Fired as a Course Rater

By: Jeff Shelley

The other day I received a form letter from the National Director of Golfweek's Best, Bradley S. Klein, informing me that he was exercising "our option" and terminating my membership as a course rater for 2010.

In delivering that message, Klein, who also happens to be Golfweek's architectural guru, concluded rather ominously: "That means you will not be able to visit or rate courses on behalf of the Golfweek's Best program."

In closing, Klein thanked me for my participation and signed his name. His signature seemed a bit faint, so I asked my graphic-designer wife about it. She said it was a jpg image of Klein's signature.

Geez, Brad, at least you could've actually signed my termination letter. I thought we were, if not personal, then professional acquaintances. After all, I used to write on occasion for Golfweek's sister publication, Superintendent News, when you were its editor.

I must admit I haven't devoted as much time as I perhaps could have as a course rater, but I did dutifully provide the group with considerable input when I came on board over 10 years ago. After all, I did write three editions of the book, "Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest," and visited or played all 550 of the courses in the third edition, and gave my ratings to courses that hadn't yet found their way into Golfweek's database.

Turned out that may be why I was invited to join the group in the first place, as, at that time, there were only a few raters in my part of the country. Over the years I'd add a course here or there - including those I'd played in Louisiana, Mississippi, Mexico, Massachusetts, California and other places I visited either professionally or while away on vacation.

Now, in recalling my activities as a rater, I don't remember once ever mentioning to these facilities that I was a Golfweek course rater. Guess I was just too modest to flaunt such lofty credentials.

I even took the bait and attended two of the "rater retreats," as Golfweek calls them. One was to Bandon - to play the then newly opened Pacific Dunes - and the other was to Palm Springs. I mixed in with the other raters, basically golf-architecture nerds but good people. Most were enjoyable, while a few were a bit too smug with their name-dropping of the courses they'd rated. One of the good guys, Kevin Bedolla, a San Jose, Calif., attorney, even wrote a piece for Cybergolf.

Kevin is a funny guy and we had some zany times together. We played a couple of rounds each in Oregon and California, two retreats that were a few years apart. Our time at Bandon was spent almost entirely underwater as at least two inches of rain fell - accompanied by howling winds - every single time we stepped foot on a golf course. When Kevin and I reconnected later in Palm Springs, he came up to me and said "Hi Jeff." Abashed, I didn't know who the hell he was. Turned out I really didn't "see" much of Kevin on Oregon's blustery coast as, during our two rounds, I had battened down a waterproof hood over my head to combat the elements and could only glimpse the puddles gathering a few feet in front of me on those soggy marches.

Concerned about getting sunburned while in Palm Springs, I bought this pseudo-leather hat (the manufacturer will go unnamed) that, when you soak it in water, it's supposed to naturally cool your overcooked head. Well, after carefully following the instructions and, with water dripping down my face, over my glasses and onto my shirt, it didn't last long. Kevin howled as I threw the "f$%@*&!" $60 hat on the ground after a few holes. I'm sure he's chuckling if he reads this.

To me, Golfweek's Best is an attempt to serve as a rival to Golf Digest's and Golf Magazine's ratings, while selling a few magazines with their "top courses of the year" editions along the way. Not sure about those other publications, but Golfweek also treats its raters as money-making opportunities, offering many "retreats" throughout the year. Each of these outings can run well past the $1K mark, and that's just for the "discounted" rounds and overnight accommodations and not the flights and car rentals to get there.

My reluctance to buy off on these maybe led to my dismissal. I don't know; Brad didn't go into much detail in his dismissal missive.

I'm not a cheapskate, but I'd rather spend my traveling dollars - and valuable off-work time - with family and friends than a bunch of well-intentioned people I don't know very well. Klein, who attends most if not all of these retreats and usually gives a pep talk to his rapt raters, seems like a nice guy.

I am too, and it would've been better to have been recognized as such with either a personal phone call, or at least a termination letter with a real signature from the national director.

If Brad reads this, maybe in the future he'll try doing just that to others when expressing his appreciation for their "input and commitment," while simultaneously firing them from his rating squad.

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