The new rendition of the Confidential Guide to Golf was conceived as a travel guide, as Tom Doak describes it. The new version is being produced in five volumes covering different geographic regions, and the newly issued Volume 2 covers golf courses in the Americas that you can play during the winter. This includes courses in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, and the Southern United States. The hand-drawn cover illustration of this edition, done by Josh Smith, captures the charm of the Alister Mackenzie designed Valley Club of Montecito in California.
The Guide has come a long way from the laser printed 1989 edition of 20, when Tom noted that, “I am divulging the locations of some of my favorite little corners of the golfing world, places I would hate to see overrun. So, I ask those of you who are being taken into my confidence to read with a sense of humor, and spread the word discreetly.” How quaint it is to look back only twenty-six years, before email was ubiquitous, before social media, and on-line chat groups, when you could still have favorite courses tucked away and before his books achieved large commercial success.
Not surprisingly, because the game has been played there for so long, the courses of Scotland, England, and Ireland have become better covered and it is increasingly difficult to find the hidden gems Tom refers to. More so than Volume 1, this volume shines by highlighting the lessor-known courses that are spread throughout the Americas.
As is Tom’s trademark, this edition, like all its predecessors begins with a Gourmet’s Choice section, and also as is Tom’s trademark, it contains a good deal of quirk. Exhibit ‘A’ is Wolf Point, a private club in La Hood, Texas which is an odd choice because the club only has one member and the description of it doesn’t exactly make one want to rush and play it.
There’s also going to be hell to pay with this new edition because the seer who is seeking to “make America great again” is not going to be happy that his two courses featured in the book received less than stellar marks, making it difficult to claim them among “the best in the world,” as he does with all his courses.
For the aficionados and serious students of golf courses, I was pleased to see the Audubon Park course in New Orleans prominently featured in the book. Public golf has been played at Audubon since 1898 and featuring the course highlights something that should not be overlooked: that courses like Audubon will bring people to the game and allow it to be fun and accessible to a broad audience. An eighteen-hole course of 4,220 yards, Tom delightfully singles out eight holes as being “great.”
I personally found the chapter on South America the most interesting, since its courses get scant coverage in the news media and English-language books are difficult to find on the subject.
Streamsong Blue Course 7th hole
This edition of the book covers over 450 courses, and again contains the ranking of Doak and his three co-authors. All four raters dutifully earned their paychecks, each giving Cypress Point a ‘10’; frankly, you’re insane if you don’t rate Cypress Point a 10. Ran Morrissett is much tougher judging courses in this book than he was in the British Isles version and gives Augusta National only an 8. The writer does not agree with Ran’s rankings of Streamsong, particularly giving the Coore & Crenshaw course (the Red) a 7. Doak ranks his own course in the book (Streamsong’s Blue Course) and gives it a high mark, as do I. You can excuse an architect who can design a hole like the 7th—seen above—for ranking his own course highly, although he gives a modest explanation of it in the book.
Therein lies the secret to the Confidential Guide and its enduring success. Golfers love to compare their opinions of courses and challenge the merits of each other’s arguments as to why we are wrong or right. It is one of the endearing features of the game that keeps us otherwise engaged even when our game abandons us. We might not be able to play worth a damn but at least we can continue to have strong arguments about why a course is under or over-rated and the Guide provides an informed baseline from which to start.
The cumulative list of courses scoring a perfect 10 from all the authors now total two: The Old Course at St. Andrews and Cypress Point. My own expectation is that the number will double in the next volume with Pine Valley and the National Golf Links of America soon to join the pantheon. We only have to wait twelve more months to find out, when Volume 3 is published a year from now. Until then we have Volume 2 to delightfully content ourselves with.
— John Sabino