Walden Ponds Golf Club in Indian Springs: Easy like Sunday morning

By John Eckberg, Contributor

INDIAN SPRINGS, Ohio - Walden Ponds Golf Club has come into its own in recent years and here at the course between Dayton and Cincinnati, you find that Toro has successfully made amends with Thoreau - America's first Walden Pond watcher.

Once considered the kid sister of nearby Shaker Run Golf Club - both are owned and managed by Vintage Golf Properties - Walden Ponds can stand on its own, as it has finally blossomed into a top course in Southwest Ohio.

The layout has few blind holes and many distinctive touches, most having something to do with trouble and usually the trouble stems from the quiet water of a little pond. Was Henry David Thoreau a golfer? If so, he might have liked this track and the sense of nature evident on some holes.

On No. 13, field stone slabs punctuate both sides of the broad fairway. Cascading bunkers one atop another on either side of No. 8's fairway and a giant one behind the green give this hole a sense of impending doom.

In fact, Walden Ponds Golf Club's eighth hole is the only green with one trap on its edge. Most have two or three, though No. 18 has four.

Water is not spared on this course, either, as fairways are a crisp and brilliant green, off-set by the drought-like conditions of the long rough and natural fairway grasses that line most holes. Water can do amazing things to a course in the summer.

During one recent weekday round, a half-wedge to No. 4 hit once on the green, then skipped and came to a squeaky stop in the frog-hair on the back edge. Yes, the ball actually chirped like a squeegee on wet glass.

There are other compelling features. Everywhere are those deep-faced bunkers, some fairways like No. 16 are literally littered with them, and of course Walden Ponds Golf Club has large greens that have become a consistent theme of course designer Michael Hurdzan.

The golf course winds through and past seas of roofs in a nearby subdivision but the houses are not distracting on every hole. The natural grasses bring in plenty of red-winged blackbirds and the dozen or so ponds lure ducks and predators like red-tailed hawks and owls.

Walden Ponds Golf Club was built on an estate once owned by Gordon Soho Rentschler, who was a former president and chief executive of CitiBank who came here to relax when he needed to get out of the Big Apple.

After one summer weekday round, Ron Kollar, an independent real estate appraiser, said he was most impressed with the par fives. What made them fun, he said, was that they were not beyond the driver-3-wood combo that most golfers wield when seeking eagles.

"If you hit two great shots," he said, "the par fives are all reachable, especially No. 10 and No. 18. It's nice to step to the tee on those holes and think that maybe you have a chance at an eagle but that the hole has length enough to make it a challenge."

"That's always fun."

Kollar, too, was taken back by the politeness and concern of the Walden Ponds Golf Club staff. "I was here for about an hour before my tee-time. I hit a small bag and then rolled some putts," he said. "I had lots of people on staff asking me how I was doing. That's always good to see."

Kollar's favorite hole might be No. 9, he explained, a tough 187-yard carry from the blues across a splendid little valley. It features an elevated green and protected on the left by a big, deep bunker that cascades down below the hole, virtually all the way into the woods.

From the bottom of this splaying bunker, it's a 12-foot sheer pitch back up to the green - enough of a challenge for any scratch golfer and too much of a challenge, probably, for the bogey shooters out there.

Conditions are uniformly sweet and because of that consistent attention to detail - many examples of courtesy and service from the driveway turn-around to the 19th hole beer tap - Walden Ponds Golf Club management is able to offer a series of prices for a variety of club memberships. Some of the specials have an appeal that makes this course something of a poor man's private country club.

Equally impressive is that historic 1830s clubhouse with a great view of the course and rolling hills.

Getting to a course is always half the challenge of a day-on-the-road but that is not a worry here as a new highway makes the drive a quick straight-shot off I-75.

The other major reason to come to Walden Ponds Golf Club is but a mile down the highway into Hamilton then onto High Street and across the Great Miami River south two miles to Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum (www.pyramidhill.org). This collection of outdoor art is literally unsurpassed in the world - well, the Guggenheim maybe has a nicer collection.

Here's what the Atlantic Monthly has to say: "The 265 acres here, in the midst of rolling hills, are surely the most beautiful natural setting of any art park in the country" and other raves are commonplace throughout the international art world about these sculptures.

The collection includes work by Tony Rosenthal, Tom Gibbs, Marc Mellon and many others. Here, too, visitors can find a Sunday afternoon concert series in the outdoor amphitheater.

Oxford, the home of Miami University is just a few miles down the road and that city has a lively and thriving performing arts community, too, if any golfer is thinking about making this trip to southwest Ohio a weekend-long excursion this fall.

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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