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?

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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.

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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 Noordeijkse (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?

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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)

turnberry

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

Thursday 
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.

Friday
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.

Saturday
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

Sunday
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 -

THE MUST LISTENS

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.

Shackhouse

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 POSSIBLES

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.

GlobalGolfPost

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.

THE DEARLY DEPARTED

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

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

Top 10 tips for a visit to Augusta

I was lucky enough to spend a glorious week in April a The Masters a couple of years ago and it was a truly tremendous experience.  I've been to Opens, Ryder Cups, the US Open and many national tournaments but, as you would probably imagine, Augusta National was something quite different. So, if you are lucky enough to be planning a trip here are a few tips which may help you get the most out of it -

 

1. Consider staying in Augusta - it's cheaper than you think.  

A lot of the tours from the UK will have you staying in places like or .  These are up to a couple of hours out of Augusta and as such the days will be very long and the time you can spend on the course will be partly influenced by your organiser's transport schedules.

 

We rented a house within 20 minutes walk of the first tee.  It was a fantastic feeling to wake up knowing that you are a mere stroll from going to watch the Masters.

 

The Friday evening was the most magical experience. Rory Mcilroy was one of the very last out and battling to make the cut.  The course really emptied for the last hour or so and my friend and I walked around with just a handful of people - including Rory's Dad and tennis playing girlfriend at the time.    They were more than happy to chat away as the sun set and had we been scrabbling to get out of the car park or onto a bus we would have missed out. 

 

Hotels are famously expensive but check out Airbnb or the official rental service for some options.

 

2. If you go on a practice day don't forget your camera.  

 

Cameras are forbidden on every day of the tournament - this is the only event that holds out against them. However, on a practice day you are allowed to snap away to your heart's desire and the pictures sure make a nice screensaver! 

 

3. Don't just stay in our place - walk the course.

 

One of the great things about the Masters is that the course is far from busy at any time.  They don't say how many patrons/punters are on the course at any one time but at no time did we ever feel we couldn't see the action.  Indeed at times it was slightly surreal just how close you can get to the action.

 

The other fantastic thing which you don't really appreciate on the TV is that only the players, caddies and a scorer are allowed inside the ropes at any time - that means that you don't run the risk of having James Nesbitt or any similar hanger-on blocking your view.

 

There are stands/bleachers on several holes on the course and again these are really accessible.  I have spent days at the Open behind a stand hearing the cheers going up trying to work out what is going on.  No such concern here, we wandered down to the stand behind the 12th tee, overlooking the 11th green, with a couple of groups to come through on the Sunday with no problem before nipping over to the stand behind the 13th.

 

Also, there are fantastic vantage points all over the course.  You have probably heard the course is more hilly than it is on TV (!) and that really lends itself to many great spots to watch a few groups coming through.

 

4. Get the most from the green seats

 

This takes a bit of getting used to.  Most patrons will have a green seat clutched in their hand as they enter the gates, if you don't have one you can buy one inside.  It's best to put an identifier on your seat (there is a little place at the back for a business card, how quaint!). Anyway, you basically go and put your seat down anywhere you want on the course (we did manage to get by the 18th green on Sunday but it was an early start....) and then feel free to either sit in it or just leave it until you want to use it.  It will be there, unmoved, and waiting for you to claim it.

 

When you get back to your seat you may well find someone else sitting in it.  That's the done thing, you just politely let them know that's your seat and they will move on with a smile and find the next empty seat.  This is very powerful information because it obviously works both ways.  When you are out on the course and you fancy a sit down just sit in a green seat.  

 

As I say, it does take a bit of getting used to but when you get in the habit it's great!  

 

5. Keep you eyes open and chat away

 

Without a doubt Augusta has a very interesting bunch of spectators and as such you can have some great conversations.  On the very first day we were there, before even going out to the course we were getting some breakfast and struck up conversation with the couple next to me.  I explained that it was my first time and the gentleman explained he had been coming for over 50 years and his father, Claude Harmon, had won it back in

 

If you're following Lee Westwood the odds are Ant, Dec and Alan Shearer will be nearby and more than happy to have a chat.  Well Ant and Dec were, Shearer was a bit miserable. 

 

If you are a golf dweeb then there are plenty of golf journalists to spot out there and most were really happy to discuss what was going on or indeed anything else.  Alan Shipnuck was particularly animated about his trip to the Scottish Links.

 

The members stand out because of their green jackets, which they wear regardless of the temperature and are more than happy to tell you some anecdotes about the course, although no invitation was forthcoming to join them for a round which was weird.

 

6. Enjoy the food and hang on to your beer cup.

 

You will have read about how cheap the food is on the course.  This is true, although when you are there for 5 days it is safe to say it becomes a little bit samey! We got through a few beers over the course of the week but on the last day we collected a fair few of the hard plastics cups they were served in - I think I came home for a dozen.  They are quite substantial cups and three years later are still pressed into daily service in my household.  Nice and  showy for summer barbecues too....

 

7. Check your shopping into the 'pick up' queue

 

The merchandise tent is everything you have heard it is and more.  The selection of goods is phenomenal and the quality is excellent.  It is impossible not to get the credit cards out and spend more than you had intended.  However, do not make the mistake of then having to carry a plastic bag around for the entire round, you will grow to hate it. You can instead leave it at a shopping check-in queue and pick it up at the end of the day, the queues weren't toohorrible 

 

8. Enjoy being out of contact for the day

 

9. Book restaurants in advance

 

10. Get to Palmetto

The Trials of a Walking Golfer

Walking golf course versus carts

‘We’re not going to wait for you, you’re just going to slow us down’. As welcomes onto a first tee go, it was a rather unusual one. A friend and I were playing at the wonderful Yas Links in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and we had elected to walk rather than take a buggy.  After all, it did seem a shame to play one of the most spectacular golf courses built in the last 20 years and not get as much enjoyment from the experience as we could.  However, the rather aggressive Irish gentleman who we were to spend the next 5 hours with didn’t quite see it that way.

He was labouring under the mistaken view that golf is faster if you play in a buggy than walk it. Now, I probably play golf a little too fast.  Sometimes I need to think a little bit longer before I pull the trigger or take a practice swing over those 2 foot putts. But, I do move at pace. Of a summer’s night at my home course I will get around 9 holes in under an hour, sometimes playing two balls. My Dad (who is now in his eighth decade) and I played 18 at North Berwick a few weeks ago in 2 hours 15 minutes and both shot our handicaps.  All of this popped into my mind as that welcome was made on that tee box at Yas Links.

However, I simply let him know that I didn’t think we would be holding him up and that, if we did, of course he should move on. I was confident of the assertion partly because I could see there were already two groups ahead of us on the short 1st hole, so we were in for the long haul, and secondly, I had seen his partner’s practice swing.

In fairness to the guy, after 2 holes where we had waited on every shot, he did have the good grace to admit he had been wrong on the first tee and he was thinking about getting rid of the buggy himself.

I have an inherent prejudice in favour of walking in almost every case.  For me, golf is not about speeding up to the ball in a cart and hitting it.  It is about appreciating the environment you are in, feeling the turf under your feet as you walk around.  It’s also about the social interaction.  If you are in a buggy all day you don’t get the chance to have a proper chat with your playing partners or build the tension as a match gets tight.

I can think of only a handful of courses where I would choose to take a buggy rather than walk if I played again. Several talk about the long walk from green to tee but this is rarely a real barrier.  Two do come to mind, and they are both Jack Nicklaus creations. The abomination that is the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is best totally ignored if you are in the area, but if you do have the misfortune to endure it, then take a buggy. There is no flow whatsoever to the course and you need to take a buggy to give yourself any possible chance of pleasure such is the distance covered by the course. The other one I would call out is Monte Rei in Portugal.  Another Nicklaus layout, the course itself is much better than the PGA but the walks to those elevated tees, towering down over a left to right hole, really do take it out of you.

A lot of golf courses do encourage you to take a cart but it is rare to find those who actually demand it. I have fond memories of my friend Rich remonstrating with the lady in the pro shop at Terreblanche explaining that it was his human right to be able to walk the course.  I have no idea at all why they insist on it as the course is eminently walkable, it just displays an ignorance of what golf really is. There are other courses, like Finca Cortesin in southern Spain where it makes sense to take a cart given the nature of the terrain, and they may look at you like you are a little mad for walking, but will let you get on with it.

There are times when I will take a cart.  In the middle of a big golf trip where there has been a little over-indulgence, I will gladly take the wheel, or when it is just so hot there is a risk to survival.  However, on those occasions it just reinforces what a false economy it sometimes is.

The worst situation is when you have no choice but to stick to the cart paths.  This then leads to the sight of me trudging 70 yards across a fairway with half a dozen different clubs in my hand, before the long walk back to find the cart is parked 50 yards behind.

Like many, I have succumbed to the joys of a pedometer on my watch and recently measured the number of steps I took walking a 6,500 yard course.  The tees were fairly close to the greens and I came in at 11,000 steps.  I was forced to take a cart at Saadiyat Beach Golf Course earlier this year and, over the course of the 4 hours and 30 minutes, I walked 7,500 steps - not really that much of a saving over a walking golfer but a lot more faff.

I also genuinely think that walking a course helps your game.  You have time to contemplate what is to come, get a feel for the conditions around you, feel the green under your feet as you walk to put your bag down.  All of these nuances add up and if you are physically able to do it, I really think it will help your scoring.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not some kind of cart fascist and for those who really enjoy taking one, or who couldn’t get out any other way that’s fine.  But I do feel a little sorry for those who have only ever played the game in a cart – and such people do exist.  They are missing out of one of the real pleasures in life -  teeing it up first thing in the morning, striping it down the middle, swinging your bag over your shoulder and marching off with a heart full of hope!

Playing with a Caddy - a survival guide

The caddy at NGLA went by the name of Threewood - he was one of the best!

The caddy at NGLA went by the name of Threewood - he was one of the best!

Maybe it was an early experience of playing with a caddy that scarred me for life. We were on the 9th hole at the Red Course in Rabat. I was standing over a 2 foot putt to scrape a Stableford point, which I ever so slightly pulled to the left - I don't think I was too sensitive to be annoyed at the howls of laughter which emanated from my caddy and his partners in crime. I use those words carefully as it was walking down the 10th fairway that I noticed they were all sucking on one of the cola flavoured Chuppa Chups which had been lurking at the bottom of my bag. It was not a happy finish to the round.

That was a particularly bad experience but it has taken me quite a long time to get used to playing with caddies in tow. You see the thing is, I'm not really a great golfer and it has been known, from time to time, for me to get a little tense on the golf course. If there is a gathering on a first tee then the nerves jangle just a little more and the idea of another 4 people witnessing every shot of my round initially filled me with dread.

Of course, I have now realised that caddies see all kinds of horrors on the course every day and my 14 handicap is probably one of the better experiences they are likely to have. Oh, and I play fast which is vitally important to them - allowing them to get back to the clubhouse and get another loop in or get off to enjoy the rest of the day.

There have been some other lowlights. At Sandy Lane in Barbados it is mandatory to take a caddy.  That's not the end of the world and not unusual at all on the other side of the pond. The only thing is, it's mandatory to take a buggy as well.  The caddy's role was to stand on the back of the buggy as we drove around so he could rake bunkers and give advice - at $100 a pop! My playing partner had to take him to one side on the 4th and advise him to quit the comments before he was ejected from his perch.

There have been some highlights too. I remember playing at the Wild Coast in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, many, many years ago. Our group all had female caddies and I put my drive into a lake on an early hole. My caddy simply stripped off her dress and jumped into the water and came out with the cry of 'Titleist 3?'.  I was only 17 at the time but I can see it as clear as if it were yesterday...

Probably the most unusual pace I have played golf was at the Celebrity Golf Club in the remote town of Tema in Ghana. The course was made up largely of 'browns' rather than greens - a mixture of oil and sand - and the course wasn't exactly overplayed. It was really basic, but the people we met there were incredibly helpful, at times to the point of influencing the game. There were 2 of us playing and whenever we got to our balls, wherever we had hit them, they were in a perfect lie, with a wonderful line to the green. Our fore caddy really worked hard for his tip that day.

The American caddy experience takes a little getting used to as it is the norm for them to carry two bags at the same time. The first time I came across it was playing the Blue Monster at Doral.  Now, I had problems with that place for more reasons than just this, but safe to say our caddy struggled somewhat that day as I was hooking it and my partner was slicing it. Taking a caddy on that occasion definitely added a good half hour to the round. Yet, we later discovered it is the norm. Most top-end, private clubs in the US insist on you taking a caddy who carries 2 bags - only at Sage Valley have we seen a single bag carrier.

One of our caddies at Shinnecock had looped for Clinton (Bill), Woods and Nicklaus!

One of our caddies at Shinnecock had looped for Clinton (Bill), Woods and Nicklaus!

Here are some tips if you do end up with a companion for a 4 hour stroll -

1.  Lighten the bag before you get there.  Even before the handshakes take place they will be in your bags, looking at what they can take out to make the bag lighter.  I had assumed they would all be delighted when they saw my Mackenzie golf bag but the lack of a stand sometimes raises a comment early on.

2. Remember their names. I know this might sound obvious but I have been caught out several times. You will find yourself conversing not just with your caddy but the others as well as you go around and names can be useful for that!

3. Don't worry, they've seen it all before. One of the best caddies I ever had was at Queenwood. The caddy standard there is pretty darn high - mine was an ex-tour caddy for Ryder Cup players - but he made me feel at ease immediately by saying today was about me, not him, and he had seen all kinds of horrors on the golf course, there was nothing I could do to beat them!

4. Find out what the expected tip is from the caddy master. Most caddies are self employed and the course acts as an introducer. Check in advance what the charge is - there is often a fixed fee and a recommended tip,. Ignore it at your peril and over-tip if you had a good experience. It's good karma!

5. Let them know what you're looking for. Some caddies will try and do everything - give lessons, pull clubs, plot you round the course, read every putt. Others will just carry your bag. Try to find what works best for you and then lead them that way. For me, the lesson thing is an absolute no-no and I don't really want them telling me which shots to play as they don't know my game as well as I do. Making that clear early on - in the nicest possible way - helps set some ground rules!

6. They know the course - use that to your advantage. This really is when I get the most out of a caddy. They will not just give yardages but also give advice on different ways to play the hole, things to watch out for, lines to go for - that can really be invaluable. I wish I had taken one at Royal County Down when I played it, it could only have helped!

7.  If they can read the greens then follow them to the death, if not - stop asking! To me, this is when a caddy can really make your round. Many of them will have seen each green thousands of times, they will know every break and every slope - use this to your advantage. If however, you get a couple of bum reads early on then stop asking.  If you keep getting the reads but ignoring it, it can lead to a little atmosphere - just tell the caddy that you've 'got them 'from now on. I would even consider asking the caddy master before a round to get me one who is the best at green reading and get him or her - it can be that important. 

8.  Just be yourself. Unless you are a real douche-bag of course, in which case try to be someone else. Generally though I try not to play or act any different because there is a caddy carrying my bag.  I'll chat to them a bit - but not to the exclusion of my playing partners.

9.  Get some stories.  This one requires a little judgement.  Sometimes you can get a caddy who wants to make the round all about him.  I had one of these once at the Renaissance in East Lothian.  The guy was an ex European Tour caddy who had verbal diarrhoea.  He just wanted to get his anecdotes out and have a bit of 'banter' with us.  I abhor the use of the word 'banter' but this guy personified it.  It was awful.  But, if you get it right, you can hit gold-dust. Threewood at NGLA was one of those.  He had caddied for Matt Fitzpatrick there in the Walker Cup, was Michael Bloomberg's looper of choice and knew the course incredibly well.  He was by no means garrulous but had some great snippets and I could happily have him carry my bag for every round I ever play.

10. Under no circumstances, whatever happens, be 'that guy'. I've only seen this happen once.  I was playing at Kingsbarns and a French guy playing with us wanted a caddy. Now the caddies at Kingsbarns have pretty much seen it all and are some of the best around. The Frenchman started well - he was a low single figure golfer and had some good game. All was well for 9 holes but on the back nine his swing lost him. The thing is, for some unknown reason, he decided that the caddy could bear the brunt of this. The throwing of clubs for the caddy to pick up, the muttered oaths, it was all pretty awful. In the end I think he realised he had gone too far and gave a more than generous tip but there is no doubt that that evening in the bar the Frenchman would have been the topic of some conversations. So try not to be that guy, even if they do steal your Chuppa Chups.

NEW Ultimate Top 100 Golf Course Rankings – two new entrants in the top 20!

The stunning Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia

The stunning Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia

Golf Course rankings can be quite divisive things.  There are some pretty awful ones out there (c.r. the latest Golf Digest effort) as well as some slightly eccentric ones (Planet Golf has Augusta at number 14 which raises a few eyebrows).

However, in at attempt to come up with a definitive list of the top golf courses in the world (some people would genuinely abhor the idea but what the hell, others will quite like it) I have aggregated the most comprehensive lists I could find into a ‘poll of polls’.   Recent updates from Golf Digest and Planet Golf have led to two stunning looking new entries in the top 20 and a few shifts at the top.

Cape Wickham, off the Australian cost, enters in 16th place and Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia at number 17.  Cape Wickham is the creation of Darius Oliver, while Cabot Cliffs is a Coore and Crenshaw design. These courses have only been rated in 2 of the publications (one of them Oliver's own!) so I have tweaked the methodology a little to accommodate them but everything I read says their high rankings will be justified.  What’s also great is that unlike so many of the new top courses these are accessible to all, at very reasonable prices.  The only problem is working out how to get there……….

Actually, while for those of us in Europe Cape Wickham may be something of a forlorn hope I am vaguely thinking that Cabot is doable.  It is almost as handy for those of us in Europe as it is for those on the West coast of the US in fact.  There are flights to Halifax daily from the UK (including from Glasgow).  The flight only takes 6 hours there and 5 back and the time difference to the UK is only 4 hours so jetlag shouldn’t be too bad.  When you get there it’s another 3 hours by road to Cabot so it makes for a long day, but I suspect the reward when you get there is worth it.  There are two courses at Cabot. The Links is ranked at number 92 as well so it would definitely be a trip which guarantees some high class golf!  I’m considering it for a weekend trip in 2017 so will let you know how it goes.

Cape Wickham looks pretty good too!

Cape Wickham looks pretty good too!

Looking to the future, there are some other courses on the horizon which may well get on the list before too long.  Coore and Crenshaw are doing their thing again at Sand Valley, Wisconsin, which opens up in 2017.  The initial pictures look great and there are some cracking reviews in. The Australian architect behind Ellerston (ranked 70)  is building something spectacular at Ardfin in the remote Scottish Island of Jura.  Now, it’s not clear at this stage what the model is going to be in terms of being able to play Ardfin but golf course architecture buffs are salivating at the pictures coming out from it.

Elsewhere, there has been a bit of distinction at the top.  Shinnecock and Augusta were tied in the last rankings at joint 4th but Shinnecock has pulled ahead just a little. I managed to play it a few weeks ago so will be reporting back on the site before too long.

For every new entry, there has to be a drop out and the European and Mid Ocean Club both fell out of the list this time.  That leaves Quaker Ridge and Kauri Cliffs on the bubble in 99th and 100th place;  with the quality of new golf courses being knocked out these days expect more changes soon!

If you want to have a look at the full list then you’ll find it here and it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the months and years ahead!

Ryder Cup Course Rankings - A Feast of Mediocrity

Muirfield is the highest ranked ever host of the Ryder Cup

Muirfield is the highest ranked ever host of the Ryder Cup

It is a long established maxim that it really doesn't matter which course the Ryder Cup is held on as we aren't there to enjoy a good course - it's all about the drama created by the players. Indeed, the European Tour took this to the extreme by taking the event to a farmer's field in the Belfry in 1985.

However, it is quite noticeable just how poor the course line-up has been over the years. Using my 'Ultimate top 100 list' (the definitive poll of polls of the top courses) no top 10 course has ever been used, with only Muirfield in the Top 20.  The US has a bunch of courses which rank in the 40s - 60s but Europe has pretty much given up now on hosting the event on a great course (read my review of the 2014 Gleneagles track to get an idea of what to expect there!). 

Lytham St Annes has hosted the Ryder Cup twice

Lytham St Annes has hosted the Ryder Cup twice

Host courses by world ranking -

13     Muirfield (1973)
22    Pinehurst No 2 (1951)
36    Royal Birkdale (1965, 1969)
44    Muirfield Village (1987)
45    The Country Club - Brookline (1999)
46    Kiawah Island (1991)
54    Oakland Hills (2004)
65    Royal Lytham St Annes (1961, 1977)
67    Oak Hill (1995)
81     Valderrama (1997)
84    Walton Heath (1981)
 

It would be fair to say that the future doesn't look much brighter for architecture lovers.  The French edition is going to the Golf National in 2018 which has some nice amphitheatres for fans to get a good view but some fairly average holes in there too.  The US are using Whistling Straits and Bethpage in 2020 and 2024 respectively which will definitely be a notch up on the yet to be renovated Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome.  Yes, that one.

The National Golf Links of America is a perfect Walker Cup venue

The National Golf Links of America is a perfect Walker Cup venue

In contrast the Walker Cup has absolutely knocked it out of the park when it comes to the quality of courses. There is no strong commercial element to the event and crowds are obviously just a fraction of the Ryder Cup but boy, they have really taken this event to some amazing tracks, and continue to do so. Have a look at this -

1      Cypress Point (1981)
2     Pine Valley (1936, 1985)
3     Royal County Down (2007)
4     The Old Course (1923, 1926, 1934, 1938, 1947, 1955, 1971, 1975)
5     Shinnecock Hills (1977)
9     National Golf Links of America (1922, 2013)
13    Muirfield (1959, 1979)
14    Merion (2009)
18    Turnberry - Ailsa (1963)
21    Winged Foot (1949)
22   Sunningdale (1987)
24   Royal St Georges (1930, 1969)
27   Chicago (1928, 2005)
43   Portmarnock (1991)
45   The Country Club - Brookline (1932, 1973)
55   Royal Aberdeen (2011)
65   Royal Lytham St Annes (2015)
66   Royal Porthcawl (1995)
77   Garden City (1924)
88   Royal Liverpool (1983)
93   Quaker Ridge (1997)

The next three venues are Los Angeles (41), Royal Liverpool (88) and Seminole (26).  If I could have a free hand at selecting the next four venues for the Walker Cup then how about Royal Dornoch and Swinley Forest for the UK and Ireland and Sand Hills and Friar's Head for the US?

When it comes to quality of courses I think we can safely say The Walker Cup wins by a clear margin but with money talking the way it does, don't expect any changes to the Ryder Cup selection criteria soon! 

Medinah vs Gleneagles - A Spectator's Experience

I've been lucky enough to go to some of the great golf events over the years.  I pretty much made the trip to the Open every year as a teenager and many times since, I have done all four days at Augusta, I once found myself in Pebble Beach while a US Open was on by chance.  But until recently I had never been to the Ryder Cup.

Well, that changed in style.  Four years ago I travelled with a friend for 4 wonderful days in Chicago for the Miracle of Medinah and then last time went closer to home for the Glory of Gleneagles (or whatever we called it).  I'm incredibly jealous of those European fans heading to Minnesota this week for the Happiness/Horror of Hazeltine. - they're in for a treat.

In case you don't want to read on I'll nail my colours firmly to the mast now.  As a spectator on the course Medinah was phenomenal, Gleneagles was just fine.  Now of course the drama on the last day helped, but Medinah crackled for all 3 days.  Gleneagles, well it happened, and Europe won - but it just didn't give the memories of Medinah and I think the European Tour have a part to play in that.

THE VIEWING EXPERIENCE

I cheated and was in a hospitality tent for this shot!

I cheated and was in a hospitality tent for this shot!

I am far from alone in not being a lover of the PGA Centenary Course.  But before Gleneagles I had been swayed by the argument that the course doesn't matter in the Ryder Cup, it's all about the matches. The only problem was that as a spectator it was virtually impossible to follow a match around.  The routing didn't easily flow from hole to hole, the walks between them were impractical and you simply couldn't see every shot.  Nicklaus has created a pretty rotten golf course on a great piece of land.  There is not bobbing between holes possible where you can keep an eye on a few matches at a time.  Just forget it.

Medinah on the other hand was a joy.  You could walk the course easily and there were many great spots where you could see couple of holes and a tee shot and be able to follow the ebb and flow of a few games.  Sure, it didn't have the 'amphitheatres' of Gleneagles but you could buy a periscope from Phil Mickelson's dad in the exhibition tent (I kid you not) and see everything.

There was a great spot at Medinah,  just behind the par 4 16th green.  After the players had putted out you could nip  to the par 3 17th tee and watch them tee off before going back to the 16th to watch the next group come through and then watching the action from the 17th green.  From there I watched Poulter's comeback on Saturday as well as Donald and Garcia take down of Woods and Stricker as well as 'that' Justin Rose putt on Sunday. 

THE FANS

Ryder Cup Medinah First Tee

Chicago isn't really a golfing Mecca.  Sure, there are some great courses in the area but the fans probably aren't the most knowledgeable in the golfing world.  What they tended to do as soon as the gates opened was go to one of the big grandstands and then sit there for the session which meant there was more space for 'walkers' on the course.  While they may not have been the most knowledgeable fans they were pretty loud (although predominantly with the shout 'USA' which got a bit wearing) when things were going well for the US and amazingly quiet on the Sunday. 

There have been suggestions by some (Paul Lawrie amongst them) that the local fans may have overstepped the mark at times.  I never saw that at all - and I followed him around for a few holes on the Sunday.

There was something very very special about being a European fan on American soil, both when the pressure was on and when then the comeback came.  There may have only been a couple of thousand of us but the support was phenomenal.

There were some obvious problems in Gleneagles.  It was pretty cold, the audience was predominantly middle aged male Scots and you couldn't really follow any matches around.  That meant that even when Europe were doing great stuff it never really caught fire. 

I took my young son on the Saturday and I don't think he saw another child there the whole day.  The tickets were expensive and that created a pretty staid audience.  The US contingent of fans there had none of the exuberance of the Europeans in Medinah.  It was all just a bit flat compared to what I had seen 2 years before.

GETTING CLOSE TO THE ACTION

Watching Poulter turn the knife on 16 on Saturday

Watching Poulter turn the knife on 16 on Saturday

I think you know what is coming.  At Medinah you felt like you were walking in the steps of you heroes.  You could get close to the players and their coaches/families - often exchanging words and there was a real sense of you were part of the action.  When Poulter holed out on 16 on the Saturday I remember him turning and staring what felt right at me and letting out a massive roar.  Other members of the European team were standing next to us to one side with the Americans to the other.  I hadn't been camping out at the spot for hours, rather following around as any fan could.

One of the bad things about Gleneagles viewing was that there were a phenomenal amount of hangers on standing in front of the ticket paying audience.  There were over a hundred people inside the ropes which was an absolute farce.  The European Tour have let that get ridiculously out of hand and it needs to be stopped for Paris.  Why on earth I had to find a better spot to watch when Peter Jones from Dragon's Den and Brian from Westlife stood right in front of me I will never know!

The on course coverage was brilliant in Medinah.  You could buy a little radio and listen to the BBC 5 Live commentary while walking to the course, or flick over to the US TV audio feed.  It was quite telling that even the US fans were listening to Ian Carter et al, such was the quality of their coverage.  Again, it just added to the atmosphere on the course and let you feel part of the action.  Of course, in Gleneagles you could listen to the radio station of your choice and there were plenty of big screens keeping you informed as to what was going on at all times too.

THE AMENITIES

The toilets at Medinah were hideous and the food turgid.  Gleneagles beat both hands down!  It was expensive, for sure, but there was plenty out there.  Having said that, Gleneagles felt like you were in the middle of a giant scale corporate event that had been planned on a grand scale.  It felt overblown and too stage managed.  In Medinah you felt like you were walking around a golf course enjoying the Ryder Cup.

So, there you go.  I hope that Hazeltine offers some of the same great opportunities to fans that Medinah did and doesn't take too many leaves from Gleneagles' book.  If it does then there will be some amazing memories for fans of both sides to savour in a way you just can't get on the TV. And I hope the European Tour pause for thought about what it feels like to be a fan at the European events when they set out there future venues, although I'm not sure the money involved will let that happen

How To Play the World's Most Exclusive Golf Clubs - A Review

how to play the worlds most exclusive golf clubs

First things first, I really wanted to like 'How to Play the World's Most Exclusive Golf Clubs'.  The author, John Sabino, has the website which I have read more than ever when planning my dream golf trip.

http://top100golf.blogspot.co.uk/ is a fantastic resource for anyone trying to make an assault on the greatest golf courses on the world.  It gives you a little history, plenty of information on the courses and, more often than not, you are left with a real impression of what the place is like - sometimes you can almost smell the locker rooms through the descriptions given!

The build up to my recent trip to Morfontaine (write-up to come before the end of the year I promise!) was heightened by his description, not just of the course, but of Sabino's efforts get there.  He set himself the challenge of playing the top 100 courses in the world.  For a European reader this may not seem an impossible task but access to courses in the US and further afield is far, far harder than on these shores. According to an appendix to the book, only 30 players have ever managed the feat - and not a British player amongst them!

So, if I'm honest, it was with a little trepidation that I approached this book.  I already have a couple of self-published tomes for people trying to play lots of golf courses, which have left me a little cold. I am delighted to say though, that this book is a delight and a joy to read - one that will stay on my bookshelf for many years.

The reason is that Sabino doesn't just rehash the content on his site.  Sure, there are some anecdotes which feature on his blog (which you may only notice if you have read every entry several times like I have!).  But the great thing about this book is that Sabino doesn't major on the actual on-course experience but rather how he managed to get a game there in the first place. Yes, there is some flavour of the experience itself, but this is often additional to what you can read on his site. 

The beauty of this book is that it gives practical tips on how to play these great courses.  It is clear that the author is a wonderful networker, and many of his conquests can be put down to that. He also acknowledges that he is helped by being a banker and that he set up a blog which became one of the highest ranked in the golfing world.  These are not traits that many would find possible achieve, even if they wanted to!

It may be impossible for us mere mortals to replicate his success but he does provide many tips which anyone can use - hell he just phoned up one exclusive course and asked!!

His story is a quite amazing one. The one course which had eluded him was Augusta. What better way to end the journey than by playing 18 holes with a former Masters champion on the Sunday before the Masters, shooting the breeze with Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo on the tee.  If this was made up, it would be deemed too incredible for inclusion.

This book is not a self-published vanity job.  It is produced to a very high standard by a reputable publisher and has been well edited.  At the end of the book Sabino lists how he got on to every one of the top 100 courses in the world as well as some 'top lists'.  These are fascinating.  Which clubhouses are the best?  Which lunches?  Which caddies?  All a source of much debate but this book just fuels the fire.

The book whetted my appetite considerably and I hope I'm lucky enough to enjoy some of these great experiences over the years.  If you want to take on the challenge yourself and join this exclusive group of golfing die-hards then my ultimate list of the world's top 100 courses is here.  This book will help you have a go!