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|Virtues Golf Club is central Ohio's best course. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)|
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Football will always reign as the undisputed king in Buckeye land.
It's too bad the first spring practice of new Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer overshadowed the impressive run to the 2012 Final Four by the OSU men's basketball team. Thad Matta got used to coaching in that shadow long before Meyer came to town.
But don't discount central Ohio's love of the little white ball, either.
OSU alum Jack Nicklaus still wears the crown as the world's greatest golfer and the shindig at his club -- The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club -- remains a coveted PGA Tour stop. The region's private club scene rivals any major American city with Muirfield, Scioto Country Club, The Golf Club, the Double Eagle Club and OSU's Scarlet course.
Columbus' public offerings aren't quite as dynamic, but they are still plentiful. The rolling farmland and open spaces surrounding Columbus were a hotbed for course development in the 1990s.
"I don't know if this is a place to travel to (for golf), but if you live here, you are spoiled so much," said Josh Jacobs, the head professional at New Albany Links, located roughly 15 miles northeast of downtown. "There are so many good public courses in central Ohio."
Course owners and operators lament that the market is "oversaturated" with too much golf -- a common complaint heard around the country -- but that competition greatly benefits players who have more choices, often at more affordable prices.
"We have more golf courses to choose from than Cincinnati or Cleveland," said Ray Finnearty, the director of golf at Glenross Golf Club in Delaware, a college town 25 miles north of Columbus. "The numbers and variety are here."
Virtues Golf Club gets all the attention as central Ohio's best course, but there are other options closer to Columbus. (Nashport is a good 70 miles east of the city).
My favorite during a recent tour was The Players Club at Foxfire Golf Club, a fine 36-hole facility in Lockbourne, 15 miles south of downtown. It's a dynamite mix of water holes on the front side, followed by tight tree-lined fairways on the back.
The city's best public course greens roll true at Cumberland Trail Golf Club, a Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry design in Pataskala, 22 miles southeast of the city. The 7,205-yard playground opened in 2000.
The strongest 1-2 punch for 36 holes in a day comes in New Albany. Winding Hollow, an Arthur Hills design, continues to make a comeback after a failed run as a private club. It's arguably the toughest public track in town. Thousands of trees choke fairways and there's a fair share of ponds and wetlands. For those who want more room to hit driver, New Albany Links, designed by Barry Serafin in 1999, gives off a links feel with fescue and only a few claustrophobic holes.
Courses that fit the generic theme of "hidden gems" ring the outer fringes. Ken Collett, the head professional of Darby Creek Golf Course in Marysville, said his 7,074-yard course 35 miles northwest of Columbus would cost much more if it were closer to the city. Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva transformed 204 acres of an old rolling orchard into a fun golf course in 1993. The back nine, called The Woods, tightens its grip with a run of wooded holes.
Glenross Golf Club emerged from the former Tanglewood Golf Course in 2006, revamped by local architect Jodie Kinney. The 6,607-yard, par-70 layout puts a premium on the approach shot to greens that average just 3,200 square feet.
Like Winding Hollow, Royal American Links was built to be a private club, so all the pieces of a great golf experience are there. The 18,000-square-foot clubhouse does its best castle impersonation with a stone exterior. Hurdzan gave the course a links feel on 143 acres of mostly flat farmland and woods 23 miles northeast of Columbus in Galena.
Westchester Golf Course is another Hurdzan design dating to 1997 in Canal Winchester, a small town 15 miles southeast of Columbus.
Local players I interviewed also recommended trying Cooks Creek Golf Club, 18 miles south of Columbus in Ashville; The Links at Echo Springs, 32 miles northeast of Columbus in Johnstown; the Golf Club of Dublin, 17 miles northwest of the city; and Bent Tree Golf Club, 25 miles north of Columbus in Sunbury. Bent Tree, a sister course to Royal American, holds the distinction of being one of central Ohio's first upscale public clubs.
"You can stay here in Columbus and play a course a day and be busy for weeks," said Scott Bierly of Pataskala.
Where you play should dictate where you stay. Chain hotels reside at almost any highway exit, but the best touristy spot is the Easton Town Center, a massive development of shops, restaurants, hotels and a movie theater 12 miles northeast of the city center right off of Interstate 270. It's close to the Port Columbus International Airport and New Albany's two fine courses.
April 23, 2012
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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