Sawmill Creek Golf Course attractive to tourists and locals alike

By John Eckberg, Contributor

No. 13 at Sawmill Creek HURON, Ohio -- Somewhere out beyond the tree line and condo roofline, breezy Lake Erie is tossing 36-foot boats full of walleye fishermen around like a bunch of wine corks in a choppy kitchen sink.

Here on the fourth tee of the Sawmill Creek Golf Course, with that all-but hidden Great Lake at your back and an improbable dogleg ahead, a par is likely to be as elusive as that missing Great Lake.

The historic Sawmill Creek Golf Course - historic in that it was Tom Fazio's first course in the Buckeye State - may be Ohio's finest convention center and golf vacation destination.

Lake Erie generates the afternoon wind and distant calling gulls, nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park provides screaming thrills and even the nature preserve Sheldon Marsh offers up tranquility for those who do not want their quiet walk spoiled by three-putt greens.

While taken for granted at most destination resorts, it is absolutely marvelous to walk less than 100 yards from your hotel room door - there are 240 rooms at this sprawling resort - to the first tee at Sawmill Creek.

Since the course was built in 1974 -- five years after the lodge opened -- it should come as no surprise that change has followed the flow of years.

Take the green on No. 4. Once, this elevated and hard-as-tacks green sloped away from approach shots, a severe and infuriating grade from front to back.

No. 6 at Sawmill Creek Ever try to land a screaming 5-iron on a green that slopes away, and do it with an Erie breeze in your face? Mostly, it couldn't be done. And that's why the dozers came a few years ago and now the green slopes south-to-north on a sideways lateral to any approach shot.

While bentgrass greens and Bluegrass fairways, bunkers and ponds, sand and creeks set the tone for this course, as well as most quality courses, here the golf on Ohio's northern shore has a distinctly southern grace.

More than 200 weeping willow trees haunt wayward irons or rustle with the slightest wind. The willows are everywhere: behind tees, guarding greens, lining fairways and flanking the water on the 14 holes where ponds or streams come into play.

Though tourists are clearly drawn to this course near Cedar Point - more on that astonishing array of thrills a little later - locals have also found their way to Sawmill Creek in increasing numbers.

Front Nine at Sawmill Creek "It's not unusual at all for lots of people to drive 45 minutes each way to play, and they do it once a week," says one terse ad executive named Brian, still foggy from an hour-long drive from Akron but ready to peel off a round at 7 a.m. anyhow.

Chris Bleile, director of golf, says there is no surprise why many northern Ohio golfers treasure this course and are willing to make a regular drive from the Akron and Cleveland metropolitan areas.

The course has a Wild Dunes feel to it: undulating greens with odd and obtuse humps. For many, the closest they can come to that South Carolina course is here. While early fairways are broad, Sawmill Creek becomes a course of shot-making through the ticklish back nine.

"The marshes and wetland areas, the willows, it gives the course a nice sense of place. And I'd have to say that we have seven great finishing holes," Bleile says.

No trip to Huron, Ohio, would be complete without a big chunk of time spent at nearby Cedar Point (cedarpoint.com), considered by some to be the world's best amusement park and certainly the roller-coaster capital of the universe.

This year the park opened the world's tallest and fastest amusement park ride. The Top Thrill Dragster crests above Lake Erie at 420-feet tall. It hits speeds of 120 miles an hour and has a 400-foot drop at a ninety-degree angle. Yep, straight down.

G-forces will seemingly glue cheek ear, particularly for those with flabby faces.

This park is not for those with jelly backbones: the unbelievably swift Millennium Force, Magnum XL200, Demon Drop's wild acceleration (worth waiting for a front seat) and the looping Raptor. The park is crowded on weekends in the summer, so plan on waiting up to forever or more for the Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster.

Restaurants are everywhere inside and outside the park, though the Salmon Run back at the course offers a nice meal with several entrée specials for well under $15.

Consider a round of golf in the morning or early afternoon with the side trip to Cedar Point in the evening, when lines are not quite as long and the heat from a summer day has dissipated.

Another reason to hit the park in the evening following golf during the day is to fully appreciate the beauty of the shoreline.

At night, Sandusky is a mass of lights reflected in the lake - itself a freshwater wonder, in fact, Erie was once one of the world's largest inland fishery, second only to the Sea of Japan.

And the view is awesome, particularly during a 70 mph sweeping turn on a monster coaster or just at the cusp of a climb, before the coaster plunges and the lights in the distance become a roaring blur of speed, wind and power.

Rates (including cart)

Monday-Thursday: $59 (Nine holes, $30) Friday-Sunday: $63 (Nine holes, $32)

Sawmill Club member rates (after $100 initiation fee)

Monday-Thursday: $27 Weekends: $30

John Eckberg, Contributor

John Eckberg has been a life-long bogey golfer, whose addiction to the sport began with nine-iron pitches to and from neighbor Frank Haines's back yard and on the golf courses in and around Akron, Ohio. His fondest golf memories date to his teenaged-years when he and his brother would annually sneak into PGA events at Firestone Country Club, then spend the day eluding marshals as part of the army that trailed Arnold Palmer.


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