Ohio Golf: America’s Best Under the Radar Golf Destination?
I’m willing to bet you have a number of dream destinations. Places you would absolutely KILL to go to.
And last week I was fortunate enough to cross another bucket list destination off of my list.
Where was it?
The wild, and exotic state of….
I had a follow up appointment from a recent surgery and the doctor asked if I had any trips lined up.
“Yep, I’m going to Ohio in a couple weeks.”
“Oh, do you have family there.”
“Oh. Usually that’s the only reason anybody visits Ohio.”
That might be true, unless, of course, you’re a diehard golfer.
You have to be a bit of a golf nerd to know that Ohio is a hot bed of world class golf.
It boasts 6 courses that you’ll find on top 100 in America lists – and 4 of those are on the Top 100 in the world.
So after years of pining over a trip to the promised land which is the Home of Jack Nicklaus, Cedar Point, and unfortunately “The Hulk” (more on that in a minute), my good friend Patrick Koenig and I embarked on a golf trip of epic proportions.
You can check out Patrick’s recap here.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t THAT epic, but it was a pretty solid lineup.
Day 1: Scioto Golf Club
Our trip started innocently enough with Patrick and I asking the concierge at our hotel about a good brunch spot.
Not one, but two people there adamantly replied “Super Chefs”.
Alright, now that’s a recommendation I can get behind.
We walked the five minutes to the spot, and found a restaurant that themed their food around super heros.
I was planning to get a nice egg white omlete, when I made the mistake of asking the waiter if there was anything I had to get.
To which he replied, “If you’re from out of town and not coming back, then you HAVE to get The Hulk.”
It’s a waffle sandwich with cheese, egg, and sausage.
Oh, and it’s bright green.
Our meal showed up and I was able to make it about 1/3 of the way through before I couldn’t handle any more.
We went back to the hotel and prepared for our round – but remember this sandwich, it will make an appearance (literally) later on in our story.
We had a 2:40 tee time at Scioto and couldn’t be more excited.
Scioto was the childhood home course of Jack Nicklaus, and has also been home to a number major events, including the 2016 US Senior Open.
It’s currently ranked #85 and #57 respectively on the Golf Magazine and Golf Digest American rankings, and all I really knew about the course is that it was a BEAST.
We teed it up with an intern of the course, and a local member named DR who has been around for years, and was a very solid player.
He said “If you can get through the first 5 at better than 5 over – you’re doing pretty well!”
He wasn’t joking.
#2 is widely regarded as one of the best holes in the country, and is regularly featured on lists of “best holes”.
It’s a strong dogleg right that demands a precise tee shot, a precise layup, and excellent speed control on the greens.
Not exactly my idea of a warmup hole.
My impression of Scioto is that if you live in Columbus – THIS is the place you want to be a member. It’s the quinntessential country club.
World class golf course. Pool. Tennis. Beautiful clubhouse. And a very active social scene.
The course is set on a relatively small piece of land, but the routing is excellent and it never feels like you’re being lapped back and forth.
I particularly enjoyed the Par 5 8th. It gives you a number of options with how to play the hole depending on how aggressive you want to be.
Going for it in two will require a precise hybrid or wood over a greenside bunker, while avoiding the lake on the left. There’s bailout on the right for people who’d rather position themselves for a precise wedge play to get their birdie that way.
I drained a 35 footer on the short par 4 7th, and then had a tap in for birdie here. One of the few times in my life I’ve had them back to back.
We’ll talk about my new Mizuno wedges another day, but let’s just say, after this trip, I’m confident I made the right choice.
But back to that original story…you know, the one with the giant green sandwich?
The whole round my stomach was unsettled. I wasn’t feeling great, I didn’t sleep great, and it continued to get worse as the round progressed.
The surprising part of the story, however, is that I was playing excellent and actually was looking at a victory for the first time in probably 15 rounds against Mr. Koenig.
This all came to a head on the 15th hole. I was in for par, and he was going to have to drain a long birdie putt to avoid losing it.
Unfortunately, I was also on the verge of losing it.
I began running off the green after making my putt, turned to watch Patrick putt (because no matter how sick I was, I wasn’t going to miss my moment of victory).
He missed the putt, and I proceeded to run to the bathroom, and well, let’s just say that’s one sandwich I wasn’t happy to see again.
After about 5 minutes over the toilet, and another 5 minutes slumped down on the floor trying to comprehend what had just happened.
I got myself together, walked back to the tee, and striped one down the middle.
On 18 I found myself in the rough past the hole, with a very precarious chip in some of their notoriously thick rough.
With the finesse of a Mickelson flop shot, I floated it out and watched it trickle to 3 feet, where I promptly drained my par putt to shoot a surprising 79.
The course was a beautiful walk, full of strategic and challenging holes. It’s the kind of place that makes it’s members better golfers, and would be an excellent place to call home.
Day 2: Muirfield Village Golf Club
After curling up in the fetal position for the rest of the night and most of the next morning, it was time to get my act together, as we had one of my most anticipated rounds ever: Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Ranked 34 on the Golf Digest list of World’s best, and 53 on the Golf Magazine list – this was a round that almost didn’t happen. As you might expect, getting an invite to Jack’s Place isn’t exactly the easiest ticket in town.
Golf is a funny place though, full of generous people and it inevitably being a friend’s, dad’s, friend, who was gracious enough to show us around on this day.
MCGC is basically like Augusta Jr.
Everything is in perfect order, it’s setup to handle massive amounts of people during the Memorial, and it’s a destination club where people often fly in, stay on property, and fly back out a day or two later.
This was illustrated perfectly, as while we were on the range I hear “Patrick? PATRICK?!”
And of course, it’s our friend Jeff who lives in NYC and was there for a night with his boss who was a member.
From the moment I stepped up to the first tee, I could tell I was going to like this course.
It’s a very tough, championship course that will punish you on every hole if you’re not on top of your game. Yet at the same time, it felt oddly comfortable, familiar and enjoyable.
As we weaved throughout the course, each hole felt unique, distinctly different, and demanded that you think your way around the course.
On two, sure you could bomb driver but the fairway narrows the farther out you go, and if you push it even a little right, you’ll find yourself in the picturesque creek that runs down the right side.
Then on 3, you can flirt with the tree on the left to give yourself a short approach over the water – but you risk getting blocked out.
Every hole seemingly had a decision like this to make, and it’s going to make watching the Memorial that much more enjoyable next year.
Five was a par 5 that was one of the few holes with split fairways that I thought worked really well.
Unfortunately, as I was saying this to my host, it was at that moment the strap on my Nikon DSLR broke, which led to the camera crashing to the fairway, and breaking the mount on the lens.
So, this meant for the remainder of my most anticipated golf and photography trip of the year – I wouldn’t have my camera.
So I apologize for any luckluster photos from here on out.
That clearly didn’t dampen the trip too much, as I would go on to once again shoot back to back birdies to close out a front 9 of 38.
Unfortunately, the back 9 would exact it’s revenge on me, and I’d proceed to shoot a 47.
The famous 12th hole, which is Jack’s homage to #12, Golden Bell, at Augusta National, was much bigger, bolder, and more difficult than I’d expected.
Sitting right at 155 yards, it’s all carry to a sliver of green – and it was easily one of the more memorable holes on the course.
I can’t thank Chris enough for having us out. When our updated Top 100 list comes out later this year, this will definitely have a prime spot and strictly from a course perspective, Muirfield Village would be my favorite of the trip.
Day 3: The Golf Club
This is where our trip takes a dramatic change.
Scioto was a big social club with a brutal championship golf course.
Muirfield Village is a world renowned course on an international level, with a brutal championship course, and is one of the few courses out there that both golfers, and non golfers alike have heard of.
The Golf Club has nothing in common with either of those.
Ranked 89 and 72 in the world, respectively by Digest and Golf Mag, The Golf Club is located on about 500 acres north of Columbus, and they boast a small membership of around 150 people. Everything about it is understated, classic, and it makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a much more simple place.
Despite routinely being in the Top 100 courses in the world, unless you’re a diehard golf architecture aficionado, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it – and that’s how they like it.
The majority of members use The Golf Club as a second or third membership, and as such, the Club sees very little play.
The Golf Club is one of Pete Dye’s original works, and in my opinion – one of his very best. You can see where the over the top ideas came from, but here, it’s a little more subdued and reigned in – in the best way possible.
We had the first tee time of the day, and it was one of the most pure and enjoyable golf experiences I’ve ever had.
There are no homes. No other golfers pushing you. And a routing that is strategic, enjoyable, but not nearly as difficult as the previous courses, which was a welcome respite.
From the moment you step up to the putting green, you know you’re in for something special.
In what is easily the coolest multi-use green I’ve ever seen, the 18th green is also the practice putting green, AND it serves as the back tee box for the first hole.
Which, obviously we had to experience.
#3 is one of the best par 3s in the world, and is historic in the sense that it was one of the first instances of using railroad ties in bunkers – which Mr. Dye has become so well known for.
What struck me about this course was often it was the subtleties that made it so special – this from an architect who is anything but subtle.
For instance, the small ridge guarding the 10th green. Nothing major, but it makes the only hole on the course without a formal hazard, and makes it interesting and memorable.
Oh, and they also probably have the coolest logo in golf.
Day 4: Valhalla Golf Club
Just as I thought we were breaking out of our food poisoning/lens breaking bad luck we woke up to one phone call you NEVER want to get.
You see, the night before, Columbus was hit with an absolute MONSOON.
For a couple hours the roads were flooded, everything was soaked, and frankly, we didn’t think much of it, because the weather was supposed to be great the next day.
But at 7am, we got a phone call from the pro at Double Eagle Club, which was our scheduled round for the day, to inform us that due to the course getting hit with SO much water, we would be unable to come out and play.
This was a true disappointment, because not only is the course supposed to be very good, it’s also one of the hardest tee times to come by in the country.
So here’s to hoping it’ll work out next time.
So now we had to scramble.
We had to be in Cincinnati early the next morning for our round at Camargo, but we also wanted to get a world class round of golf in – so we began looking at drive times and options.
The first thought was Inverness Club, which is the one club that was high on our list that we wanted to play, but simply couldn’t get that far north.
Considering it would have been a brutal drive back down to Cincy, we ruled that out.
Then we discovered that Louisville is only a 3 hour drive from Columbus – and then only an hour and a half from Columbus.
And I bet you can guess what’s in Louisville?
That’s right, Valhalla!
We made a phone call to see if they’d be willing to let us out on the course that afternoon (see this post for strategies on playing private clubs), and luckily they were pretty open and happy to accommodate!
So we set out for Kentucky.
As we’re driving down there, the realization hit me – our VERY FIRST Eighty Club member Jude was a member at Valhalla. He’d been living out of the State, but I figured I’d shoot him a text to see if he was free.
As luck would have it, not only was he in town, but he was excited to come out and join us at the Club.
When we arrived we met Jude and a few of his friends before heading out to hit a few quick balls and then on to the first tee.
Valhalla, ranked #81 in America by Golf Digest, is a course that was built for major championships. It’s a big, demanding golf course, that to be honest?
I liked more than I expected to.
There’s a lot of variety in the hole designs, and a routing that makes for an enjoyable and beautiful walk.
I LOVED the short par 4, 4th.
I HATED the LONG par 4, 6th. (But that was the only hole I really disliked).
A random connection I have to Valhalla actually came from my wife. Back in 2008 she was designing apparel for Nike Golf, and actually designed the pattern that would go on the uniforms for the US Ryder Cup team.
As a thank you, she received a sterling silver Tiffany’s julep cup that was engraved with a logo featuring the Ryder Cup and Valhalla.
So every year come spring time, I make Mint Juleps in that cup. Now it feels more official since I’ve seen it in person.
As would be the case with most of my rounds on this trip, I started the day strong, before limping in for the finish.
These courses tend to just wear you down with how demanding they are, and it really puts into perspective how mentally tough the tour pros are to be able to handle it week in and week out.
Valhalla also had one of the coolest features I’ve seen at Club yet, in their all new man cave.
It features a bar, putting green, and two full simulators that members are free to use at any time.
Playing Bethpage Black over a few cold ones after the round, was one of the more unexpected and enjoyable surprises of the trip.
Day 5: Camargo Club
Camargo is another club that there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of – which is a shame, because it’s a truly special place.
Ranked 57th in the world by Golf Magazine, Camargo was designed by legendary architect Seth Raynor, it has one of the best examples of template holes anywhere in the world – and possibly the best collection of par 3 templates on Earth.
Camargo felt dramatically different than any of the other courses we played, as it’s the only Golden Age course in the bunch having opened in 1925.
There was more elevation change than expected, and the grass walled and angular bunkers provided a unique look that I’ve rarely seen on the courses I’ve played.
The Biarritz 8th hole is one of the very best I’ve seen, second to the all world 9th at Yale.
The course is a beautiful walk, and the type of course you can play day in and day out and never get sick of.
Similar to The Golf Club, it’s not a course that will overwhelm you and try and beat you down, but it can still be punishing if you’re not on your A game.
Point and case, the EXCELLENT par 3, 11th: “Short”.
The 18th handicap hole on the course, and by far the shortest par 3 at right around 125 yards. No one in our group made better than bogey, and I had an unfortunate double.
Final Thoughts on Ohio
It holds an important place in the history of modern golf, and offers you world class courses from many different eras and styles – making it a truly unique and enjoyable destination.
Next time I hope to work in rounds at Double Eagle and Inverness, while skipping the unfortunate bout of food poisoning – but overall the trip was a roaring success.
A Few Favorites
People always love hearing about favorites from trips like this, so here are some of mine:
- Muirfield Village
- The Golf Club
- Camargo Club
Favorite Par 3s:
- #3 The Golf Club
- #11 Camargo
- #12 Muirfield Village
- #8 Camargo
- #17 Scioto
Favorite Par 4s:
- #2 Muirfield Village
- #5 The Golf Club
- #2 Scioto
- #14 Muirfield Village
- #4 Valhalla
- #7 Camargo
- #15 Valhalla
Favorite Par 5s:
- #5 Muirfield Village
- #8 Scioto
- #2 Camargo Club
- #11 Muirfield Village
- #14 The Golf Club
- #7 Valhalla
Best Example of Old vs. New
The elegant, traditional, and understated Camargo Club with a million dollar Porsche 918 Spyder parked behind the 18th green.
- Best Addition to a Club: The “Man Cave” at Valhalla.
- Best Bunkering: Camargo Club
- Most Well Maintained Course: Muirfield Village
- Best Getaway: The Golf Club
- Best Social Scene: Scioto Country Club
- Best Halfway House: Muirfield Village with dozens of koi fish in the pond
Thanks for reading and following along on my trip!