2006: Extreme makeovers, design deaths and Area 51

For the 16th consecutive year, here’s a totally subjective account of the inspiring images and depressing scenes observed during the last season (or so) of golf writing travels.

-Area 51 Award: New Mexico, for the best public-access golf of any state in the Union, and

the best collection of accessible college golf courses. Who knows why, but the state with a reputation for UFOs and various other worldly sightings (in the Twilight Zone of the state referred to as Area 51) also is the richest for daily-fee golf. Among its gems are Paa-Ko Ridge (No. 27 Modern), Black Mesa (No. 50 Modern), Twin Warriors, Pinion Hills and Cochiti Lake, plus solid campus layouts at the University of New Mexico (South Course), New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico Military Institute, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech.

-Magic Carpet Ride Award: The Preserve, Carmel, Calif., No. 51 on the Modern list. It is nine mile drive from the gatehouse to the Hart/Howerton-designed, hacienda-style clubhouse, all within the 20,000-acre property. The road climbs a total of 1,000 feet; just watch out for the occasional wild boar. The only thing more dizzying than the switchbacks was contemplating the price of home lots; raw parcels average 40 acres and run slightly less than $2 million. The golf course, originally routed by J. Michael Poellot and then implemented by Tom Fazio, makes intriguing use of native terrain and culminates in a rousing three-hole stretch, within view of an ancient stand of redwoods.

-Court TV Death by Design Award: New “CSI” spinoff features golf course autopsies and “whodunit” architecture forensics. First-year lineup includes infamous renovation slayings, with the inaugural episode exploring Donald Ross’ Country Club of Birmingham West Course in Alabama. See whether defendant Pete Dye squirms his way out of this one.

-Eddie Albert Green Acres Award: Ron Whitten and Chisholm Trail Golf Links, Abilene, Kan. Whitten’s home town of Topeka isn’t exactly New York City, but this former city prosecutor who left law to become Golf Digest’s architecture editor bought this hand-hewn layout just before the 2004 season and promptly increased its round count from 5,000 to 9,000. Over the past winter, Whitten and his modest crew introduced bunkers to the course – 12 total. At less than $25, the place is a treat, even if a bit off the beaten path. Total annual operations budget, including maintenance and running the Hooterville-motif clubhouse, is less than $240,000.

-California Dreamin’ Award: Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course). Worthy of a U.S. Open in 2008? Well, it does meet those four essential criteria needed for a modern major: 1) a multistory parking lot on site so officials can drive right to the tournament; 2) fairways wide enough so that USGA officials can narrow them to 22-26 yards across, thereby eliminating all strategy; 3) presence of adjoining North Course provides vast space for corporate village and merchandise tents; and 4) when viewed from the vantage point of aerial cameras, Torrey Pines South looks great because its holes appear to be near the ocean.

-The George Jetson Future Scary Trends Award: Eight-thousand-yard courses with 265-yard par 3s and 500-yard par 4s; clubs that cut their greens (again) at midday; courses that post Stimpmeter speeds (for fairways); courses where bunker rakes are hidden in little underground chambers; caddies who think it’s really cool (when it’s actually a measure of their own incompetence and pending obsolescence) to determine precise distances by use of laser readings; GPS technology enabling golfers to read greens digitally in mid-round; and clubs that sink metal reflectors in the faces of fairway bunkers so golfers can use their cart-borne GPS systems to acquire that all-important carry distance on tee shots.

-The Name Game Award: Greenkeepers. Too bad the Golf Course Superintendents Association

of America recently opted to keep “superintendent” as part of its name. With golf pros, i.e. directors of golf (DOGS) having their own acronym, we were hoping for some alternatives for the 21,000-member organization so that Carl Spacklers (“Caddyshack”) of the world have a way of boosting their professional standing and reaching parity, if not total dominance, at their home facilities. To that end, we’d endorse the following suggestions, made by Dane Gamble, superintendent and co-owner at Bridger Creek Golf Club in Bozeman, Mont., who proposes: National Association of Greenkeepers (NAGS), Golf Operations Directors (GODS), Sod Operations Directors (SODS), Turf, Sod and Agronomy Researchers (TSARS)

and Course Operations Professionals (COPS).

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