Golf and Beer
Let's Do Another Round
I’ve never been one to advocate drinking and driving: Golf is a difficult and confusing enough game as it is. I have downed a few brews in my time while playing golf, but water is really my favorite on-course beverage. After a round—of golf—the story is altogether different. The perfect nineteenth hole would put me in a rocker overlooking the eighteenth hole, where I sit with a warm and pleasant fatigue brought on by my successful strivings on the course, a glass of tasty beer in hand, all infused with a timeless feeling of contentment.
Legion are those who do drink beer on the course. If there were world enough and time, it might be interesting to know what the best-selling beer is from the beverage carts that crisscross all the golf courses in this great land. One thing is certain—the word “light” (or “lite”) will be part of the beer’s name.
But since the golf season is now well underway and time is a-wasting, we had to find a fast way to assess the beer offerings at the nation’s golf courses for those who may be looking for the perfect parley this summer. That was readily solved when the May issue of Golf Digest showed up in my mail box. It was back in 1966 that Golf Digest first ran what has since become a house franchise article, the “100 Greatest Courses” ranking.
“A lot of other magazines have copied us over the years, but ours remains the definitive list,” said the magazine’s executive editor, Roger Shiffman. “It’s the oldest, the most established—we have the largest panel of selectors, we do it more scientifically than anyone else.”
Golf Digest runs the ranking every other year, and this was the year. What was curious about the list—beyond the fact that Pebble Beach toppled Pine Valley from the #1 perch for the first-time ever—was that 18 of the 100 courses are open to public play. Some may cost an arm and a leg, but they’re open nonetheless. Since two pairs of courses are run by the same companies, 16 phone calls didn’t seem like too much bother. Then, as a panel of one, I could scientifically re-rank the top public courses solely on the basis of their beer offerings.
First, here are the public courses that made the Golf Digest list, with the numbers showing where they fell amongst the “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” ranking:
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links,
Pebble Beach, CA
9. Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (No. 2), Pinehurst, NC
31. Shadow Creek Golf Club, North Las Vegas, NV
34. Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach, CA
41. Bandon Dunes, Bandon, OR
46. Bethpage Golf Course, (Black), Farmingdale, NY
48. The Homestead Resort’s Cascade Course, Hot Springs, VA
51. Prince Course, Princeville Resort, Kauai, HI
62. Whistling Straits (Straits), Haven, WI
63. TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
64. Cog Hill Golf & Country Club (No. 4), Lemont, IL
66. Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island, SC
67. Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, SC
70. Blackwolf Run Golf Course (River), Kohler, WI
76. Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course, Kamuela, HI
77. Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, CA
96. Crosswater, Sunriver, OR.
97. World Woods Golf Club (Pine Barrens), Brooksville, FL
Obviously, there’s something for every traveling golfer here, from northeast to south, midwest to northwest to far west. There’s also something for every budget, from a high rolling $500 at Shadow Creek down to the working class $39 at Bethpage Black. But in truth, most of the courses here are high-end daily fees, upwards of $100 per greens fees.
It would nice to think that great courses would also have great beer offerings, but such is not necessarily the case. It’s only to be expected that a populist game like golf reflects the beer-drinking patterns of the general public. Plus golf can certainly be a thirst-provoking game, so there are plenty of lawnmower beers here. But it takes a while to find, say, a nice hefeweizen on this list to cut through that thirst.
Since golf is also a thought-provoking and even meditative game, it would be nice to see a little more thought put into the beer offerings. I don’t ever expect to see a Trappist ale served at a golf course—although it wouldn’t be a bad idea, considering how often deities are invoked during play. Certainly a good Scottish ale like Belhaven’s St. Andrews Ale would make perfect sense, since the game was created in Scotland. (And I expect no argument from Don Feinberg of Brewery Ommegang, who would posit that golf—along with everything else—was really invented by the Belgians.)
At least a nod to the local micro, or a keg from a nearby brewpub put on tap, or even a contract brew packaged especially for the course bar doesn’t seem like too much to hope for. And to those courses that lean in that enlightened direction goes our call for another round. Here’s what happens when we re-rank the top public courses based solely on their beer offerings, blending in the two pairs run under the same golf umbrella:
The “Another Round”
Golf and Beer Rankings:
1. Whistling Straits (Straits Course), Blackwolf Run (River Course)
2. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course
3. Bandon Dunes
4. Crosswater Golf Club
5. Pasatiempo Golf Club
6. Pinehurst No. 2
7. Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course
8. Cascades Course, The Homestead
9. Ocean Course, Kiawah Island
10. Harbour Town Golf Links
11. Stadium Course, TPC at Sawgrass
12. Prince Course, Princeville Resort
13. Bethpage Black
14. Cog Hill No. 4
15. Shadow Creek
16. Pine Barrens
It’s virtually a given that any golfer would happily play at any of these courses and expect a terrific outing, and following are a few of the reasons why. As far as the beer goes, we’ll work our way up the beer interest ladder, and save the best for last:
Pine Barrens Course, World Woods Golf Club, Brooksville, FL
The reigning king of modern golf course design is Tom Fazio, who makes ‘em look tougher than they play. And Pine Barrens looks plenty tough, an homage to Pine Valley playing around huge sandy waste areas and along stands of pine trees to well-guarded greens. Next to Bethpage Black, this is the best bargain around—great golf for under $75, with another worthy choice, the Rolling Oaks course, and a fantastic practice facility.
The beer choice is typical, with all the top-selling beers and their light counterparts, as there are at all the courses on the list. Domestics like Killian’s and imports like Corona or Heineken are the far extent of the drinking adventure.
Shadow Creek Golf Club, North Las Vegas, NV
By all accounts, the most money ever spent to build a golf course—$54 million or so—has indeed produced a mind-boggling spectacle of man-made nature that ought to be experienced at least once, as long as one is going to Las Vegas to blow a wad anyway. For $500, the most for any public round (not counting the cost of a required stay at an MGM Grand property), a player can enjoy the VIP treatment, including the limo to the course, and what some say is Tom Fazio’s greatest creation. And that’s saying something.
No one has had a beer vision out there yet. Heineken is the best seller. Stick to the brewpubs elsewhere in Vegas.
“Dubsdread,” Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont, IL
There are four courses at the expansive complex at Cog Hill near Chicago, and the No. 4 course, also called Dubsdread, is easily the sternest test. A 1964 Dick Wilson design, the course is the site of the Advil Western Open, and Advil may help on this hilly 18, as will the sand wedge—this may be one of the most heavily-bunkered public tracks going, approaching 120 bunkers in all.
Washing the sand off and the Advil down with Sam Adams on tap is about as exciting as the beer list gets, except for fans of the arguably more regional Special Export. Now and again, particularly at special events, some Goose Island offerings appear.
Bethpage Black Course, Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, NY
Probably the best value anywhere in the golfing world, a low-cost round at a top-notch course. A terrifically, sometimes terrifyingly challenging rank-and-file public course, the gem of a 1936 four-course WPA project that was designer A.W. Tillinghast’s swan song. He didn’t miss a beat, and the USGA appears to agree—the course will be the site of the U.S. Open in 2002. A long, hilly, walking-only monster with sand traps of prodigious proportions—golf on the grandeur scale.
The beer is on the prosaic scale, though a can of Guinness may even show up on the beverage carts. Otherwise it’s Pete and Sam (as in Wicked or Adams). The German-style lagers at the Black Forest Brew Haus in nearby East Farmingdale may be a better bet—their Amber won a gold medal at the GABF two years ago.
Prince Course, Princeville Resort, Kauai, HI
The Prince Course has often been touted as the best course in Hawaii, and one of the toughest. It’s a bruiser, even from the resort tees, barely over 6,000 yards, but loaded with forced carries nonetheless. If a challenge, the course is a scenic wonder on the northern tip of Kauai, and often called Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s masterpiece.
But other than a Kona Golden Ale, the beer list comes up short, with Steinlager, Sam Adams, and Suntory the most exotic offerings in this exotic locale.
Stadium Course, TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
The seventeenth hole at the Stadium course is the one everyone wants to take a whack at—the island green that gives the pros fits every year at The Player’s Championship. Someone figured out that players average three balls in the water at number seventeen. But the rest of the Pete Dye course is a test too, and players can at least find some Sam Adams and Bass to salve the wounds. There’s Guinness, Newcastle, and some local microbrews on the tap rotation, generous in that as a PGA Tour-owned facility, the TPC emphasizes the beer of its corporate sponsor—Michelob Light.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Site of the WorldCom Classic, the Harbor Town course in the Sea Pines Resort is readily recognized by the red and white striped lighthouse visible from the eighteenth fairway. But it’s often credited with changing the face of modern golf course architecture from a power hitter’s to a shotmaker’s game. The early Pete Dye design (with Jack Nicklaus), has undergone extensive renovation in the past year, but reopened for play in January.
Now only the beer list needs renovating, though there is some Charleston Pale Ale from the Carolina Beer Co. to pique the interest.
Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Resort, SC
A trip to the Low Country means Pete Dye’s Ocean Course, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup “War by the Shore.” Ten holes run along the Atlantic, which is why they’re fond of quoting the old Scottish expression here, “If there’s nae wind, it’s nae golf.” But there will be. There are four other pointed beauties at the Kiawah Island Resort—Oak Point, Turtle Point, Cougar Point and Osprey Point.
Rummaging around in the beer cooler at Kiawah may turn up a Newcastle or a Sam Adams, but the otherwise pedestrian beer list is brightened by the Palmetto Amber, on tap or in bottle, from the Palmetto Brewing Company in Charleston.
Cascades Course, The Homestead, Hot Springs, VA
Sam Snead began his golfing career at The Homestead in 1934, and even then the Allegheny Mountain resort was venerable, having been founded in 1776. The first course was a six-hole affair, dating from 1892. Now there are three 18-holers, including the Cascades Course, an archetypal mountain design fashioned by William Flynn in 1923, befitting the resort’s classic Georgian-style ambiance.
The beer list in the numerous dining venues is long, but limited, with Old Dominion’s Ale and Lager the only venturesome domestic choices, since Sam Adams and Anchor Steam are considered imports.
Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course, Kamuela, HI
It’s hard to say whether Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed this golf course, or created it, in a panoramic setting of mountainous beauty, etched by ancient lava beds. With dramatic changes in elevation, over 100 bunkers, remarkable seaside par-3s skirting rocky shorelines of the Pacific, Mauna Kea may be breathtaking enough to mess with any course strategy the first time round.
Figuring it all out afterward may be easier with the new Mehana Mauna Kea Pale Ale, currently the only beer on tap in the clubhouse. But there are a variety of Japanese offerings in bottle, and that seems appropriate, too.
No. 2 Course, Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, NC
If ever a course called for some Scottish ales, it would be the No. 2 course at Pinehurst, the acknowledged masterpiece of perhaps America’s greatest designer (though Scottish-born), Donald Ross. A Tennent’s of Scotland lager will have to do, but that’s something. The No. 2 Course was the site of the late Payne Stewart’s last great victory at the 1999 U.S. Open. Ross completed the course in 1902, but tinkered with it until his death in 1948. Some think it is the best pure test of golf there is, in America or anyway else. And yet the average player can do well here, thanks to the Ross philosophy of appealing to golfers of all skill levels.
All this can be argued over a beer at the 91st Hole bar, perhaps a Carolina Pale Ale, while planning play at the resort’s other seven courses.
Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, CA
Any one who has played at Pasatiempo seems to have a soft spot for this old course, a 1929 design by Dr. Alister Mackenzie, better know for his work at Augusta National and Cypress Point. But this semi-private course has what those lack: public access, not to mention mountain views and glimpses of Monterey Bay, and a seemingly endless variety of strategic shot-making.
And at the bar named after Mackenzie, there’s a pretty good variety of tap beer, including Gordon Biersch Marzen, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Guinness, so one is never too far from a good beer.
Crosswater Golf Club, Sunriver Resort, OR
A long, tough Robert Cupp-John Fought design at the central Oregon Sunriver Resort, in the high country of the eastern Cascade Range. Open to resort guests, the course is but one of three tracks available.
The water that the Crosswater keeps crossing are traces of the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers. So it should come as no surprise, but entirely agreeable, that the Deschutes Brewing Company is well-represented among the fine offerings, including the now-classic Black Butte Porter, and Mirror Pond Ale. A new Cascades Ales is also a logical choice, and there are rotating seasonal selections, like the current Mac & Jacks Handcrafted Ale. And the resort has gone a step further, commissioning Portland Brewing to produce Sunriver Brew, a hefeweizen perfect for that post-round craving.
Bandon Dunes, Bandon, OR
Few new resort courses opened to the acclaim accorded to Bandon Dunes in 1999, a links design by Scotsman David McLay Kidd that plays along the Pacific Ocean in southern Oregon. The course is a newcomer to the “100 Greatest,” list, but yet another layout—Pacific Dunes is set to open on the tract in July, and it is getting early raves as well.
There are two bars on site, and here, too, the offerings deserve applause. Seasonal northwest craft beers (like Deschutes Jubel Ale) are rotated through all the time, along with regulars from Widmer, Bridgeport, Portland Brewing, and it’s not uncommon to find Pilsner Urquell or Beamish on tap.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, CA
Probably little need be said about the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links; the superlatives have all been used. This classic track on the Monterey Peninsula, said to be the perfect meeting of land and sea, is now ranked the number one golf course in the country, the first time a public course has overtaken the private Pine Valley of New Jersey. Yes, it costs more than $300 to play here, but next to Shadow Creek that’s a bargain. Plus Spyglass Hill is here, too, a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design from 1966. Almost as tempting, if not ranked, are the Links at Spanish Bay and the old Del Monte course at the resort.
The latter course is a favorite of local Brits, who may well find a Belhaven St. Andrews Ale on hand. At the Pebble and Spyglass clubhouses one can anticipate popping open a Guinness Pub Draught, or a Boddington’s. But the real treat is in the casual dining Tap Room at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Here the tap list usually includes Gordon Biersch Marzen, Widmer Hefeweizen, and Anchor Steam, among others, while the bottled list spans the Monterey offerings of the Spanish Peaks Brewery to other California and northwest specialties. The offerings east of the Rockies aren’t bad, either.
The only thing, really, keeping Pebble from also being atop the beer list rankings as well as the golf list rankings, is the next choice., Another Round’s Number 1 Course for Golf and Beer:
Straits Course and River Course, The American Club, Kohler, WI
A remarkable quartet of Pete Dye courses operated by the Kohler company have won accolades ever since the first—Blackwolf Run—opened in 1988. There are now 36 holes at Blackwolf—the River and Meadow Valley courses—and 36 at Whistling Straits—the Straits and the Irish courses. The Straits in particular is a dazzling walking-only links course, with 14 holes skirting a breathless two mile-sweep of Lake Michigan, and all four par-3 holes overlooking precipitous bluffs. It will be the site of the 2004 PGA Championship.
The resort is plush, and the beer list fabulous, earning The American Club the top beer honors in our list. While there’s nothing special in the beverage carts, one can cozy up to a local Sprecher Pale Ale or Sprecher Amber on tap at the course clubhouses, among dozens of selections. And at the casual dining spot, the Horse and Plow, there’s an extensive and impressive list of specialty brews and imports, but a particular emphasis (many on tap) of Wisconsin craft brews.
The Kohler company should know a thing or two about water, of course. It’s nice to see they pay as much attention to the best thing that can done with it. Enough reading. Let’s play another round.
As far as he knows, Tom Bedell is the only member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the North American Guild of Beer Writers