The best part of the journey I'm on, hands down, is the people I meet and play with, and the friends I'm making, along the way. Golfers, on the whole, are such a gracious, generous bunch -- and private club golfers I'm encountering are genuinely excited to share the clubs they love with people they know will appreciate the experience.
Over the summer, I connected with a member from Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, through a service called Boxgroove. (I'll post a separate blog about Boxgroove here soon because it's worth its own conversation.) This gentleman, Mike, was incredibly gracious. He explained that Scioto was about to close down for the remainder of the year for some renovations, but offered that he would be happy to host me next spring. And as we talked -- as I explained to him about the mission I'm on to play the greats -- he began to give me advice about getting on at some of the other courses on my list. And then he told me that his dad, David, is a member at The Golf Club, another top-ranked club in the Columbus area, and offered -- on his dad's behalf -- to host me there. Talk about generosity of spirit!
It took us a few months to find a date that would work, but I was absolutely thrilled and grateful for the opportunity when -- in October -- Mike and David invited my friend Dave and I out for a round at The Golf Club.
I'd heard great things about The Golf Club from a lot of other people, and it turns out they were underselling the place! Ranked No. 43 on Golf Digest's ranking of the Top 100 courses in the U.S. and No. 42 on Golf Magazine's, The Golf Club is in elite company. An early Pete Dye masterpiece, Dye used the natural contours of the land to shape his design. He built bunkers and mounds and green complexes that made the course deceiving without making it unfair. And he used water to create drama. Incidentally, The Golf Club is where Jack Nicklaus began his education in golf course design, and it's easy to see the influence of Dye's design philosophy in the hundreds of courses Nicklaus has had a hand in designing throughout the last 40 years or more.
The day we played The golf Club was a spectacular early autumn day, and we had the club practically to ourselves. We met Mike and David on the driving range, where we were completely alone, and hit some balls to warm up while we got to know one another. They were great guys, and it was fun to hear about their relationship with one another and with the game. Before long, we were headed to the first hole.
The Golf Club stretches to more than 7,500 yards from the tips. And the white tees play to nearly 6,900. We played from the more comfortable gold tees at 6,552 yards. So any mention of hole yardages from here on out will be from the gold tees.
When we reached the first tee, Mike jokingly said that we'd finally arrived at the only easy hole on the golf course. And we knew it was going to be a great day.
At just 325 yards from the gold tees, the first hole offers up an early scoring opportunity. The hole doglegs slightly to the right, which can make keeping a drive in the fairway tough off the tee. But most players should find themselves hitting little more than a wedge into this slightly elevated green, which could yield a birdie.
No. 2 at The Golf Club is a 394-yard par-4 with a blind tee shot that plays over a series of waste bunkers. From the tee you can't see much of the fairway, but you can see the skull of a long-dead animal ... I assumed it was a steer; I've heard it was a coyote ... lying in one of the waste bunkers. On a course that is sometimes described by golf course architecture enthusiasts as "subtle," the prominent skull was a not-so-subtle indication of what awaits a player who drives the ball into one of those waste bunkers.
Depending on the angle of your approach shot, the green complex on No. 2 offers a generous option to run a low ball up to the putting surface. But a wild assortment of greenside bunkers protect the green left and right, ready to collect and penalize any errant shot.
No. 3 is a fantastic mid-length par-3. At 184 yards, with water short and left and a series of stepped waste bunkers left and long, the hole almost insists that you play it out to the right.
Then, from the right, the green runs away from you such that any poorly played chip or pitch to the green runs the chance of running through the green and into the waste bunker beyond.
The fourth hole is a 523-yard par-5 that plays slightly uphill off the tee to a generous fairway. If the third hole beat you up a bit, No. 4 offers up a chance to get right back in the game.
A series of large bunkers make going for the green in two a risky proposition, but a second shot played safely into the fairway sets up a very real birdie opportunity.
No. 5 is a great short hole -- just 354 yards but far from a pushover. Most players will probably find they don't need to hit driver off the tee and will want to be sure to keep their opening shot far enough left to avoid Blacklick Creek, which meanders down the right side of the hole and then cuts across just in front of the green to create a forced carry on the approach.
The second shot on the 5th hole may be my favorite on the course. A well-struck wedge or short-iron should make for easy work of this hole, but a narrow green guarded by deep bunkers, mounds designed to reject an errant shot, and railroad tie-lined bunkers short and long threaten to send a poorly hit ball anywhere. Accuracy is at a premium, just the way Mr. Dye intended it.
The tee shot on No. 6 calls for a right-to-left ball, but be careful. Blacklick Creek crosses the hole in front of the teeing ground and then borders the left side of the fairway all the way to the green. Play your drive too far left, and it will find the creek. Play it too far right, and you'll be left with a much longer approach that will need to carry the creek again in order to make the green.
At 423 yards, it's not an extremely long hole, but playing the hole from anything but the most ideal angles will add distance to the hole that can make it significantly more difficult. And from personal experience I can attest, it's surprisingly easy to see a should-be 4 turn into a please-just-drop putt for 7.
The seventh hole is a 499-yard that is likely the easiest scoring hole on the front nine. Apart from the trees, there is virtually no trouble off the tee -- no water or sand in sight.
A well-struck drive offers an opportunity to run a long approach up onto the green between bunkers right and left for a potential birdie putt. Or, an easy lay-up will leave the player with a short shot into this elevated green. The greatest challenge on this hole may be the long, multi-tiered green. Find the right tier with your approach, and a birdie or even an eagle may be in the cards. Leave your approach on the wrong tier, and a three-putt becomes a very real possibility.
The eight hole is a short, pretty par-3, measuring just 135 yards and playing across a streem featuring a series of waterfalls. Don't let the beauty of the setting distract you; despite the short length, it'll still take a solidly struck tee shot to find the green and score a par on this hole.
The finishing hole on the opening nine is a 407-yard par-4 that bends left after the tee shot. The ideal drive is a right-to-left ball that avoids the trees along the left side of the fairway, setting up a mid-iron -- or even a short-iron for big hitters -- into the green.
The approach shot on 9 plays into a slightly elevated green that angles away to the right behind two tough bunkers. Here you can see the mounding Pete Dye used to make the bunkers at The Golf Club more challenging, forcing players to not only get out of the sand but to get the ball up quickly in order to clear the high green walls of grass that stand above the traps. The mounding also makes it difficult to really see and judge just how much green the player has to work with -- a cunning bit of deception that adds to the challenges of the course.
Beyond the ninth green you can see the clubhouse. If you play here, be sure to stop in and pick up a pouch of The Golf Club's famed beef jerkey -- a real treat!
The back nine opens with a straightaway 383-yard par-4. A drive in the fairway sets up a potential birdie opportunity.
No. 11 is a tough little par-3. At just 164 yards, the narrow green is guarded by a series of bunkers front-right and left that can turn a poorly hit tee shot into a big number in a hurry.
At 388 yards, No. 12 offers another scoring opportunity, but as always, Pete Dye's design requires a well-played tee ball. The angle of the fairway calls for a left-to-right drive, and something shorter than a driver may be the way to play this hole, as anything hit long and straight or long and a bit left can find tree trouble.
The 13th hole is almost completely flat and could either be a scoring hole or a score killer. The hole sets up for a right-to-left shot off the tee, but water and high natural grasses left of the fairway beckon and could sink a player's scorecard. The safe play is out to the right, but that can turn this 359-yard par-4 into a much longer hole.
Railroad ties -- a Pete Dye signature characteristic -- form a wall behind the greenside bunker on the right. And any shot left of the hole risks finding the water. But Dye has left a wide avenue of fairway open into this green, inviting players to decide whether they want to try to fly the ball to the hole or run one up onto the green.
No. 14 is a big par-5. Playing 576 yards, the hole invites you to try to bite off more carry from the tee than may be wise as the fairway angles from left to right. A large fairway bunker also awaits players who attempt to cut the angle with a portion of the bunker diabolically hidden from view on from the tee.
Finding the right angle for your approach shot is fundamental to good scoring on this hole. Anything from the right will have multiple bunkers with which to contend, while an approach played from the left side of the fairway offers a much more open view of this green with options to bail out a bit right of the hole and still find the putting surface.
Hole 15 is a 388-yard par-4 with some of the most interesting bunkering on the course.
This overhead view of 14, courtesy of Google Maps, illustrates the unique, irregularly shaped bunkering that makes this hole such an interesting challenge.
But a well-placed drive will open up the green for a player to avoid all of those interesting bunkers and set up what ought to be a fairly straightforward par.
The 16th hole is my favorite of The Golf Club's par-3s, just eeking out the 8th. I love the aesthetic of this hole with the elevated green as it sits up above Blacklick Creek to the left, the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" as my host referred to it because, he said, it's where so many of his rounds had gone to die, and the tough but fair green that yielded me a two-putt par. At 170 yards, it's not the longest par-3 on the course, but I love the way a good shot is rewarded and a bad shot is penalized by the design of this one.
No. 17 is a 509-yard par-5 that will reward a well-struck tee shot, as balls that crest the rise in the fairway find the downhill speed slot that offers players a chance to challenge the green with their second shot ... if they're brave enough to take on a long carry over water.
Playing your second shot across the water is intimidating, but playing out to the right -- the safe route -- is still no walk in the park as the fairway narrows and pinches in the closer you get to the green. Also, approaching from the right, players must still contend with the water front and left of the green. Every shot on this hole must be well struck in order to avoid a big number.
The closing hole at The Golf Club is a 375-yard par-4 that plays straight away with a forced carry approach over water to a long, narrow green. Players who swing away with the driver off the tee run the risk of running the ball too far through the fairway and into the water. Or, if they pull the ball left, they could find themselves blocked out from any shot at the green by trees at the water's edge just left of the fairway. A fairway wood or even a long-iron may be the wiser play, leaving players with a short- to mid-iron approach to this green.
There is room to bail out to the right on the approach, but anything short or left of the green will find water. The player who has dialed in their distance and can keep their approach online could finish with a birdie here, but that water sure looms large when you're standing over your ball thinking about making that swing. It really is a fantastic finishing hole and one of the best holes on a golf course with 18 really strong golf holes.
Dave and I, pictured here, had a terrific time visiting The Golf Club. And I can't thank our host, Dave, and his son, Mike, enough for arranging it. What a wonderful experience and a really special time as we enjoyed a beautiful mid-October day with blue skies, warm weather and almost nobody else on the golf course. This is one of those courses -- and not even every top-ranked course is one of them -- that I finished and immediately wanted to play again. It's one I won't soon forget and one I hope I have the opportunity to revisit some time in the future.