EagleSticks Golf Course: Ohio Layout Maturing into Quite a Destination

By Carl W. Grody, Contributor

Zanesville, OH - Ten years ago, a babe was born in eastern Ohio.

The babe was instantly hailed as a beauty. This was a bit of a surprise to anyone familiar with Zanesville but not familiar with the babe's history. After all, this wonder child - EagleSticks Golf Course - was tucked into a section of a midsized Ohio town that seems more like Mayberry with a McDonald's than the big time. But beauty knows no geography, and this babe popped from the drawing board with a face that every mother could love.

Of course, the babe came from good genetic stock. Its father was noted golf course architect Michael Hurdzan, and its mother was the good rolling earth of Ohio farmlands. With a head start like that, the babe could hardly come out any way but beautiful.

Within two years, others of note noticed the babe's beauty. Golf Digest named it the best public course in Ohio in 1993, and its value has only gone up as the course has matured.

But that value hasn't been stuffed down the average golfer's throat in the form of green fees. You can play EagleSticks for $30.50 on a weekday, $40 if you take a cart.

On the weekends, EagleSticks takes a deeper bite out of your wallet -- $40.50, $50 with cart -- but you can play for $20.00 if you're willing to wait until after 5 p.m. If you take that route during the summer months, you might even play all 18 holes because the sun doesn't go down until about 9 p.m.

There are plenty of things to do at EagleSticks even if you don't have time for 18 holes. Mac's Sports Bar is a great place to drink, eat and watch sports (surprise!) on large-screen TVs scattered around the walls.

For more sophisticated dining, there's the Inn at EagleSticks, which features a "Victorian atmosphere." (Why is it that you never see the word "Victorian" without the adjective "sophisticated?" Just wondering . . .)

You could also work on your game. In addition to the driving range, EagleSticks features both a putting and chipping green, as well as practice bunkers.

In other words, EagleSticks is blessed. It's the proverbial child born with a silver spoon in his mouth, only others get to be spoiled instead of the child.

EagleSticks is 10 years old now, but it's still not a big boy. It's a par-70 course that only plays 6,508 yards from the gold (a.k.a. back) tees with a slope of 120 and a rating of 70.1. From the whites, it's just 5,493 yards and has a rating of 65.5 and a slope of 108. It's not an intimidating scorecard.

But you won't be trying to hit the fairway on the scorecard. As with all of his progeny, Hurdzan used the natural lay of the land as much as possible, and the result is a claustrophobic course squeezed into 123 acres. It features more than 130 strategically placed bunkers and hard, quick greens that might keep you up at night.

At times, you'll feel more like you're doing knee squats with Richard Simmons than golfing as you move from tee to tee. The first tee looks out over a ravine. The second hole plays uphill.

The third hole plays downhill, followed by a brutal walk up to the fourth tee. (Hint: take either a cart or a mountain goat; it doesn't matter which.) This pattern repeats over and over; in fact, it detracts from the course because it lends a sameness to several of the holes.

But there are also some unique beauties. The third hole, for example, is a downhill, reachable par five that features a picturesque tee shot. This tee towers over the fairway, which is wide and easy to hit. The target is so wide that you don't even notice the out-of-bounds stakes along the left side.

But a tee shot in the fairway doesn't guarantee a chance to go for the green in two. The fairway is sloped from left to right, and it rolls down toward the hole in waves. You're likely to have a sidehill, downhill or uphill lie -- or some combination of the three.

The green is also not the most inviting target. A small water hazard crosses the fairway about 60 yards short of the green, which is tucked into a strand of woods that embraces it like a mother's hug. There are also three bunkers, including one short and right of the green that leaves the dreaded 30- to 40-yard sand shot.

The main defense for the fourth hole is actually getting to it. If you're walking, you'll feel like you're climbing the Eiffel Tower as you trudge up to the tee. The tee shot is fairly simple on this short par four - 363 yards from the back tees -- but your approach will be severely uphill and blind.

You can catch your breath at the fifth hole, a downhill 151-yard par three, but then you're back on Hurdzan's roller coaster, lumbering your way up the par-four, 342-yard sixth hole.

Although good parents say they like their children equally, they often have a favorite, and nobody would blame Hurdzan for picking the seventh as his. It's another short par four, 338 yards from the gold tees, and it's downhill, but the design of this hole is classic Hurdzan.

Hurdzan is probably best known for two things -- for melding the local environment into the golf course, and for determining your shots for you. On the seventh hole, there are boulders, slopes and bunkers to the right of the fairway to keep you from challenging that side.

There are bunkers left of the fairway, too, apparently to protect the trailer park that sits just left of the trees. And the fairway narrows at the 100-yard mark. Hurdzan wants you to lay back with your tee shot, and no sane golfer would try anything else

Even from the middle of the fairway, the approach is tricky. The green is long and as thin as Calista Flockhart on a fasting day. To the left are large grassy mounds and bunkers. To the right are bunkers and a large pond, which wraps around the back of the green. The safe approach is to ignore the pin and shoot for the front of the green. The lunatic approach would be to fire at the pin. Once again, Hurdzan forced the hand of all but the craziest golfers.

The ninth hole is another par five, but in a frenzy of U.S. Open-inspired lunacy, Hurdzan decided to make it a par four. It's just 453 yards from the back tees, and the tee shot carries as far downhill as your tee shot on the third hole. But the approach is a blind, uphill blast that has to find a small green tucked between bunkers on the right and out-of-bounds stakes on the left. This hole plays at least 50 yards longer than its yardage, and you have to find some way to tickle the green with a long iron or fairway wood.

You'll need refreshment and possibly an oxygen bottle after that hole, but don't stop at the turn. If you do, you'll lose your position on the course and you'll have to wait for the starter to let you back in. There's a snack bar on the course near the sixth and 14th holes; get a snack both times you go past it.

The 10th hole is the hardest on the course for anybody with a fear of water. It's a downhill, 193-yard shot from the back tees over water -- and it requires a shot of 190 yards to carry the liquid. The green sits in a sinister bowl of grassy mounds, but you have to avoid the left side. There are bunkers there as well as high natural grasses -- a Hurdzan trademark.

The 11th is the longest hole on the course, and it might be the biggest pain in the rump. It plays 591 yards from the back tees, and the tee shot doglegs slightly to the left. The fairway is fairly wide, but the hole tightens after that like the grip of a baby clutching his binky.

The hole plays uphill from the fairway, and most golfers simply can't reach the green in two. The lay-up is tricky, though, because more of Hurdzan's high mounds -- we're talking 15 to 20 feet high -- protect the right side of the fairway while a creek and trees protect the left side. The green is also small, so you're likely to miss this hole and have to scramble for a par.

The second-hardest hole on the course is the 479-yard par four 13th. You have to stripe a perfect drive in the middle of the fairway for a chance to reach this green in regulation, and if you miss your tee shot to the right, your approach shot is blind. The green is large if invisible, and it features a particularly brutal shelf on the back-right portion.

The course finishes with another long par-five, the 541-yard 18th. But this is another downhill tee shot to a fairway that slopes uphill to a blind green. This hole is almost a carbon copy of the ninth, except that this time the scorecard says it's a par five.

However, the 18th does have a saving grace if you're playing from the white tees -- it's just 473 yards. You'll have a legitimate chance to actually reach the green in three shots.

When you leave the final green, there's a slight feeling of disappointment. You felt so much promise early in the round, yet the course eventually fell into a predictable routine. Like a stay-at-home parent of a cranky six-year-old, you'll start to feel trapped. In the parent's case, it's day after day of feeding and changing diapers and rocking the baby to sleep and, every three or fours days, catching a few winks of shuteye. At EagleSticks, you're trapped by holes that start repeating themselves on the back nine, leaving you feeling a tad cheated.

On the other hand, the course is so beautiful and so well-maintained that you might not notice the repetition. And if you do notice, you might not care. After all, you're not the parent here.

The real work is somebody else's problem. You're more like the favorite aunt or uncle who swoops in, plays with the baby for a few hours and then swoops back out again, content in the knowledge that somebody else actually has to deal with the kid's bad moods.

And anybody who's had a 10-year-old can relate to that.

Carl W. Grody, Contributor

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