Fowler's Mill G.C. in Chesterland not your Dyed-in-the-wool track

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

CHESTERLAND, Ohio - If you've ever stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, the first thing you notice is that the staff acts like they just overdosed on happy pills.

It becomes immediately obvious that they've "bought-in" to the hotel chain's mission statement and customer service philosophy. They only have to be nice when their supervisor is watching, yet they choose to smile all the time and treat customers like long-lost friends.

Such is the case with the staff at Fowler's Mill Golf Course. It's obvious that Director of Golf Matt Baca took what worked for him in making StoneWater Golf Club one of the best tracks in the state and brought it to this 27-hole Pete Dye design located on Cleveland's East Side.

Some courses claim to have bag drop service, but when you pull up to the clubhouse there's no attendant in sight. Not the case at Fowler's. At some courses, the starter treats you as if you are a nuisance who has unnecessarily inconvenienced him. Also not the case at Fowler's.

The servers at the weekend buffet (not complimentary, you cheapskates, but you won't mind paying for this dizzying array of grub - salmon, roast beef carved off the bone, bow-tie pasta, etc.) are equally pleasant.

This is the way golf was meant to be played. It's so refreshing not to have to wait an hour to tee off, throw a greasy hotdog down your throat and constantly try to outrun a pack of Neanderthals hell-bent on drilling you with a Titleist.

But the stellar customer service is merely a bonus at Fowler's. Most people come here because it was created by the world's most famous golf architect.

"I'm here because I heard it's a Dye course with a great layout," said Steve Krall, a 10-handicapper from Florida, visiting the course for the first time.

It wasn't the first time at Fowler's for Krall's friend, Erik Asp, a scratch golfer who said the course ranks with the best he's played. "It's one of my favorites," Asp said. "It has a great layout and it's very challenging."

Perhaps the most distinctive part of the layout is two holes - the par-4 No. 9 and par-4 No. 12 of the River Course - that feature fairways split vertically by water. While this feature does add beauty and toughness to these holes, whose lengths are 366 and 338 yards, respectively, it does nothing for pace of play, especially if you go left and your partner goes right. That's when you say, "I'll meet you at the green," and hope for the best.

If high handicappers haven't gotten the picture yet, this isn't a course for them. Aside from the split fairway phenomena, the course has more than 80 bunkers and enough water to cause aquaphobes to break out in sweats.

The most intimidating mass of H2O is a giant wetland area that threatens golfers all the way down the par-4 No. 4 of the Lake Course. It's so beautiful you won't know whether to stare at it or dive in.

A flat putt on Fowler's greens isn't much faster than it would be on your local muni course, but what makes you want to tomahawk your putter into the nearest tree are their slopes and subtle undulations. Like most challenging courses, you can hit the ball well all day but still score high due to three- and four-putts.

The condition of the course's three nines, including the tepid Maple Course that only measures 2,989 yards, is exactly how one should expect it to be given that the average nine-hole round cost is $42. That's actually down from $49, part of Baca's new philosophy.

"We wanted to come up with a better pricing plan," Baca says. "We were charging more than what we were giving before."

Baca has also embarked on an improvement plan that includes rebuilding some greenside and fairway bunkers and repaving the cart paths. The cart path construction areas are quite an eyesore on the course, but you take the same approach with them as you do construction areas on the highway: they're a temporary nuisance you have to put up with for the time being, but in the end you'll be thankful you did.

One helpful thing, however, would be to put up adequate signage pointing to the next hole to replace the signage taken down as the cart path renovation rages on.

The verdict

The fact that Fowler's Mill was designed by Dye is a huge drawing card, but what should also beckon golf fanatics is its level of service. On that point alone, this course comes highly recommended.

Add to that so many memorable and challenging holes and the price of admission is well worth it. And this course is only going to get better as Baca said Dye will be paying a visit shortly to discuss a "long-range plan."

Perhaps that plan will include adding a locker room, which anyone familiar with Ohio's humid summer days would greatly appreciate for an after-round shower.

More in line with its upscale status is a way-above-average driving range and pro shop. Perhaps the best thing about the course is that, if it proves too tough for you, you can always escape by observing the critters running about, namely coyotes, deer and foxes.

Places to stay

Marigold Bed & Breakfast
12647 Caves Rd.
Chesterland, OH 44026
Phone: (440) 729-4000

Baymont Inn & Suites
1421 Golden Gate Blvd.
Mayfield Heights, OH 44124
Phone: (866) 999-1111

Holiday Inn
780 Beta Dr.
Cleveland, OH 44143
Phone: (888) 465-4329

Places to eat

Chester Diner
12769 Chillicothe Rd.
Chesterland, OH 44026
Phone: (440) 729-4554

Elliott's Townhouse
12560 Chillicothe Rd.
Chesterland, OH 44026
Phone: (440) 729-9010

Murphy's Bar & Grill
8491 Mayfield Rd. Frnt.
Chesterland, OH 44026
Phone: (440) 729-3480

Fast fact

Fowler's Mill was ranked as Ohio's "Top-Rated Public Golf Course" by Golf Magazine.

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Fowlers mill

    Michael Hoag wrote on: Aug 13, 2011

    I have played golf all over the world and play about 75 rounds a year and with out a doubt there is no place in the world you can find a better golf course for the money to play a Pete dye course if there greens fee were triple what they are I still would have felt satisfied with the condition of the course a real pleasure sincerely michael Hoag


  • Fowler's Mill

    Bob O. wrote on: Feb 1, 2011

    If you enjoy being the first group out at sunrise only to find 4 groups of seniors and ladies teeing off IN FRONT OF YOU on the back 9 - then this is the course for you! Enjoy a nice 5 hour round.
    Also had a league there a few years back - we ended up playing the short little Maple 9 3 out of 4 weeks during the season because of outings - sorry - NEVER AGAIN