The new 2006 edition of Golf Digest's Best Places to Play ($24.95) is out and, frankly, I think we are looking at some serious grade-inflation.
Never before have so many so-so to pretty good golf courses suddenly been accorded semi-great and great status.
For example, Five Ponds, the muni in Warminster, is not a bad little course, not at all. But would you plan your next vacation around it? In Best Places to Play, Five Ponds gets four stars out of a possible five, thereby elevating it to “Outstanding: Plan your next vacation around it” status. Hmmm.
Not to pick on Five Ponds, because just in the Philadelphia area alone, four-star ratings were also awarded to Pennsauken Country Club, Turtle Creek Golf Course, Deerwood Country Club and Town and Country Club Links.
According to the legend in the front of the book, the rating system breaks down like this:
* Basic golf.
** Good, but not great.
*** Very good. Tell a friend it’s worth getting off the highway to play.
**** Outstanding. Plan your next vacation around it.
***** Superb. Golf at it’s absolute best. Pay any price to play at least once in your life.
In years past, whenever a new, updated version of Best Places to Play would come how, I’d quickly find a couple of absurd ratings for courses I knew, then I’d call the editor to give him an earful. The response was always the same: the ratings in Best Places aren’t the judgment of the editors of Golf Digest, they are based on questionnaires submitted by ordinary golfers who’ve played the courses.
If the scruffy Dog Track GC on the edge of town somehow manages to earn a loyal following among un-traveled, undemanding locals, they could stuff the ballot box sufficiently to rank Dog Track in the five-star league with Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2 and Bulle Rock.
Crazy, but true.
In the latest Best Places, many of the local courses seem to get a half-star to full-star bump, if you ask me. Horsham Valley Golf Club, which is deserving of probably two stars gets, three and a half. So do Jeffersonville Golf Club, Limekiln, Paxon Hollow, Mainland, Downingtown, Centerton, Rancocas, Pitman, Three Little Bakers and RiverWinds.
On the high end, three courses -- Glen Mills, Pine Hill and Scotland Run -- all got four and half stars, a mere half star removed from “pay any price to play at least once in your life.” Now, I know and very much like all three of those courses. Excellent, all. But don’t make them out to be something they are not.