Inside GOLF’s Top 100 Courses vote: How we decide our rankings
This article was updated on Oct. 20, 2023.
There is only one variable in the voting process for GOLF’s World and U.S. Top 100 rankings: the ballot, which is always in flux with new builds, restorations and even deletions should the quality of the course deteriorate.
For the newly released 2023-24 World list, each panelist was provided a ballot that consisted of 504 courses globally. He or she was given seven months to complete it. Beside the list of courses were 11 “buckets,” or groupings. If our panelists considered a course to be among the top three in the world, they ticked that first column. If they believed the course to be among Nos. 4-10 in the world, they checked the next column, followed by 11-25, 26-50, and so on out to 250+ and even a column for remove.
Panelists were also free to write in courses that they felt should have been included on the ballot (we received nine such entries).
Points were assigned to each bucket; to arrive at an average score for each course, we divide its aggregate score by the number of votes. From those point tallies, the courses are then ranked accordingly. It is an intentionally simple and straightforward process. Why? Because it historically has produced results that are widely lauded. Like the game itself, there’s no need to unnecessarily complicate things or try to fix something that already works so well.
The key to the process is the experience and expertise of our panel. For sure, our process is only as good as the panel itself. Hailing from a dozen nations (and that is counting Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales as one, the United Kingdom), each of our 119 handpicked panelists has a keen eye for architecture, both regionally and globally.
Typecasting our panel would be impossible, except to say they all share a golf wanderlust. More than 55 years separate our youngest panelist from the oldest. Playing abilities vary from plus-handicaps to those in the low double digits. If 30 panelists have seen a course, you are almost assured that every set of tees was used. Many of our panelists have played more than 1,000 courses in 20-plus countries. In the rankings world, experience is essential, as our raters must be able to judge courses relative to one another across different continents. Communication between panelists is enhanced by maintaining a relatively small, tight group.
Because we don’t prescribe a set method to assess courses as other ranks do, no one opinion carries the day — our rank is a democracy. Some panelists believe that enjoyment is the ultimate goal, and thus prioritize design attributes such as width and playing angles, while frowning upon the need to constantly hunt for balls in thick rough. Other panelists value challenge and the demands of hitting every club in the bag. Still others consider a course’s surroundings and overall environment of paramount importance, thereby emphasizing the setting and naturalness of the course. In the end, allowing raters to freely express their tastes is what produces the desired eclecticism in our Top 100 lists.
Panelist integrity is vital. Voters with any ties or associations to eligible courses must flag such conflicts. Any vote that falls outside the statistical norm is investigated. Panelists know not to let the quality of their play influence their ballot — same for a luxe experience or clubhouse. While opulence may make for a more a memorable outing, it’s not what GOLF’s course lists are about. Our focus is on design and architecture. We study the course, not the trappings around it.
Our pledge to you with each and every ranking is that we put forward our best, most earnest effort. Ultimately, you are judge and jury of our success.