THE EYRIE, WESTEROS – May the Old Gods and the New protect us, winter is coming.
Around here, that means little or no golf for two to three months – longer for my poor readers who live on I-90! What a life for them! – as much as six months of hitting off mats at golf domes, lots of nonsensical, silly season, made-for-TV garbage, and rusty swings by the time the thaw hits. As my girl Britt would say, “It’s a scandal, I tell ya!”
One great way to get through a golf-less winter is with a good book. Nothing keeps the howling wind, frigid temps, and driving blizzard at bay like curling up in the comforter with a novel and a spiced hot cocoa.
I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy, but like J.K. Rowling, novelist George R. R. Martin has everybody reading his new series of books called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” more colloquially known as “Game of Thrones.” (Now a hit HBO series.)
Now normally when you say the word “fantasy” the Dork Alarm starts blaring, but in this case, Martin gives us a good look at life in the Middle Ages as well. Besides, it’s always a good thing when an author gets everybody reading. Yes, he’s designed a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons-ish fictional world, but there are several poignant allegorical parallels to modern politics, and the intrigue and skullduggery of the characters out-Machiavellies Machiavelli, so the depth and breadth of the work take it from mindless drivel to serious literature. It’s crossed over into mainstream and, thankfully, did so without the silliness of zombies or vampires.
So…for those of you who are fans of the series, here’s your golf map of the world of Game of Thrones. For everyone else, here’s some pretty pictures of cool golf courses.
Winterfell – Banff Springs
Far to the north, hidden in a fortress of mountains, the castle of the Wolf Lords, the noble House of Stark, looms gloomily the wilderness. Banff Springs, arguably Canada’s most scenic golf course, winds its way through Yoho Canadian National Forest and its endless vistas of pines, firs and other northern tall timber, but is best known for the granite-grey of its iconic mountain slopes. Vast glaciers, countless snow-capped peaks, and dizzying heights as one gazes from the cliff-top greens to the river below compliment the rugged tundra and add to the feeling of Winterfell in far northern Westeros.
Tarth – Coeur D’Alene
— “Her!” The Queen remembered the Maid of Tarth, a huge ugly shambling thing who dressed in men’s mail. “Jaime would never leave me for such a creature.” — A Dance with Dragons
The Warrior Maid Brienne of Tarth may be wombat ugly, but the Sapphire Isle is anything but. Tarth is called the Sapphire Isle for the sparkling, crystalline blue of its waters, a perfect compliment to the verdant emerald green if its landscape. No course in America duplicates such vivid perfection as Idaho’s Coeur D’Alene Resort, with its World famous floating green which moves back and forth and aside to side around the lake via an underwater system of pulleys.
“The water really is that blue, and the and really is that green,” said vacationer Jim Heidt, who also called Coeur D’Alene “spectacular.”
Dothraki Sea – Ballyneal
An entire country of grasslands stretching many horizons – that’s the Dothraki Sea, realm of the Horselords and their roaming bands of raiders. Likewise, western Nebraska/northeast Colorado are home to a never-ending, primordial dunescape of grassy sandhills. Mighty Ballyneal is the strategically best and most natural looking course in an area that 10,000 years ago was the bottom of the ocean. (Yes, even more so than nearby Sand Hills.) A true links in the middle of nowhere, ardent golfers have trekked devoutly to Ballyneal for its one of a kind, edge of the World, primal golf experience.
Red Waste – Redlands Mesa
The Red Waste is a massive ochre colored desert, similar to the painted desert of western Colorado. The striated red rocks of Redlands Mesa seem a formidable badlands, stark and forbidding, as one ventures out amidst them for a round of golf. At the 17th, a par-3 playing from pinnacle to pinnacle, you’ll wonder if you’re really in Cappadoccia, Turkey.
Bravos – Shadow Creek
Bravos is the Las Vegas of the Game of Thrones World: you can get or do anything any time of night or day, (***singing*** Excepting Alice). It’s the city that never sleeps, where every pleasure is at your command, and where no one knows your real name except for, (of course), the Faceless Ones. Shadow Creek stands head and shoulders above a pretty disappointing crop of courses for an area that calls itself America’s playground. It’s pretty to look at, and was a technological marvel to build, but what else ya got?
***Cricket! Cricket! Cricket!***
Dorne – Sedona
The Arizona of the Game of Thrones world, Dorne is home to fiery peppers, fiery suns, and fiery tempers, but it also has fertile lands and verdant river valleys. No course blends a gorgeous natural high desert setting in such a diverse ecosystem. Again, Red Rock striations and long vistas across the landscape make Sedona nothing short of exhilarating.
The Eyrie – Sanctuary.
The quintessence of mountain golf, with tee boxes and greens towering 1,000 feet over the valley floor, the clubhouse seems a castle in the sky, and the course clings to the mountainside like a roosting eagle. It’s also perhaps a good choice for Minas Tirith Country Club when we do a Lord of the Rings version of this article.
Highgarden – Augusta National
Duh! It’s built on what was formerly the country’s greatest nursery.
Harrenhal – Winged Foot (West)
The haunted castle of Westeros, Harrenhal puts fear into the bravest hearts in all the Seven Kingdoms. Similarly, Winged Foot is the Graveyard of Champions, where the greatest names in golf go to die. Nicklaus, Woods, Watson, Palmer, Hogan, Mickelson, Snead, Sarazen, Hagen, Nelson: none of them ever won at Winged Foot. Excepting Oakmont no course blends history and misery like the West Course.
Volantis – Sun City, South Africa
Deep in what equates to the sub-Saharan African continent of the Game of Thrones world, and ironically run by political parties called the “elephants” and “tigers”, Sun City mixes modern civilization, golf, and safaris on the savannah. What is Volantis if not loud? Parties every night? Huge and sprawling? Elephants and tigers? Verdant green hills yet dry arid climate? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Casterly Rock – Any Donald Trump course.
Richest in the land, but certainly not even close to the best. Greed is not good.
The Trident – Oakmont
Westeros’s the three fingered river valley recalls Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers: the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and Ohio. Eight time major U.S. Open host Oakmont is far and away the greatest course in the area, and arguably, the country.
Flea Bottom – Atunyote at Turning Stone Casino
“What’s that awful stink?” the Knight named Steelshanks asked Sir Jaime.
“Smoke, sweat and s&%t [expletive deleted]….If you have a good nose, you can smell the treachery too. You’ve never smelled a city before?” Ser Jaime Lannister replied.
Flea Bottom is the ghetto of King’s Landing, the city that is the de facto capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Think New York City back in the early 1970s: lawlessness, filth, and corruption.
Likewise, Blarney Stone…err…Turning Stone Casino is the reddest of golf’s red light districts. They hid the slots (on TV) when it served as a venue for some PGA Tour Fall Series events – the course was renowned as the Kids’ Table of the pro tours – before getting themselves kicked to the curb with a resounding thud for making too many demands of the King…I mean the Commissioner. (If they spoke to the Queen Cersei in King’s Landing like they did to Tim Finchem in Ponte Vedra, they’d have their tongues removed for insolence. Then again, Finchem is as useless as King Tommen, but that’s an article for another time…)
Overhyped, overrated, under-designed, and underwhelming, Blarney Stone’s courses, and Atunyote in particular, are the lowest common denominator in golf, but with the greatest amount of huckster shuck: more gaudy a sell than a Moroccan bazaar. Like seedy Flea Bottom, famous for its ghastly “Bowls of Brown” cuisine – with all kinds of meat in them! – Blarney Stone is best left to the scrapheap of history to gnaw at the ends of their old plots, like all the rest of the rejects of King’s Landing. As for me, I agree with Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, when she said, “I have had quite enough of this smelly city.”