What Happens At A Top 100 Courses Panel Meeting

Rob Smith heads up to Wallasey and Hillside to meet up with some of the dedicated golfers on the Golf Monthly assessment panel

What Happens At A Top 100 Courses Panel Meeting - in the clubhouse at Hillside, and Wallasey from above
In the clubhouse at Hillside, and Wallasey from above
(Image credit: Rob Smith)

What Happens At a Top 100 Courses Panel Meeting

At the heart of the Golf Monthly Top 100 and the Golf Monthly Next 100 course rankings are two things. One is a strong and well-documented list of criteria that has remained largely unchanged for almost a decade. The other, is our recently-expanded team of knowledgeable, dedicated and energetic readers who make up the assessment panel. They travel the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland to play and review all of the courses on our Contender list and make sure that every single one is seen in each 2-year cycle.

Hillside Golf Club - Hole 4

Organisers Peter Hurst and Gordon Ross on the fourth tee at Hillside with general manager Chris Williams

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

Following a recruitment campaign last time round, we now have approaching 40 readers on the panel, and earlier this month I headed up to England’s Golf Coast to meet up with roughly half of them on the inaugural panellists’ 2-day get-together. The idea for the meeting was conceived by two long-standing panellists, Peter Hurst who plays at Lee Park in Liverpool, and Gordon Ross who is a member of Broadstone Golf Club. The aim was to spend some time together playing two lovely courses, and exchange some thoughts and experiences on the rankings process at the same time as making new friends. Such is everyone’s appetite, that aided by a friendly discount from the clubs regarding green fees, we all paid our own way.

Wallasey - Hole 12

The beautifully improved par-3 twelfth at Wallasey

(Image credit: Wallasey Golf Club)

Our trip began at the end of a wet Sunday morning at the excellent links at Wallasey, one of the best golf courses in Cheshire, just as the rain stopped and the sun started to peer through the grey clouds. With a few plus-ones and some representatives from our hosts, there were roughly 32 playing each round. To inject some friendly competition into proceedings, Peter and Gordon had divided the field into two - North versus South - though any attempts to understand the logic in how this split was made went way over my head! This was to be my first, well overdue game at Wallasey, and if my expectations had already been high, they were exceeded!

Wallasey Golf Club - Presentation

The chairman at Wallasey introducing course manager John McLoughlin (far left), and panellist John Slater (centre)

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

Following the golf and an excellent buffet, we were treated to an hour-long presentation and discussion with Wallasey’s expert course manager, John McLoughlin. He explained all the fine work that has been going on, and some of his hopes for the future. As course enthusiasts, we were all drawn in by John’s insights, knowledge and energy and could easily have spent twice the time learning more.

The following morning, some of the panellists seemed to have contracted a condition that left them with sore heads. Happily, a cooked breakfast was on offer at Hillside Golf Club, a leading Top 100 course that is not resting on its laurels. It is one of the best golf courses in Lancashire. Better still, the sun was shining.

Hillside Golf Club - Presentation

Chris Williams presenting to the panellists at Hillside

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

As at Wallasey, we were able to enjoy another fascinating presentation, this time by club manager Chris Williams. Once again, we were completely engaged as we learnt of the many recent and ongoing changes that are future-proofing this already superb course and club.

Hillside Golf Club - Aerial View

An aerial view of the greatly improved par-3 fourth at Hillside

(Image credit: James Hogg - Beyond Drones)

It was then time to head out for round two of North versus South, where I thoroughly enjoyed playing with the two organisers as well as our host manager, Chris.

Hillside - Hole 13

Peter Hurst playing his approach on the 13th at Hillside

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

Having won my pairs match the day before, I was up against Peter Hurst in the singles. Despite being one-up at the turn, I could only watch in dismay (not to mention some surprise) as he raised his game to play an excellent back nine and exact his revenge.

The Harold Hilton Memorial

The brand new Panellists' trophy, the Harold Hilton Memorial

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

With most of us facing long journeys home after the golf, there was just time for a brief and typically garbled chat from me, and the presentation of the trophy to the southern team who just edged it, aided by most people not knowing which team they were in! In honour of the two-time Open Champion who was the founding editor of Golf Monthly in 1911 and who made some design changes at Wallasey two years later, the stylish trophy is to be known as the Harold Hilton Memorial.

Wallasey Golf Club - Hole 17

Looking back down the super-tough par-4 penultimate hole at Wallasey

(Image credit: Wallasey Golf Club)

What I personally learnt from this terrific event was that even if I had previously believed we have a team of hugely knowledgeable and keen course assessors, I had underestimated just quite how knowledgeable and keen they are! I came home feeling more confident than ever that the hundreds of reports we receive in each cycle are trustworthy and reliable, and that our rankings are therefore as informed and as contemporary as can be.

Wallasey - Hole 18

Golf Monthly panellists on the final green at Wallasey

(Image credit: Rob Smith)

Please look out for a more detailed feature on the panellists’ meeting in the January 2023 issue of Golf Monthly, and make sure to reserve a copy of the May 2023 issue when the updated Top 100 and Next 100 will be revealed along with in-depth coverage of everything related to the new rankings.

Rob Smith
Contributing Editor

Rob Smith has been playing golf for 45 years and been a contributing editor for Golf Monthly since 2012. He specialises in course reviews and travel, and has played more than 1,200 courses in almost 50 countries. In 2022, he played all 21 courses in East Lothian in 13 days. Last year, his tally was 81, 32 of them for the first time. One of Rob's primary roles is helping to prepare the Top 100 and Next 100 Courses of the UK&I, of which he has played all but seven and a half... i.e. not the new 9 at Carne! Of those missing, some are already booked for 2024. He is a member of Tandridge in Surrey where his handicap hovers around 16. You can contact him at r.smith896@btinternet.com.