COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For golfers, it pays to be well-connected in Columbus.
Famed architect Alister Mackenzie's Scarlet Course at Ohio State University Golf Club, which was restored by Buckeye alum Jack Nicklaus in 2006, checks in on Golf Digest's Top 25 in the State. But Muirfield Village, The Golf Club (New Albany) and Scioto all crowd the very top of the state list.
The home town of Nicklaus should produce a legendary course roster, right? Private club-wise, it's probably the best metropolis in the Midwest. Daily fee offerings, on the other hand, are a little more scattered. But with a little driving, the destination stacks up; that's especially true if you have a home club with good reciprocal access -- or maybe an uncle in Columbus who owes you a big favor.
The Scarlet Course at OSU Golf Club: A Mackenzie classic in Columbus.
On the public side, because there is currently such an oversupply of courses, green fees in the area tend to be an absolute steal. In fact, three courses I played during my trip are publicly on the selling block: Longaberger, Riviera and Table Rock. Perhaps Urban Meyer has a hankering to buy his own area course (or maybe he's content with his membership and house at Muirfield Village...)
Top 100 public golf at Longaberger
50 miles east of Columbus is the area's best public course, Longaberger Golf Club. The drive is well worth it, because Longaberger simply has too many elements no course closer to the city can offer. With 645 acres, the property is expansive (enough for a second 18 holes that was routed and shaped by Tom Weiskopf in 2000 but never seeded). The existing course, designed by Arthur Hills, is a marvelous canvas for golf: a perfect amount of gentle roll in the ground to go with plenty of unique natural features throughout the round.
Low lying holes play through forest and alongside meadows, while others play on exposed high ground with long views. The 4th tee box has the best vantage point of the lot, overlooking a fairway and pond well below with long, green hills on the horizon as far as the eye can see. The 8th hole, however is one of Hills' coolest: a long, par 4 with a sweeping, split fairway that kicks balls sharply right-to-left down towards a peninsula green:
Ohio has no shortage of extravagant golf facilities and Longaberger's is among the most lavish: a 25-acre practice area as well as an 80,000-square-foot clubhouse. Built at the top of a hill at the behest of Longaberger Company founder Dave Longaberger, it's complete with large locker rooms, a bar and restaurant. VIPs can dine in a private board room normally reserved for Longaberger execs, or the main dining area offers its own delicious fare and far-reaching evening views. If you want to play a few rounds here, you can stay in the nearby town of Newark, which has a little town square plus a new, sleek hotel, the Metropolitan, that offers stay-and-play packages with Longaberger and other east side courses.
Former exclusive clubs open their doors around Columbus
Across the street from Muirfield Village is semi-private Riviera Golf Club in Dublin.
The Columbus suburb of Dublin is well-known for Jack's masterpiece at Muirfield Village. But across the street is a private-turned semi-private club, Riviera, that golfers attending the Presidents Cup or The Memorial Tournament can make an easy diversion for a round of their own. A traditional parkland course built in 1970 with scattered trees lining fairways and plenty of small ponds and streams, it's a pleasant and walkable course, particularly considering it's in private-worthy shape.
Whether Riviera is still around in 2014 remains to be seen. The club's owner, the American Italian Golf Association, is currently mulling a sale to a real estate developer.
New Albany, a northeast suburb of Columbus, is known on the golf radar for the proudly-named The Golf Club, one of Pete Dye's early layouts. Nearby, Winding Hollow (formerly a private club named Tartan East) has new ownership, a new name and fantastic course conditions. Area golfers have certainly come to discover the now-public Winding Hollow; it's presently in GolfNow.com's Top 100-rated courses nationally. Another design by Hills, it's a narrow, shot-makers course with doglegs and well-guarded greens. The risk-reward par-5 18th feels like a hole made for a PGA Tour finish with a tough tee shot followed by a decision to go at a green guarded by water right and traps left:
Winding Hollow's reachable, par-5 18th hole is a fantastic finisher.
Nearby, New Albany Links offers a course that's wider and more forgiving than narrow and shady Winding Hollow. It was designed by local architect Barry Serafin, who worked under Nicklaus and the team of Michael Hurdzan-Dana Fry.
Rural, laid-back golf around Columbus
In Zanesville, Hurdzan-Fry's dramatic Eaglesticks Golf Club is worth the drive from Columbus.
To a city dweller like myself, there's something all too charming about driving a two-lane highway outside of a city to the land of red barns and rows of corn. That's easy to do in central Ohio.
If you're staying east of Columbus towards Longaberger, add a round at Eaglesticks in Zanesville. Set on rolling acreage that was formerly a horse ranch, the rural charm is complete with covered bridges, bubbling streams and forest.
A couple other courses in the countryside are Table Rock (which seems to have more bird houses than tee boxes throughout the loop) and Buck Ridge. Both exude the rural vibe, are fun to play and are really easy on the wallet.