say I have been known to freeze when faced with a trackman and professional swing expert. My body tenses and suddenly all bets are off. Fortunately on this occasion there were no such concerns with Scott. He was quick to put me at ease, let me hit plenty of balls to get loosened up and just had a really nice way about him.

As soon as you hit a PXG iron you know there's something different about it. For the very first time I had an idea what people meant when they talked about the 'butter feel' of a purely struck iron shot. I was immediately convinced this wasn't just marketing talk but something else. After hitting several combinations of shafts we ended on the Accra 80i. Between that and the PXG head we had added eight yards to my 6 iron but more importantly a far more consistent dispersion.

 My PXG 0311 irons aren't going to be leaving my bag in a hurry

So, two years on what's the verdict? I can say, hand on heart, that I haven't read another iron club review over that time - there's no point as I simply can't imagine how anything could be better. The consistency of the PXGs is the biggest difference to every club I've hit before. The fat and thin shots are virtually eliminated and I've been significantly straightened out. My scoring is now more often than not in the 80s and the pleasure I am getting from the game is a step up from where I was before. 

pxg driving iron.jpg

I have added the driving iron that came out last summer to my bag and another wedge. Both clubs have definitely improved those areas of my game. I play a lot of links golf and the PXG driving iron is perfect for getting the ball moving straight and low off the tee and the (questionably named) Sugar Daddy gap wedge is a thing of beauty which gets the ball stopping on the green like I have never seen before.

I don't know anyone who has been for a PXG fitting and hasn't ended up with them in their bags. It really is love at first shot.

Of course, There is absolutely no doubt that these clubs are expensive. For the original 4-PW, GW, SW set I paid over £2,000 - £240 a club - which is clearly a huge amount of money. However, if I had gone for any other make I imagine that I would have already changed my irons by now in the search for something better and that would have no end in sight. 

The other companies are trying to get the PXG technology into their clubs but Mr Parsons isn't making it easy for them. Come back to me in another 4 or 5 years and I imagine I will still be hitting the PXG irons. I just need to find a driver now......

No money has exchanged between PXG and UkGolfGuy.com for the writing of this article!

 The PXGs look particularly good in a Mackenzie bag!

The PXGs look particularly good in a Mackenzie bag!

Abu Dhabi HSBC notes

 The best golf viewing in the world?


I’ve been to quite a few golf events around the world and nowhere else is there the opportunity to get close to some of the world’s greatest players as in these Middle East events. There are enough fans on the course to make for a good atmosphere but you can very easily stroll around and see every shot played - no need for periscopes or stepladders here.

Also, the tented village and food provisions etc is great. HSBC are clearly very involved in the product and it really pays off. Having seen the Dubai Desert Classic as well, the HSBC wins hands down for off course entertainment and activities. The party on the clubhouse terrace every night is great fun and it’s a lovely atmosphere. If you do happen to be passing with your family in tow there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained all day and entry is free to tourists. 

If you are into in-play betting then be warned - others have an unfair edge.


In-play gambling is a huge business in all sports now and there is a lot of money to be made. Betfair allows you to trade ‘in running’ so you can both back and oppose players. Prices can move the instant putts are holed or balls go ob.

Amongst the fans strolling around the course was a young guy, looking for all the world like he was on his iPhone chatting to his mates. In fact he was giving live play-by-play commentary, at the other end was someone placing bets and taking money from others. He or she would be getting the information faster than the average punter watching the television at home and potentially making a killing.

I’ve seen this at many events before and it wouldn’t be beyond the wit of the European Tour to do something about it, although I was slightly jealous of the guy being flown around the world to give commentary to an audience of one!

The caddie’s role can’t be underestimated

More so than ever before I was able to appreciate the role of the caddie today. Being able to get so close to the players meant you could hear a lot of the conversations between player and caddie. There’s a lot involved in being a good caddie and a lot of information needs to be processed in a really short period of time. I spent most of today following McIlroy and Fitzpatrick and the contrast was amazing. Fitzpatrick was getting a lot of information from his man whereas Rory didn’t seem to be using his bagman, Harry, for anything more than a guy to carry his bags. No pacing off yardage’s or reading putts - I guess that’s not what Rory is looking for at the moment but it’s hard to imagine it couldn’t help a bit having a real expert on his trade on the bag.

The difference in length between the Uber long and normal is stunning


McIlroy versus Fitzpatrick was a good example of the difference in length between some players. On average McIlroy was 40 yards past Fitzpatrick but on one hole where he really let rip he was over 80 yards longer. In some ways though the really impressive thing is how well a shorter player like Fitzpatrick can compete. His play is tested through the bag in a way that he long players aren’t, and the all-round strengths required to compete at the top are really impressive.

No surprises, but Rory moves the needle like no-one else

There were probably a thousand people following Rory and Matt Fitzpatrick around today. You could see easily but there was a real buzz. On the back 9, when it became clear that Rory was probably not going to make the move needed, we nipped in front to catch up with Tommy Fleetwood who was making a charge. Fleetwood oozes charisma, was rolling in the birdies and the defending champion. When we caught him up as he rolled in a birdie on 15 there were around 60 people watching. In the third last group out. It was all about Rory. 

Rory never really got going today. Yesterday he was bouncing along the fairways and seemed to be really enjoying himself, today it definitely seemed a bit of a grind. The wind was up and he backed away from a lot of putts. We got chatting to his Dad, Gerry, on the course who said that a top 10 was what he was looking for this week but he would go close next week as he loves the Emirates course so much. You heard it here first! 

So well done to Tommy Fleetwood. To come back in 30 in those conditions today was pretty special. As you can tell I’m a big fan of this event, the golf nearby is very strong too if you are looking for a game while here. Yas Links is wonderful and Saadiyat Beach good fun so there’s plenty to keep you entertained. We rounded off our trip with a little night golf at Yas Links which is well worth a visit too. You really are spoilt for choice around here!


Goodbye and good riddance to the Golf Digest World Top 100 List

golf digest top 100

As regular readers of this blog will know, I take quite a keen interest in golf course ranking lists. Not because I am necessarily trying to tick them all off, but the discussion about what makes a good golf course and how views differ is something that interests me. OK, and I'm trying to tick a few off too...

The Golf Digest World Top 100 list was last published in January 2016 and attracted widespread derision. Ballybunion was nowhere to be seen (a top 20 course in all other rankings) and random Asian courses popped up left, right and centre. I happened to be in the Middle East a couple of weeks after the list was published and saw that local editions of Golf Digest magazine already had adverts in them for new entries to the list from the region.

As such, most hardcore enthusiasts derided and ultimately discounted the Golf Digest ranking. 

Well, the 2018 edition is out and despite the title 'World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses' they have stopped bothering to rank golf courses from all over the world. Instead they have made this a list of their top 100 golf courses outside of the USA. And thoroughly disingenuously, they have shown the previous positions of the golf courses in the rankings - despite the comparator including courses from the USA.

This allows many courses to claim they have moved up places in the world rankings. The tweet below from Bluffs Ho Tram in Vietnam is a prime example.

The methodology for selecting the list is fairly awful. The Golf Digest team ask 'international panelists organized by our affiliate magazines around the world'. Oh dear, that would be the affiliate magazines who rely on the course's advertising to pay their bills, the associate magazines whose staff get wined and dined by the latest new courses wanting to make a splash.

There are some courses inexplicably not included. The excellent Golf World Continental Europe Top 100 Courses ranking recently had Utrecht in position 2 and Les Bordes in position 3. Surely they would appear somewhere on this list? How about any of the phenomenal courses in Holland? No such luck. Olgiata in Italy makes it in as the 68th best golf course in the world though.

There are numerous courses from across the world in this list that you will never have heard of before, and I suspect never will again. Still, Golf Digest will make a few dollars out of them by selling their logo and a few golfers will be disappointed.

I think the oddest thing is that they are calling this list 'World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses' and the logo promoting says the same. But it's not, its the 'World outside of USA's 100 Greatest Golf Courses'.

This means that I have retired Golf Digest from my poll of polls which determines the Ultimate World Top 100 List. This is no bad thing at all, there were too many random things going on in that list. Instead I am now using three very strong and credible rankings - Planet Golf, top100golfcourses and Golf.com. These guys do it properly and the combined list produced is a great one. Royal Hague has entered the Ultimate Top 100 for the first time and there are big rises for Ballybunion and Lahinch amongst others.

So farewell Golf Digest Top 100, and may the advertising dollars serve you well.

Is this the best Top 100 rankings list yet?

 Shinnecock Hills hits the heights of second in the latest ranking for top100golfcourses.com

Shinnecock Hills hits the heights of second in the latest ranking for top100golfcourses.com

The latest top 100 world golf ranking list has hit the doorsteps. Well, the screens actually. This one comes from the top100golfcourse.com website. This site has built significantly over recent years and is now the number 1 authority on worldwide golf courses. I have used it when planning golf trips to everywhere from Ethiopia to Ireland and it rarely disappoints. What sets it apart from others is both the breadth of countries covered and the depth and number of courses reviewed and ranked in each geography.

Every two years they come up with a new global ranking, with national and regional varieties sprinkled in between. Some of the lists out there are somewhat suspect because of commercial ties or have inclusions designed to drive controversy. Not so this one. They appear to have no agenda beyond trying to identify the very best courses in the world.

You can read the site’s view on some of the changes and the thinking behind them, as well as seeing the full list, here. Here are 3 takeaways from me from the new list –

The highest new entries are in the remotest places
It’s not going to be easy to get to all the best new golf courses being built. Tara Iti (New Zealand, 36), Cabot Cliffs (Canada, 46) and Cape Wickham (an Island off mainland Australia, 52) have made spectacular entries but none of these are easy to get to if you are based in Europe, and not much easier from the US. They have a few other things in common too. Firstly, they are all in spectacular settings with the ocean making for some great photos. Second, they have sandy bases and play firm and fast. And thirdly they have employed architects who embrace the idea of giving golfers options off the tee and making them playable (see ‘fun’ below).

The good news though is that Cabot Cliffs and Cape Wickham are both open to all for a reasonable green fee. The air far may be the problem though........

Renovate to accelerate
You can’t stand still as a golf course these days or you will go back down the list. However, even some of the classic courses which have been worked on have been rewarded. The work from Bill Coore at Shinnecock Hills means it has overtaken Pine Valley to position 2, LA Country Club has been similarly rewarded with a rise of 8 to 31. But those courses which are seen as lagging behind, such as Pebble Beach (down 3 to 17) and Augusta National (down 7  to 13) are being clipped. The West course at Winged Foot has similarly suffered (down 7 to 32) but they will be hoping that the work going on from Gil Hanse will have a similar effect to that on the East which has entered the list at 95.

 Will the renovation work at Winged Foot pay off?

Will the renovation work at Winged Foot pay off?

The vogue for ‘fun’ keeps on going
Courses aren’t rewarded on this list for being the toughest in the world, but rather for the joy they bring to players of varying skills. The ascension of NGLA (up 4 to 7), Friar’s Head (up 8 to 22) and Swinley Forest (up 9 to 62) are all evidence of that. All of these courses leave you with a smile on your face and wanting to go around again rather than beaten up and in awe of the challenge

 The spectacular Friar's Head is up to position 22 in the new list

The spectacular Friar's Head is up to position 22 in the new list

So there you have it. A really strong list which has none of the randoms so often seen (wherefore art thou Adoyha Links) and rewards courses that golfers of all abilities will enjoy. There are some notable courses dropping out however. It’s farewell to Royal Troon (a little harshly I think given some of those left above it) as well as Bandon Dunes and Oak Hill.

That also means that there has been a shake-up in my Ultimate Top 100 Golf Courses list. In fact, I have taken this update as an opportunity to give it a bit of a refresh. I have trimmed my ‘poll of polls’ to include just four lists now – the top100golfcourses.com, Planet Golf.com, Golf.com and Golfdigest.com. I have reluctantly taken out the Golf Course Architecture list as it isn’t being updated and therefore skewing things a little too much.

Cypress Point is the undisputed number one course in the world now, and has extended its lead over Pine Valley. We lose Royal Troon from the list – it is only now listed in the top 100 in the Planet Golf list so no longer qualifies for entry. Elsewhere, Valderrama is clinging on in position 100 but I fear that it will be soon time to say adios to the Andalucian course. The competition is just too fierce and those pesky cork trees too numerous……

 Royal Troon drops out of the top 100 in the world for the first time

Royal Troon drops out of the top 100 in the world for the first time

The top 100 gravy train keeps going, and we should have the new Golf Digest list in January. This has traditionally been the weakest of the top 100 lists with too many nods to international courses where some fear that the advertising $ may be leading to their inclusion. Let's see if they do a better job this time and add something meaningful to the debate which never ends!

New Balls Please! Why we should all care about the great ball debate

For years there have been a number of well-respected folks in the world of golf architecture talking about the damage being done by the relentless technological improvements in the game of golf.

You could argue that is has always been an aim for golf club and ball manufacturers to find ways to propel the ball straighter and further. And all credit to them, they have succeeded. While Benjamin Disraeli has a point when he said ‘there are lies, damned lies and statistics’ even he would find it hard not to agree with the stark facts, were he with us and inclined to look today.

I could devote this entire article to the evidence to support the fact that players are hitting it further than ever and it seems that people have given up arguing that's not the case. The golf ball birther movement has died. If you need any convincing of the increases that have happened then have a look here and here.

The impact this has on the game of golf today is phenomenal. Firstly, hundreds of golf courses which have been venerated for decades are no longer able to host professional golf tournaments. The reason is that on most of the pars 4s and par 5s players would need to hit no more than a wedge for their approach shot to the green. 90% of the challenge and features on a golf course have been simply taken out of play.

Let me use North Berwick links as an example. North Berwick hosted many of the great matches in the early days of golf. It plays 6,500 yards and the ground runs firm and fast. Let’s assume there is no wind and a tour pro could hit their driver on every tee shot 320 yards - I suspect that is on the low side. There is only one par 4 where a top pro would be hitting any more than a wedge in for their approach and every par 5 is reachable with a drive and an iron.

 Courses like North Berwick could be lost to the modern professional

Courses like North Berwick could be lost to the modern professional

Many courses are just no longer able to offer a challenge to the professional golfer. Some try, with horrible results.

Do you remember the 2015 Open at St Andrews? The course was lengthened to 7,200 yards by putting in tees as far back as they possibly could but that still wasn’t enough so they tricked the course up. The iconic 17th hole didn’t just need a new tee built outside of the golf course but it needed rough grown down the left hand side of the hole to stop players hitting it towards the 2nd fairway.

They made the greens play as fast as they possibly could to stop the players tearing up the course, to try to bring some more difficulty to the event. The problem was that meant the greens were too fast to hold the ball. On the Saturday, all along the Fife coastline amateur golfers did battle in the wind but play was abandoned at the Open as St Andrews could not cope, they had simply mown the greens too short. Tens of thousands of fans were subsequently robbed of a Sunday finish. Why did they do this? Because the course was too short for the distances players were capable of hitting it.

There are numerous examples of where courses are desperately trying things to stay relevant but at a high cost. I played Shinnecock Hills last year and it was a sublime experience. Coore and Crenshaw have done some amazing work on the course with greens extended, fairways widened and trees cut down. It was a fun place to play golf and while we were there they were injecting sand into the ground to make it run firm and fast ahead of the 2018 US Open. They have put in 17 new tees, some back a long way from those which mere mortals ever play but the USGA have decided that’s simply not enough.

They took a look at it in the summer and decided it just wasn’t going to be enough of a challenge for the best in the world. So they’ve run roughshod over the work of the two greatest architects in the game today and installed an extra 7 acres of rough on the course to make sure scores are protected. A par 70 7,500 yard course just wasn’t going to cut the mustard otherwise.

 So much work has been done at Shinnecock in recent years but the USGA are worried it will play too easy

So much work has been done at Shinnecock in recent years but the USGA are worried it will play too easy

Courses are just getting longer and longer in an effort to host tournament golf. Erin Hills measured over 7,800 yards last year for the US Open, Gary Player has just opened a course that measures an incredible 8,300 yards - just think of how much water it takes to keep that in the pristine green so many golfers demand today.

Amateur golfers no longer play the courses that professionals see. The tees are hundreds of yards further back and they are set-up in an incredibly punishing manner in an attempt to hold back the tide of the enormous distances pros hit. Playing Royal Troon earlier this year it was mind boggling to see where they had put some of the tees in recent years for The Open.

The team at the Fried Egg had a great tweet recently based on a simple idea. How many of the great courses in America would come back into play with a shorter ball? Their premise was that for many tour pros a 500 yard par 4 is reachable with a driver of 300 in the air, 320 yards with roll leaving a 180 yard 8 iron in. If the ball was controlled to go 10% less distance then the driver flies 270, 290 yards with roll, leaving 210 into green, maybe a 4 iron.

Suddenly the golf course doesn’t need to be lengthened and tricked up to be a test again and we will see players having to show prowess with all the clubs in the bag to win.

They posited that this would mean great courses such as Cypress Point, NGLA and Fisher’s Island could be played by the very best again. Courses under 7,000 yards an no longer seen as mickey mouse.

The impact would be just as profound on this side of the pond. Sunningdale, Swinley Forest, Walton Heath, Woodhall Spa, St George’s Hill, North Berwick, Cruden Bay would all be resurrected and able to test the best. Royal Troon and St Andrews could be restored to their original glory. Greens could be kept at a reasonable pace and we would get the final round of The Open on a Sunday when the wind blows.

The amateur doesn’t need to suffer to protect these courses and tame the pros. We can continue hitting our Pro v1s as they are today, the professional would simply have a reduced distance ball to hit. This is what the geeks call bifurcation. We’ll call it ‘different balls’.

Geoff Ogilvy delivered a fantastic take of why this wasn’t a bad thing at last week’s Australian Open. He pointed out that in the US professional baseball players use wooden bats while the amateurs use aluminium without a murmur. Check out this YouTube video from 16:20 for a masterclass on the subject.

That would mean that we could experience the same course as they do. It would be mean that great golf courses don’t become relics abandoned to history by the professional ranks. It would mean that we could see golf courses played as their architects intended.

A few years ago this may have seemed like a pipe dream. The golf magazines who controlled much of our media intake were taking big bucks from the ball manufacturers so were hardly going to ruffle feathers and take them on and it was hard for the idea to get the attention of those who run the game.

That has changed and, ironically, technology has caused the advance of the debate. You can read a plethora of articles online on the subject by those who don’t need to rely on the manufacturers dollars to survive, podcasts can discuss it to audiences across the world and financial security means that more and more players are willing to talk about it reaching a large audience directly.

There are some compelling voices who need to be listened to on this subject but probably no greater than the State of the Game podcast team of Rod Morri, Geoff Shackleford and Mike Clayton. The discussions they have had over several years on the subject are both reasoned and persuasive. They risked at times sounding like grumpy old men in their pursuit of change, but if the ball is rolled back then people like this really will be modern day heroes of the game. The golfing Crazy Ones.

It’s not just limited to commentators. The greatest past and current players are joining in too. When Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Rory Mcilroy and world number 1 Dustin Johnson are all saying the same thing then surely it’s time to listen?

And it seems that the golf authorities are. Mike Davis from the USGA has called the advances in distance ‘horrible’ and surely the R&A have been stung by criticism of what they have had to do to protect The Open over recent years. Many have speculated that Augusta may be the first to act on this given their ‘unique’ position in the game but they have indicated they are unlikely to go out on a limb. Let us hope the $27m they have spent on land to extend the 13th tee will be money wasted!

I genuinely believe we all have a part to play in this. Don’t think that the authorities won’t listen to the fans. You can now take your mobile phone on the course and snap away to you heart’s content, new formats are being developed to engage the audience. All of this is to improve the ‘product’, to encourage fans to pay their cable subscriptions and buy the latest equipment. Rolling back the ball will make the game more entertaining both to play and watch in new and exciting ways. We just need to give them a push.

Planning your own Race to Dubai

As the year-ending Race to Dubai hurtles to its climax, the golfing world will be turning its eyes to the Middle East and all that golf has to offer in that part of the world. Dubai is easy to get to and makes for some great winter sun, so if you are thinking of heading that way for some golf then here are some tips and things to take into account.

 The 18th at the Earth Course - a high point!

The 18th at the Earth Course - a high point!

First things first, what’s the golf like?

You'll find courses which are really well conditioned, with very good service and expensive tee times but no more than you would pay for similar quality in many parts of Europe. There is probably only one real world class course here at the moment but I have ranked those that I’ve played. Click on the course name for full reviews -

Yas Links (Abu Dhabi).
This has to be seen to be believed. Kyle Philips has created a modern wonder, a course that plays like a Scottish links with many jaw dropping holes. Wide fairways make it playable but you will need to be on your game to score well

 The Yas Links, with Ferrariworld in the background!

The Yas Links, with Ferrariworld in the background!

Emirates course (Dubai).
This is probably the most established of the top tier courses and has hosted the Desert Classic since 2006. Some great holes in there and the iconic 8th tee shot will get your cameras clicking.

Abu Dhabi Golf Club
The one with the big falcon clubhouse. A very playable course but the lasting memory will probably be of the 9th and 18th holes dominated by that big bird behind.

 Saadiyat Beach - good resort golf

Saadiyat Beach - good resort golf

Earth Course (Dubai)
Another course which only has a couple of standout holes, and they come at the end. However, the holes before that are perfectly serviceable and the course has matured well.

Saadiyat Beach (Abu Dhabi)
The most ‘resorty’ of them all and you will find a course which is set up for people to have fun and get around. Gary Player has a few too many questionable fairway bunkers for my liking, but no-one's perfect. Even Gary Player (although don’t tell him I said so).

The first 4 of these courses are generally ranked as the top 4 on the region. The newly opened Trump Dubai hasn’t had much play yet but I have heard from a couple of people who have seen it, that it is the best in Dubai already. I’ll be playing there in January and expect it to be biggly good.

Is the golf pricey?

I would say for the quality – great condition and service – it’s not too bad. Green fees at the above courses are between £130 and £200 at peak time on the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday here) but they all have good offers for off-peak play too so while it’s not cheap you will get more bang for your buck than at many UK courses where you may pay the same.

When’s the best time to go?

A better question may be when not to go. Unless you are a real masochist you should avoid the summer months. You can have a look at the climate data here and draw your on conclusions. Basically, it is too hot for most mere mortals to play between May and September but November – March are pretty perfect. You also have the advantage of being away when northern Europe is shivering which always cheers up everyone’s Facebook timelines!

Another good thing about this trip is there is only a four hour time difference from the UK, so jetlag’s not too much of a feature compared to some other long haul destinations.

Can I easily combine Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the same trip?

Absolutely. It is only just over an hour between the two and transport is cheap – a taxi from one to the other will set you back around £50. If you are seeking out the very best golf in the area then the trip between the two is well worth the effort.

Any tips for food, drink and shelter?

Some things in Dubai are quite expensive for sure, but with a bit of planning you don’t have to break the bank. A really good 4 star hotel on Yas Island, like the Radisson Blue, will only cost around £70 for a twin room for the night if you book in advance. And many will be delighted to hear that the good old Premier Inn has made it to these parts too – enjoy the good night guarantee!

Alcohol is generally only served in hotels and they definitely are trying to put you off consuming too much with the prices. Expect to pay around £10 for a pint of beer. Food isn’t marked up as much generally but you won’t be far away from London prices.

You needn’t worry about not being able to get a drink, if that’s important to you, and the hotels have gone out of their way to make sure there are bars with a good range of different themes so you should be able to find what you are looking for. Just note the point below about not being arrested.

Is there anything else worth doing when here?

It all depends what you are into really. If you like shopping in huge, vulgar malls then yes. If you like going for long walks in the countryside away from it all then, er, no. This whole place is basically just one shopping, food and entertainment sprawl. Personally, that doesn’t float my boat so I stick to the golf, but it may be worth spending a half day having a little tour just to get a feel for the place. You probably don’t need much more than that.

 The famous 18th at Abu Dhabi

The famous 18th at Abu Dhabi

What’s the best way to organise a trip?

You can book online at all of the courses listed here and they are absolutely set up for tourists obviously, that’s why they exist really. Many of the staff you come across will be from the UK and it’s all very straightforward. Having said that, I have seen prices for packages on the likes of yourgolftravel.com and golfbreaks.com and they do often offer a discount over booking yourself, so it may be worth speaking to them to see if they can take some of the hassle out of organising it and save you a little cash.

What about human rights?

The media get incredibly worked up about the Open being held at all-male clubs in the UK but not a murmur is heard when it comes to hosting events in the Middle East – totally bizarre. There is a massive gulf between the rich (lots of whom play golf) and the workers who toil to serve them and some may find that uncomfortable. And this is far from a democracy. At the very least it’s worth reading up on the country you are visiting and going into it with your eyes open. There are a couple of articles here and here which may help you do that.

But I can still have fun surely?
Well, yes you can. And often you will feel that you are in a pub or club that could be in the south of Spain, but I would suggest you make sure you never forget where you are - keep your arms by your side when you’re out and about, for well documented reasons, and act civilly at all times. Magaluf this is not.

Any other tips?

McIlroy Dubai.jpg

Both times I have visited, it has coincided with big golf events – the Dubai Desert Classic and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. I would thoroughly recommend doing the same if you can. Entry is pretty much free to visitors and you get really up close to the players in a way you never will in the UK. The Emirates dig deep for appearance fees to assemble fantastic fields, so you are almost guaranteed some big names up there at the finish. The HSBC was particularly good and had lots of ancillary entertainment around the golf which made for a great day out.

The other tip would be to try and fit in some night golf. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have several options and it’s well worth experiencing.

So there you have it. Dubai is definitely a viable option for a winter golf break as long as you can tolerate the lack of culture, expensive beer and totalitarian regime. The greens should be rolling well though.......

How to land a tee time at one of the most exclusive courses in the US

 Getting a tee time at Merion is far from an easy task!

Getting a tee time at Merion is far from an easy task!

For the British golf enthusiast it is hard to understand just how difficult it is to get a tee time on the best golf courses in the USA. Over here, anyone can tee it up at pretty much any course with a bit of planning and cash. The story is very different across the Atlantic.

At most top American golf courses you can only play if a member has introduced you. The understanding is that you should be personally known to the member. However, one degree of separation will sometimes do the job. If you do ever find yourself chatting to a member of Shinnecock Hills or Seminole then be sure to make a good impression and to swap email addresses... Cypress Point reserves the first tee time every morning for unaccompanied guests, as long as they have been personally introduced by a member of good standing.

It's often even harder than this. There are some really, really inaccessible courses where you must only be introduced by a member, but also play your round with them. Merion, Pine Valley and Augusta all fit into that category (though, at Augusta, it is enough for the member just to be on the property. So that should make it easier...!).

However, there are a couple of other ways to get on to some of these courses too - the charity golf outing and the charity golf auction. Many top courses will host a charity golf day once or twice a year - some have it built into their constitution as it gives them certain tax benefits. Tee times are far from cheap and aimed more at corporates than individuals, the best time to look for these is late spring when most charities start to promote them. 

You can also find tee times auctioned for many different charities throughout the year and it's worth keeping your eye out, or setting up a Google alert, if there is a particular tee time you are after. Once or twice a year the Charitybuzz site does a big golf auction which often has some 'money can't buy' experiences.

A couple of years ago I was very tempted to go for a round with Justin Thomas at Seminole when he was just known as a friend of Jordan Spieth. Amusingly, in this case it was advertised for 24 hours as 'play with Justin Thomas at Seminole' before they had to change it to 'a famous Florida club' as Seminole wasn't delighted with the publicity!

Anyway, Charitybuzz have an auction going on at the moment and it has a few true 'money can't buy' experiences in there. The auction is support of an American Organisation called The First Tee which 'helps shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf'. So at least you can explain to your loved ones left at home that the huge amount of money you are spending on a tee time is doing a little good. Honest.

The First Tee.png

The auction includes some lots which you could buy off the shelf, or build the component parts of yourself, for less than the current bid or reserve. So unless you are bidding for philanthropic reasons it's best to leave them to one side. The lots that capture my interest are those which allow you to play at a top course it would normally be impossible to get access to.

Exhibit one would be 18 holes at Merion for you and two friends playing with a member. Lunch, drinks,  caddies and gratuities are all included. Merion is currently ranked the 14th best course to play in the world and you are only allowed to play it with a member. The current offer is $3,100 with a guide price of $5,000. Merion does come up fairly frequently on charity auctions (the members must be a generous bunch) and often go for around the $3,500 mark.

Pebble Beach 2_opt (1).jpg

Firstly, let there be no doubt that c.$1,200 for a single round of golf is a huge amount of money. However, let's compare it with Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is one of the few top courses in the US which you can play by just rocking up. Well, that's not quite true as you need to book a minimum of 2 nights stay (3 in peak season) in the massively overpriced hotel. But, let's put that stipulation to one side. Golf and a caddy at Pebble will set you back around $700. Let's call lunch with drinks and a nice stop at the halfway house about $200 and suddenly you are at $900. And at Pebble Beach you absolutely feel like you are on a money-making conveyor belt. I suspect a day with a member at Merion will have quite a different feel!

Another lot of interest is a trip for 4 to Southern Hills (85th in the world) and Prairie Dunes (31st). Oklahoma isn't the most accessible place in the world, but both courses normally require an introduction from a member. Bidding is currently at $4,250, though getting there may require more than a weekend! If you would just like to play Southern Hills then you can do so in the company of PGA Tour player Morgan Hoffmann by bidding here.

If you spread your net wider then you will find the internet has plenty of opportunities to get a tee time at some of these bucket list courses - a threesome at Oakmont closed here yesterday at $800 a head and if it's Winged Foot you're after than Charitybuzz has another auction on the go here

Of course, if you are at member at an exclusive course and you would really like to have my company for 18 holes then please do just drop me a line. In the meantime though I'll keep the Google alerts on!

A new Continental Europe Top 100 Ranking is out - and it's a good one!

Golf World Europe top 100 front.jpg

There are a lot of golf course rankings out there. The global top 100 is attempted by many and the U.K. top 100 is well covered too. However, the ranking of the best Continental European courses has always been harder to get a handle on. New courses are springing up all the time and some once-greats have been left to wither on the vine.

I lived in Switzerland for a while and for some years I relied on the sadly discontinued Peugeot Golf Guide to help me plan trips. I still refer to it at times and top100golfcourses is a great site too. I have previously commended the Today's Golfer/Golf World Continental Europe top 100 and, from what I have seen, the latest update of this biannual list is even better.

In this world of digital media it is rare to find a pure print publication but Golf World is just that. As a result, the listing itself isn't available online, although hopefully it will end up on the site of its sister publication, Today's Golfer, before long. They are happy for me to print the list below but I would encourage you to go and pick up a copy of the November edition of Golf World if you are in the U.K. They have done a nice job with the 60-page supplement which gives a really good flavour of the courses and an insight into the rankings.

The quality of the list is really strong and very well researched. I'm normally not a fan of rankings which rely on scoring individual criteria but, on this occasion, it seems to have worked well. The panel is made up of players who have all seen many of the courses and, from the results, would appear to prefer a more classical look and feel over modern resort-type efforts. That chimes well with the current vogue in golf course architecture appreciation and results in playable courses finding their way high up the list.

Anyway, here are some thoughts on the Golf World Too 100 Golf Courses in Continental Europe 2017/18 list.

Morfontaine's domination continues unabated

There should be no surprise that Morfontaine retains position 1. There are only 2 Continental European courses in the Ultimate Top 100 world ranking list and Morfontaine comes in at number 33, the only other being Valderrama at number 80. Morfontaine is a country mile better than anything else but it remains a secret to many. It is famously hard to get a tee time there but there are some ways in. I have been lucky enough to visit it twice and can confirm it is simply phenomenal. You can read my review here and there are some photos of my trip to Morfontaine and Les Bordes earlier in the year in the YouTube video (with obligatory cheesy music) below.

The Olympics is coming to Paris in 2024. Of course, there is no chance of this happening but if the IOC were to shun the logistical allure of Le Golf National and head to Morfontaine, without a care for the winning score, it would be a joy for the world to behold.

Holland is Europe's most unheralded destination

The Netherlands has 7 courses in this top 100 and they are all ranked in the top 30. Only France equals that and it knocks the socks off of the more familiar venues of Spain and Portugal. OK, the weather may be a bit less reliable but the quality sounds just amazing. I have never been but that's changing next year. On the back of this list I've persuaded my mates to head to Amsterdam for next year's annual trip. It will take a bit of planning as these are private courses with limited play, but I am excited about seeing Utrecht (2), Royal Hague (5), Kennemer (8) and Noordwijkse (12) - all within an hour's drive of Amsterdam where I am told we will be able to find plenty to do in the evenings as well.

 Domain Imperial is just one of several courses to see a big fall in the 2017/18 rankings

Domain Imperial is just one of several courses to see a big fall in the 2017/18 rankings

This is a list not scared to make bold calls

When I played Le Golf National it really left me cold. This was supposedly one of the very best in Europe and yet it felt soulless. I felt it was a course trading off its reputation rather than its reality. So I was happy to see it fall to 32 in this ranking, and I suspect it has further to go. It must be hard for a golf course ranker to make a call like that, so well done to them for having the cojones to do it. Others making notable downward moves are Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria which made a stunning debut on the European Tour a few years back but the review implies it is more about the views than the quality of the golf and Domaine Imperial, supposedly Switzerland's best, which has dropped 18 places to 69. That was another course that disappointed me when I played it recently. They have the most amazing setting on Lake Geneva which they have completely ignored when building a fairly average golf course. 

Modern courses struggle to break into the top echelons of the European list 

 Terreblanche is a lovely course but some way off the World Top 100

Terreblanche is a lovely course but some way off the World Top 100

If you look at any UK top 100 you will find new courses which have managed to break through into what is a hard list to crack. Castle Stuart, Kingsbarns, Trump International have all been built in the last dozen years and are talked about in the same breath as some of the real greats of the game. They're all ranked above Royal Troon! In Europe however, this seems hard to do.

There are some good new courses built around hotels - I've played at Terreblanche, Monte Rei and Son Gual but none of them quite hit the heights of the more established courses. They are all 16s or 17s in my rankings, not even threatening an 18 which is a shame. There is no obvious contender for a course knocking on the door of the World Top 100. Maybe what we need is a Mike Keiser figure to discover a remote part of Portugal, untouched by human hand but full of wonderful dunes and persuade modern-day geniuses such as Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gill Hanse or Kyle Philips to come over and build something special. Apparently European planning laws make such things hard to achieve, but if they could manage it it would be nice.

The European Tour is failing to play the best

This isn't a problem unique to the European Tour. The PGA would tell the same story, but in the last 5 years, the European Tour has only visited 6 of the top 30 courses. At a time when Keith Pelley is trying to find new ways to invigorate the European Tour, wouldn't it be great if we showcased some of these amazing courses to the world? I know some will say these courses can't take the logistics or that the players will overpower them but surely we could manage to accommodate a couple of them a year?

A couple of quibbles....

 Valderrama continues high in this ranking but that may be a little flattering

Valderrama continues high in this ranking but that may be a little flattering

It would be surprising not to have some issues with any golf course ranking list, so here goes! I've only played about a quarter of these courses but some thoughts spring to mind: Valderrama seems too high. I've played it a few times and the pleasure I am getting is diminishing. There are too many weirdly positioned trees and it's rather stupidly tight in places, Fontainebleau could quite happily move up to take its place. Monte Rei was too formulaic for me and is too high at 13. While it may be a good example of Jack Nicklaus's work, that doesn't impress me too much. The restaurant was great though!

I haven't seen it since the renovations but Sotogrande seems to be languishing a little low in position 36. I really enjoy it there and would say it is a more enjoyable course than Valderrama for the average golfer. Son Gual is probably the best of the modern resort/big scale courses I've seen and I think it is worth a top 30 shout.

And now, a few stats

There are 20 different countries represented in the Top 100 with France (16), Spain (16) and Portugal (14) leading the way. However, when you look at it as courses per square kilometre, the list changes dramatically with Belgium (6), The Netherlands (7), Portugal (14) and Denmark (5) taking the top spots!

Do pick up a copy of the magazine if you are thinking about a trip, there's a lot in there to inspire. I've still got a bunch of European courses to write up for this site but, as I do, I'll write some blogs about some of the trips worth considering. Plenty to enjoy!

 The Golf World Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe

The Golf World Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe

A brand new Ultimate Top 100 Golf Course list!

The world of Golf Course rankings had flurry of excitement with the publication on GOLF’s biannual World Top 100 list. This is a list of which I thoroughly approve (unlike the hideous Golf Digest version). It is hard to argue with any of the inclusions and has rewarded really great golf courses.

 The fantastic Yas Links has deservedly entered the Ultimate top 100 for the first time.

The fantastic Yas Links has deservedly entered the Ultimate top 100 for the first time.

If you are a real golf dweeb then I would recommend the Golf.com podcast which this week hosts Joe Passov, the gentleman who puts the rankings together. He explains that rather than break every course down to component parts which other lists often do, he just asks the panel of raters for one overall rating for each course. The analogy he uses is reviewing films - you don’t break a film into its constituent parts (say acting, cinematography, special effects) and penalise a film because it doesn’t rank highly in every section, whether relevant or not. You rate the thing as a whole.

Anyway, it comes up with a strong list. I also noticed that the planetgolf.com list has had a few tweaks, so I have loaded both of these top 100s into my spreadsheet to come up with a new Ultimate Top 100. To get to my Top 100, I take the 5 most reputable 'top 100' lists and average the positions for all courses nominated at least twice. If a course is too new to have been rated by all five I will reduce the denominator. Simple? Well, kind of. You can see the full list here.

So what has changed this time? Well, nothing at the top. Cypress Point still beats
Pine Valley by a whisker but the two are very close. Their average position is 2 and 2.2 respectively with the next contender, Royal County Down, 1.4 points behind them. These two really are out on their own when it comes to the challenge to be the best course in the world.

The highest new entrant, by a long way, is New Zealand’s Tara Iti which has now been open long
enough to be reviewed by two of the publications. As a result of it being 29th in the Golf ranking and 38th in Planet Golf, it actually comes in at 27 in the Ultimate list. That’s quite an entrance. The course itself is located some 45 minutes outside of Auckland and Tom Doak was said to have been inspired by holes at Cypress Point, Royal Dornoch and Royal St Georges when he designed it, all of which are perfectly acceptable!  It’s a private members club so this one may be quite hard to play but, if you can, it gives just another reason for those of us in the northern hemisphere to head south. This write-up from Planet Golf certainly makes for enticing reading.

One new course from the Antipodes still settling down is Cape Wickham. In the last update the
course off the southern Australian coast had come in at 16 but it has now received another rating, 72 from GOLF, which means it has settled a little lower at 32. The top100golfcourses.com new world rankings are to come out soon and so far they have given this course only 8th in Australia, so it may have a little lower to go yet.

 Castle Stuart continues to rise in the world rankings, that's totally deserved!

Castle Stuart continues to rise in the world rankings, that's totally deserved!

I am particularly happy to see the two highest risers this time round - Castle Stuart is up 7 places at 58 and Yas Links in Abu Dhabi is a new entrant, up 7 places to 94. When I played Yas the first time it struck me that there were real similarities between the two. Neither course was designed to trick you and both are playable for golfers of all handicaps. But they both will reward the player taking the braver line off the tee over the more conservative approach. They make phenomenal use of their terrain, have a very natural feel to them (which in the case of Yas Links is just incredible given the surroundings!) and are definitely sculpted in the ‘natural’ style which is finding such favour with modern architects. I really hope Yas Links is here to stay now in the Top 100 and I wouldn’t be amazed if Castle Stuart makes it past Kingsbarns on the list yet.

One of the challenges of compiling a top 100 list is getting around courses which have been
remodelled or ‘enhanced’. The reports coming out of Turnberry since the recent extensive
renovations are quite something and it is interesting to see that GOLF have bumped it up to position 16 from 23. The UK’s Golf Monthly recently had it at number 1 in the UK so expect to see it rise up the list as more people are exposed to it. I have purposely held off from publishing my review on this site as I haven’t been back since the changes, but my expectations are pretty high for when that visit comes.

It’s fascinating to see how different courses wax and wane over time. Pebble Beach seems to be on a fairly consistent downward path. GOLF had it in third place at the turn of the millennium but it is down to 9 this year and it only makes number 11 now in my Ultimate list. It just makes it into the top 15 of the courses I have played so I suspect it has further to fall. Conversely NGLA was 20th with GOLF magazine in 2003 and is now all the way up at number 7 for them, number 9 in the Ultimate list.

Without a doubt the GOLF rankings have helped the courses with a more traditional look and feel rise up the list. They haven't gone for the big brutes but have rewarded an old-school look and those courses which have been constructed (or reconstructed) with more of the traditions of the game at their heart. Long may that continue!

The next big event likely to change things is the top100golfcourses.com new world ranking which I am expecting in November. That website is growing in authority all the time and they could play a crucial role in seeing who ends up with the top spot in the world as we head into 2018.

Is the USPGA broadcasting omnishambles a sign of things to come?


Sometimes a Twitter storm comes out of nowhere. An idle comment which causes offence and boom, everyone's timeline is lit up. And then sometimes they are utterly predictable. The outcry around the BBC coverage of the PGA championship this week is definitely in the latter camp.

The complaints around the BBC's coverage are many and varied - the commentators don't know who half of the players are, they don't know the golf course, they are merely commentating on what is on the screen and adding no flavour, there are no 'extras' at all, it's not even on the telly but hiding behind the red button in standard definition. This is all evidence that the BBC can't ever show a golf tournament again; it is an insult to every golf fan out there. And so it goes on, you get the idea.

The problem here is that it is just impossible to put on a show with no time and no budget, especially when it's not one of your core competencies any more. Televising a golf event isn't something out of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney MGM musical ('let's put on a show right here') - it takes months of planning and preparation and a whole army of staff to get right. The BBC secured the rights for the USPGA just three weeks before it was curtains up. You would be hard pushed to put on a school show in that time.

The PGA of America, advised by IMG, must have thought they had a pretty strong hand in their negotiations with Sky, the undisputed home of TV golf in the UK. They have mopped up coverage of the Open and The Masters in recent years and have deep pockets. Surely Sky would pay double the previous amount to ensure the launch of Sky Sports Golf went off without embarrassment?

However, they appear to have overplayed their hand and, when the Sky negotiations broke down, the PGA of America made great play of the wonderful new era of sports viewing they were ushering in and the importance of making this great event free to view for all. They added a social partner as well in 'Give me Sport' who could stream on Facebook and bang, they thought, the PGA of America is a visionary organisation leading the way in the future of sports broadcasting.

Suspicions are that this is complete tosh. Sky walked away at the last moment and the PGA of America were left to try to cobble together some kind of a deal. So IMG went a-calling to good old Auntie.

The BBC saw an opportunity. The opportunity to stage a major golf event for next to nothing is one that doesn't come along every day. There were a few logistical hurdles for sure but where there is a will there is often a way.

Firstly, the event would clash with the much anticipated World Athletics Championships. The BBC has been planning this event for over a year (of course - that's what you do with events of this stature!) and it would be virtually impossible to find time in the schedules at such short notice.

Secondly, there was no time to get a production crew in place and do anything meaningful on the ground in the States.

And thirdly, they didn't have a top drawer specialist golf team in place any more - either on-air talent or off-air production. The BBC have really given up on golf now and the top talent has gone elsewhere.

None of these were enough to put the BBC off though, the offer was too good to turn down. While hindsight is easy, surely they could have foretold the reputational issues that would come their way?

Well, they thought they could get around the scheduling problems by putting the coverage online and on the red button. In fact, this would show how hip and with the digital age they are. Alas, the reality is that golf has a pretty hard core viewing audience who are used to high production standards and are vocal when things go wrong.

Most used the red button for coverage and the picture quality on a modern HD TV was quite terrible. It was like watching two heroes of yesteryear in an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.

Presenters were frantically tweeting out tips for how to get a better picture and Peter Alliss went on the offensive but frankly the damage was done. The image was of a BBC who didn't want to give fans more than an hours 'proper' coverage a day.

Then there was the lack of any notable production on the ground. No problem - the host broadcaster would provide a stream of pictures and the trusty BBC commentators would do the voiceover.

The problem here is that the international feed isn't great. The BBC producers are at the mercy of someone else deciding which pictures to show and there is no option to vary it at all. They can't create a narrative, they don't know what is coming up on the screen next, they can't even decide what to show again.

Sky don't just rely on host broadcaster cameras these days. For WGC events and Majors they will have their own crews on the course following the players of interest to a European audience; they will have their own extensive production unit as well as a bespoke on-site studio and the Sky cart.

Sky would have their first production meeting months before showing an event like this. They will be discussing interesting angles to cover, map the course and show it in a whole host of imaginative ways, they would interview the players months in advance.

The BBC didn't have the time or resources to do any of this. Instead they sat a few old hands in a studio somewhere in the UK with the same pictures you and I saw and told them to get on with it.

This would have been a tall order for the most experienced and current of commentators. The Sky team commentate on many of these players week in and week out but still they need to do extensive research for an event like this. The lack of familiarity that Alliss and co have with some of those in the field led to some real howlers.

And, the fact is that the team hastily assembled by the BBC isn't the best in the industry. If they were they would have regular broadcasting gigs, either with Sky or the European Tour broadcasting unit. Alliss has been a disaster for anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the game for many years, to say that Mark James is soporific would be polite and Maureen Madill appears to be something of a polarising figure.

Ken Brown is best employed out on the course, as his twitter handle would imply, and the only commentator I think who would get a place in the Sky booth (Andrew Cotter) was wisely otherwise engaged.

They did have a man on the ground, Rishi Persad, and while I imagine he had more than the latest iPhone to record his interviews it didn't always appear so.

Having no-one on the course to tell us what was going on was a massive miss. On more than one occasion Peter Alliss was heard to say that he'd 'love to know' what a player's lie was like or whether he had a line. Wouldn't we all, Peter....

So it's not surprise that the coverage has come in for huge criticism. It came across as amateurish and the BBC should probably have just passed rather than lose what was left of their reputation as part of an IMG/Sky power-play.

However, I suspect this isn't just a one off and this incident has highlighted some of the real challenges sports coverage has in the world we are moving towards. New media platforms are springing up left, right and centre. Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, BT, Sky, Eurosport, ESPN - the list is only getting bigger as every year goes by.

They all need eyeballs to make their business models work and they are prepared to pay for that. If you are looking for evidence of that then the recent acquisition of ATP tennis by Amazon Prime in the U.K. is a pointer for the future.

It should be noted that golf coverage is actually relatively inexpensive compared to some other sports. Sky pay £11m on average for every Premiership match that they show - think of that next time you find yourself watching Burnley play West Brom on a Monday night. Sky are reported to be paying the R&A £15m a year for the rights to the Open.

Golf still attracts a good demographic, consumers who are willing to pay subscriptions and who advertisers want to reach. That is why IMG are confident of getting a better deal for their client, why BT Sport are said to be trying to secure coverage of the Masters and Twitter have been experimenting with coverage of the PGA Tour.

It is only the fans who will lose out if the crown jewels are sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders. Imagine a world where BT Sport has the Masters, Amazon has the US PGA and Sky has the others. A real fan would need a subscription, or one-off payment, to every individual rights holder and the quality could be greatly diminished.

Sky have honed the art of presenting a golf tournament. They are simply exceptional at showing the right shots at the right time, keeping the presenters largely out of the picture but ensuring they add value and minimising the impact of the adverts which are necessary to make the numbers work. They employ the best commentators and the best production crew in the business. Only someone who has endured trying to watch a big event on US TV will truly understand that. Other broadcasters who show just one or two events a year simply won't have that skill and experience and we will be left with more of the dogs' dinner that we are experiencing this week.

Maybe we will see a world where there is one really high quality production team who employ the talent and then merely rent it out every week to different broadcasters? However, given Sky's commitment to the other 48 weeks a year, at the moment that seems some way off.

And finally, there is the perennial old chestnut of growing the game, and the role of TV in that. There was a very good interview with Martin Slumbers, the Chief Exec of the R&A, on Radio 5 Live on the Friday of the Open. Conor Macnamara was asking him whether he thought participation in the game would be diminished as a result of selling the rights to Sky.

Viewing figures for the Open on Sky are a quarter of what they were on the BBC and surely this must have an impact. Slumbers had been highly critical of the BBC's coverage and was eulogising over the move. He basically said that growing the game was more about reaching young people via social media than television viewing figures. He sounded disingenuous and overly defensive.

I suspect that's because he knows that, at its heart, that isn't really true. More people will watch golf on a free-to-air channel than a subscription one, but the economics of life mean that, in reality, that just isn't going to happen again. For all the posturing of the PGA of America about a bold new media model, this week's shambles has been about money and money will continue to dominate.

Going forward I think we need to find a hybrid model, otherwise the next generation won't have an interest in the game. Keith Pelley should be commended for trying new formats and the players seem happy to do their bit - the European Tour social media feed is testament to that.

But when it comes to the actual coverage, the tour need to find ways to get more of the action out from behind the paywall and onto the screens of the nation. And while social media can clearly play a part in that, good old fashioned television is an important facet too.

Maybe the various different golf rights holders can agree a model whereby there are certain common principles in place including a certain number of hours on free-to-view and the role of social media?

The Masters model is pretty good for that in the UK. If you are a real hardcore fan you will pay for the extra coverage and quality of broadcast on Sky, but the BBC will pick up for the masses who just want to dip in. They can be criticised for much, but maybe when it comes to putting on the best show the powers that be in Magnolia Lane know what they're doing after all....

The Ultimate Open Venue Ranking

The players are all raving about Royal Birkdale this week. There's nothing tricked-up about it and it's definitely proving a test when the wind's up. But 'fair' is the word being used to describe it time and time again (somewhat to the irritation of the hardcore golf course architecture community).

But where does Birkdale rank alongside the other courses on the Open rota? Well, to answer that I've turned to my 'Ultimate Top 100' list - a 'poll of polls' of the top ranking sites - and come up with the Open hit list. Here is what that tells us:

10 Royal Liverpool (90th in the World)

Royal Liverpool

I really loved Royal Liverpool (known as Hoylake). It was a regular host of The Open until 1967 and returned in style in 2006 when Tiger Woods went around a very dusty links only hitting his driver once. McIlroy finally found an Open course to his liking in 2014 when the Open was next there.

I have this course as an '18' on my scoring system and prefer it to both Lytham and Carnoustie which the experts have ranked higher. It is a very playable course, you don't need to hit the ball 280 yards and straight to score well and while it doesn't have the dramatic setting of some of those above it, the golf is a real treat.

One other thing I should say is the clubhouse is a real treasure-chest of golfing memorabilia and the welcome a very warm one. What more can you ask for!?

My Review Here

9 Royal Lytham (67th in the World)

royal lytham open

So, colours to the mast, this is my least favourite Open course. I've only played it once, it was a fairly miserable day and my level of play was poor, so that didn't help! But the course doesn't have that much going for it really. There are no views, apart from of the nearby houses, the rough was incredibly punishing and it was over-bunkered. 

It has hosted some memorable Opens for sure. Seve won here twice and Ernie enjoyed a great week here in 2012.

One day I'll be back I'm sure,  and maybe that will cause me to re-assess, but for now it's at the bottom of my list.

My Review Here

8 Royal Troon (65th in the World)

 Tom Watson winning at Troon (From www,royaltroon.co.uk)

Tom Watson winning at Troon (From www,royaltroon.co.uk)

Every decade since the 1950s, Royal Troon has hosted an Open Championship. I was there in 1989 when Mark Calcavecchia pipped Wayne Grady and Greg Norman - it was a fantastic week to attend in the blistering west coast sun.

While few will remember the details of Todd Hamilton's win in 2004 the Stenson/Mickelson battle of last year will live in the memory of those who saw it forever. The star on that occasion though was definitely the quality of play  rather than the course and it would be fair to say the course has never been called an architectural masterpiece. The postage stamp is one of the most famous par 3s on these isles but, beyond that, there isn't much that will stick in the casual observer's mind.

This is the one course I've not been able to play yet but all that is changing in a few weeks! I will let you know then how it ranks for me. 

7 Royal Birkdale (38th in the World)

royal birkdale open

Birkdale is probably the first course on this countdown which can be described as one of the greats. I loved Birkdale and gave it a 19. The course is sculpted by magnificent dunes but the fairways are pretty flat and you won't get many bad bounces around here. If you get the chance to play here then jump at it. It really is that good.

The list of winners on this course is an impressive one, including Watson, Trevino and Palmer. The pros love playing here and it is a course that is really able to identify the best ball strikers and scorers out there.

My Review Here

6 Royal St Georges (26th in the World)

 Royal St Georges is England's best course

St Georges is the highest ranked English course on this list, and indeed in the world. On reflection, I think that is probably justified and it deserves just to pip Birkdale to the claim. 

This is a more quirky course than Birkdale. There are some blind shots (although not too many), some tilting fairways and some devilish bunkers. But it is simply great fun. The course will keep you entertained all the way round and won't beat you up. As soon as you come off the 18th you will want to walk straight over to the 1st and do it all again.

This is a great part of the world to visit. Royal Cinque Ports next door is a sensational links and it would be criminal to come here and not play a round there too. The bordering Princes course has a great reputation too.

My Review Here

5 Carnoustie (22nd in the World)

 Image from www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk

Image from www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk

You've probably heard all kind of stuff about 'Carnasty' and how this golf course has the most brutal finish in golf. You may have wondered whether that is all true. Believe me when I say it is even worse! This course is incredibly tough. It is unrelenting in its challenge and I would say for the average golfer, like me, it's just too hard.

The enjoyment you get from playing here is more from the satisfaction of having survived rather than anything else. There isn't much in the way of natural beauty to take in along the way and you don't get to see the sea.

22nd in the world feels like a very inflated position. I have it ranked below some courses not even threatening the top 100 like Gullane No 1. We'll get a good opportunity to compare next year when the Scottish Open at Gullane is followed by the Open at Carnoustie. I suspect the players will feel more beaten up on the latter!

My Review Here

4 Turnberry (20th in the World)


I don't have a review up on the site at the moment for Turnberry.  I haven't played the course since the redesign last year which has apparently elevated the course into one of the very best in the world. Indeed, the latest Golf Monthly ranking has put Turnberry on the top of the pile in the UK. The reviews have been uniformly great and I expect this will be increasing over the next few years as more people get to experience it first hand

Previously, some in the golf course architecture world had been a little condescending to Turnberry. They felt it had a little bit of 'fur coat and nae knickers'. Personally, I found that complete tosh. The setting is tremendous and the holes were magnificently framed. I simply can't wait to get over there again to see it.

For some, there may be an issue with the course ownership. The presence of Donald Trump as owner may put off The Open from returning while he is running the Western world (and my wife isn't very happy at the thought of me going to see it either...).

3 Royal Portrush (15th in the World)

portrush open

Portrush has only hosted the Open once before but it is back on the rota and will be hosting again in 2019. There is no question that this course will be one of the very best the players will play on the Open rota. Previously, the criticism had been that the 17th and 18th were weak holes but they will be used for corporate hospitality while two new holes have been created for the 7th and 8th and look great additions.

There is much chat about which is better, Royal County Down or Portrush. While the rankings would say County Down, I would champion Portrush. It's far more playable, more fun and has a better setting. It will be a great venue in 2019.

My Review Here

2 Muirfield (13th in the World)

Muirfield 2 (2).jpg

For many, Muirfield is the best course in Britain. The players are almost universally full of praise when the Open comes here and it is seen as a course which demands a mix of strategy, skill and patience. The course has one big circle for the front nine with another circle inside for the back. As as a result, no two holes play with the wind in the same direction so you need to keep thinking all the way around, and, if you are playing into the wind, it won't last for too long.

I live just a drive and a thinned 9 iron away from the first tee so have managed to play on the course a few times. Forget what you may have heard - the welcome has always been a warm one and the staff nothing but pleasant. The course has grown on me the more I have played it. It is without a doubt a tough track and the rough and bunkers are amongst the hardest you will ever find. However, this is a course you can get around. Visitors can play on Tuesdays and Thursdays and make sure you stay for the lunch and a foursome game in the afternoon

My Review Here

1 St Andrews (4th in the World)

St Andrews view to town.jpg

It will be no surprise to hear that the Old Course at St Andrews is ranked the best of all the courses to host the Open. It is a course unlike any other. Straight out and back, starting and finishing in the heart of the ancient town, this is a course which you will find accessible from the off. 

You will have seen the Old Course many times on the TV, the Open visits here every 5 years now and the Dunhill Links every October. There are still some things that will surprise you though. Firstly, how playable it is - if you favour the left hand side you will stay out of trouble. Secondly, the vastness of the greens - you will have never hit longer putts than on these huge double greens.

And finally, when you make the turn, you will find you just can't help but be mesmerised on your way in at the growing skyline of the Auld Grey Toon. Playing up 17 and 18 is an almost spiritual experience - you will feel the history all around you. What other game allows you to walk in the steps of legends? And what better place to do it than St Andrews?

My Review Here

Open Preview - 4 to Watch

royal birkdale

So, here we are. Open week. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite golfing weeks of the year. The Masters and Ryder Cup are the only other two worthy of entering the debate and The Open probably pips them to the post when it comes to sheer anticipation and excitement. The early morning starts and the late evening finishes, the bright yellow leaderboards, the random Asian player who has a good first day – all of these are traditions which add to the joy of the oldest major of the lot.

The venue this year is Royal Birkdale. For me, this is one of the very best courses on the rota. I've only played it once but loved it – my review is here. I went along when Ian Baker-Finch won in 1991 and remember it being a fantastic course to view as a spectator.

The course is framed by magnificent dunes, has great views and a classic clubhouse. The players profess to liking the course because there are few irregular bounces on the flat fairways. Having said that, don't think that this is an easy course. When Harrington won last time he was over par and the weather forecast tells us to expect some wind this week which will definitely make things tricky. It is a par 70, so expect the halfway cut to be well over par this week.

In coming up with a list of players to consider this week there are a few factors to take into account. Firstly, the Open is a tournament which definitely requires patience. If the wind does blow hard, then keeping your head and not being discouraged if a double bogey comes will be key. Therefore, when it comes to selections, I am staying away from streaky players, or players who tend to get down on themselves when things don't go their way. I'm sure Jon Rahm will go on to some major victories for example but it's hard to pick him this week given his temperament can be a little dubious at times.

The other factor I am taking into account is that this isn't a course which is going to necessarily reward length off the tee. We will see a lot of irons in play this week as often the trouble lies further up the hole and the risks taken won't always be rewarded.

Thirdly, I think it is far from a coincidence that, in the last 6 years, the winner has come from those who have played in the Scottish Open the week before. Players who embrace the links game will feel more comfortable in this environment. Extend that to the Irish Open as well and there is a good pool of players who have had some links golf in recent weeks.

Lastly, the pedigree of the Open winners has been pretty good over the last few years. It's been a while since we had a 'no-name' winner (think Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton) and the Birkdale roll-call is a really impressive one with Harrington, O'Meara, IBF, Watson, Miller, Trevino, Thomson and Palmer - a pretty good line-up.

So, here are a few suggestions of who you might like to think about if you are considering a wager this week. You can check out http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/6/Golf.html for more markets and prices

Rickie Fowler 16/1
It is no secret that Rickie Fowler is a lover of links golf. He won the Scottish Open in my home town of Gullane a couple of years ago and he has posted a T2 and T5 before. This season he is playing well and is 6th in the FedEx Cup. His scoring average is the lowest of everyone on the PGA tour this season and he is 6th in strokes gained on approaches to green. 16/1 isn't particularly generous, but for me he is the clear favourite this week

Marc Leishman – 45/1
The Australian has finished in the top 5 twice in the last three Opens, missing out in the playoff to Zach Johnson a couple of years ago. He is having a good year with a win at the Arnold Palmer in the spring and finished 5th last time out. I would rather he had played in the last couple of weeks but he is too good to ignore at 45/1

Matt Kuchar – 50/1
Big, smiley, goofy Kooch is the kind of player who has a game that fits with the Birkdale Open narrative. He is a quality ball striker with a great reputation around the greens and has the demeanour to shrug off some of the challenges that will undoubtedly come his way this week. He's not one of the longest hitters (162nd on the PGA Tour this year) but that won't count against him too much this week. Importantly he loves links golf. While his Open record isn't much to write home about he embraces the format which makes him good odds at 50/1.

Padraig Harrington – 66/1
If you're looking for horses for courses then Harrington is your man. He was the winner here in 2008 and it would, without a doubt, be one of the most fantastic stories if he was able to pull it off this week. Harrington showed well at the Scottish Open last week, with the exception of a poor third round, and there is no doubt this guy is a grinder. He will be inspired to do something special out there and you can be sure he will have the fans behind him. Come on Padraig ,one more time......!

OK, maybe THIS is the best value trip in golf!

 Image from Castlerock Golf Course

I have written before about how you can access some amazing courses at great prices, but I think this one may beat the lot.

With a little bit of planning, you can play 2 of the top 20 courses in the WORLD, plus a European Tour course, plus an amazing hidden gem, for only £245 all in.

Accommodation in the area is cheap too and it's within an hour's flight of most places in the UK. Tempted? Then read on!

Northern Ireland is the venue. It is home of some of the very best links courses in the world and famed for wonderful hospitality. As with the Highland trip and East Lothian adventure I have previously written about, the secret to getting the best value is to travel a little out of season. I have based the prices here on a trip in March.

March is one of the drier months of the year and the courses should be beginning to show a bit of growth. The good thing about these courses is that the land drains well all year round, so even if it is wet, the turf will be in great condition. 

 Image from Royal County Down website

Image from Royal County Down website

Early flight to Belfast City Airport. Pick up a hire car and drive (c. 1 hour) to Royal County Down. 

This is currently ranked the 3rd best golf course in the world - higher than St Andrews! In the peak of summer, on a weekend afternoon, this would cost you £220, but we are getting this round for £90. It is probably going to be the hardest course on the trip so it's worth playing it early, while you are still fresh and not too much Guinness has been consumed.

After the round, drive north to Portrush - our base for the next three nights. Portrush is your typical seaside town with plenty of bars, restaurants and seaside activities to be had!

When it comes to accommodation there are plenty of guest houses and B&Bs around but do have a look at Airbnb. You can get a great looking 4 bedroom house in the heart of town for £80 a night so, if there are 4 of you, that would work out at just £60 each for three nights' accommodation.

You'll probably be a little tired after your early start and drive, so maybe just a quick fish and chips and a pint before retiring to prepare for the next three rounds within a very short distance.

The European Tour came to Portstewart in summer 2017 and the players raved about the course. The front 9 was heralded as one of the best runs of links holes anywhere in the world. It seems destined to be on more visitors wish-lists than ever before as a result of the great reviews but, for now, you can play in March for a mere £60.

Friday night in town is likely to be pretty busy, even at this time of year, so it's worth booking ahead if you are looking for a meal. There are plenty of places to eat with new ones coming and going all the time, but the Bushmills Inn is a good option.

A short drive away is Castlerock Golf Club. The top100 golf site has this as the 5th best course in the land. What is truly amazing is that we are getting 18 holes here for £35! In fact, on a weekday, it is only £25. That is truly phenomenal!

As for Saturday night entertainment, make sure you don't leave town without taking in a few pints at the Harbour Bar while you watch the sun go down It also has a good restaurant if you find it hard to move too far...

royal portrush golf club

For me, we have saved the best to last. Royal Portrush is an absolute delight of a golf course to play. It isn't so punishing that you will feel destroyed out there, but you will know you are playing something very special. A huge amount of work has been done in the lead up to the 2019 Open Championship, with 2 new holes opening which promise to elevate this course even further in the rankings.

Access to the course is limited but plan ahead and you can play on a Sunday between 10:30 and 11:50 for £60. Leave it a month and, in April, the same round will cost £190! 

It will take you just over an hour to get to George Best International Airport for a flight back home. You might be a tired, but I'm prepared to bet, also smiling at the amazing golf you'll have enjoyed.

So there you have it - four great rounds of golf for the price of just 1 a few months later. Sure, you are taking a little risk with the weather but the courses should be in good condition and you will be welcomed with open arms.

Cost-wise the golf and accommodation would come to around £300. Flights from London (including clubs if you book wisely and book well in advance) will add another £100. Finally, budget for another £100 for car hire and food and drink which means you could do this for £500 all in.

If you are on an even tighter budget consider doing 36 holes on one of the days and you will save a few more quid on one day's less accommodation, food and car hire.

I will continue to look for the best value golf trip in golf but if playing high-quality courses is high up on your list of requirements, I challenge anyone to beat this trip!

Arccos 360 - a gamechanger for golf wearables

Last year I wrote about my experience with both the Arccos and Gamegolf wearable golf devices. The upshot was that the idea was great but the execution just wasn't good enough. They both proved pretty much unusable over time. I can only imagine that my blog spurred the folks at Arccos into action because late last year they released the Arccos 360. And believe me, it's a gamechanger.

There were two main problems with the original Arccos system. Firstly, it was just unreliable. Some clubs wouldn't register when you hit them and fiddling around changing batteries mid-round was not conducive to good performance.

Then when I was getting a fitting for a new set of clubs the pro looked at the devices at the end of every club and pronounced them too big - he sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind and so, after almost a season's play they were consigned to the drawer never to see the light of day again. I wasn't alone, three friends of mine all went for the Arccos system when they first saw them, and none of them stuck with them for more than a few months.

Anyway, I am a sucker for new gadgets and when I saw the new and improved version was coming out I was eagerly awaiting the release. I've played about a dozen games with them now so here are some thoughts. But if you want the edited highlights - they've fixed the problems and using the system is now pretty close to faultless.

 The Arccos 360 sensors are unobtrusive

The sensors at the top of the club are about half the size of their predecessors and very light indeed. That means I don't worry about the swingweight questions raised by my pro with the larger original version.

There is also no faffing around with batteries and they need a 'one time only' pair rather than the previous design which involved taking batteries in and out a lot and a little praying.

The process of pairing each club the first time was a doddle and they were up and running within a couple of minutes.

The only slight question mark for me is what happens in a couple of years. The website says the following - 'Arccos 360 sensor batteries are not replaceable. We guarantee these sensors to last a minimum of two years. Internal testing, however, has shown that the batteries may last longer than two years'.

Elsewhere on the site is says they should last for five years. I guess time will tell. Maybe they figure that the next generation will have come along by them and everyone moved on, or everyone will be paying a subscription for new services so they will send them out for free.

The other thing that is great about the 360 versus the original is that the sensors seem to pick up pretty much every shot you play - which wasn't the case before. The only slight catch is that you need to have your phone in your front pocket for it to pick up the sound of the ball to register your shot. They are a little sketchy on how that all works but frankly I don't really want to know. The phone in pocket thing really doesn't bother me at all and I've not been distracted by it once yet.

So there we are. The two problems before had been the sensors were both too big and they didn't work reliably, those problems have both been addressed.

arccos 360 apple watch

The other thing that has changed for me since my first experience is I now have an Apple Watch which works together with the Arccos 360 really well.

I use it for two things.

Firstly, you just need to glance at the watch to get yardages to the front, middle and back of the green (and a club recommendation in non-competition mode). There are other GPS apps which do something similar but the other thing this gives you is the ability to add a 'gimme' putt to a hole so you really don't need to take your phone out your pocket all the way around the course now to keep track of your game.

However, I do find myself pulling my phone out of my pocket to look at the Arccos app during the round for a couple of reasons.

I tend to use my putter around the green quite a lot and you need to let Arccos know this should count as a chip for your stats rather than a putt. You can do that after the round but I tend to do it on the way to the next tee. The other thing I sometimes do is manually move the flag position if I remember so the Arccos algorithm can take that into account when coming up with your stats.

The other thing I use it for is for showing me distances using the maps and built in GPS. You can touch any point on the map on your screen and a target will come up which shows you both how far away that point is and what that would leave you next to the middle of the green. On a course you don't know well that is really helpful and allows you to plot your way around in a way you can't with just a scorecard in your hand.

So, that's about it for the way around the course. It's when you finish a round that the analytics really kicks in.

For every round Arccos will calculate your 'handicap' for different parts of your game (driving, approach, chipping, sand and putting) and an overall handicap. Again, they are relatively opaque on what goes into the creation of this score but it is kind of similar to a 'strokes gained' type methodology. You can look at that on the app or website for either an individual round or your average over 10 rounds.

It definitely gives you a good sense of which areas of your game you should be working on and may change your strategy on the course.  For example, my driving numbers were awful in the early part of the year and I could see the positive impact moving to a three wood from the tee had on both my stats and my scores when I made a move for a couple of rounds.

You will also be able to see a bunch of other statistics for your game - fairways hit, putting stats, up and down etc both for individual rounds and your game as a whole. For every club in the bag you will get average distances hit. The algorithms are pretty good at being able to tell if you a punching a 6 iron back onto the fairway form the trees so as not to include in your overall numbers. It is this technology which allows the app to make the club recommendations on your watch on your way around.

arccos loch lomond

The other thing which I enjoy on the app is the ability to pull up any round you have played and go back and look at every shot you took. This is good fun when you are re-living the round afterwards, or looking at a course you've not been to for a while before playing it again.

It can be quite sobering too. Melting a drive down the middle and finding out it went 40 yards less than you would have guessed does bring a bit of a reality check!

For many, that will be enough. Some nice stats and the chance to have a momento of your round. I imagine lots of users never log-in to the dashboard on the website but it is quite something. I won't be able to do it justice here but there are a plethora of features -

  • Edit shots with precision after a round
  • A heatmap of every shot played so you can see which gave you shots gained or dropped
  • Overlay shots played from multiple rounds on a map of a hole to look for trends
  • Plots different attributes of your game versus others of same handicap
  • Shows you where your misses are (clue, most people are short!)

I haven't spent that much time yet looking at all the ins and outs of the site but there is plenty to get stuck into and I think a bit of focus could really help you develop different strategies for holes on your home course.

Next week Arccos are releasing a new product to go alongside the Arccos App - Arccos Caddie. It will use all of the data on your game, combined with an analysis of the hole your are playing plus current conditions to give you advice on how to play the hole.

This will be a subscription based model and you can see the attraction for sure. It will be interesting to see to what extent the algorithm copes with a higher handicap where consistency is a problem but advances in data science and AI should mean this only gets better and better.

However, none of that would matter if the basic functioning of the sensors still wasn't there so well done to Arccos for leading the way. Let's see what the future brings!

The Best Golf Podcasts of 2017

golf podcasts

If 2016 was the year of the golf podcast explosion then this is the year we see which ones have real legs. Which have become bland and formulaic and which are 'must listen' whenever they come on your iTunes feed?

Well, the latter half of last year marked a real turning point in the genre as many players really embraced them. Speith, McIlroy, Mickelson - they have all talked to podcasts at length. This is genuinely transformational for the golf fan. Previously (apart from the odd snatched interview at an event) you may have read an interview in a newspaper (unlikely, but very occasionally sensational) or golf magazine/website (90% utter fluff but occasionally excellent). Now we have some of the real superstars of the game talking at length, giving us insight like never before. They have pretty much cut out the middle man and are talking directly to their fans.

Jamie Kennedy, the social media manager for the European Tour, recently asked what makes for a good golf podcast. I suspect the answer partly depends on how much of a golf geek you are. I don't think there is an official scale for this, but, to help you frame what I have to say, I would be at the Padraig Harrington end of obsession!

So firstly, here are a few of the criteria which I think make for an engaging podcast -

Presenters with attitude and intelligence
Subject matter, guests, frequency - these are all important, but if you feel no connection with the host it can be tough. There have been new podcasts which, on paper, look like they should be great, but then you tune in and within 10 minutes the monotonous drone of the presenter's voice means you just have to turn off. It's tough, but some written-word journalists really find it hard to make the transition to the spoken form.

The ones which really work are those who have a strong point of view, are able to communicate it in an engaging way and aren't shackled by their employer or standing in the game. It was why I loved Lawrence Donegan when he used to do the ByTheMinGolf podcast. He didn't really give two hoots about what people thought. Last year I was slightly disparaging of the No Laying Up Podcast but for me they are now the undisputed number one. They have attitude and intelligence which makes for a great listen.

I am not sure the European Tour will ever be able to produce something so engaging as No Laying Up given their position in the game and I think the broadcasters find the same problem. Sky haven't cracked the podcast yet in the UK - will they ever be able to make yo feel there is an edge in what they say? I suspect not.

Insight you won't get elsewhere and subjects that really engage
There is really no point having a podcast which merely recounts events we have all witnessed ourselves with 'one guy's opinion' of it. It's not interesting and is unlikely to make it to the top of your podcast list.  

The broadcasts I like are the ones which genuinely help me learn something new, give me an insight I wouldn't get elsewhere. The Chubby Chandler interviews on ByTheMin were great, Michael Clayton talking on State of the Game about what developers are demanding in golf course designs - these are genuinely mind-opening and add to my knowledge of what is going on in the world of golf.

I think it is hard for a show to really engage if it just spends every week looking back at last week's event and looking forward to next weekend's. Addressing broader topics make for a more interesting show. Of course it would be wrong not to talk about topical issues sometimes, but taking a broader perspective is often more interesting.

Don't have guests who just go through the motions
The Rory McIlroy interviews with NoLayingUp and The Clubhouse this year were fantastic, you felt like he was happy to talk about anything and give honest answers. The key here is for the presenters still to be journalists and not PR lackies. Asking questions which may sometimes be uncomfortable and not necessarily endearing themselves to the players is important in making it an interesting listen.

Phil Mickelson did the nascent Shipnuck podcast earlier this year. Now Shipnuck is an amazing writer, possibly the best in the business, but he is not great as a broadcaster. Though Phil was so mesmerising it didn't matter!

Shane Bacon had Rickie Fowler on the day before the Masters and gave the listener a few minutes of pretty much nothing. My advice next year - don't even bother.

Be Dependable
Building a regular relationship with a podcast is important I think. You can be pretty confident there will be a No Laying Up podcast most weeks. I have recently discovered the GolfWeekly podcast and every Thursday I know it will be there waiting. It helps that the presenters are really engaging and have a point of view on everything but I enjoy the fact that I can depend on it being there.

Conversely, the reliability of the BytheMinGolf podcast has been disappointing. Whenever they do one it is the best thing I listen to that week, but it appears to have finally died a death. That's a real shame.

State of the Game is a glorious show. It is the 'One Foot in the Grave' of golf podcasts by a bunch of grumpy old men, but they fulfil the 'attitude and intelligence' criteria with aplomb. However, the longest time between broadcasts has been 3 months and there have only been 7 in the last 12 months. This makes it tough to really get into it, but is a real treat when it comes!

You can see here how some are definitely more diligent in their production than others - 

Doesn't try too hard to sell me underwear
I think I have some cultural challenges I need to overcome! In the UK we have quite a clear demarcation between advertising and journalism. Our North American cousins seem to have a less distinct position.

I find it really odd when the Shackhouse comes on and Shack and House spend the first couple of minutes having a 'genuine' conversation about how much they are both loving the Callaway Chromesoft or the underpants they are wearing (I kid you not) and what a difference they are making to their daily lives. In last week's Shackhouse, 4 of the first 18 minutes were spent on promoting their sponsors. It does feel like CallawayFM at times. They are probably the most obvious offenders (to my uneducated ear) but others are at it as well. When I am driving to work and can't fiddle with the iPhone to forward through it, it is really annoying, especially as I can't get the underwear delivered to me in Gullane regardless of the quality of the gusset. 

Now, I do understand that in this new media world these guys need to monetise their listenership, but I wish there were less invasive ways of doing it. No Laying Up are doing it light touch (and I imagine they are getting some big offers) but I wonder if they will manage to hold out. I have been listening the the S-Town podcasts recently. I don't recall any mentions of golf in the series (it's based around a manic depressive, poisoned, suicidal horologist) but the 15 seconds of sponsor mentions were not a distraction from the main event.

So, those are some of the things I look out for and given this is a rating website here's how I rate them -


no laying up golf podcast

No Laying Up

Last year I accused this show of being a little too painfully Millenial focused. I take that all back now. I'm 43 and love listening to it. It is without a doubt the best in the business. 

Solly is the main host and he has a great outlook on the golf world. They have had some phenomenal guests on (Rory phoned them up to get a slot) but they have an energy which is contagious. When it comes to a point of view, none have a stronger outlook than these guys.

They will also quite happily move away from just talking about the professional golf tours - the recent accounts of trips to England and Ireland were great listening for a golf course geek.  

I have no doubt that these guys will continue to engage and only grow in their success. It wouldn't be surprising if in a year or two they have their own audio stream on a golf network or online streaming. Hell, Sky should get them doing that on the red button tomorrow.

State of the Game

state of the game podcast

Without a doubt the grand-daddy of them all. We are up to episode 72 but the first one was out in January 2012, with John Huggan on board. Now the frequency has declined but the standard has  been maintained, despite Huggan's exit. I am a big fan of all three of the current hosts, Rod Morri, Geoff Shackelford and Mike Clayton and the quality of guests is uniformly great. Joe Oglivie's appearance in episode 45 sets the standard in podcast guests others should strive to!

This podcast tends to be less about the week to week goings on of the PGA tour and more about issues effecting the broader game of golf. They have a particular dedication to talking about how far the golf ball is going today and the problem that creates, however they are always entertaining. It's just a shame that the episodes are so few and far between.

Golf Weekly

This was a new find for me this year and I would really encourage you to have a listen if you haven't before. It is broadcast from Dublin and there is a skew towards Irish golf and golfers but that's not a problem as there is a real pace and energy to the show which means that it is a pleasure to listen to - even when the topics are a bit more parochial.

The Clubhouse with Shane Bacon

Unlike other podcasts which have 2 or 3 hosts talking either to each other or with a guest, this is just Shane Bacon every week in conversation with a guest. There are a few regulars such as Kyle Porter but often hosts of other podcasts like Geoff Shackleford or Tron Carter from No Laying Up come on. The guest line-up over the last 12 months has been stellar - Rory McIlroy, Keith Pelley, Justin Thomas..... 

The only slight criticism (and it is slight) is that I think Bacon plays it a little safe sometimes in his questions. He is employed by Fox Sports and maybe this is the reason. It feels like it could maybe get a little edgier than it does at times.


So last year I was all over Shackhouse. I am a big fan of Geoff Shackleford's contributions to State of the Game and his blog, but the Shackhouse has gone a little off the boil for me.  

Firstly, the advertising is too invasive for my liking. I know they need to make money, but it's a real pain to listen to. It does feel at times like they are just an extension of the Callaway PR team. Also, Joe House grates on me a little. He sounds a bit like a zany Muppet - maybe Fozzy Bear - and it gets a little dull hearing him talk in frenzied tones about how he is going to 'allocate my CAP-IT-AL'.

Having said that, when they calm down and have a good discussion or interview, the quality is usually pretty high and this is a show I listen to pretty much as soon as it comes out very week - so I can't dislike it that much.......!


The Fried Egg Podcast

the fried egg podcast golf

Fair play to them, the Fried Egg podcasts are knocked out with some regularity. I've probably only listened to 7 or 8 of them though and, if truth be told, I'll see who the guest is before deciding whether to tune in. The topics under discussion are mainly about golf course architecture which I like. Tom Doak recently did 2 shows which were very interesting to listen to.

The reason I'm finding it hard to get engaged with it is that the host doesn't have a very naturally relaxed broadcasting style meaning it can be a bit plodding at times. Having said that, if the guests are good they carry it through. I think it's improving so I will stick with it for a while.

iSeekGolf Podcast

iseekgolf podcast

This is one of the latest podcasts to arrive on the scene and has real potential. iSeekGolf.com is Australia's largest golf website so this pod does have a slight Antipodean bias. The main host is Rod Morri from State of the Game and he is simply excellent. He has such a natural warm style - keeping the pace going well with just the right level of probing and tenacity in his questions. At the same time it feels like you are just eavesdropping on a chat between some well informed friends.

It will be tough to have the same level of discussion as he presides over with Shackleford, Clayton et al but the initial signs are really good. On last week's show Morri indicated that they might be looking to bring State of the Game into the iSeekGolf fold, to much excitement in the world of golf blogs. I fully expect this to be right at the top of the list next year.

The First Cut with Kyle Porter

OK, it is far too early to opine on this as it's only 2 weeks in - but so far so good! Porter is one of the new generation of young thrusting golf bloggers who don't care about convention and laugh in the face of rule 15.3. They all pop up on each other's podcasts and have 'hot takes' left, right and centre. Porter is definitely one of the best. He is also a very good writer for CBS.com - his article about playing Augusta this year will give you chills.


Firstly, the good things about these guys. They are pretty reliable. We have a podcast most weeks and the subject matter is pretty good. But the problem is that they are not great broadcasters yet. Sean and Cassie just don't set the world on fire with their style and I don't think that they give enough to engage with them. It feels a bit staid and plodding which is a shame - too often I feel they are reading something out rather than having a natural conversation. If they lose the scripts and relax a bit and I suspect they will get a lot better.


ByTheMin Golf

Farewell Lawrence and Huggy. I can only assume that these two have gone off in a different direction given there we haven't had a show since February but anyone thinking of starting a golf podcast should listen to these guys for the gold standard. Relaxed, informed, provocative. What more could you ask for?

Is this the best value golf trip ever?!

highland golf dornoch

Golf can be an expensive business. In Europe almost every course is accessible, but at a price. To play the new Turnberry on a weekend this summer will set you back the eye-watering sum of £350. For one round of golf! This makes it the most expensive green fee in Europe - President Trump must be so proud.

However, if you look around, sometimes you can find something pretty special. And here's an offer: You can play three truly exceptional courses - Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart and Nairn with 2 nights' accommodation for £365 per person. Yes, that's right. For pretty much the same cost as one round at Turnberry, you can play these three quality tracks and have a bed to lay your head in.

rain dornoch

First things first, of course there is a catch. This offer is available only in April, October and November. However, that needn't be an issue. April is the driest month of the year in these parts and the course is coming out of hibernation, with hardly any chance of a ground frost. And while October and November are wetter months you can still get some lovely days. Frankly, this part of the world is capable of surprising you with the weather (either way!) at any time of the year.

The Golf

The quality of these three courses is pretty impressive. Royal Dornoch has recently been heralded as the 5th best course in the world by Golf Digest Magazine and in my ultimate poll of polls ranking, I have it as number 7. This is better than Muirfield, better than Portrush, in fact only St Andrews ranks higher in mainland UK!

Dornoch is simply a delight to play - you can read my full review here. Tom Watson describes it as the most fun he has ever had playing golf. I genuinely believe that if this course was situated in a more accessible place then it would be second only to St Andrews as the most frequent host of The Open. It is simply immense. It will test every shot in your bag but, as Watson says, you will have great fun.

Nairn may be the least heralded of the three courses but you will enjoy your round here without a doubt. It is famed for its incredibly conditioned greens and the course has been worthy of hosting a Walker Cup where the likes of Donald and Casey have teed it up. This is one of those courses which you wouldn't fly to the region just to play it but when it is there in front of you it would be a shame to miss.

castle stuart golf

And so to Castle Stuart. This is a fantasy golf course. I played it twice - in appalling weather - and fell in love with it. I have ranked it higher than Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Kingsbarns. It leaves the likes of Royal Lytham and Carnoustie behind by a country mile. It is officially ranked 65th in the world but I have it in my top 10 for sure.

The course has been designed to be accessible to all. Fairways are generous and it's hard to lose too many balls. The lines you take from the tee are key to scoring well - this is a course that rewards the brave, but doesn't overly punish the weak.

The course has a tremendously natural feel to it and it's impossible to play without a smile on your face. If I could only play one course for the rest of my life, Castle Stuart would be a very strong candidate.

The Deal

So, for £365 you get to play all three courses, in April, October or November, and have 2 nights' accommodation at Culloden House, the Royal Golf Hotel Dornoch, the Kingsmills Hotel or at Castle Stuart Golf on-site Lodgings. You can get all the details here.

Let me put that into perspective. If you were looking to book the same trip for the first week of May then the golf alone would cost you £475 and 2 nights at Culloden House would be £270 a person making a total of £745.  Therefore this deal gives you a better than half price deal on some of the very best links courses you will find anywhere in the world.

The Area

Ok, you will be in and out in 3 days and probably won't have that much time to take in the local sights but both Inverness and Dornoch are great places to stay.  Inverness has quite a few good restaurants and the pubs and nightclubs will keep you occupied if that's your thing. Johnnie Foxes rarely disappoints! If you are looking for something a little less hectic then definitely consider staying in Dornoch, it's not a big place but has golf in its blood and you will get a really true Scottish experience if you spend a couple of nights in the local pubs.

Getting there

If you are in Scotland anyway then Inverness is a 3 hour drive from Edinburgh or a couple of hours from Aberdeen. However, if you are London-based it is probably even more accessible. Skyscanner tells me there are 38 flights a week now from London - with Easyjet or BA - and it is only an hour and a half away. Average ticket prices are under £50 each way. Castle Stuart and Nairn are both within 15 minutes drive of the airport so you can be teeing off just a couple of hours after leaving the south, truly in a different world!

I spend a lot of time looking for different opportunities to play some of the best golf courses in the world and too often they are hard to get on and ridiculously expensive. It's fantastic to see these three great courses getting together and making play so accessible. My advice would be to get booking now before they change their mind!


Saturday at Augusta Diary


I won't try to do a recap on yesterday's golf. Suffice to say that it was a great day to be at Augusta National. But here are some observations you may not get from the TV or online. Probably for good reason!

Half price tickets (kind of) 

Tickets for the Masters are notoriously hard to get. For hard, read expensive. These days Stubhub has revolutionised how you can get tickets for the Masters if you haven't had badges passed down through the family for generations. They even have a collection point just outside the exclusion zone for touts. 

The price of a ticket for the Saturday round gradually increased from around $1,500 to over $2,000 when it looked like Tiger might be teeing it up. At the beginning of this week it seemed that $1,800 was the likely price. 

But then, I woke up yesterday morning to see they had dropped close to $1.000. Apparently that is quite common on the ticket exchanges, especially when middle aged fans are involved as they like to be nice and organised!

There is a gentleman called Jonny D who has been selling tickets from the same spot on Washington Road for 16 years, by coincidence right outside my window at the ironically named Augusta Best Inn.  He had some very good anti-sell on Stubhub (you have to return the badges and there are long queues, they're killing the honest tout trying to ply his trade) which was compelling. And he undercut them a bit too.

Even writing this now, on the morning of one of the most stacked leaderboards for years, tickets are almost half the price for the last round now than they were a week ago. 

Anyway, the purpose of all that was to give some pointers if you ever find yourself trying to get a ticket - my advice is that unless Tiger is involved hold the nerve! 

 An underage drinkers' dream!

I feel slightly insulted that I haven't been asked to show ID in a bar once on this trip. Maybe at the age of 43 I finally have to accept those days are gone. However, it turns out the Masters is the place to come if you are looking for a little underage drinking. The legal age to drink in the state of Georgia is 21 but there were exclamations of joy from those younger being served without the usual request to show some ID, maybe the whole property has its own law or something! 

.....but there's a curfew

After about 4 o'clock people kept spotting my watch and asking if I had the time. After the third time this happened I asked whether there was something going on I needed to be aware of. Maybe a Nicklaus/Player wrestle-off or something. But no, alcohol sales ended at 5. There was a manic look in some patrons' eyes.

I noticed yesterday that the fans were more alcohol-fuelled than last time I was here. In the stands behind the 12th tee a fair number were pretty cut when the curfew came down and the golf did seem like a bit of a distraction from the drinking.

Viewing is so easy

Viewing at Augusta is a real pleasure. The stands that are strategically located over the course are very rarely full and people are constantly going up and down which makes it easy to get in. The stands at 11/12, 13 and 15 had seats available with only a short wait all afternoon from what I could see.

Mickelson and Spieth took a lot of the gallery with them. I picked up the Garcia/Hoffman match from the 11th and saw every shot, often from really close up, from just strolling along the side of the fairway. There was a Spanish/European contingent walking with them and the atmosphere was great.

They definitely don't oversell this event, no Ryder Cup here, and the experience is chalk and cheese with The Open. The amphitheatres they have carefully molded into the grounds definitely makes a difference.

Xenophobia is alive and well in Augusta

The TV broadcast won't show it but there is a definite US bias in the crowd, in a way you just don't get at The Open the other way. No-one was abusive about Mickelson when he won at Muirfield but there seems to be a real 'them and us' mentality by some of the more vocal fans here.

Maybe, it's because of the Ryder Cup problems they've had over recent years but it was really obvious out there. And some of the comments I heard towards Sergio were quite something. More often than not the insults were prefaced by 'The Spanish....' (insert insult as desired).

The alcohol didn't help as it was definitely worse at the end of the round but the shouts of 'get in the water' when he teed off on 16 were only aimed at him from what I saw. The European contingent clearly felt nothing but sympathy though when his playing partner Hoffman was the one to find the pond.

Isolation has its pros and cons 

The no cellphone policy at Augusta is very strictly enforced - there's airport style security and you would lose your tickets for life if found with one. His is great in many ways. There's no texting your mates to say you just had a chat with Mark O'Meara's wife (what a lovely lady) or you are wearing your favourite golf top today so look out on the telly. No, you just take it all in with your eyes and take away the most amazing memories.

The only thing is, that means you don't really know the half of what is happening out there. There are scoreboards everywhere and they are updated really quickly. However, they only show the top 10 scores and the scores of those playing the hole you're watching.

So yesterday when we decided to wave goodbye to Westwood after an early bogey we didn't give him two thoughts for the rest of the afternoon. Had we know he was on the charge on the back 9 we'd have picked him up somewhere but we were in blissful ignorance as he didn't break the top 10.

It can't be beyond the wit of the organisers to arrange something which means fans have a better idea of what is happening without ruining the integrity of the event. Maybe give everyone a little radio as they come in with only one channel. Hell, I'd even put up with an afternoon of Monty chatting in my ear for that.

It's just Disneyland for golfers

The place really is amazing though and unless you see it it's hard to appreciate just how perfect it is. There are no rough edges anywhere. From the minute you turn off Washington Avenue you enter into an oasis. Even the parking lots have a Disney feel to them.

Everything about the place just looks and feels perfect. Ground which has been walked across all week is still green, the rest rooms wouldn't feel out of place in a top hotel, you never queue for more than a few minutes - even in the mecca that is the merchandise shop.

And yet for all that, it is the course that is the real star. Every hole asks questions, and sometimes the answers are terrifying. You can sometimes see it in the players' eyes. 

I really hope that Sergio does it this afternoon but Spieth was quite something again yesterday. He was teeing off some time after 2 but at 10 o'clock he was on the putting green by the 1st tee. I watched him for 20 minutes and he barely issued a putt. He was focussed but also had a visible spring in his step, looking around all the time and bouncing on his feet.

He'll be a hard man to beat but it should be a fairly compelling afternoon's watching.


How Tiger, and the weather, still move the needle on Masters Tickets

 Ticket prices may be high but the food is still cheap!

Ticket prices may be high but the food is still cheap!

Visiting Augusta to watch the Masters is always said to be one of the hardest tickets in sport. This year though, it's getting cheaper every hour to walk the hallowed fairways of Augusta.

Tickets to the event are sold out, and have largely been for decades. If you are one of the lucky few to have a 'patron's badge' then you renew it every year for a couple of hundred bucks but you can hawk them for much more on the secondary market for sales which thrives.

As long as you are not within 2,700 feet of the entrance to Augusta National you can sell your entry ticket for whatever you can get for it. There are active markets on the likes of Stubhub and the price of tickets (sorry badges) for fans (sorry patrons) is almost like a school project in the perfect market of supply and demand.

So, this year I have been watching the price of tickets on Stubhub.  You can pick the badges up from their bespoke office just outside the exclusion zone and if there are any problems you will be fully recompensed and given another badge to get in. What's not to like (apart from the price).

The price of tickets on the Stubhub market had been building gradually but surely over the last couple of weeks.  In the middle of last week Tiger was said to be doing everything he could to make it for the first tee and the prices of tickets kept going up.  Last Friday morning a ticket for entrance on Thursday would set you back $2,200 before taxes which add another 20% on.  And then Tiger told the world to forget it, and a bunch of Augusta residents' hearts sank.

Within hours the value of a ticket for Thursday had shrunk to $1,700 and they have only gone one way since.  By Tuesday afternoon you could pick a Thursday ticket up on Stubhub for a mere $1,300.  OK, it is still a ridiculous amount of money but if you are looking for evidence on how much Tiger moves the needle, look no further.

If your heart is bleeding for those trying to hawk their Thursday tickets then spare a thought for the Wednesday guys. Bizarrely, the Wednesday tickets were going for almost the same amount as any of the actual tournament days on Stubhub.  And then the weather forecast came. The weather tomorrow looks hideous, if the par 3 does take place it will be against all odds.  

On Friday morning, before Tiger broke the ticket-owners hearts, Wednesday tickets were up to $1,500 a pop.  At time of writing, just after lunch Augusta time on Tuesday you can pick them up for $360 each.  

Just remember, there's no money back if it's abandoned.......

I'll post later in the week on what happens to ticket prices right up to the day of play and how they compare on the exchanges to the hawkers on Washington Road.  As you may have guessed, I'm looking for a Single on Sunday!

If you are thinking of going to August to watch the Masters one year then read my top ten tips here.