Editor's Note: LINKS100 panelist Betsy Thomas is a television writer and producer based in Los Angeles. An 11.2 index, she plays out of Wilshire Country Club.
LINKS100: Where are you from originally and how did you get into golf?
Betsy Thomas: I am from Franklin, Michigan--the youngest of eight children. My sister, Emily, tried to teach me to play golf when I was seven and I swung the club into her chin, sending her to the hospital for stitches. My brothers made a golf course in our yard with tuna fish cans for the holes, although I never really played golf until I was 30. My friend, JB Roberts, got my friends to all pitch in and buy me golf clubs for my 30th birthday, because he was hell-bent on me becoming a golfer. He threw in three lessons for good measure. I started off playing the par-3 at Rancho Park in Los Angeles. I remember, on maybe my third outing ever, chipping in from 30 feet for par. That was it. I was hooked.
When I met my husband in 1997, we made our second date a golf date, which probably was a very sexy attribute to him, although at the time I was awful and probably a 30 handicap. My whole swing was a mess. A few years later we went to the Aviara golf school and they basically told me to forget ever remembering how to swing and start over. That was humbling, to say the least.
Betsy Thomas with her husband, Adrian, at the Old Course.
L100: How did you become interested in golf travel, seeing different courses and evaluating them comparatively? Was there one moment that sort of triggered an interest in evaluating designs or golf experiences?
BT: My two favorite hobbies are golf and travel--a perfect fit. I will add drinking Scotch as the third. It's interesting how the "travel" portion (hotel, spa) used to factor more in my enjoyment when I was a higher handicap. Now I definitely am choosier about the courses themselves, in terms of the challenge and personality. I still require a certain level of comfort--absolutely--but I'm more interested in a course with more golf complexity and history than I used to be. Now I stand and look at a hole (or a course) with a lot more confidence. Wilshire is a tough course for women--very long--and I find my daily experience travels well. Most resort courses are terribly forgiving, and tougher conditions (and greens) are more exciting to me. I'm dying to play Bandon Dunes, to go back to Scotland, to play Erin Hills.
Betsy Thomas's Top 5:
1. St. Andrews (Old)
2. Arcadia Bluffs
4. Los Angeles (North)
5. St. Andrews (New)
L100: On your ballot, you have two extremely different courses at the top. #1, Old Course, #2 Arcadia Bluffs. This is definitely something I'm interested in exploring. What is it about these two that really stands out to you? What makes them your favorites?
BT: Well, one of the dirty little secrets about golf is that you can experience the most spectacular landscape and views of an area while on the golf course. It's a privilege the playing fee allows you--not to mention the local knowledge often imparted by the caddies, including all kinds of colorful language...
I played the Old Course in the very worst conditions I've ever played golf in. My husband and I won two spots in the nightly lottery (at the time, I was a 22 index, I think). I was so excited I couldn't sleep, which was fine since I think our tee time was 6:40 a.m. It was August and was drizzling and probably in the 50's. We were in head-to-toe rain gear. I was so nervous teeing off I think I shanked it about ninety yards. The rain came worse and worse, and around #12, our caddy was singing Patsy Cline's "Crazy" because we were still playing and hadn't quit. We putted out everything--my husband birdied 18--and when we got back to the room, I wrung my bra out because it was so soaking wet.
You feel the history when you play it. And I also feel it's a course I could play over and over and never get bored--the conditions, good and bad, will always change the course and make it challenging, even though it's short. The complexities are so subtle, they're exaggerated and the course is made so different by the huge elephant in the room, always--the weather.
As for Arcadia Bluffs, it's just special. It's hard to get to, you have to go out of your way to play there--and it's challenging in so many different ways. It's at times links-y, at times target-style. It never tries to announce itself in a bullish way, like a bully on the playground--but it sneaks up on you, where (like Scotland) you find yourself making a bad club decision, or not paying attention to a wind or weather factor, and not really kicking yourself for it, but more respecting the course for its cleverness.
L100: You also have the New Course at St. Andrews very high at #5. What did you enjoy most about that course?
BT: The New Course is exciting and challenging, but gives you the illusion that you can score there. I didn't really score well that day, but I always felt I could. It never felt out of reach, but was just beautiful and welcoming and rightfully slaps you down where you deserve it. I like that. It's interesting, how great golf courses are kind of like beautiful, elusive women -- they make you think you can have them, but the truth is, the fun is them being just slightly out of reach. I could play that one every day, too, and never get bored.
L100: What was your experience like in filling out the LINKS100 ballot?
Filling out that ballot made me want to play more golf and travel. Honestly. Reliving the courses I've played and loved made me just plain wistful, and seeing the list of great courses I have yet to play only made me wish I was independently wealthy and had nothing but time to play golf.
I don't like tricked-out golf. I don't want to have to putt the ball through the clown's mouth and pay $200 dollars for it. I don't like it when an architect draws too much attention to himself. Also, I like pretty flowers, but it's not a botanical garden--I've come to play golf. It's like lipstick on a pig.
Also, I hate a sloppily-run golf course. You get a feel for when you play a course where the people that work there love golf the way you do. We played in Hawaii a few months ago, and the pace of play (for a top 100 course) was horrific. There were no marshals and nobody seemed to care. The rhythm you get into when you play is a part of the game. If you have to wait on every shot, then you should pay $25, you know--muni prices.
L100: What's next for you as a golf traveler? Do you have any courses or destinations that you're excited about seeing in the near future?
Bandon! Bandon! Bandon! Seriously, every free weekend we ever have is negotiating a golf weekend. Our son is almost five and loves golf, but the day he can play 18 holes happily will be the heavens parting. All we want is to travel as a family and play golf together. But if I had fantasy travel? Carnoustie. Royal Dornoch. K-Club. Conway Farms. Pinehurst.
But yes, upcoming on the schedule: Pasatiempo, Spyglass, Erin Hills, Phoenician, Torrey Pines, Ocean Course at Kiawah, and...of course, come hell or high water this year--Bandon Dunes.