How Stupid Can Conde Nast Traveler’s Golf Rankings Get?

With 12 courses and multiple hotels, China's Mision Hills is the largest golf resort on earth - and one of the best. But it got beaten in the new Conde Nast Traveler golf poll by a couple of "golf resorts" with no golf at all!

Just because everyone is entitled to their opinion does not mean opinions can’t be wrong. Sometimes they are dead wrong. Like if you tell me that your opinion is that 1+1=3, or that the remake of Planet of the Apes was better than the original, you aren’t just wrong – you are a moron.

Which brings us to Conde Nast Traveler.

In my last post, I looked at the reasons why I strongly believe that the magazine’s very high-profile readers polls on hotels, spas, resorts, cruises and golf, which are taken very seriously by both consumers and the industry, are fixed, both by the participating properties and the magazine itself.

Today I take a look in depth at the brand new 2011 Golf Resort poll in the April issue – and how terribly flawed it is, both subjectively and in terms of reality.

I’ve analyzed past polls and will skip a lot of chatter about the poll’s big recurring flaw, giving the same exact course a different “course design” ranking based on where you sleep, which even an idiot could see is physically impossible. This does not stop the folks at CNT which actually increased such craziness this year: The three courses at Maui’s Wailea residential community are apparently MUCH better (98.4 course design rating) if you stay at the onsite Four Seasons than at the Grand Wailea hotel (93.3), even though they are the same courses and neither hotel owns them and these ratings have nothing to do with lodging or anything else. I know Four Seasons has good service, but do they run out ahead of their guests and cut the greens just for them, then mess the grass up when Wailea guests take the tee? What if a Four Seasons guest and a Grand Wailea guest play in the same foursome? How does the course become worse for the Wailea player? Note to CNT: this is why you have editors.

If this were actually possible, it could really help disappointed golf travelers. Say you play a resort course that you know you are playing again the next day, and you find it not as good as advertised? Simply switch hotels, and when you play it the next day, it might have gotten miraculously better, just as it does in this ranking.

The same happens every poll to the course at Pebble Beach, which take a 2-point drop if you choose the better hotel (?), but the worst example is in Colorado, where the two excellent courses at Red Sky Ranch, by Fazio and Norman, get a perfect score if you stay in the Westin Avon, while dropping precipitously to 92.1 if you stay at the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch. Neither hotel has anything whatsoever to do with the golf courses, which are a private club many miles away from both run by the members which allow hotel guests of these properties to play.

Okay, that bit of totally idiocy is out of the way, For more in-depth analysis of the sheer impossibility of the same courses changing their physical designs based on where players sleep, see my last look at this structural flaw.

Now it is on to the subjective part, the part about idiotic opinions. According to CNT readers, the four courses at Walt Disney World are all absolute perfection in terms of design, the best they could possibly be, averaging a perfect score of 100. Flawless. You can tell me, as earnestly as you like, that in your opinion this collection – which does not include a single course ranked in the Top 100 – is better than the courses at Pebble Beach (ranked 2, 8, and 42 in the US) or than those at Bandon Dunes (1, 5, 10 and 15), and no matter how strongly you feel, I will tell you that you are an idiot. And I will be right.

Not coincidentally, mega-advertiser Disney (whose golf, theme park and hotel products I heartily endorse, by the way) won the CNT cruise poll in a category in which it did not belong, part of my blog on why I think the poll is fixed.

The vaunted Old Course at St. Andrews is on every golfer' must-play list. But it only made it into this poll because Conde Nast Traveler editors got confused and made a mistake - seriously.

What other courses besides the four at Disney achieved absolute perfection in terms of design? None that you would expect, certainly none of the most highly ranked, regarded or critically acclaimed courses on earth. Instead perfection in golf design (again, exclusive of all other factors like hotel quality), was reserved for the two courses at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, CA (nice, but far from the world’s best, and the site of my personal Guinness World Record in golf); CordeValle, CA; Aviara, CA; both courses at Red Sky Ranch: Washington GC, NC (???); the duo at Colonial Williamsburg, VA; Hyatt Hill Country GC, TX; and the 36 on Isle of Palms, SC. Wait there is one more, the course at the Stowe Mountain Lodge in VT, where I live, which isn’t even the best course in golf poor VT, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to perfection.

These kind of choices simply cannot be allowed to stand. They are not to be argued over, like which is better, Lahinch or Ballybunion? They are stupid and idiotic.

If you were to try to choose the “best” golf resort in America, there is certainly room for argument, but it has to come down to one of four: Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Destination Kohler or Kiawah Golf Resort. Each of these has one of the top four ranked public courses in the nation, which is huge, plus multiple other good quality courses. On sheer golf awesomeness, Pebble and Bandon totally dominate all the real rankings, but since “best resort” also includes lodging and other activities, and Kiawah and Kohler offer true 5-Star accommodations and dining and spas, they are forces to be reckoned with. If you are a really free thinker you could make a long shot argument for Pinehurst or maybe even Reynold’s Plantation. Yet of these four giants, not only was none chosen as the nation’s best, only one, Kiawah, was able to even win its region. Bandon finished a woeful tenth in a “Western” region that excluded California, Arizona and Hawaii, and basically had no one to beat and still lost.

How did the actual best golf resorts in America fare: Bandon Dunes and Pinehurst both finished dead last in their regions, 15th and 20th respectively, behind resorts that not only lack good great golf, but lack mediocre golf. Kohler finished third in a weak region, losing to the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which is about as stupid a result as one could imagine. Pebble for some reason does not get treated as a resort, but rather is split up among its lodging entities unlike any other property in the poll, so it finished second and third. Reynolds finished a respectable fifth, behind three resorts it is clearly superior to.

At least all the top US resorts made the list, even though they got screwed. Overseas, most of the world’s best resorts got completely ignored.

For some reasons, Conde Nast Traveler believes it is important to include a non-golf resort among its very best golf resorts every year. I guess it comes down to how you define a golf resort, but I think it is fair and reasonable to say that it should have at least one actual full sized golf course, either on site or with associated access. Am I being picky by excluding 9-holers, par-3 courses and pitch and putt layouts? If we go below the minimum standard of a least one true course, does that make a hotel with mini-golf facility a golf resort? What about cruise ships with putting greens? What about golf simulators? Is Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis of the Seas a golf resort? Clearly the editors at CNT do not agree with me that a golf course is required of a golf resort, because last year they awarded high ranking to the Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda, which has a par-3 course and nothing more. Even the folks at Fairmont don’t consider this one of their golf resorts (check their site!), and they have plenty of great golf to brag about. This year CNT readers switched gears and made the second best golf resort in the entire world the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. Yes, you heard me right. Never thought of a golf trip there? Neither did I. Despite the fact that it is an awesome hotel, arguably the best in the Caribbean, it has only a 9-holer. Nope, not a golf resort.

It gets worse: the Marquis Los Cabos, which finished 22nd in the world, ahead of most of the once of a lifetime golf pilgrimage golf reports actual golfers know, has no golf course, no par-3, no pitch and putt, zero, nada. This logic might help explain why Mexico, which has exactly one curse ranked in the Worlds’ Top 100 took eight of the top intentional spots, blowing away Ireland (7 of the World’s Top 100) and Scotland (11 of the World’s Top 100). Likewise, in Canada, the Four Season’s Whistler, with no golf course, beat the Fairmont Château Whistler, which actually has a standout course. Go figure.

Among the resorts that did not make the list internationally are Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf resort, with 12 high quality courses and every other resort amenity you could imagine; Gleneagles, a Ryder Cup venue with the world’s two best inland links, luxury lodging, Michelin-starred dining and the world’s best slate of non-golf activities and facilities; Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand, most experts pick for the finest single-course golf resort on earth; stunning Cape Kidnappers, also in New Zealand, ranked in the world’s Top 50; Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, the highest ranked resort course in Continental Europe with a swank new luxury hotel on site; Carnoustie, a famed British Open venue with five courses for guests; Lough Erne, the finest golf resort in Northern Ireland; Ireland’s Doonbeg with its stunning course-side lodging; the Fairmont St Andrews with its 36 impressive links holes; and Casa de Campo, the 800-pound gorilla of the Caribbean with what has long been the highest ranked course in the islands plus two others.

The only great golf resort of the British Isles that made the list at all is Scotland’s Turnberry, whose Aisla is quite arguably the finest course on earth, with a luxury hotel, great second course, and spa to match, easily better than anything else on the list, yet it finished 15th. The wonderful Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, which is a great place to stay made the list, but only because the idiots at CNT made the mistaken assumption that the hotel has something to do with the Old Course. If this was true, their ranking is even worse, because if the Old Course –and its five links siblings – was part of the hotel, it should have finished number one, blowing away the worldwide winner Mayakoba, with one very nice course that’s not even the best in Mexico. But saying the Old Course Hotel has the Old Course because they are next to each other with similar names is like saying the Ritz Carlton Central Park South owns Central Park –  totally wrong. Nonetheless they put a little balloon box linked to the hotel on their chart not only erroneously associating it with the Old Course, but for some reason they feel the need to rewrite golf history. The editors at CNT stupidly claim the Old Course began as a 10-holer in the 1830s, when it actually began hundreds of years earlier and had 22-holes by 1764.

Why do they have to make this stuff up?

Portugal's Oitavos Dunes is the highst ranked rsort course in Continental Europe, with a luxury boutique hotel to match. But there was no room for it in the CNT golf poll because it got beat by places with a 9-holer or no golf at all.

Bottom line: You can access the accuracy, veracity and validity of the poll with one simple question.

If you could take a golf vacation to any golf resort on earth, is there one you would rather visit than a hotel in Mexico or Canada with no golf at all? If you answer yes, throw this poll away as fast as you can. If you answer no, congratulations, there is a job opening on the editorial staff at Conde Nast Traveler with your name on it. Maybe you could edit next year’s golf poll.

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