(VIRGINIA) — Kevin Brafford was having lunch last spring with a friend who’s played golf all over the world. The friend was a member of the North Carolina Golf Panel, a statewide course ratings group founded in 1995 that Brafford has overseen since 2000.
Fast-forward to the present: the Virginia Golf Ratings Panel’s inaugural top 50 courses list debuted this week in the April issue of the award-winning Virginia Business magazine, both online and in print, and at www.virginiagolfratings.com.
“The mission is the same as in North Carolina,” Brafford says. “It’s to have a representative sample of Virginia residents who play the majority of their golf in the commonwealth and can best determine its best courses.”
Atop the rankings is the stately Cascades course at The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs. Set against the backdrop of the Alleghany Mountains and designed by William S. Flynn in 1923, it is open to the public. Second ranked is the private Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, widely considered the best work of the renowned Lester George. It is one of eight courses in the Top 50 that bear fingerprints of the Midlothian-based course designer. Completing the first five are Bristol’s two finest – The Virginian Golf Club and The Olde Farm, both private – which sandwich Spring Creek Golf Club, a highly lauded public course in Gordonsville.
Forty-eight golf enthusiasts (“golf-crazy friends of mine and friends who knew golf-crazy friends,” Brafford says) make up the initial Virginia Golf Ratings Panel roster. They’re men and women – business executives, top amateurs, college coaches, etc. – who, while their handicaps vary, share a passion for golf and an appreciation for course design. Membership is by invitation only.
Panel members were asked to consider a number of factors – variety in design, routing, strategy, fairness, shot values, memorability and aesthetics – in determining their individual rankings. Of course, they could only vote for courses they’ve played (and there are more than 300 courses in the commonwealth). From their ballots, the top 50 was determined by a blended scoring system that, first, averaged a course’s ranking per number of panelists who had played it and, second, rewarded total points received (the higher the ranking the greater the number of total points).
“Like any course rankings, there is much room for debate,” says Brafford. “Our hope is to stimulate interest in the game and promote course design. As we grow, we expect to publish rankings by region and a broader top 50 list that highlights courses open for public play.”