Oakhaven Golf Club: A Tight and Tricky Cinematic Ride in Ohio
DELAWARE, OH - Oakhaven Golf Club is best played in the fall, as near to Halloween as possible, because it has all of the elements of any horror flick starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
You should be suspicious as you turn into the course from the highway. A huge sign on a large white barn promises that Oakhaven is "a little slice of heaven." The cynical golfer won't be fooled; since when has "slice" been paired with heaven at a golf course?
Just like a horror movie, the course starts innocently enough. The par-five first hole has a fairway as wide as several drive-in movie screens, and the green is reachable in two with an iron. But as you stroll through the front nine, the course gradually gets harder. Your blood pressure increases slightly with each shot until you hit the back nine -- specifically, the last six holes, which weave through the woods like the Big Bad Wolf stalking Little Red Riding Hood.
Or Jamie Lee Curtis, as the case might be.
Delaware is the kind of town where an average horror movie might be set. It's small-town America, the home to Ohio Wesleyan College. The biggest event of the year is the Little Brown Jug in September, the premier race for harness racing in the world. Against that kind of backdrop, even the worst scriptwriter -- which is exactly the resume needed to write one of these things -- could put together a thriller.
OK, more like a screamer, but let's not quibble.
Oakhaven's designer, David Savic, didn't start out to play mad scientist. Savic is not a household name, but he has plenty of experience with some of the best golf course architecture minds in the business. He's worked for Pete Dye. He's worked for Jack Nicklaus. And, judging by the back nine, he also spent a little time with Dr. Frankenstein.
Oakhaven isn't a long course -- just 6,638 yards from the blues, 6,051 yards from the whites -- but it's tight and tricky. There are out-of-bounds stakes on 10 holes, and the back nine is jammed so tightly into the woods that you're in danger of being drilled by a wayward approach shot while you tee off at several of the holes. There's even a wire-mesh fence to keep drives from the 15th tee from plunking unsuspecting golfers on the 17th tee.
Like any good horror heroine, the average golfer will start his round oblivious to the lurking dangers. Sure, there's a slope that only a mountain goat could love on the second green, but the first couple of holes seem like fairly simple links golf.
But in any good horror flick, the danger gradually increases. As the movie goes along, the ominous background music ratchets higher and higher until reaching a crescendo when the heroine is in the most trouble. You'll start to hear that music in your head as you stand on the third tee.
It's just a 151-yard par three from the white tees, but there's water in front of the green -- a putting surface that might remind you of the 12th green at Augusta National. It's not as severe as the hole Jack Nicklaus called the toughest par-three in tournament golf, but for the average amateur, it might as well be.
The green is 43 yards wide, but it's not deep -- just 23 yards, to be exact. The green features a front and back tier, and the slope between the two is so sharp that you can't stop the ball on the green if you're pitching to a front-pin location from behind the putting surface. Your only chance at birdie here is to stick your tee shot on the same level as the pin, otherwise, you'll be lucky to save bogey.
The background music will intensify on the sixth, which is Oakhaven's signature hole. It's an innocuous looking par five that plays just 506 yards from the white tees. The long driveway into the course runs along the left side of the hole, which doglegs a touch to the left around a huge, craggy looking tree at the corner of the fairway. Hitting the fairway is fairly simple from the whites.
From the blue tees though, the tee shot is much trickier. The blue tees are on the other side of the driveway, and you hit your shot from an elevated teebox over whatever cars might be driving through at the time. The tree mentioned before suddenly becomes a monster; if you go to the right of it, you have a long second shot. If you try to go left, you risk being in the rough, a ditch or the road. And the tree is too tall and too far away to go over the top.
If you hit the fairway, you might be tempted to go for the green in two, but don't. There's a long carry over water to a perpendicular strip of fairway leading into the green from the left. The water will keep you from going directly at the green, and there's little to be gained by going for that small strip of aforementioned fairway.
Even if you make it, you face a wedge to a green that slopes severely from left to right; coming from that angle, your ball is sure to skip down toward the water -- and to make the shot even more scary, the bank near the water is shaved close.
The best play on this hole is to hit your three-wood from the tee, lay up to 120 yards and then fire a pitching wedge or nine-iron and hope your shot holds the green.
Things get spookier on the par four eighth hole, which plays just 348 yards from the white tees. The approach has to cut through a tight tunnel of tree branches, somehow avoid two large trees acting as sentries on each side of the front of the green, and then somehow stop on the proper level of this three-tiered green. Making the shot even more precarious is that there's no margin for error; the green is just 18 yards wide.
Things get more diabolical on the back nine. The 10th green is just 15 yards wide and slopes away from you, leaving any front pin almost impossible to find. The 11th features a 155-yard carry over water to a two-tiered green that's just 18 yards deep. The 12th hole features a lake that runs for 175 yards along the left side of the hole and a cornfield that's out-of-bounds on the right side.
And then things get tough.
The highlight of the course -- that is, if you're a tree-loving masochist -- is the par five 13th hole. If you're not a straight shooter, this tee shot is the equivalent of having Jason in his hockey mask jump out at you from around a corner for the first time.
Large trees frame the fairway for the entire length of the hole, and the fairway is tight, leaving no margin for error. The height of the trees and their close proximity to the fairway make this shot tough for anybody that likes to work the ball from the side. Even the most consistent fade or draw risks banging some branches.
Take whatever club you can hit straight and get your tee shot in the fairway. This might be the first time you'll tee off at a par five with a seven-iron.
Your second shot will be tough as well. The trees hug the fairway for the entire length of the hole, and the fairway rolls like the tracks of a roller coaster. The green is also small and crowned in the center, meaning your desired target area is about the size of your Foot-Joy.
The 14th hole looks easy from the tee, but this is just Savic's way of lulling you into a sense of false security -- you know, like the teenaged girl relaxing in a bath after a hard day of running from the monster, only to have the monster spring into the bathroom before the bubbles even dissipate.
The 14th plays 294 yards from the white tees, and big hitters will be tempted to take a shot at driving the green. It's not a bad play either, if you hit a high draw and you know where it's going. The trees are tall and tight here too, but the hole opens slightly behind a fairway bunker about a hundred yards short of the green.
Oakhaven has a couple of design flaws -- the tee shot over the road at six comes to mind -- but the fairway bunker at 14 is the equivalent of a car chase in a Meg Ryan flick. The smart play on this hole is to lay up to about 100 yards short of the green, then hit a wedge on your approach. But if you do that, you risk landing in the fairway bunker. If you lay back short of the bunker, trees come into play on your approach shot.
Fairway bunkers are supposed to penalize you for doing the wrong thing, not for playing smart golf. The positioning of this bunker encourages players to try blasting over the bunker when they shouldn't, and any tee shot hit offline will be in the woods.
The 15th is another tricky par five. You tee off from a box of trees downhill to a fairway that you can't see. That leaves you with an uphill shot of about 200 yards to a green tucked into the woods on the right. To make the approach even trickier, the fairway slopes to the right, but the green slopes severely to the left.
There are two bunkers to the left of the green, and there's another cornfield to the right. The green is only 17 yards wide, and anything to the right - AKA, above the hole -- means a tough downhill putt just to keep the ball on the green, let alone drop it in the cup.
The 18th hole is a fitting climax to your day of horror. It's a 425-yard, uphill par four. Your tee shot needs to carry water that's blind from the back tees, then finish in the left side of the fairway. That's because a huge tree overhangs the right side of the fairway at the 150-yard mark. The green is 33 yards wide and heart-shaped, but you have no chance of getting close to a right pin placement if you're not in the left side of the fairway.
If you miss the green long and on the wrong side of the green, your chances of getting up and down are about as good as Hollywood scriptwriters suddenly deciding teen-aged girls should be smart in horror movies. You'll either have to hit a high lob wedge to a small target, or you'll have to hit a low bump-and-run through the rough and pray that the ball doesn't get snagged before reaching the green.
When you walk off the final green, you'll feel the same exhilarating relief that you feel when you leave the theater after 90 minutes of cinematic screaming and bleeding. The sun will still be high in the sky, everything will be right with the world and you will have survived an afternoon of terror-filled entertainment. You'll feel great that you played Oakhaven and lived to tell about it.
That is, until you add up your score in the parking lot. Then the screaming might start all over again.