Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Golf Club

"Hit 'till you're happy."

Not a bad way to start a round of golf. These were the instructions from our host as we stood on the first tee at The Golf Club. The Golf Club (ranked #48 in the world) is probably the highest ranked golf course in the United States that few people have ever heard of. Located in New Albany, Ohio, near Columbus, the course was designed by Pete Dye in 1967. It is a very early Pete Dye design and he used local Jack Nicklaus, then twenty-seven years old, to help him verify some of the potential shot selections as he was designing the course.

The course was the brainchild of Fred Jones, who wanted a course where he didn't have to wait for tee times. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said that the very rich are different than you and me. I have to wait for tee times and accept it as part of the game. It must be nice to have enough money to build your own course when you don't want to wait. The Golf Club doesn't get a lot of play, thus the local custom is to hit until you're happy on the first tee. I have the feeling I'm going to like The Golf Club.

In his book Bury me in a Pot Bunker, Pete Dye says, "When I began sketching ideas for The Golf Club, images of two golf courses built in the 1920s came to mind. Along with the Scottish courses and Pinehurst No. 2, the design features at Seminole and Camargo influenced many of the characteristics prevalent at The Golf Club." I haven't played Camargo yet, but I really didn't see similarities to Pinehurst or Seminole, particularly regarding the greens, which are key aspects of both courses.

GC 3rd green
The third green with railroad ties in the background

A key design element of Pete Dye golf courses is his use of railroad ties. Their use here was while Dye was just getting started as an architect and still experimenting. Dye used railroad ties on the third hole like a teenage girl uses text messaging.

GR #3
Extensive bunkering around the third green

Blacklick Creek meanders the property and comes into play occasionally. Pete Dye again: "The Golf Club has incorrectly been labeled a "links" course. I call it 'Old English,' similar to Sunningdale and Wentworth." The course is on relatively flat land and has wide fairways. I would agree with him that it does have more of a feel of a heathland course. The course is spread out over 360 acres on a plot of land encompassing over 440 acres. At times it feels like a park that just happens to have a golf course running through it.

The par four tenth hole has an interesting design feature; it has a slightly raised green that prevents the golfer from hitting a bump and run shot to the hole. Many holes have raised greens; this one is only about a foot high and creates a grassy transition from the fairway to the green.

GC 10th near green
The approach to 10th hole

There really isn't a bad hole on the course, but the stretch of holes from twelve through sixteen are the most brilliant. The 369 yard par four thirteenth is a world-class hole that doglegs to the left off the tee. Dye made extensive use of sawed off telephone poles in the bunker right of the green. As with many great short par fours, it is a classic risk-reward hole where the further to the left you hit the ball the more you will be rewarded, but it also brings the flowery hazard to the right, seen in the picture below, into play.

GC 13 back

The par four thirteenth looking back from the green

The par five fourteenth is a big hole in all respects. It is 639 yards from the back tees, the fairway is big (100 yards wide) and uneven; the bunker on the right side of the hole is mammoth, and the green is challenging.

Sixteen is a challenging 200 yard par three that plays over a gorge to a relatively small, well-bunkered green. As the number sixteen stroke index hole, it's a doozy. After failing several times to finish the hole, Fred Jones installed a full size hangman's noose on the branch of the magnificent 270-year-old white oak that overhangs the green.

GC Noose on #16

The hangman's noose high up in a tree by the 16th hole

Like Garden City Mens Club, Pine Valley and Augusta National, the Golf Club is an all-male club. I came away with a very favorable impression of The Golf Club, and I think that these lesser known courses by Pete Dye such as this and the Honors Course in Tennessee surpass his better known courses such as Whistling Straits or the TPC Stadium course. Also, I'm getting too old to be beaten up by a golf course. The Golf Club is challenging but is easily the type of course you can play every day and not tire of because it is a great walking course. The locker room at The Golf Club is in a similar style to that at Seminole and Ocean Forest, with lockers ringing the room and seating in the middle.

The bridge over Blacklick Creek on the sixth hole has an old railroad box car as a bridge. My picture shows what the bridge would look like if you had a half dozen beers before teeing off.

Box car bridge on the sixth hole

The club history states that The Golf Club, "...was not founded as a family recreation or amusement center. It was founded as a men's club without the need for starting times and with the excitement and turmoil which too frequently results from the crowds attracted to a multipurpose sports or recreation club." Translation: leave the women and children home.

If I had to give The Golf Club a grade, I would give it an "A". There is really nothing lacking and it is a great place to spend a day playing golf and hanging out in the locker room.


Pup said...

Hey John,

How many members does TGC have? Did the member state how you join the club? Was this one of the tougher courses for you to get on?

And how is your lead to getting on Augusta going? I hope all is going well.


Anonymous said...

TGC has 150 members. Most of them local to the area. You join the club by invite only. Many people in the Columbus area don't even know the course exists.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on playing the Golf Club. As usual your post was well written, funny and enjoyable all the way through.

Pros golf tips said...

haha very good post a enjoyed it very much!

Unknown said...

I loved The Golf Club. The 18th green shares its space with the putting green at the far end of it. (one long continuous green). Bordered by a small lake on the left and the proshop perilously close on the right. Fantastic experience. I was told that they did add a ladies' guest bathroom only a few years ago, as they can come out on Sundays (accompanied by husband). I agree with Top 100 - it is out in the country and even many Columbians (?? right word?) don't even know about it. Which is how TGC members like it. said...

I agree there isn't a weak hole on the course and I concur that the stretch of holes from 12-16 are truly amazing...but I would add 17 to that mix as well. One of the greatest stretches in golf in my opinion.

macboube said...

Just played The Golf Club and I must say, not a huge fan of Pete Dye, but this place is Dye without the obligations. What I mean by that is because he was not on everyone's radar in 1967 (see Crooked Stick as well), he was able to do what he pleased without huge influence from those paying him. Certainly more pure golf, and less trickery. The routing is really what makes this World Class IMO. Starts out with 6 open links holes, then 6 parkland holes, then 6 more links holes to close. As Mr. Top 100 remarked, the 13th is totally the signature hole and is just awesome. The members and the clubhouse are special indeed. The comment that it is men only is not exactly accurate.......after 3:00pm weekdays + Sat., and after 1:00 on Sun., the opposite sex is allowed on the grounds. Needless to say, I cannot imagine many women even wanting to set foot on this special and elite property. It is one very very cool experience A to Z.

KFyke said...

Nice to hear what someone else has to say about The Golf Club. I grew up caddying there and worked maintenance for a summer. Probably played it 100 times. It's golf at it's purest! Surprised that you didn't mention the par 4 6th (except for the bridge) it's one of the finest holes in golf in my opinion. The 15th is like being all alone in the middle of nowhere. The par 3 16th used to be ALOT tougher in 1983 when I was a caddy. The green couldn't have been more than 3000 sq. ft! (which isn't much for a 195 yd. hole!)

Anonymous said...

I caddied there for many years as well with the great Fred Taylor as GM. i once carried for Steve Elkington (a gem of a guy, generous, hilarious and a real treat to be around) who was brought to the course by some Houston oil execs for their private outing of 12 guys. He played 6 holes with each foursome and he seemed to love the golf course. At that time, the course record was Tom Weiskopf at 67 (which should tell you how tough the golf course can play). It may have been lowered over the last 20 years with all of the technology advancements. Elkington was 6 under going to 18 and I will never forget he was between clubs on his approach and asked for my opinion. I was floored by this so I gave my opinion and said to take less club. He hit his iron short of the green into the water and I wanted to crawl and hide. After he shook hands with his hosts, I remember apologizing to him that i cost him the course record since he shot 68. His line summed up what a great guy he was: "Hey mate, it's not the arrow, it's the indian". One of the most memorable days of my life!

Anonymous said...

I caddied this course a few times about 13 years ago. I had been looping at Muirfield for a couple summers and wanted to try a change of pace. It was a nice place but I never did get to run around on the croquet field. It just screemed for some extreme croquet. Looping at Muirfield was much harder especially as an honor caddy with two big pro bags. Whew. Hole 11 in the heat of summer was sweaty work after having just climbed up 10 to forecaddy.

Anonymous said...

I played it earlier this year (it's closed now for renovation). Honestly, I thought TGC was a little overrated. Nice enough track but it wasn't like "amazing" I don't see what the mystique is all about. Again, great round of golf but not nearly as epic as everyone makes it out to be.

Anonymous said...

I love The Golf Club. In my opinion it is one of those places when you get done with your round you look back and start really appreciating how good the golf course you just played is. I have lived in Central Ohio my entire life and there are holes on the back nine you don't feel like you are in Ohio. It feels as though you are in your own world. The little touches here and there like the 18th green which is also the putting green and the back tee of the first hole is just one of the unique aspects of TGC. It's all about the golf here, absolutely love it!!

Anonymous said...

Great review. As a member of TGC, we are very proud of what Mr. Jones created. This is a truly special place with great guys who share a common bond. For those who are able to play the course, we hope your enjoy your round and experience. It is a must to have the Peanut Butter & Bacon in honor of Mr. Jones.

Anonymous said...

I can almost run to The Golf Club from my apartment, yet if you were a casual golfer you would have no idea that it exists. It's one of those places that just has so much money that they don't need any public attention. It would be a dream to play out there.

Anonymous said...

If one were so fortunate to be invited, what would a membership cost if you don't mind me asking?

Anonymous said...

A member told me that the initiation fee is approx 110k (can be paid over 5 years). The annual cost of course upkeep is split among the 150 members at the end of the year. He said it usually equates to about 12-15k. I was lucky enough to play out there last year... best golf experience of my life.

Unknown said...

I have played The Golf Club over the past 15 years. This course has always been one of my favorites. Both the old and newly renovated trac (which is even better) this course is as good as any golf course in the country. I say this even though i was privalged growing up playing Congressional Country Club every day. As a scratch handicapper the ability to grow the rough, tighten the fairways (if setting up for a tournament style course) this course would even give the worlds best 4 rounds of memorable golf. The staff is incredible as well as its members. This is truly a gem located about 15 miles away from one of the other finest golf courses in the country, Muirfield Village.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know any information on how to become a caddy at any of the Columbus area private clubs? Scratch golfer with a love for golf course design just looking for an opportunity to share my knowledge and gain amazing experiences. I will check back on this post! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I was your host when you played the Golf Club, and I think your assessment of it is pretty accurate. This is actually the first time I have read your comments even though it has been a few years since we played. Now that the changes that Pete Dye made three years ago have settled in, I would like to invite you to come back and try the new improved course. It was hard to beat the original course, but I think it is even better now with the changes. I cannot remember whether we had lunch afterwards, but the Golf Club also has the best food of any golf club I have ever played, and I have played a lot of them all over the world. If you did not try the food last time, we will do it when you return to play again.