Monday, March 01, 2010

Camargo Club

I left my flight itinerary to Cincinnati on the kitchen table and was busy laying on the couch watching TV when I heard, "Is this another golf trip? You're out of control."

I recognized the tone of voice immediately and knew I was in trouble. It's the voice reserved for use before the kids are put into "time out." I have a fabulous wife who is beyond accommodating. For some reason, the big golf trips don't bother her, as she figures going to Ireland or Pebble Beach to play golf is a deserved vacation. It's these little trips that set her off for some reason. "Haven't you gone to Ohio three times already to play golf?" I find it best not to respond in these situations, and yes, I have indeed gone to Ohio three times before for golf. Attempting to explain how Ohio is one of the best golfing states in the country would have fallen on deaf ears.

I was on my way to Ohio again to play Camargo Club (ranked #63 in the world), which was built in the early 1920s during the golden era of golf course architecture. Seth Raynor, who also designed Yeamans Hall, Fishers Island and Shoreacres, designed and routed the course; however, he died prior to the course being completed. The course was completed by one of his associates, "Steamshovel" Banks, whom I have previously mentioned in my Whippoorwill post. They did a spectacular job. Camargo is one of the finest places I have ever played golf.

The beguiling course is situated on rolling terrain and has a masterful routing within a large swath of land that makes you feel like you are in a park. There are no houses surrounding the course and there is a large buffer around the edge that gives Camargo an open feel. The sweeping vistas create a sensational impression. Similar to Piping Rock on Long Island, the course was routed around a polo field, as you can see from the course map below.

As is typical of Raynor or Macdonald courses, the design has all the prototypical holes you would expect, such as a Biarritz, Eden, Short, Redan, Road, Alps and Punchbowl. I liked the feel of Camargo right from the get go. It's not hard to see why looking at the approach to the first green seen below. You can see how great the hilly terrain is and also note how the course has an almost polished look to it, given the beauty of the meandering fairways and gently rising hills.

C1st hole
Camargo's first hole, "Leven", approach to the green

This hole, like many at Camargo, plays longer than the 390 yards on the card because you hit to an elevated table top green.

C 2nd sq green
Par five second, with its rectangular green

The picture above is from the second green. This 529 yard par five is a big sweeping dogleg to the right that features an uphill tee shot followed by a shot down into a valley and then another shot back up again to the green. As at Yeamans Halls, the geometric look is characteristic of many greens at Camargo.

3rd fairway
The uphill third fairway

The third hole is a short 320 yard par four ("Leven") that plays over a ravine, up a hill, to a green that is set at an angle to the fairway and is well bunkered. You can again see one of the essential elements of Camargo, which is its aesthetic beauty. It just has a look to it that is very pleasing to the eye. Similar to the effect achieved with an Italian Renaissance garden or a formal French garden, the use of symmetry and the manner in which the landscape is tied together is brilliant. There is something that's hard to describe about how all the angles come together and make it look artistic. I know it's just a golf course and I'm getting all lathered up here, but even on a cloudy day this place shines!

3rd behind green
The third green from behind

The above picture is the elevated green on the third hole as seen from behind, which shows the extent of the bunkering, which I found very similar to the bunkering on the 8th and 14th holes at the C.B. MacDonald designed Chicago Golf Club.

The alluring par three fifth hole is an "Eden" prototype. It is set in an idyllic, quiet little alcove. It's one of the best holes I've played and a real beast at 179 yards. It is in a secluded spot, carved out of the woods, and what makes it so terrifying is the angle the green is set at from the tee. When standing on the tee box there are dense trees surrounding you for almost 360 degress. The long, narrow green is set at an obtuse angle to the tee and has a huge bunker along the left hand side and a fifteen foot fall off.

4th green
The "Eden", par three fifth hole

As I usually do, I did my research before playing Camargo and had read that it had the best collection of par threes outside of Cypress Point, which set my expectations high. Seeing the fifth hole didn't dampen my expectations.

Given the wind conditions on the day we played, I thought holes 7-9, the "Alps", "Biarritz" and "Long" holes, were the toughest stretch on the course. The Biarritz hole plays 227 yards and is a bear. Check the box on another great par three. Like the truly great courses (Pine Valley, Cypress, Somerset Hills, National, Sunningdale), Camargo has a great routing where nothing feels forced and it follows the terrain naturally.

10th green

The par four tenth green

The tenth hole, "Shinnecock," is a sweeping dogleg to the left and as seen above, has a green that is typical of Camargo: large and elevated with sharp angular fall offs and very deep bunkers.

The breathtaking prototype "Short" hole is the eleventh. It plays 140 yards from the back tees to a green set below you. Although the hole is not long, you have to hit the green or you are in trouble. The green, like all greens at Camargo, is large, which makes it a challenge if you are not close to the pin. How many par threes can you recall that look prettier than this? Not even including the par three Redan hole, I actually do think this place might have the best par threes outside of Cypress. Maybe Woodhall Spa and Pine Valley would be in the running also, but Camargo would be on any short list.

11 short
The par three "Short" eleventh green

The club keeps a low profile, and this is a good thing. One of the things that makes golf such a great pursuit is that you get to play in historic venues such as Camargo. It is an unspoiled masterpiece. Thanks to an enlightened membership, the course has changed little since it was built, and it is like being transported back in time. It's as if you are able to step back in time and play baseball at the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field in 1922. The club hired Tom Doak to do restoration work several years ago. Apparently, he restored many of the greens to their original larger sizes as they had been made smaller over the years. Aside from the Old Course at St. Andrews, I can't remember a course that has bigger greens than Camargo. Combine Doak's work with a greenskeeper who is at the top of his game and you get a course that sparkles.

17th green-1
The seventeenth ("Road Hole") green

The seventeenth ("Road Hole") is one of only two par fives on the course. This closeup shot of the Pac-Man shaped green shows how masterfully Raynor and Banks could use "squared off" shapes and sharp angles, yet still somehow have the course retain such a natural look.

Camargo is short by today's standards at 6,659 yards from the back tees, and there is no water on the course. The primary defense the course has is the hilly terrain and greens with a multitude of protections: deep bunkering, the greens' large size and their big undulations.

The eighteenth fairway as seen from the tee

Having now completed all five world-ranked courses in Ohio, I would rank them in the following order: 1. Camargo 2. The Golf Club 3. Muirfield Village 4. Inverness 5. Scioto.

The Club

Like at Yeamans Hall, the clubhouse is my favorite type: understated. It reminded me of the Valley Club of Montecito inside with its small locker room with original wooden lockers and a very cozy, miniscule bar area with dark wood. These 1920s vintage clubhouses are worth their weight in gold. We played on a chilly fall day and it proved an ideal place for an apr├Ęs round drink.

Camargo Clubhouse
Camargo's intimate clubhouse

The club logo shown on the scorecard has a shoe and gun above the crest, as well as a polo mallet and a golf club. The explanation is that Camargo has a skeet shooting range (which is about to close), tennis, platform tennis and two polo fields (not in use any more). The logo incorporates all the sports pursued at the club.

So what exactly is a Camargo anyhow? There are several schools of thought. Among the members, some believe it comes from the French ballerina named Camargo, which is the subject of a painting hanging in the clubhouse. Others believe the club was named after a Mexican border town of the same name.

The French Ballerina Camargo

As the Mrs. has surmised, I may indeed be out of control, but I'm having a hell of a time. My mates and I have a handful of rules we like to following for pursuing this quest: Be a polite guest, tip the caddies generously, play fast, always offer to pay for everything and send a thank you note when done. The cardinal rule, though, is: NEVER EVER ADD UP THE COST of this pursuit. Nothing good can ever come from it.

And it's a damn good thing my wife found the itinerary only, instead of the bill. I'm living the dream out here!

Post Script

When in Cincinnati, visit Graeters, a local institution that has been serving exceptional ice cream since 1870; it is worth a detour.


Michael Green said...

Wow. Looks gorgeous and cut and trimmed to perfection. Not a flaw or blemish on the course it seems.

When is the Oz trip taking place?!

Joe Leenheer, PGA said...

I would have a hard time coming to grips with the statement "Ohio is one of the best golf states in America" if I didn't live here. If you are going to plan another trip, the Cleveland/Akron area is dripping with golf course mastery. Must plays include Canterbury, The Country Club, Canton Brookside, Firestone, Sand Ridge, Pepper Pike Club, Sharon Golf Club...I could go on, but I'm not sure if your wife will let you spend that much time here.

Happy Golfing!

Julius said...

You know I don't understand why you are such a big fan of Camargo. I find the idea of the 'prototype hole' to be incredibly dull and uncreative. So he just designs the hole the same way over and over again. I really don't understand how you can say Camargo has one of the best selections of par threes. So what it has an eden, a short, a redan, ALL OF HIS COURSES DO! I think Winged Foot certainly has better par threes, just to name one. Becuase unlike Raynor, Tillinghast designs his hole according to what the land allows. Raynor just imposes all of his generic prototype holes on his courses. Anybody could design a course this way, it would take no skill whatsoever.And by the way, right now I can say that you over-rate Ohio for its golf. New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina are better golf states.

Top 100 Golfer said...

Julius - What makes Florida golf so great aside from Seminole? Hard to argue against CA, NY or NJ, but not Florida. Also, what makes The National Golf Links on Long Island so great? Prototype holes. What will make Old Macdonald so great when it opens? Prototype holes. Rather than them all being the same, the interesting part comes from the variety of how they are implemented given various conditions, land, hills and terrain

Criss said...

Long time reader of this blog. As a Cincinnatian, I've been looking forward to a post on Carmago. I've never had the privilege of playing it, but I've seen and heard great things.

Ohio does have a very underrated collection of private golf, especially around Columbus and Cleveland. Thanks again for posting!

Unknown said...

If you enjoy Raynors (and it appears you do) and awesome, out of the way golf courses, find a way to play Mountain Lake in Florida. It's about an hour north of Orlando and it is exceptional. The club/clubhouse has an awesome feel and to top it off, the halfway house rivals Sunningdale as one of the best in the world

Anonymous said...

Not really debatable, Ohio has more Great Courses than Florida. However, when you state "What makes Florida golf so great aside from Seminole?" becomes obvious you have not played The Concession.

The Itinerant Golfer said...

I just played Camargo this past weekend and I have to agree with your assessment. It's one of the most sublime places I've visited in this country for golf. The par 3s are fantastic. The redan hole may be my favorite of the ones I've seen here in the states.


Anonymous said...

I'm playing Camargo tomorrow and really looking forward to it after reading your post. As for other of the great courses in Ohio, Canterbury, Firestone, Sand Ridge and Canton Brookside and the others Joe Leenheer mentioned are also HIGH quality tracks that must be played. Trust me on this as I've been on them all and am playing The Golf Club this weekend. Obviously I'm in golf heaven.

Anonymous said...

I have played Camargo many times as a kid when I lived nearby around 20 years ago. I was about a 6 handicap (now around scratch). I come from South Africa and hence the reason for not playing it since. I knew the course well as i caddied there. The condition was absolutey awesome and it was a fabulous course!! However, I have to ask what has changed to make this a Top 100 course. There are 100's of courses better than this. Even in Cincinnati I can think of some better courses,for example, i played Blue Ash (not sure what is like now) a lot as well and i think it had a much better layout. What changes have they made? There are many courses in South Africa which are far better: Camargo has nothing on Gary Player CC, Sun City. Well at least I can add this one to my small list of Top 100 courses i've played!!

Top 100 Golfer said...

Thanks for the comment. Camargo's esteem has improved over the years as people appreciate Seth Raynor's good courses now more than they used to. Also, the course was restored to its original lustre not long ago.

Anonymous said...

Used to caddy this course as a kid. Some of the members were absolute gentlemen and served as role models for me. Others...well, I won't mention it.

macboube said...

I finally played Camargo (not easy to get on) and sweet Jesus it is safe to say you got this review right! ALL WORLD course. It is still impossible to fathom how much you liked this and did not like Fisher's. You need to go back to FIGC a 2nd time (if they let you -LOL) and re-post like you did with the RIV. Everyone, even you, deserves a 2nd chance my friend...Mac

Craig said...

The golf course is magnificent, the layout is amazing and the conditions among the best courses anywhere. Better than Firestone in Ohio. If you ever have the opportunity to play, DO IT.

TJB said...

I have played Camargo more than once, and the key to it's brilliance is it's uniqueness hole-to-hole. You will never hit the same shot off more than 1 tee, and every approach shot requires something a bit different. Of course, the fact that the course is always in immaculate condition adds a little something to the experience as well.

Whomever said it was liking stepping back in time, it is. There are very few courses in America that give you that old-world golfing experience, and Camargo is certainly one of them.

The Par 3's are certainly the best collection I've ever seen on a golf course, and if Camargo doesn't have the best collection of them of any course on Earth, it only misses that mark by a razor thin margin. The 15th isn't talked about nearly as much as the others, but I think it's the best of the bunch. You have so many shots you can shape into that canted green depending on conditions, and it's just brilliant, all around.

As for the quality of courses in Ohio, to argue that it doesn't rank near the top is absurd. NY, NJ, and Cali are certainly elite, but N. and S. Carolina don't belong in that class. As heralded as Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head are as golf destinations, they only have a few real gems between them both. Georgia wouldn't even be in the discussion if not for Augusta National and East lake. Oregon has some outstanding courses, but as a whole, not an elite golf destination.

In fact, I would argue that Ohio has the best collection of public courses in the country, and that it's not even really a debate.

Anonymous said...

Many people don't even realize how many top courses are in Michigan due to the fact they are open for such a short period of time. The fact is N.Carolina, S.Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are in a different region which is a different style then northern states golf. What region are most majors held in? Midwest, North, Northeast.

Anonymous said...

where do you find this course ranked anywhere near the top100 in the world,let alone our country? I have checked all major publications and no one has this course listed.I'm not saying it isn't great,because I honestly havn't played it...just curious where you saw that ranking.

Anonymous said...

Live nearby & want to join the club, having just completed a hip replacement. Cost is not the issue - does anyone know how to obtain a member list so I can find a sponsor?

Anonymous said...

My High School Golf Team has the privilege of calling The Camargo Club its home course and its probably my favorite golf course. The landscape provides such beauty on a relatively simple design. Holes like 1 and 6 which are straight and easy par 4's, contrast 7, 9, and 12 for which par is a great achievement. Also the reachable par 5 2nd (my favorite hole) gives the player a chance to start -2 thru 2 to start the round. The green speeds, course conditions, and even the Cincinnati weather vary the difficulty immensely: I've shot a 39 on the front one day, and a 49 the next. It is a beautiful course.

John Fox said...

Has anyone played Fox Chapel another one of Raynors designs?

Anonymous said...

I played Camargo this summer in a USGA qualifier. It's a fantastic course. Simply amazing condition but hard to believe there are only 80 something better courses on Earth.
I have played several on the Top 100 list including Shinnecock. Given I wasn't an official guest but the "don't touch anything, don't breathe on anything" feeling offered by the staff was a bit much. As the Pro and shop staff were openly debating raising the price of Pro V's to $20 a sleeve for tournament participants spouting "where else they gonna go"? - I felt like they needed to be reminded that they are on a farm in Ohio not heaven. If it's such a special place that no one can get on they certainly must have enough money around to make gouging visitors unnecesary. I offer this perspective in contrast to literally every other place on the list I have played where the air of pretention wasn't quite so thick.

Anonymous said...

This golf course has a banquet hall, and all the men are snob's. The golf course is beautiful, I will continue to golf there but will never waste my Money on the Hall and food service again!!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently a member at Camargo and it's an absolutely beautiful course! It's such an old fashioned club. Everything there is done to a standard. Members are classy and have an old fashioned way of doing things, and the staff is the same way too.

Anonymous said...

Post to this comment:
where do you find this course ranked anywhere near the top100 in the world.
Answer: Are Your Kidding?
Actually, most all publications have Camargo listed in the top 100 world.
Blue Ash???? Really??

Anonymous said...

Mr 100, you are spot on with this one. I've been lucky enough to play this course several times (I play on the Varsity golf team of the high school down the road). The course is always cut perfectly. It's one of those courses where, while you walk, you don't mind how you're playing, you're just grateful to be there.

Adam Dean said...

I wanted to weigh in on the club name and some local Cincinnati history. One of the original club founders was Charles Fleischmann who had founded the Fleischmann Yeast Co. (later Standard Brands). His private yacht was named Camargo as well. You can do a 'Google' search and see photos of the yacht.

This is one of the great private courses in the world and likely has one of the wealthiest memberships as well.

Steve B said...

Camargo i one of my favorite courses.

That being said it doesn't have Raynors best 4 par 3's much less the best anywhere. Raynor's best four pars threes are at a Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to work in the pro shop there during my high school and early college days. With a limited membership I was able to play the course nearly every evening. I made $2.35 an hour and it was the best job I ever had

Anonymous said...

I played there 3/4 times in the 1990's when I was in college. I caddied there just so I could play on Mondays. I worked at a top notch public course too. Carmargo is an absolutely old world, perfection course. The greens were so true. Just so different than any other course I have played.

It is virtually impossible to play there. Very few members (old money Cincinnati) and heard they might get 30-40 rounds on a Saturday. Rumor was you had to have bloodlines to the original membership but that might be Cincinnati CC instead - even older Cincy money.

Unknown said...

Very fond of this course and the Village of Indian Hill where it's located. I played on the Varsity golf team for IH, Camargo was our home course, and I also was an intern in the clubhouse as part of my college study on top of having several friends who were members. I've had the fortune to play it more times then I could count and it still stands as the course I compare all others to, and certainly remains the best manicured course I've played. It usually holds a PGA qualifier every year and is about the only opportunity for the public to pay it outside of being invited by a member. Fantastic design, old world charm and impeccable condition, it's as goos as a course could hope to be.

Terry B said...

W.C. Bill Jackson was the first pro and there from 1927 until his retirement in 1953. He supervised the construction and was faithful to Raynor’s diagrams with two exceptions: he turned the 16th into a par 4 and the 17th into a par 5.

Terry B said...

W.C Bill Jackson was Camargo's first Supt and Pro and was there from 1927 til 1953. He supervised the constructions and was faithful to Raynor’s diagrams with two exceptions: he turned the 16th into a par 4 and the 17th into a par 5