Apple Valley Golf Course, tucked relatively far from any of Ohio’s largest city centers, has generated acclaim as one of the trendier routes for Ohio golfers “in-the-know.” Part of that hip vibe comes knowing that one family — the Mickleys — have owned and operated Apple Valley for more than 50 years. Opening during 1969, the public course held some tournament sway, hosting the NCAA Division III National Championship among other events. It still has more than enough bite for most golfers, however, at just less than 7,000 yards from the back tees.
The course maintains a fair persona by not punishing the casual golfer too heinously (there are relatively few trees for this area of Ohio, and very few fairway bunkers), saving its lash for those making an approach (the course site notes a range of bunker depths, from steep-faced to so shallow as to be putt out of).
The give-and-take approach is perhaps best represented in its most photographed hole, a short par three (140 yards from the back), which angles back and left, fronted by a pond. Getting to the green is not so difficult, but getting greedy for back pins is eminently more challenging.
John Chapman’s legacy, if he had his choice, would probably have been his role as a missionary, spreading his Christian ideals across the American Midwest, with particular success amid the Native Americans due to his naturalist tendencies. Alas, America being a land of production, Chapman would become known as “Johnny Appleseed” for the number of tree nurseries he founded. The moniker stemmed from his introduction of apple trees to the region, and the moniker for the Apple Valley region, which hosts the public course of the same name.
Apple Valley Golf Course should be considered in correlation with Chapman’s legacy in two parts, the first being his core mission.
Apple Valley exists well outside of Ohio’s major city centers, requiring an hour drive from north Columbus (maybe a little shorter from Mansfield). Although the course benefits from a community that caters to agriculture and Summer tourism (Apple Valley Lake is an idyllic Summer getaway), word of the course’s muddy-gem status draws curious hackers (including your correspondent) from Columbus and Cleveland, and those rarely leave disappointed. Apple Valley presents humble enjoyment, the kind that such a pleasant piece of rolling property is bound to provide, actual course design be damned. It’s the kind of barefoot pleasure that Chapman, a denier of earthly wealth, preached.
(Don’t try to play barefoot. Management isn’t THAT easygoing).
Some of the features at Apple Valley’s most distinctive holes manage to hide suspect architectural choices. No. 4 features a deep, railroad-tie supported bunker along its green. No. 8 has a natural valley that defends that entirety of the hole’s right side, becoming deepest ahead of the angled green. A pond provides the green’s defense at the short par four No. 11. What do all of these holes, slight doglegs, have in common? The best line of approach is from the outside of the dogleg, and all the hazards are on the inside of the dogleg.
As Swedish guitarist Skwisgar Skwigelf once said: “Looks cool but does not reflects on us very wells.”
These strategic errors, fortunately, are simple ones, which could greatly improve the course with a simple renovation, and not a dramatic redesign. Likewise, several holes are hampered by trees; although I doubt we can expect the forested corridors of Nos. 9 and 10 to be scaled back anytime soon, removing a few trees at the corner of No. 17 — perhaps the strategic highlight of the course — would enhance its purpose. A wide green makes a different tee shot preferred from day-to-day, with fairway hazards on both ends. A skilled player will execute a switchback strategy while the conservative player will aim for the middle of the fairway and make do. Unfortunately, the trees along the right hamper this design (almost forgot…Chapman’s second legacy, referenced above, is the introduction of dogfennel, a noxious weed, to the region).
These complaints are the kind a golfer would expect from such a greens fee, and can forgive. There are moments of splendor that this cynical critic wouldn’t dare touch, however. The course’s signature hole is the par three at No. 5, which maxes out at 140 yards. A long green, angled front-right to back-left with a pond along the left side, the hole is short enough to justify the penal hazard but offers differing challenges depending on pin placement. The back pin will require, for most, a confident full swing of a wedge. The front requires something even scarier…a confident, non-full swing of the wedge.
This review is somewhat unfair in that it has tended to linger on the whimsical “could be” versus the valuable “is.” Apple Valley is an excellent asset, worth heading to at least once for those who don’t mind a minute (pronounced “my-noot” in this instance) commute. It fulfills a role that Chapman would have appreciated, at least in principle, by bringing a quality rendition of the great game to those outside the urban scope. At this, Apple Valley succeeds. After all, it’s tough to raise a world-beater in such an environment without Keiser money. That said, one can’t help but wonder if a team such as King-Collins (Sweetens Cove) or Colton-Ross (Park Mammoth) might be able to elevate this isolated public course to a new level.
Introducing such extravagance might defy Chapman’s sermon’s of simplicity. But I’m willing to look the other way.