Book Review: The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses

Golf needs a book like The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses. It tries to do something that is both important and valuable: Identify the 1,000 best—and therefore most desirable—courses on the planet. It is, all at once, a bible, a bucket list, and a Baedeker.

It is also a source for endless 19th-hole discussion, the catalyst for arguments and one-upping of friends. By not merely listing but ranking what the editors consider the grandest grand in golf, The Rolex guarantees itself a spot on the bookshelf of every course-hound and wannabe club snoot.

This is the guide’s second edition (the original debuted in 2010), with courses hailing from Argentina to Wales. (What, no golf in Algeria? Zambia?) The new version includes 107 new entries, 35 of which are in the U.S., including such stalwarts as the North Course at Los Angeles CC and Firestone South, and such newbies as Bandon Dunes’ Old Macdonald.

Every course is rated on a 100-point scale, but the grading system is less than perfect and my major frustration with the book. There are six grade levels: 100, 95, 90, dropping in five-point increments to 75, but no gradients between those fixed points. So there are long lists of courses rated at 80 and 85, but nothing at 82 or 84, so no judgment on whether Amata Spring in Thailand, with 80 points, is better than Northern Ireland’s County Sligo, also with 80. And even more frustrating, at least from where we live, how they stack up against other 80 scorers such as Yale and Spanish Bay.

I understand why the rating was done the way it was, but I wish it were more precise.

A wealth of information is provided on the single page accorded each course. The obvious is all there: address, phone numbers, web sites, even GPS coordinates and altitude, plus distance from a nearby city and proximity to an airport. There’s also a tiny inset map (which is sometimes helpful, sometimes confusing), and quick answers to questions such as “easy to walk” and “signature hole.” Every page also lists six or so items classified as “Around Golf,” including nearby hotels, restaurants, and POIs—points of interest.

The only thing missing is photography, which would be both expensive and space-grabbing. That’s what the web address is there for, I guess, so you can take a look for yourself.

I’ve come to respect the 200 or so words used to describe each layout. I used to think they didn’t say enough about the course and too much about incidental history or geography, but the more of them I read the more I realize that they are effective snapshots of what to expect from each venue. Most are about all you’ll need—along with the fact that the course is on the list—to decide whether or not you’re tempted to make the trip.

By the way, 15 courses earned a 100 rating: In alphabetical order (but wouldn’t you like to know how they really stack up against one another?), they are: Augusta National, Bethpage Black, Carnoustie, Cypress Point, Kingston Heath, Maidstone, Muirfield, National Golf Links, Oakmont, Pine Valley, Portmarnock, Royal Birkdale, Royal County Down (pictured above), Royal Melbourne, and St. Andrews.

Let the arguing begin.