Golf

Meet the Golfweek's Best course raters: Dr. Sanjay Shah fell hard for golf


In this second in a series of articles featuring profiles of some of the many interesting and dynamic men and women serving as course raters for Golfweek’s Best, architectural panelist, long-time rater and prize-winning author Dr. Jim Hansen (First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong; A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf) chats with Dr. Sanjay Shah, M.D., of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Shah played cricket growing up and only became familiar with golf after moving to the United States  and watching the sport on TV. Since then Shah, a nephrologist with over 30 years of experience treating kidney diseases, has become one of America’s most incurably passionate golfers.  

Jim Hansen: How did a young man from India with no experience at all with the game become such an avid golfer?

Sanjay Shah: I was introduced to golf at the age of 25 by my father-in-law in Aiken, South Carolina. My in-laws built a house in a golf course community, and we would hit balls and later started playing nine holes. I played for the first time at a Bob Cupp course called Woodside Plantation. I only played one full round of golf in my first two years after beginning golf. Going to the Masters Tournament at Augusta for the Monday practice round became an annual family tradition, as my father-in-law was a lucky recipient of tickets via the lottery.

Sanjay Shah at Harbour Town in South Carolina (Courtesy of Sanjay Shah)

Hansen: Did you show an early talent for swinging a golf club?

Shah: I worked on my game continuously and have kept doing it now for three decades. I currently have an index of 12, and the lowest I ever achieved was a 7. Driving the golf ball is my strength.  I have to compensate for my sub-par iron game with an above-average short game. I firmly believe my best is yet to come.

Hansen: You have now played golf all over the world?

Shah: Whenever I travel, my golf clubs are always with me. I have played golf all over the U.S. and even found time to play overseas in India and Australia.

Hansen: Not all golfers become interested in course architecture, but you have. How did that happen?

Shah: When I moved to Fayetteville, I became a member at Highland Country Club, a Donald Ross design from 1945. There I met an attorney who was a Golf Digest panelist. Playing golf with him over the years sparked my interest in golf course architecture. We would discuss the different golf courses we had played, especially their playability for golfers of different skill levels, and the satisfaction factor at the end of our rounds. This led to meeting another friend of his who was a Golfweek rater, and my journey as a rater began.

Hansen: So, your involvement in the issues of golf course design grew more and more important to you?

Shah: During my first couple years as a rater, my country club undertook a greens and bunker renovation project of the original Ross design. I became a member of the golf course renovation project. We found aerial pictures and some drawings of the original greens and worked to restore it to its past glory. That was an amazing learning experience for me.

Sanjay Shah with fellow Golfweek’s Best raters Joshua Asher and Harris Kaplan (Courtesy of Sanjay Shah)

Hansen: How many courses have you rated?

Shah: I have rated about 200 golf courses, with over 80 in the last two years. I have played several other public and private golf courses which are not on our rating list.

Hansen: What type of courses do you most enjoy?

Shah: I really enjoy playing the public designs of the great architects. I feel that I get a sense of their thought process if they have built a public golf course followed by a private one nearby. I believe sometimes ideas are tried on a small scale, refined and then taken to what have become some of the greatest courses in the world.

Sanjay Shah with his son Rohun, left, and fellow Golfweek’s Best rater Dale Gardner at Streamsong in Florida (Courtesy of Sanjay Shah)

Hansen: Do you enjoy your associations with other course raters?

Shah: I am curious and willing to learn from people with more experience. I do not mind voicing my opinion even though I may be in the minority, to allow for discussion. I try to think through the designer’s mind as how the golf hole should be played, and then attempt to execute those shots. Playing with other raters more often is what I want to incorporate moving forward. I have gained perspective and wisdom from my interaction with other raters. I have built some lifelong friendships. I am always querying other raters when I plan to go to new places. I am not shy about reaching out to local raters via email and asking them to join me if they are available.

Hansen: Does how you play on a particular course affect your rating in any way?

Shah: My score does not reflect my assessment of the golf course. I play the tees commensurate with my handicap, but also walk back to the championship tees to imagine the shots to be played, if time permits. I love the artistry and imagination in playing a shot.

Sanjay Shah at the Old Course at St. Andrews (Courtesy of Sanjay Shah)

Hansen: We all have “likes” and dislikes” when it comes to golf courses. What are some of yours?

Shah: I have my biases with regards to forced carries, blind tee shots and over-the-top green complexes.  Several modern architects rely upon these features to truly serve a very small percentage of the golfing world. I like classic courses a bit more. I need to be more open to the above biases and to expose myself more to modern designs to find the good in their layout. Over the years my “scoring” for the golf courses has become more conservative. I am always tinkering with thoughts to make an objective assessment of a golf course consistent.

Hansen: What courses are on your bucket list?

Shah: If I get a chance, I would love to play Pine Valley and Cypress Point. Augusta National, I believe, would be extremely difficult, but I would jump on the opportunity if presented. I want to play more links golf across the pond and experience more courses in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Hansen: I have heard that you have played golf on six continents. Why not Antarctica?!

Shah: That may still come! Someday I will travel to Antarctica, and when I do I will pack a yellow ball and a junior club!

Sanjay Shah with his family (Courtesy of Sanjay Shah)

Hansen: What values and quality of life improvements has the game of golf brought to you and to your family?

Shah: My greatest joy has been to have my children play and enjoy golf. I have thoroughly enjoyed all the hours I spent with them on the range and on courses around the world. I look forward to introducing our next generation – my grandchildren – to this beautiful game.

Hansen: Do you have any special golf memories involving your children?

Shah: One of my coveted memories is when I was playing with my daughter when she was 9 years old. She was getting frustrated about not being able to score well. I used a verse from a religious book that translated to “Focus on the process, not just the results!”  Incredibly, she had a hole-in-one on the very next hole with a 7-iron on a par 3 of 105 yards.  I always have cherished my moments playing with youth golfers, not just my children, who are finding their own love for the game and improving steadily.

Hansen: Where do you think your passion for golf comes from? What is its source?

Shah: My passion for golf emanates from my correlating golf with life. I have learned to be patient and process-driven. I am responsible for the shot played and must follow the process of thinking through the next shot. If I do not get the desired result, I look back, modify my approach and have at it again. This is the same way I deal with failures in life. My philosophy in golf and life is “prepare, execute, analyze, modify, try again.” I look forward to each morning to include golf in my daily routine. I enjoy my walks in nature, even if my game is not up to my expectations that day. My wife always says, “Sanjay plays golf every day that ends with a Y!”  I want to take my last breath on a golf course.



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