Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tom Clasby: Golf Magazine Panelist of the Year

The following was published on on October 10, 2009. Nice article, but Tom broke the cardinal rule. And people think I'm obsessive!

By Joe Passov, Senior Editor, Golf Magazine.

Call it a hobby, a passion, or even a quest. GOLF Magazine is fortunate to boast no fewer than 12 Panelists who have played at least one version of the Top 100 Courses in the World. In the case of Panelist Tom Clasby, however, it's more accurate to label it an obsession. At least that's what his wife calls it.

In early 2009, Clasby knocked off Singapore Island Country Club, Malaysia's Royal Selangor Golf Club, Taiwan Golf Club and Wack Wack Golf Club in the Philippines. In doing so, Clasby became the only man in history to play every course that's ever appeared on any GOLF Magazine ranking list since the lists first appeared in 1979. Opinion is divided as to whether we should reward Clasby with a silver plaque or a session with a shrink. Either way, his accomplishment is remarkable. Understandably, the journey hasn't been without its perils. However, the affable 58-year-old Southern Californian takes it in stride.

"I started my quest 20 years ago," says Clasby. "My first wife didn't get it. My second wife got it." These days, Clasby takes his wife and 11-year-old son on as many excursions as possible. His job as an engineering business development consultant and his Olympic Club membership have provided Clasby with flexibility and access, but most of his conquests are born of sheer will — and boatloads of networking. He estimates he's flown 280,000 miles and spent roughly $230,000 to play them all. In the psycho-travel department, perhaps his 1999 trip to play Japan's Naruo C.C. stands alone: He left for Japan from L.A. on a Wednesday at noon and was back in L.A. on Friday at noon. Another nightmare itinerary took him to play Ireland's Old Head, South Africa's Durban Country Club and New Zealand's Paraparumu — in one trip. It amounted to 55 hours of flying in eight days, ten flights on five different carriers.

In all of this, Clasby is the perfect dinner companion, conversant on a wide variety of topics. Most of the "Clasbys" of the world are pretty one-dimensional. Not this Clasby. He's also visited 52 baseball parks in the U.S., sports real estate and professional engineering licenses and has successfully completed an Ironman Triathlon.

Best moment on a Top 100 course? "Getting engaged to my wonderful wife Ginger on the 18th tee box at Pebble Beach in 1993 was one of my all-time highlights." Toughest course to get onto? "Augusta National, by far! I got on because I was lucky enough to work the Masters as a forecaddie, which is almost equally impossible to playing the course itself. Some of the nicest, most understanding people helped, but it took five long years of begging and hounding everyone I ever met to get to these people." Courses he would not need to see again? "Royal Durban, which was surely mistaken for Durban Country Club in the early listing, and Marbella in southern Spain."

So what keeps Clasby going? We've got a dozen new courses on our World and U.S. Top 100 lists, so he's got a few trips to make to stay current. Kudos to Clasby, however: He's already played nine of them. Hey, what can you say — he's obsessed — and he's a great panelist.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Golf Club

"Hit 'till you're happy."

Not a bad way to start a round of golf. These were the instructions from our host as we stood on the first tee at The Golf Club. The Golf Club (ranked #48 in the world) is probably the highest ranked golf course in the United States that few people have ever heard of. Located in New Albany, Ohio, near Columbus, the course was designed by Pete Dye in 1967. It is a very early Pete Dye design and he used local Jack Nicklaus, then twenty-seven years old, to help him verify some of the potential shot selections as he was designing the course.

The course was the brainchild of Fred Jones, who wanted a course where he didn't have to wait for tee times. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said that the very rich are different than you and me. I have to wait for tee times and accept it as part of the game. It must be nice to have enough money to build your own course when you don't want to wait. The Golf Club doesn't get a lot of play, thus the local custom is to hit until you're happy on the first tee. I have the feeling I'm going to like The Golf Club.

In his book Bury me in a Pot Bunker, Pete Dye says, "When I began sketching ideas for The Golf Club, images of two golf courses built in the 1920s came to mind. Along with the Scottish courses and Pinehurst No. 2, the design features at Seminole and Camargo influenced many of the characteristics prevalent at The Golf Club." I haven't played Camargo yet, but I really didn't see similarities to Pinehurst or Seminole, particularly regarding the greens, which are key aspects of both courses.

GC 3rd green
The third green with railroad ties in the background

A key design element of Pete Dye golf courses is his use of railroad ties. Their use here was while Dye was just getting started as an architect and still experimenting. Dye used railroad ties on the third hole like a teenage girl uses text messaging.

GR #3
Extensive bunkering around the third green

Blacklick Creek meanders the property and comes into play occasionally. Pete Dye again: "The Golf Club has incorrectly been labeled a "links" course. I call it 'Old English,' similar to Sunningdale and Wentworth." The course is on relatively flat land and has wide fairways. I would agree with him that it does have more of a feel of a heathland course. The course is spread out over 360 acres on a plot of land encompassing over 440 acres. At times it feels like a park that just happens to have a golf course running through it.

The par four tenth hole has an interesting design feature; it has a slightly raised green that prevents the golfer from hitting a bump and run shot to the hole. Many holes have raised greens; this one is only about a foot high and creates a grassy transition from the fairway to the green.

GC 10th near green
The approach to 10th hole

There really isn't a bad hole on the course, but the stretch of holes from twelve through sixteen are the most brilliant. The 369 yard par four thirteenth is a world-class hole that doglegs to the left off the tee. Dye made extensive use of sawed off telephone poles in the bunker right of the green. As with many great short par fours, it is a classic risk-reward hole where the further to the left you hit the ball the more you will be rewarded, but it also brings the flowery hazard to the right, seen in the picture below, into play.

GC 13 back

The par four thirteenth looking back from the green

The par five fourteenth is a big hole in all respects. It is 639 yards from the back tees, the fairway is big (100 yards wide) and uneven; the bunker on the right side of the hole is mammoth, and the green is challenging.

Sixteen is a challenging 200 yard par three that plays over a gorge to a relatively small, well-bunkered green. As the number sixteen stroke index hole, it's a doozy. After failing several times to finish the hole, Fred Jones installed a full size hangman's noose on the branch of the magnificent 270-year-old white oak that overhangs the green.

GC Noose on #16

The hangman's noose high up in a tree by the 16th hole

Like Garden City Mens Club, Pine Valley and Augusta National, the Golf Club is an all-male club. I came away with a very favorable impression of The Golf Club, and I think that these lesser known courses by Pete Dye such as this and the Honors Course in Tennessee surpass his better known courses such as Whistling Straits or the TPC Stadium course. Also, I'm getting too old to be beaten up by a golf course. The Golf Club is challenging but is easily the type of course you can play every day and not tire of because it is a great walking course. The locker room at The Golf Club is in a similar style to that at Seminole and Ocean Forest, with lockers ringing the room and seating in the middle.

The bridge over Blacklick Creek on the sixth hole has an old railroad box car as a bridge. My picture shows what the bridge would look like if you had a half dozen beers before teeing off.

Box car bridge on the sixth hole

The club history states that The Golf Club, "...was not founded as a family recreation or amusement center. It was founded as a men's club without the need for starting times and with the excitement and turmoil which too frequently results from the crowds attracted to a multipurpose sports or recreation club." Translation: leave the women and children home.

If I had to give The Golf Club a grade, I would give it an "A". There is really nothing lacking and it is a great place to spend a day playing golf and hanging out in the locker room.