We have come full circle in our newsletter and return for the first time to a book that was previously reviewed. The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses was the subject of our first newsletter in October of 2005; the book has always anchored an important part of the golf library, notably the golf course architecture critique section. Most golf books don’t fit into the “reference” category, but the Confidential Guide does. Owners of the Confidential Guide find, as I do, that the book is pulled from the shelves frequently.
As noted in our original review of the book, there have been multiple versions and editions starting with author Tom Doak’s first effort in 1988, which was printed on a dot-matrix printer and hand-bound. This was followed by a hard cover limited edition of a thousand copies, without pictures in 1994, and finally an all-encompassing standard trade edition in 1996, which included color pictures.
After eighteen years, Tom decided it was time for an update and launched a more ambitious undertaking. The newly released edition of the book is the most comprehensive, and includes coverage of scores of new courses, some recently built, and some that have been around for decades. The new edition is so far ranging that it will be issued in five volumes, broken down by different geographic regions. The first of the five was just issued and provides in-depth coverage of Great Britain and Ireland. The philosophy behind breaking the book into smaller and more digestible subjects is to ensure it will be usable, rather than being a big tome sitting on a coffee table.
At 180 pages, the latest edition is much more of a travel guide than the prior editions, although that is not a completely fair description of the book, it remains a useful primer in course architecture and in the history of the game.
The new version of The Confidential Guide is a collaborative effort, and Tom has selected respected and thoughtful partners in the endeavor. In addition to offering his own views—and numerical rankings, based on the Doak Scale of 0 through 10—he also includes the opinions of his three wise men. They are: Ran Morrissett, the founder of Golf Club Atlas, and as Tom rightly points out, Ran is a first-class writer and analyst of golf courses; Masa Nishijima, a writer for golf magazines in Japan and a widely traveled aficionado of golf courses; and Australian Darius Oliver, the creator of the Planet Golf books and Web site, and another insightful observer.
The original Confidential Guide was written when Tom was a brash young architect just starting in the business, and his honest and opinionated views help to define his career and raise his visibility. Since he now runs one of the most successful golf design businesses in the world, with scores of highly acclaimed courses under his belt, some interesting questions arise: Has he mellowed with age, and would he tone down his opinions of courses he didn’t like? Would the same critical eye be used, or would success spoil the man? Would working with three collaborators dilute the effort?
Happily, he has not mellowed and the work is not diluted—it is enhanced by the others. The same sharp, insightful and incisive comments that made the Confidential Guide such a treat all these years is still there, even as he assesses the work of his contemporaries. All four authors rank courses they have seen or played, adding a much deeper dimension to the book, since it offers multiple—and varied—opinions of courses. It also allows for differing viewpoints and serves the purpose of reinforcing courses that are universally acknowledged as the best, such as Carnoustie and Royal Dornoch.
By way of example, Cruden Bay is still ranked very highly (by all four men), and its quirkiness is celebrated. And mercifully, it ranks higher than nearby Trump International, which the book rightly points out has, “…got a long way to go to be the best course in Aberdeen, before he [Trump] worries about conquering the world.” It is nice to see an objective voice which is distinctive from the we-love-every-course-in-the-world reviews that the golf magazines print. I am sure Martin Hawtree is not particularly thrilled with Tom’s comments pointing out certain design elements lacking in the new course, and I give him credit for having the guts to state his opinion and not water down the effort.
Other delightfully quirky aspects of the original books remain including the Gourmet’s Choice of favorite courses of each of the authors; the Gazetteer, an eclectic look at the best of whatever whimsical categories he chooses—including those with the biggest dunes, the most blind shots, schizophrenic courses, etc.
Rounding out the world, future editions will include: Vol. 2: The Americas, and will focus on winter destinations, essentially courses in the South that you can play during the colder months; Vol. 3: The Americas, covering summer destinations, or courses in the north; Vol. 4 will be dedicated to Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Vol. 5 will focus on Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Adding in Masa and Darius will no doubt give these latter important golfing regions more full coverage than they typically receive from golf books published in the United States.
The plan is to issue one new volume roughly every year. If the other four volumes are done with the same quality and care as this first volume, it will be worth the wait.
For the record, the book does contain one course that Tom assigns his dreaded zero rating to, which is, “A course so contrived and unmatched that it may poison your mind, which I cannot recommend under any circumstances.” In case you didn’t grasp that it is not a worthy course, the description of a zero continues, “Reserved for courses that wasted ridiculous sums of money in their construction, and probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place.” Strong stuff. Let the debate begin!