Monday, July 11, 2005

Odd Choices in Golf Digest's "Best Golf Cities in America" Rankings

In the August issue of Golf Digest, which they dub their "All-American Issue," the magazine issues its rankings of the best golf cities in the U.S. The rankings are 330 cities long (or actually, 330 metropolitan statistical areas - MSAs - long) and 27 Texas MSAs are included.

The first thing that jumps out about the overall rankings is that big cities don't fare well. The best golf city in America, according to GD, is Auburn-Opelika, Ala., with a population of 120,407.

In fact, not a single MSA with a population of more than 1 million appears in the rankings until Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, N.C., checks in at No. 64. Actually, the good showing of smaller cities vs. bigger cities is even more stark than that: Of the 63 cities ranked ahead of that first 1 million-strong metropolis, the most populous has 656,064 residents (and just happens to be McAllen-Edinburg-Mission).

Famed golf cities such as Orlando, Columbus, Ohio, Reno, Nev., Tucson, Ariz., Las Vegas, Albuquerque, San Diego, Denver and Chicago - not to mention Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston - are ranked behind such "legendary" golf destinations as Iowa City, Iowa, Sumter, S.C., Macon, Ga., Decatur, Ala., and Janesville, Wisc., to name just a few.

So these rankings include some choices that are, on the surface, odd. It's probably more striking for most of our readers to consider just how the Texas cities fared.

The best golf city in Texas, according to Golf Digest, is Waco. Killeen-Temple is way better than Austin-San Marcos, according to GD, and Texarkana and Victoria beat San Antonio, Dallas and Houston by a wide margin. (The full list of Texas cities and how they are ranked by GD appears in the next post below.)

Does that seem strange to you?

Let's look at how the Golf Digest rankings were compiled. The magazine considered four factors: access to golf, weather, value (based on average green fees) and quality of the courses (based on average ratings in Golf Digest's Places to Play).

Each MSA was ranked in each of the four categories, which were rated thusly: Access accounted for 45-percent of the total; weather for 25- percent; value and quality for 15-percent.

So access, in the estimation of Golf Digest, is worth three times more than quality (not to mention value). Access is worth 15 percentage points more (50-percent more as a ratio) than value and quality combined.

How does Golf Digest define "access to golf"? It is "a blend of four factors: the number of golf holes in an MSA compared to its population; number of golf holes compared to the number of avid golfers; percentage of public versus private courses; and a measure of the number of rounds played compared to capacity."

That definition, and the weighting of access relative to quality, means that larger cities start out with a huge disadvantage. The higher the population, the lower the number of golf holes will be compared to population; the higher the population, the more likely there are to be larger numbers of private courses.

Bigger cities also take a hit in the value category. Big cities are likely to have more resort courses and high-end daily fee courses. Those courses drive the average green fees up and hurt cities that offer highest-quality conditions.

I believe that access should be weighted more heavily than quality or value. After all, before you can play a great golf course (or even a lousy one), you have to be able to find one and get onto it. But I think Golf Digest erred in weighting access so much more than quality and value. I also believe they put too much emphasis on weather (the MSAs of Scotland and Ireland wouldn't fare very well in these rankings, either - Auburn-Opelika ahead of St. Andrews?).

I'd re-jigger the percentages to look like this: Access, 35 percent; quality, 27 percent; value, 23 percent; weather, 15 percent. I don't know what the exact effects would be of these new percentages, but I'm guessing they would have prevented some of the obviously wrongheaded rankings that we see in the Texas list below.

Scroll down to the next post to view the list of 27 Texas cities and how they fared in the overall rankings.

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