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I must really be the luckiest golfer in the world. After all, as the Mid-Atlantic director for TeeTime Golf Pass, I can’t recall the last time I played a course that wasn’t considered — at least by its owner or developer — a “championship” layout. And I’ve got the marketing and promotional materials from each one to prove it.
In fact, the term “championship golf course” is used so frequently these days that you would think the folks at the USGA could find someplace better than Oakmont, Winged Foot or Medinah to host the U.S. Open. Could it be that all those championship courses that have opened over the past couple of decades somehow forgot to add the competition committee to their mailing lists?
Am I suggesting that any golf course — whether it be a “cow pasture” or a posh resort layout — that promotes itself as a championship venue should be penalized two strokes for its bad lie? Absolutely not. For one simple reason: although the phrase “championship course” has become as common as “You ‘da man,” it can’t be easily or precisely defined. Not even the Rules of Golf — all 10 gazillion pages of it — addresses it.
“Course evaluations are highly subjective. What one golfer might consider a championship course another might consider a waste of his greens fee.” -Bud Key
Golf, you see, has an intriguing distinction from other sports in that it places few if any restrictions on the design of its playing field. Baseball and football, for example, must be played on flat ground, whether in the mountains of western Pennsylvania or the plains of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And there must always be 90 feet between bases and 100 yards between goal lines. With golf, it is the property’s natural characteristics that usually dictate design (links, parkland, woodlands, etc.) and there’s no rules that say a green has to be a specific size or shape, that a bunker must be in a particular location, or a par 4 must be a specific length. Just as there are no guidelines for determining what qualifies as a championship-caliber course.
A golf purist might argue that a championship course is one on which a championship can be played. But what kind of championship? One of the four majors, a PGA TOUR event, a state amateur, a club championship… or how about a captain’s choice tournament at a friendly mom-and-pop course that encourages jeans and T-shirts? The truth is, championships of one kind or another are played every day on both “good” and “bad” courses.
Still others might argue that a course of extreme length constitutes a championship layout… or one that has lots of water… or an abundance of sand traps… or was designed by a famous architect. But if you examine some of the accepted-as-great layouts in the United States, these prerequisites can be easily dismissed, too. For example, Pinehurst No. 2 has only one water hazard. Augusta National has less than 40 bunkers. And Pine Valley was designed by an amateur architect.
Course evaluations are highly subjective. What one golfer might consider a championship course another might consider a waste of his greens fee. In short, it’s up to you — not the architect, not the owner, not the pro and certainly not me — to decide if a layout merits being considered championship caliber.
At TeeTime Golf Pass, we are very proud and protective of all 1,000-plus courses that participate on our Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Upper Midwest, Lower Midwest and Northeastern passbooks. To us, each one is important to the success of our program and, with so many courses to choose from, we’re convinced our members will find just what they’re looking for. And finally, as to what I personally think constitutes a championship layout? That’s easy. It’s whichever TeeTime partner course I happen to be playing that day with my golfing buddies where there’s a hot dog and cold beer at stake for the winner.