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THE INSIDE TRACK

The Hot Corner

April 08, 1998|MIKE JAMES

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: Golf Digest's Places to Play

Publisher: Fodor's Travel

Publications Inc., 1,147 pages.

Price: $21.

The editors of Golf Digest have put together an extraordinary reference work here that might be as important a companion for the traveling golfer as a favorite pair of soft spikes.

The book, relying on ballots sent in by 18,000 Golf Digest subscribers, lists and rates about 5,300 public-access courses in the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Courses were given overall ratings of one to five stars, one being basic golf, five being a course worth playing at least once at any price. All the expected details are included--location, green fees, par, length, course rating and slope, plus architect, when the course opened, available discount packages, on-site lodging, caddie availability, metal-spike restrictions, and tee-time and walking policies.

But one entry makes this compilation stand alone: subscriber comments. Courses that received more than two stars and were played by enough subscribers to gather a representative sampling have a list of five to 10 concise comments--good and bad. It's precisely that candid information a golfer needs to select a course.

I spent an afternoon looking up courses I have played around the country and was more amazed with each one at how appropriate the comments were. Everything from what kind of players the course favors to subtle details that make layouts special--or dreadful--was there.

A couple of years ago, playing Imperial Golf Course in Brea, I was stunned by a diving hawk as I walked off the first green. She blind-sided me, knocked me to the ground, drawing a little blood on the back of my head as her talons cut through my cap. I dusted myself off and finished the round, though I spent a little more time looking up than I should have.

The final comment in this book under Imperial: "Watch for nesting hawks on No. 1." Geez, now you tell me.

"Places to Play" was published March 25. Four days later, Imperial closed, a victim of a proposed housing development. That was the only glitch I noticed in this encyclopedic work.

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