Every Monday night in the summer, I gather with 15 of my good friends at a local golf course for nine holes. We call it a golf league, but we all know that it is a gambling league that plays golf. The truth is we all love the game of golf. But we also believe that golf is more engaging when there is green involved, and we're not talking about the color of the grass.
Over the years, certain local public courses have gained favor in our group for our non-league "friendly" matches. There are a multitude of good options when it comes to public golf in Central Ohio, but we generally play on just a handful. These courses have earned our repeat business by delivering four important qualities, which are:
1. Condition. We like to play on well-maintained courses. This tends to minimize the ugly side of gambling on the golf course ... the bad lie in an old divot, the footprint lie in the green side bunker, the excessively long searches for errant shots in the heavy high high that should get cut down but don't because the course has cut back on their maintenance budget. We like for our games to be decided as much as possible by skill, or the lack thereof, not by luck, bad bounces or lost balls that only strayed 10 yards off the fairway.
2. Pace of Play. We like action. Slow golf is the enemy when you are gambling, especially if you are down next month's car payment and the sun is setting. Faster play means more holes. More holes means more opportunity. Plus, you never know when you might have to squeeze in an "emergency nine," which is what the gambling golfer calls overtime.
3. Good Gambling Holes. We like holes that offer a chance to swashbuckle your way to a birdie, but deliver harsh consequences to the imprudent and/or overconfident gambling golfer. These are holes that require thought, strategy and nerve. In traditional golf parlance, these are known as risk/reward holes.
4. No Houses. When we gamble and golf, we like to do so privately. Having houses down both sides of the fairway tends to restrict certain freedoms, such as the freedom to swing hard without fear of taking out a bay window with an errant Titleist, the freedom to curse openly, and the freedom to engage in the taking of immediate relief (wink,wink, nudge, nudge).
Here is a list , in no particular order, of five Central Ohio courses that my gambling league of golfers frequents on a regular basis.
Champions This Columbus Municipal course is not your typical public course. That's because it was built to be a private course, the original Winding Hollow Country Club. When the members decided to move their club to New Albany, the city took it over and it instantly became one of the jewels in the Columbus public golf scene. Originally opened as a nine hole course in the 1920's, the members brought in renowned architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. to rework the layout and expand it to eighteen holes. This course screams "old school". It features tight fairways, small, undulating greens and lots of doglegs, all things not commonly found on modern public courses. What this course lacks in risk/reward holes it more than makes up by putting a premium on accuracy and shotmaking. There are no houses, but there are some apartment buildings that border parts of the course. They aren't in play, other than the interesting sounds that come from them occasionally. Like the ice cream truck that likes to drive in and around them throughout the summer. It's all part of the charm of the place.
Winding Hollow Champions is the Old Old Winding Hollow. This is the New Old Winding Hollow. That's right, this is the course that the members of Winding Hollow Country Club moved to in New Albany. The move didn't work out too well for the members. Eventually, the club lost membership to other area clubs, in particular New Albany Country Club. The members sold the club and it is now operated as a public facility. Some confusion exists as to it's name. Originally, it went public under the name Tartan East Golf Club, then later changed to East Golf Club and eventually back to Winding Hollow. But there is nothing confusing about deciding to play here. This is arguably the best public facility in Central Ohio. Located less than a mile from the hallowed grounds of The Golf Club, architect Arthur Hills produced a layout more modern, but no less challenging than the original club the members vacated. The fairways are a little wider, the greens are a little larger and their are less doglegs. But it's longer. The 18th hole is one of the best finishing good gambling holes in Central Ohio, a reachable par 5 with water along the right side of the green. No houses, no apartments, no signs of civilization. This is the course I take out-of-town friends to who want a good public golf challenge in Columbus. And they are never disappointed. This place is a great test. Just you, your golf ball, the course and your demons to duke it out.
The Players Club at Foxfire Foxfire was originally a 27 hole facility. In 1993 the "Silver" nine was combined with nine new holes and rerouted to form The Players Club. The result is a long, challenging layout that offers two distinct types of holes. Play starts on the first four holes of the old Silver layout, which was known as the tougher of the original three nine hole layouts, and features tight, tree-lined fairways. Holes 5 through 13, the newer holes, are open, links-style holes with few trees and more bunkering, and they are more susceptible to wind. Once you get to 14, you re-enter the old Silver layout and a stretch of holes not-so-affectionately known by names like The Coffin Corner, The Grove City Death March and Hell's Half Acre. Holes 14 and 15 are back-to-back par 5's that are tighter than a bull's ass during fly season. Hole 16 is a monster. The uphill par 4 plays even longer than the stated 434 from the blue tees. It's probably the toughest three hole stretch of holes in Central Ohio public golf. Lots of money changes hands on these holes. There are no houses on the old Silver holes, and only a few of the newer holes have houses on them. But that doesn't detract from the overall experience, which is a financial grindfest.
Clover Valley if you're not in a hurry, the drive to Clover Valley is well worth it. Carved out of rolling meadows just outside of Johnstown is this well manicured gem with some of the slickest greens around. The layout is challenging and long, but the consistently good condition of the greens and the extremely reasonable price are the reasons we keep going back. That and the fact that it's just a fun course to play. There isn't a house or any other structure (other than the clubhouse) for as long as the eye can see. There's something to be said about escaping the city and taking the game out to the country. Let freedom ring.
Riviera Most Central Ohio golfers think that Riviera is a private club. It was, but not anymore. Hard economic times in the golf business forced the Riv to accept public play recently. In fact, the rumor is that the club has been sold and will be closed sometime in 2014, to be developed into another Dublin subdivision. What a shame. This course is a long, fair, fun test of golf and gambling skills. The fairways are tighter than they look, thanks to the well developed trees that line the course. But the action gets serious once you are on the fast, well-groomed greens that slope considerably from back to front. The dreaded three putt lurks everywhere, making for some serious and unexpected shifts in personal wealth. Do yourself a favor and play this course before it is too late.
Anybody want a $3 nassau with flying presses and $1 greenies, sandies and Arnies?
Greg May golfs, gambles and contributes to Pencilstorm. You can learn more about him and our other contributors by clicking here.