July 2007 Issue
A Matter of Course
Ohio is blessed with some fine public golf courses, including those along the Hurdzan/Fry Trail.
Don Franceski's voice rises when he talks about the great courses he's played. The Strongsville golfer's enthusiasm for the game never wanes. He has asked his wife, Joyce, to put a couple of his clubs in his coffin with him.
When asked to describe The Hurdzan/Fry Trail, the normally loquacious golfer thinks for a minute, smiles and says simply, "If heaven is better than the Trail, I'm going to live a better life."
For golfers, mistaking the Hurdzan/Fry Trail for heaven may not be so farfetched. The Trail comprises a half dozen public and semi-private tracks designed by the award-winning Columbus team of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. Five of the Trail courses are in Ohio and one is in western Pennsylvania.
While each course is unique, the six share some virtues. Their designs are striking, yet all are eminently playable. On each course, the design shows players one or more ways to capture par. And for those of us who are daunted at the tee box, the landing areas are wider than lapels on a zoot suit.
All of the Trail courses offer a few great risk and reward opportunities, shots that can either win the day or break a golfer's heart.
Maybe best of all, each course looks - and is maintained - like a private-club course. Maintaining courses such as these is a science, an art and a huge investment in manpower and machinery.
Tee times are generously spaced and the clubhouses and pro shops are resort-quality. How is it that Ohio gets such a joy? It helps that the design team is based here and, let's face it, who more than Ohioans deserve such a ride along fairways and gorges, over rivers and lakes, around or over doglegs, en route to the flag? Here we try to capture a little of what makes the Hurdzan/Fry Trails so special.
Little Mountain Country Club
This course in Concord is a good place to start. While it straddles the hills of northeastern Ohio, level lies are the rule, not the exception.
Noteworthy holes include No. 3, a short, downhill par 4 with water on the left and in front of the elevated green. Two good shots and you're thinking birdie. One bad one and you're thinking novena to St. Jude. The first three holes on the back side are purely dramatic, both to see and to play, and the two finishing holes run, one after the other, downhill. From the 17th tee, you gaze at Lake Erie in the distance.
Make it a getaway: We rarely think of B&Bs as places to stay on golf vacations. Think again. Instead of the same-old, same-old hotel, there is, in nearby Painesville, Fitzgerald's Irish Bed & Breakfast. Inside a dreamy French Tudor manor house, the rooms are named Galway, Bushmills, Dublin and Mayo. Freshly baked and buttered scones and tea poured into shamrock-decorated cups are some of the many pleasures and amenities here. For information, visit www.fitzgeraldsbnb.com
or call 440/639-0845.
The Golf Club of Dublin
When Tom Watson first played the British Open, he absolutely hated the links courses. But remember, he grew up on American courses, which are essentially parkland. True links courses are featureless, save for occasional pot bunkers. Flat terrain, huge greens and grasses that magically (some say satanically) hide balls. Of course the links-style courses came to win Watson's heart, and between 1975 and 1983, he won five British Opens. Links courses, after all, are the essence of golf.
The Golf Club of Dublin might be as close as Ohioans are going to get to a links course without a passport. The land is flat, fescue refuses to tell where it has hidden errant shots, and the greens are large enough to land jets. Well, maybe helicopters. But getting on is not difficult IF the bunkers are avoided. Once in one of those pot bunkers, getting out and on with the hole requires focus, thought and control of one's emotions. It isn't often you have to go backward on a hole; it can happen here when looking at the eye-level face of a sod-walled bunker. Describing the course, golfer Don Franceski says, "It gives you a good idea how tough the Scots made this game. You can't help but admire anyone who played a links course with hickory-shafted clubs and a gutta percha ball."
Make it a getaway: Speaking of legends, Dublin is just 20 minutes north of Columbus. That means you can spend a few more hours on your feet - at the Jack Nicklaus Museum on the campus of his alma mater, The Ohio State University (2355 Olentangy Rd., (614/247-5959, admission $9). If you can walk in and out of this 24,000 square foot museum in fewer than four hours, maybe golf isn't your game. There are lots to learn about the man unanimously called The Player of the Century (that's last century, of course). Twenty majors? One hundred victories? Know what else is here? All six of Nicklaus' Masters trophies.
For a very comfortable place to rest those weary bones, you can't go wrong with the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown. The ceilings are high enough to warm up with your wedge and best of all, it's downtown (35 W. Spring St., 614/228-3200). Watching this big, clean, busy city wake up each morning, with coffee in one hand and the Columbus Dispatch in the other is a delight. Plus, the business people streaming through the lobby know just what you're up to, sitting there in your best golf shirt and crisp-creased golf slacks. You can see the jealousy in their sleepy eyes.
If a course design could be more diametrically opposed to the Dublin club, it would be Olde Stonewall, the only one of the Trail courses in Pennsylvania. While links courses are spare, this place has more features than Reader's Digest.
This is a course where players need riding carts (some say four-wheel drive). And the ride is just as exciting as the course. Wonderful vistas and great directions on the tee, and risk and reward brought to a new level.
It begins with a couple of holes that are great for warming up, then, like the old roller coaster clanking up to the top of the hill, the course dramatically rises. As the cart wends its way up, drivers get a little nervous. But Stonewall is remarkably playable. The holes begin with tee boxes so exquisite you want to have candlelight dinner there and fall asleep under the stars. Each view from the tee is like looking at a painting of golf hole, one you dream about playing. Stop dreaming. Tee it up.
Because the rise and fall is as severe as it is, it takes a round or two to figure distances. On the good side, H-F shows even high handicappers the way to play the hole. The delineation of fairway and rough is accented with trees and sand.
If there is a negative attached to this course, it is walking off the 18th green.
Make it a getaway: The clubhouse? It's a castle. A real castle. You'll walk across the moat to enter. The restaurant is to your left, the pro shop to your right.
Now, as long as you're going medieval for golf, how about Victorian for shelter? A half-hour drive (18 miles) away, in New Castle, is The Jacqueline House. It's a gorgeous Victorian frame with a wrap-around porch. A couples' package includes breakfast and dinner (the breakfast room has huge skylights and a mural depicting Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party.") The Jacqueline House is so steeped in Victoriana you'll regret not packing your plus-fours and the wrinkled leather bag with your niblick, mashies, baffy and spoon. For details, call 724/946-8382 or visit www.jacquelinehouse.com
Here's a recipe for golf course success: a great design team joined by John Cook, PGA Tour player who has teed it up in almost 700 PGA Tour tournaments. Cooks Creek, just south of Columbus (Cook played golf for Ohio State University) is that rare course that can be all things to all players. For beginners and less powerful players, the tees offer plenty of advantage. The greens are notable for demanding keen eyes and, more than that, proper speed. The surrounding area is flat, but on the course, the designers took advantage of every opportunity to add height.
There's no shortage of water at Cooks Creek, which is bound by Little Walnut Creek and the Scioto River. Wetlands that encroach on the fairways provide more challenge than the streams.
Both front and back nine start with par 5s, followed by short par 4s. And the home hole may be the most difficult of all. It's the end of the match, and if anything of a scoring nature is to be done, this isn't the hole for it. At 444 yards from the middle tees, the hole insists a drive go where it's ordered and the approach is accurate.
Make it a getaway: The Lofts Hotel and Suites in downtown Columbus (614/461-2663) is highly recommended. It's a delightful boutique hotel housed in a circa 1882 building that once served as a plumbing supply company. The renovator's touch was both minimalist and elegant. Ceilings are high enough to practice a full swing, and right next door is Max & Erma's. For those with energy to spare at the end of a day, The Lofts is just a couple of blocks from the Short North neighborhood, a mile-long stretch of shops, galleries and restaurants. On the first Saturday of each month, locals and visitors alike enjoy an evening gallery hop.
EagleSticks Golf Club
At this club in Zanesville, Hurdzan/Fry show how well they can create a challenging, beautiful course without resorting to length. From the blues, it's 6,500 yards, which will tempt most white-tee players to go to the back of the box. Don't be hasty; the designers opted for a shot-maker's course instead of a bombardier's.
Hurdzan/Fry took advantage of every opportunity, whether water, woodlands or changes in elevation. Even after playing it a few times, golfers have a hard time naming the best hole. Replays, by the way, are inexpensive, and the greens fees here are very low. EagleSticks may be the best value in American golf.
The late Columbus newspaperman Jerry Minnery used to say that melancholy crept over him at the 17th tee because it was there that he realized he had only one more hole to play.
Make it a getaway: Two hotel chains are highly regarded here, the Hampton Inn (740/453-6511) and the Comfort Inn (740/454-4144). And as long as you're in the neighborhood, stop in Dresden, the home of Longaberger baskets and see a bona fide entry in Guinness World Records - the world's largest basket. At 48 feet long, 11 feet wide and 23 feet high, it took 10 hardwood maples and 2,000 hours to build.
StoneWater Golf Club
StoneWater Golf Club was Hurdzan/Fry's first design in northeast Ohio and it wears well. The founding head golf professional was Craig Immel, whose passion for the game, once ignited, has never cooled. He watched as the course went from an idea to a design to construction to the dedication round.
Traffic on Interstates 90 and 271 is often a problem, so hitting the road with plenty of time to spare is a good idea. And if you arrive early? Good. Then you can spend more time on the driving range, a couple of big, beautiful, green acres. Just behind it is a practice green that will provide a good idea of what it going to happen on the course.
Don't worry about lining up at the first tee. It doesn't happen here. The starter will call your foursome and lead you to the first tee.
If there is a problem here, it is the first hole, which is also the number one handicap hole: lots of wetlands in front of the tee and down the right side, also water that cuts across the middle of the fairway as it makes its way from a greenside water hazard. A power fade from the tee can be the start of a double or triple bogey. No. 2 tries to apologize with a wide, straight fairway with homes hard on the left side. But once on No. 3, a magnificent par 3, the fun doesn't stop until the 18th green. Along the way are lots of risk and reward opportunities and enough sand to remodel a beach on Lake Erie.
As the course wends through luxury back yards close enough to listen in on barbecue banter, its namesake, the stones, are impressive. Tees, bunkers and water hazards are lined with stone. It's eye-catching, impressive and adds an elegant component to the entire course.
Make it a getaway: Après golf can best be enjoyed at Grand River Cellars, about a half-hour east on I-90 in rural Madison (5750 Madison Rd., 440/298-0938, www.grandrivercellars.com
). It isn't just the selection or the service, but the ambiance and décor that make this winery so dreamy. Check out the links on the winery's Web site to a number of B&Bs in the area.
John H. Tidyman is the author of Golf Getaways from Cleveland and The Cleveland Golfer's Bible (Gray & Co.).
Olde Stonewall Golf Club1495 Mercer Rd., Ellwood City, Pa., 724/752-4653, ext. 103. www.oldestonewall.com