Quick Post: 0 Eggs
The Fried Egg's new course rating system continues golf's myopic elitism problem
This is going to be a quick post. I’m not normally one to comment on the golf ecosystem news, but this one stings.
To say I love The Fried Egg is an understatement. I visit their site. I listen to their podcasts. I follow them on social media. Their content on architecture is some of the most impressive I’ve seen to date. I will very likely join Club TFE and you probably should too.
This is why I was, honestly, sad when I read their new post about rating golf courses:
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we’re going to define tiers of courses: three Eggs, two Eggs, one Egg, and zero Eggs… Courses in the top tier must be elite in three categories: land, design, and presentation—or “LDP,” as we’ll sometimes call it.
Land – Refers not just to views or beauty but to all of the natural characteristics that a site offers a golf architect, from contour to vegetation to soil. An outstanding property can come in a wide range of sizes and aesthetics but, generally speaking, provides thought-provoking golf with very few constructed features.
Design – Involves all of the creative work that goes into the conception and building of a golf course. The best designs usually offer: a variety of distinct, instantly memorable holes; strategic options, allowing each hole to be played in multiple ways; a routing that uses landforms to full advantage and that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better version of; a collection of attractive and strategic built features, such as well-placed hazards and intelligently shaped green complexes; challenge for better players and playability for golfers of lesser ability; and less sexy but just as important infrastructural elements like drainage, which can enhance the architecture while at times being architectural features themselves. An expertly designed golf course generates excitement and propels you from hole to hole with eager anticipation, and can do so even on the dullest of landscapes.
Presentation – Encompasses the ongoing tasks that keep a golf course alive and thriving, from daily greenkeeping to tree management. The goal of a maintenance team is to provide golfers with a playing surface that brings the most out of the land and design. The best superintendents understand what the architect intended and are committed to presenting the course in accordance with that vision. Beyond day-to-day turf and hazard maintenance, it’s critically important that a course’s custodians keep track of fairway lines, green sizes, and vegetation growth over time.
Land, Design, Presentation… that’s it? I mean, things like design absolutely matter. Land, sure, it matters. I’m even fine with presentation, but all these great qualities come at a cost. Without looking at the costs, what can these benefits be weighed against? Where I’m most concerned is that the rating system is completely quiet on many categories that matter deeply to me.
Cost and Accessibility
Does a rating system that doesn’t take cost into account really help people? I mean, it honestly seems like it’s designed for the marketing departments of high-end courses. Look, we all know Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Chicago GC are fabulous, but honestly, why does that matter to us? We can’t play there. Shouldn’t access matter? Even Pebble, I know, it’s amazing. I might even play there one day. But is a course that’s “$595 + cart fee” really $595 worth of amazing?I can play Pasatiempo for almost half that without having to worry about booking a $1000+ room. Between those two, which course is better for most people? This is not to say that excellence isn’t worth pointing out. It is. However, ignoring value and focusing on experience makes this rating system a near facsimile to other rating systems like Golf Magazine’s Top 100 (spoiler alert: congratulations to Pine Valley on being the top rated course where no normal people can actually play golf). Rankings should be useful to readers. Even NYT Restraunt critic Pete Wells has started taking value into account when handing out his eggs… err, I mean stars.
Environmental Impact and Sustainability
I’m someone who cares about golf and is also concerned about the environmental impacts and environmental benefits our golf courses can have. Courses could be malicious: e.g., dumping unnecessary herbicides and pesticides, and potentially putting players in harms way.They could just be irresponsible, say, by building an excessively water intensive golf course in, say, Palm Desert or Las Vegas while the federal government says urgent action is needed to protect the Colorado river. But courses could actually be proactive, by planting native flora off the fairways, working with universities to build apiaries or habitats between holes, or even just doing what they can to use grey or recycled water system when and where they can.
These issues shouldn’t make or break a course and I don’t think a course review should be about environmentalism, per se, but it obviously matters. Courses that take their impact into account should be rewarded with superior ratings. And, yes, I do realize that this is a challenging factor to assess, and I’m sure some of the fancier courses aren’t going to be excited to invite people out for a review if they start asking hard questions, but it is exactly the type of people with editorial credibility that have the ability to push courses on these issues. There are certainly qualified folks in these regions to discuss relevant issues with.
Another vanity rating
In the end, it looks like The Fried Egg will be another, redundant vanity rating. We can add it to Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, Links Magazine, Golfweek, Golf World, Golf Monthly, and, of course, National Club Golfer. Do I admire the “eggs” vs top 100 approach? Of course I do, it’s a better system, it’s more versitile, and it doesn’t get hung up on best vs good. But adding another voice to the cacophonous beauty pageant of course rankings is just disheartening. We already know Pine Valley, Cypress Point, and Augusta are glorious, just like any New York Times reader knows that Eleven Madison Park or Jean-Georges are impossibly exquisite when they read the restaurant reviews. In the end, I’ll probably never find myself getting at table, or tee time, at any of these places.
So back to The Fried Egg’s new rating system:
0 Eggs – The vast majority of courses in the world. A lot of them are really good! In fact, the members of The Fried Egg staff play almost all of their rounds at such courses. But in their current state, zero-Egg courses don’t rise to the level of truly exceptional land, design, or presentation.
The vast majority of golf course ratings systems follow this pattern, and a lot of them are really good, but as I read about the system I do not see anything that separates it from the myriad of other list promoting the same course most of us aren’t allowed to play.
In addition to an Egg rating, we also plan to recognize courses for virtues beyond LDP. We’ll do this with a set of badges. More on that later!
Perhaps this will be assuage some of my concerns, but not building these issues into the core of the rating system leaves me concerned, to say the least. Sadly, I must give The Fried Egg’s new rating system 0 Eggs.
I, of course, love what Andy Johnson has build. I will be listening him and Brendan Porath discussing the latest golf tidbits on their podcast The Shotgun Start next week. I’m not under any imagination that this post would ever reach them, but if it somehow did, I would hope this would not be seen as disrespectful, and only as a plea simply to consider incorporating an broader approach.
Thank you for reading Wigs on the Green. I publish these articles to promote the golfcourse.wiki project. This project is to create a central, publicly accessible resource for golf architecture and local knowledge of every course on earth. Adding your home course will help the project, and make your course more accessible to others in your area.
Rates as of Dec 2022: https://www.pebblebeach.com/golf/pebble-beach-golf-links/
Rates as of Dec 2022: https://www.pasatiempo.com/golf/rates
Activist and EPA discuss and debate the potential effects of pesticides on players in Golf Digest in 2008, linked via archive.org:
James, Ian. “Federal officials say urgent action needed to protect shrinking Colorado River reservoirs.” LA Times. Dec 17, 2022.