Ohio golf in 2003 offers chance to make old memories new again

By John Eckberg, Contributor

Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Touranment spotlights Buckeye State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year of Buckeye State golf highlights at GolfOhio.com brings back many forgettable shots, plenty of unbelievable lies (didn't we say at the first hole we were playing Greenies and Sandies?) and an assortment of unreasonable putts.

It also offers plenty of memories. As every dedicated Ohio golfer knows, the state offers some fabulous and historic courses, as fine as any in the world. But often overlooked are some other important golfing qualities.

The following is basically one hacker's best-of list of golf in Ohio in 2002 -- think of it as what happens when you give a big monkey a map and a set of golf clubs. It is assuredly limited, but you can assume that everything on the list is true, so it has that going for it:

Best greens: Tough to measure because stemp never tells the whole story as the truest measure of quality is never just slick and true. The greens at Friendly Meadows Golf Course east of Cincinnati emanate passion and get the top 2002 plaudit.

These grassy slabs are jade firm and fast from decades of dedication by course owner, designer, superintendent and chief range-ball-washer Steve Oberschlake. He's a five-time state amateur qualifier, who has a degree from the world-famous Ohio State University College of Agronomy. During mid-summer, (ironic that it usually happens about the same time he starts getting ready to compete in the Ohio Amateur competition) these greens get tight. www.friendlymeadowsgolf.com

Best driving range: The Anderson Township Practice Range is the winner, hands-down. The range itself is not particularly noteworthy, though most of the tees are grass and there are plenty of targets. No, what sets apart the Anderson Township Practice Range is inside the modest clubhouse on Ohio 32 where you can belly-up to a cool, wooden U-shaped bar. It's a YUPPIE-free zone, too. Bud's on tap, and there are five TVs. Mary's Clubhouse makes this place a top choice. For the committed, Pro Mark Yingling and Wayne Kelley give lessons. A full pro shop includes club fitting and repair.

Best historic hole:Well, it's impossible to say which hole is most historic because the entire course at Aston Oaks Golf Club is incredible. The 15th hole is not particularly challenging but it sneaks past the old mill stream on a former President's estate. Other holes offer a fine perspective of the Ohio River, the William Henry Harrison memorial and the rolling hills of Kentucky. The rest of the course reeks of American horticultural history. Some of the trees are from America's first forestry preserve. The old home at the entry was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The biggest Buckeye tree in the Buckeye state is along the entry drive. Play here if you're an Ohio golfer!

Best old hole: Sleepy Hollow Golf Course near Cleveland. The Par-3 No. 2 is flat through a draw and plays 220 yards from the whites and 240 yards from the blues. OK. But what's the deal here is that because the green front to back is about 48 yards, on some days this whole can play 265 yards. Consider that it was designed sometime in the mid-1920s for the steel shafts and persimmon drivers of the era, and you get a real feel for what a Zen-crazy fellow architect Stanley Thompson must have been.

Best new hole: Comparatively few people have played No. 17 at Bouldercreek Golf Club in Streetsboro but that's only because 2002 was the first season for this course. If the island green at No.17 seems more Ohio farm pond than Pacific Ocean overlook, well, who cares? It's great target golf and besides, every island green is a treasure or at least a rare and fine thing, particularly when the frogs call through the gloaming at the end of a round. For more on the course: http://bouldercreek.cc/.

Best northern Ohio lodging: For any of the courses in Northern Ohio, look to stay for creature comfort in Akron instead of Cleveland. Perhaps the old O'Neil House, a tire magnate's Tudor estate, for under $100 per couple per night (www.oneilhouse.com) or at the Jenkin's House just two miles from downtown at http://www.empoweringyou.com/thejenkinshouse/. Both offer great access to Route 8. Take it north to Streetsboro. Follow 76 north to Cleveland for Sleepy Hollow.

Best true golf animal story: The gray-haired guy emerges from the course on a morning of frosty fog at California Golf Course. What's he doing out there anyhow? The course is closed. He goes to a car, then returns to the course with a club. The greens have frost, we say as he goes by. It's closed. I'm gonnagetachow dog, he mumbles then continues. When he comes back he is asked. What did you say? Where'd you go? He says a Chow dog had growled at him earlier. Wrong guy to growl at. He'd take the club out to the course to whack the dog, but the chow dog was gone. Somebody breaks the silence: what club you use for that shot? Guy looks down at the club. Seven-iron, he says.

Best road course: If only for name and tradition, The Grizzly at The Golf Center at Kings Island is adjacent to Interstate 71 north of Cincinnati and therefore sees more cars and trucks than the average Ohio championship course. While proximity to an interstate is often a liability, that is not always the case here. You must hit the north course at the Grizzly. Learn more at www.thegolfcenter.com

Best urban course: It's a secret but all good secrets get out anyhow. Devou Park Golf Course isn't even in Ohio though this Covington, Ky., track is just 10 minutes from downtown Cincinnati to the blues. Literally. If you have business in Cincinnati, bring your sticks. Carts will be allowed on fairways in 2003. Awesome surprises await. There are one or two stunning views of downtown Cincinnati and at least one great suspended tee-box panorama of the Ohio River, too. Conditions are excellent but it's Swiss Alps hilly. The toughest part - getting there: From the north, take I-75 across the river to the Covington-Pike Street exit, the second exit. Go right at the light (left at the light if coming from the south), then after 30 feet cut sharp to the right down one-way Lewis Street. At Montague, bear right up the hill to the clubhouse.

Best off-course 19th hole: After battling the slick greens and the water nine at Turkeyfoot Lake Golf Links built in 1927 in south suburban Akron, head west from the course then north on Route 93 100 yards to Anthes Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge (330-494-8317) for a great steak and Manhattan or Martini. You may want to have a fresh shirt in the car or some of those Old Spice wash towelettes handy. The steaks here are fabulous.

Best on-course 19th hole: It has to be the grill at Indian Valley near Cincinnati. How could you ask for more? The food here is good -- basic hamburger fare -- the beer comes in pitchers and the glassed-in and air-conditioned views of the course and riverhole No. 18 are decent. There is also an outdoor patio. Inside is a table shuffleboard game, two dart boards and TVs are scattered around the room. Bring another pitcher please!

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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