Monday, August 20, 2007

Doak pokes

If you saw Michael Bamberger's article about Tom Doak in Sports Ill last week, you're probably dying to know of the cruel and unusual comments the outspoken architect made about Philadelphia area courses in his controversial book The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

As it happens, I have a copy of the hard-to-find tome. So, without further ado, here are snippets from a couple of his mini-reviews:

Huntingdon Valley CC
Set in a wooded bowl that bottoms out just a bit too abruptly, the front nine goes around the exterior of the property like it was routed by Richard Petty -- all left turns with high right-to-left banks.

Gulph Mills GC
The premier old-money clulb in Philadelphia...There are some excellent holes -- the short 4th over a deep valley, and the 6th and 11th with their distinctive greens...but some of the supporting cast are fairly dull, and a couple are radically overdone (the 10th in particular)

Philadelphia Cricket
Some observers favor this course as one of Philadelphia's top five, but only to break up William Flynn's monopoly. It wouldn't make a list of Tillinghast's best work...

Stone Harbor
Without a doubt, this is the most ridiculous golf course I have seen to date...

...more to come


Anonymous said...

For the life of me, I can't understand why somebody would review a private course that virtually nobody will ever play.

jwb said...

I also have Doak’s book (note, right now a copy is going to sell for over 1 grand on eBay!) and I’d like to add some additional data. Doak rates his courses from 0-10 and he is a tough grader. But he points out at the beginning: “…everything rated ‘5’ or higher has my seal of approval”. Here are his ratings for many of the courses around Philly:

Aronimink (before renovation around ~2000): 6
Huntington Valley: 6
Gulph Mills: 5
Merion: 10
Philly Cricket: 6
Philly CC: 7
Pine Valley: 10
Rolling Green: 7
St. Davids (before their recent course changes): 3
Stone Harbor: 0
Stonewall: 8
Waynesborough: 5
Whitemarsh Valley: 3

Also note that Doak writes the following about Philly courses: “I was very fortunate to spend a summer in Philadelphia, for it gave me a chance to explore all the fine courses there… I doubt Pittsburgh’s hillier ground contains such wealth…”

So not all his comments about Philly courses are cruel and unusual. ;-)

My comments about the courses above (which I’ve played only some of) are as follows. Since the renovation at Aronimink, I bet Doak would rate it even higher. I’ve only played Gulph Mills once and loved the old feel to it but I simply wasn’t wowed, like Doak. Yeah, he criticizes Philly Cricket some, but also praises it, in particular the 18th. I would rank Cricket a 7 or 8 on his scale. I’m happy to see he gives Rolling Green a high mark, which I think it definitely deserves. RG is a fantastic track, IMO. I would give St. Davids a little more love than a 3, although I’ve not played there since the recent changes to holes near the clubhouse. I think his rating of 5 for Waynesborough is okay, and Whitemarsh Valley perhaps deserves a little bump up.

jwb said...

Oh, I forgot to add that I think Stonewall is a great layout... but of course you have to wonder about the '8' given to it by Doak since he and Gil Hanse were the designers!

steve said...

According to Doak's book, here are some more ratings:

Philmont North: 5
Moselem Springs: 6
Saucon Valley Old: 7
" " Grace: 6
" " Weyhill: 6
Manufacturers: 7
Oakmont: 10

Public courses:

Royal Oaks in Lebanon: 3
Hershey West: 5 or 6
Mount Airy Lodge: 3
Pocono Manor: no rating

Also, Atlantic City CC was a 6 but that was before Doak renovated the course.

As to why someone would review " a private course that virtually nobody will ever play" Tom Doak, a student of golf course architecture and an architect himself, would probably say that a golf course is a golf course and he's more competent to rate courses than you or I.

Here arethe meaning of his ratings:

5: Well above average...
6: A very good course,well worth a game if you're in town...
7: An excellent course,worth checking out if you're within 100 miles...
8: One of the very best courses in its region and worth a special trip to see...
9: An outstanding course- one of the best in the world...
10: Nearly perfect; if you skip one hole you would miss something worth seeing...

steve said...

Doak has also said that Cobbs Creek is the one course he would like to renovate/restore. If only that could happen.

Anonymous said...

"he's more competent to rate courses than you or I." The point is not about his qualification (though I really wonder what qualifications are needed to form an opinion about a golf course), the point is what is the everyday golfer's interest in reviews of private courses that he can't play? I figure it's a scam by the writer to mooch a round on a private course under the guise of reviewing it. How independent can he be when he depends on the generosity of the very club he is reviewing? I could put a review of Melrose Country Club's course, but outside of the membership, who would care?

steve said...


Obviously, you don't know much about Tom Doak or other writers on golf- Herbert Warren Wind, Bernard Darwin, Dan Jenkins,Geoff Shackelford et al.

Take a look:

Do you know who Perry Maxwell is? Do you know what Melrose looked liked before Tookany Parkway was built?

There are people in academia who study arcane subjects.It's a big world we live in. There's room for everyone- golf writers included as well as interested people.There are such groups as a Donald Ross Society, a Tillinghast Society, a Seth Raynor Society, etc. for people who are interested in golf architecture. The golf magazines rank courses: Best New, Top 100, etc. It's a sub-culture of golf.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what Melrose looked like, because I was a member. But if you can't play Melrose, what is the point of reviewing the course, other than to scam a free round? Especially when Golf Digest lists the 100 top courses. The only rating that counts is the list of the top 100 you CAN play.

Joe Logan said...

Actually, I do know who Tom Doak is. I've played several of his courses. I have great respect for him. All I did was quote from his book, knowing it's hard to find and people like to read that stuff.

Also, I know who Herbert Warren Wind is. I have a letter Herb wrote me, thanking me for a kind review I wrote of one of his books.

I also have a couple of Bernard Darwin books on my shelf, I occasionally swap emails with Geoff Shackleford and regularly visit his blog and I occasionally have lunch with Dan Jenkins.

steve said...


I know you know about Doak, Wind, Darwin et al. My comments were directed to SteveMG who apparently thinks golf writers are only interested in free passes to play golf at private courses so that they can write about them. His only interest is self-centered. If he can't play a course, why bother writing or reading about it.

Anonymous said...

Steve: I am definitely self centered in this case, but I am not alone. What good does it do the regular golfer to read about a private course. I wouldn't mind if the public courses were also discussed, but some of the Joe's reviews are ten years old. Or he writes about a new course, mentions all of the problems and five years later he hasn't bothered to update it. In the meantime, he'll tour the private courses. It's not limited to Joe, it seems to be SOP in this field.

steve said...


"A man may be a very good golfer and yet know little about golf architects and golf architecture." CHARLES BANKS

Anonymous said...

What's that got to do with reviewing courses that almost nobody can play?