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Te Confidential Guide to My Golfing Life


by Darren Kilfara W


ithout question, the most important golf book of my


adult life (excluding my own!) has been Tom Doak’s The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. I recently learned that Doak’s groundbreaking one-volume work – long out of print and now a valuable collector’s item – is now being updated, expanded and republished as a five-volume series, a revelation which makes me at once giddy, scared and wistful. The concept behind Doak’s


Guide, first published to a general audience in 1996, is as simple as it was revolutionary: take one of the world’s best golf course architects and let him talk freely and point- edly about the best – and worst – designs in the world. Doak is ridiculously well-traveled, and the original Guide rates more than 1,000 courses on five continents on a 1-10 scale with two quirks: the average golf course in the world merits a “3” instead of a “5”, giving him more scope to differentiate between superlative courses; and a special rating of “0” is reserved for courses “so contrived and unnatural, wasting ridiculous sums of money in their construction, that they may poison your mind and probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place.” That quotation reflects the


Guide’s origins as an unvarnished dossier for 40 of his friends who


70 The American


were always asking him where to play golf. Doak isn’t impressed by fancy clubhouses, manicured greens, historical tradition or big-name reputations: he simply assesses the quality of each design and how one might go about engaging the architecture. Doak’s reasons for liking golf courses – foremost among them being memorable natural terrain and holes built to use it productively, not artificially – almost perfectly match mine. (No wonder he’s prob- ably my favorite architect working today.) And his informal and utterly readable tone turned a potential coffee table snoozer into a font of knowledge worth perusing and poring over again and again. Other golf books from my youth


perhaps shaped my life more than the Guide; anthologies by Dan Jenkins and Herbert Warren Wind inspired me to write about golf, while Wind and Michael Bamberg- er’s To the Linksland first prompted me to consider living in Scotland. But ever since my first adolescent trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I’ve always craved exposure to great golf course architecture. I mean, I chose which university I’d attend largely because in trying out for the Harvard golf team I’d probably get to play the team’s home course – a certain Ryder Cup and US Open venue in Brookline, Massachusetts


– at least once or twice. And here, in the Guide, I now discovered the intimate secrets of golf’s most won- drous treasures. Consumption of the Guide went hand in hand with the discussion forum at GolfClubAtlas.com, a website teeming with architectural savants and strong opinions in copi- ous measure. I used GolfClubAtlas to scratch the itches with which the Guide covered me, learning more about what made architecture good and discovering more and more places I wanted to play. When I moved to London, I befriended several fellow connoisseurs and crisscrossed the country in their company, each new trip more mem- orable than the last: Pennard (Guide rating: 6) and Royal Porthcawl (7) in Wales; Burnham and Berrow (5) and Saunton East (6) in the west of England; Ganton (8) and Woodhall Spa (8) in the north; Swinley Forest (8) and many others southwest of London. In 2001 I traveled to a GolfClubAtlas rendezvous at the Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon and played my first Tom Doak course, Pacific Dunes (a perfect 10 in my book). Doak himself joined me and more than a dozen GCAers on a pilgrimage to Painswick in Gloucestershire, a bastion of quirky architecture which instantly became legendary on GolfClubAt- las after another member posted


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