Brookside Country Club was inaugurated following its move to Canton from the Myers Lake area when the club was then called the Lakeside Country Club. Donald Ross was the architect commissioned to design a new 18-hole course and it opened for play in 1922 just before the official club opening.
Despite a Robert Trent Jones Snr upgrade in 1962, the course began to lose its Donald Ross style and shape so Brian Silva was hired in 2003 to restore the layout and recapture the essence of the original architecture. Brookside has now become a true reflection of Ross’s design, with larger greens, sculpted fairways and an authentic routing.
Prominent holes include par threes at the 222-yard 4th, where the green sits beside the Sippo Creek, and the heavily sand-protected 142-yard 14th. The creek also comes into play at the left doglegged 11th and 387-yard 16th, where it cuts across in front of the green at both of these par fours. Testing back-to-back par five holes conclude the round at the 575-yard 17th and 529-yard 18th.
There is a debate as to which of these five courses is the number one course in northeast Ohio (Cleveland/Akron/Canton/Youngstown area): Brookside in Canton, Kirtland, The Country Club, Canterbury, or Firestone South (Akron). My apologies to other fine courses in the area such as Pepper Pike, Chagrin Falls, etc., but generally these are felt to be at a lower level.
I first thought I was playing Brookside in May, 2016 when I bought a threesome at a charity event. But this was for the Brookside Golf & Country Club near Columbus. While this is a very fine golf course, one of the best conditioned courses I have ever played and often used for qualifying for the U.S. Open, it is a touch below the Brookside designed by Donald Ross. The biggest reason for the disparity is the land. Brookside in Worthington, is on flat land while Brookside near Canton is on rolling hills with the clubhouse commanding the best views from the highest ground in front of the first and tenth tees, and the ninth and eighteenth greens.
Brookside in Canton is remarkable. While playing golf at Double Eagle with former Governor John Kasich, he told me that Brookside had some of the most amazing greens I would ever play. He was absolutely spot on. I played with Dave Forgan, now about 14 courses shy of completing Golf Magazine’s “ever” list: every course around the world once listed in Golf Magazine’s top 100 in the world. Our two member hosts took great care on every tee in pointing out the best route to the green, changes made in the past ten years, and additional plans for further changes. We discussed alternatives to some of the proposed changes and I gave them an idea for a couple of holes. We could not reach a consensus on how to improve eleven, where trees on the inner corner of a dogleg had recently been removed due to storm damage.
The members pointed out that the stretch of holes from the fifth to the ninth is considered to be the best stretch of five consecutive holes in the state of Ohio. It was hard to dispute it, such is the strength of these holes in combining visual appeal with wonderment and challenge.
While the green complexes, particularly the sculpting of the greens, remain interesting and challenging on the back nine, the course does lose a bit in comparison to the front nine. While the front nine builds and stays at a high level, the back nine mixes easier holes with challenging holes, with the course being more forgiving on the back nine.
All in all, it is a very fine golf course. As for which course is better in that area, when I post the reviews of Kirtland and The Country Club, I will make my feelings known. For now I would merely say that I would eliminate Firestone South from consideration due to its weaker greens and a feeling of playing the same hole several times. So that leaves four.
As to Brookside, its greens rank with the best I have ever played whether Augusta National, the courses at Bandon Dunes, Muirfield, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Tara Iti, Pinehurst #2, etc. There is only one “flat” green on the course which is on #5, which is more than acceptable as the hole has been converted from a par 5 to a par 4 and it is very challenging for average length hitters due to the length of carry required to reach the green with the approach shot. For that hole, there is no reason to add more challenge by building another slick, tricky, sloped green. Of course, for very long hitters, they would need a more interesting green but thankfully the club has put the playing ability of its membership as a priority. We estimated the greens to be rolling around 10-11 and I found them to be a pace that I could understand and play. Any speed above that should be left for professionals.
My member hosts are both long off the tee, one a scratch and the other a five index and have been “members’ of the club since their childhood.. One member host has been a club champion coming from an extended family of club champions.
From the Black tees the course measures 7155 yards, par 72 rated 74.4/134. We played the Blue tees at 6651 yards rated 72.3/131. The Green tees are 6304 yards rated 70.5/129. There are three sets of lesser tees. I felt the ratings to be about right.
It had rained a lot the day before so the course played slightly longer. Many of the holes are downhill which of course means many of the holes are uphill. It would have been nice to get another ten yards of roll on the tee shot, but the day we played it was forecasted to have more rain which held off, so it could have been worse.
I like everything about this golf course. It is a beautiful setting, although not in the same league as the back nine at Kirtland, and the golf course is a fine mixture of challenge and fun. The course is kept in excellent condition from the tees to the fairways, rough, bunkers and greens. They have removed a lot of trees recently although I saw another fifteen that should be removed both for air flow, reduce the cost of maintenance, and I did not think they had any impact on the golf course. In sum, the greens committee utilizing the services of Brian Silva has done a wonderful job of keeping to the ideals of Donald Ross as well as the course he originally designed.
In the end, I did like the stretch of holes from four through nine as well as thirteen-fifteen. There is not a “bad” hole on the golf course. I note that many of the holes have been lengthened in the past fifteen years.
1. par 4 – 450/438. Playing downhill the average length hitter wants to avoid the trees on the right and the bunker coming into the fairway. The longer hitters want to avoid an early bunker near a cluster of trees on the left side while two other bunkers sneaking into the fairway farther up are the bigger danger. The fairway narrows first with the bunker on the right and narrows further with the bunkers on the left. If a ball is hit into the bunkers or rough, there is a final bunker on the right by a tree that is troublesome. The green has a substantial false front and is tilted strongly back to front with a horizontal ripple in the middle and all sorts of little borrows. There are two bunkers left and one on the right. Going long over the green will mean a ball releases likely downhill to a blind recovery shot. I looked at the various shelves on the green and thought they limited the number of possible pin placements. This green might be the standout green on other courses but at Brookside is serves merely as an introduction as to what is to come. I did think there were a few too many trees down the right side of the fairway. It is a very good starting hole.
2. par 4 – 420/381. Going further down the hill this straight par 4 offers a bunker on the right that should not be in play as it is at the beginning of the fairway. This hole seemed more heavily tree lined that the first hole. Bigger hitters have to consider the bunker on the left side of the fairway that again sits inside the line of the fairway. Two bunkers are farther up on the right with the second one on the right corner of another tilted back to front green that is heavily undulated. It is a nice hole, but one of the easier ones on the golf course.
3. par 5 – 518/508. Reversing course, this hole plays straight and back towards the clubhouse, climbing gently and in effect adding another 20 yards to the length. The two bunkers on the left off the tee are very much in play. I note that there is a new back tee not on the card that adds another 50-60 yards to the length of the hole and sits practically in the sixth fairway. The fairway tilts to the right and has several rises and dips to it. The second shot needs to clear two bunkers at the same point both again coming into the fairway. That concept is repeating again about 30 yards short of the green so even the longer hitters have a decision to make as to their line of play and length of shot. The green is beautifully framed by two bunkers left and one on the right. The green has a smaller false front and is heavily sloped. For its length, the hole is a challenge.
4. par 3 – 224/212. Playing over Sippo Creek, this long par 3 plays a bit shorter as it is downhill. The hole is expertly put together with a chipping area/putting area about 20 yards short of the green. There is a hill to the left of the green with a single bunker at the left front corner. The creek winds in front of the chipping area and continues down the right side.
5. par 4 – 454/424. While the first four holes have been good, the fifth hole starts a stretch of outstanding golf. From an elevated tee one has to avoid Sippo Creek down the entire left side of the fairway. Longer hitters will have to avoid a bunker on the right. The green is placed at a sharp dogleg hook to the left with the creek widening at the turn and continuing down the left side of the green. The tee shot has to get as close as possible to the creek for a better and shorter angle into the green. If one is to the right the smart play for the average length player is to lay up at the turn, leaving a shot of approximately 100 yards. Longer hitters can likely get beyond the bunker on the right. The green is the flattest on the golf course and given the difficulty of the hole, it makes sense. There is good micro-mounding to the right and back of the green. It is a very good golf hole.
6. par 4 – 450/389. As good as five is, six is better. From another elevated tee one hits to a fairway that has a valley and a rise before another valley and another rise where the green sits. The ground tilts to the right with a dense line of trees on the entire left side while tress are scattered down the right. It is a beautiful vista from the tee. The average length hitter must carry to the top of the first hill to have a chance to both see and reach the green. The green is very titled back to front. We had a back right pin location that was in its own little section with a huge swale fronting it. This is one of the speedier greens on the course fronted by bunkers on both corners. While this hole is challenging enough, there is room with more tree removal to lengthen the hole for the longer/better players.
7. par 3 - 201/189. This is likely the best par 3 on the golf course. Playing downhill from an elevated tee, one has to hit the green which is surrounded by six bunkers. The green has numerous ridges and hollows in it with an overall back to front slope. There is a sizeable false front before the green. It is the rare person who will make par if they miss the green due to the inner counters of the green. This is one of the better par 3’s one will ever play.
8. par 4 – 451/389. Playing from a slightly elevated tee one has to carry three semi-cross bunkers on the right, avoid the next bunker on the right and two bunkers left that are in play for the longer hitters. Out-of-bounds is down the left side. There is a cross –bunker 25 yards short of the green on the left. The green is surrounded by four bunkers with a back left pin location that can look hidden. There is a sizeable mound on the left middle side of the green. The green has a smaller false front but once again is heavily contoured. It is a gem of a hole.
9. par 4 – 410//404. This hole plays 25 yards longer as it is substantially uphill. For me it felt as if it played 40 yards longer. There are trees on both sides, the right side which is shared with the first fairway. Two cross bunkers pinch in from the right but are only in play for the longest hitters. Three more bunkers are on the right starting about 50 yards out and they are deep making recovery unlikely. There are fronting bunkers on both corners. The green has a sizeable false front and is steeply sloped back to front and right to left. It is a very good ending to a front nine of high quality.
10. par 4 – 412/389. This is likely the weakest hole on the golf course. Playing in front of the clubhouse from a very elevated tee, one hits down the valley. All of the trouble seems to be the left including two bunkers, trees, and the side of a hill. The right side has a single bunker very much in reach from the tee. There are two final trees that come into the fairway about 60 yards short of the green. The green is one of the easier ones to read. This green and the eleventh tee are the closest one will get on the course to Perry Drive
11. par 4 – 428/406. This is a nice golf hole that doglegs left with three inner bunkers on the turn. Unfortunately large trees have had to be removed that now allow longer hitters to cut the dogleg completely and possibly have as little as a wedge in their hands for the approach shot. For average players the approach shot is likely a long one but also has the possibility of being played from a side hill lie as the fairway falls downhill starting at the turn in the dogleg. Longer hitters who cut the dogleg can find flat ground before Sippo Creek cuts diagonally in front of the green complex. The green has up to 25 yards of chipping/putting area fronting the green on the other side of the stream. The green has no bunkers but is sloped towards the water. The hole definitely needs either the trees to be replanted or a series of bunkers after the initial three. The longer hitters must have something to think about or worry them and without the trees, the defense of the hole has been lessened from Mr. Ross’s intent.
12. par 3 - 230/195. Playing from another elevated tee across a valley and Sippo Creek this green is substantially tilted back to front with large bunkers on either side. It is a challenging, long par 3 not quite in the same league as the two par 3’s on the front nine but still a good golf hole.
13. par 4 - 402/381. This hole plays slightly downhill followed by a slight rise to the green. There are two bunkers on the left side perfectly placed for longer and shorter hitters. There is a bunker at the beginning of the right side of the fairway which serves only as a guide line. Trees come into the fairway on the right. The fairway is nestled between higher ground on both sides of the fairway. At the green are two smaller front bunkers on both sides and the green has a strong left to right slope. It is a good hole but not in the same league as the front nine.
14. par 3 – 150/140. This short hole played to a slightly uphill green has the steepest green on the course. If one is long, they likely cannot stop their recovery short as it will make its way likely all the way off the front. The green is surrounded completely by six bunkers. It is a very nice par 3 although perhaps the green is too tilted. My putt up the slope had to be placed ten feet to the left of a pin only 25 feet away and I was only slightly below the horizontal line to the flag.
15. par 4 – 411/387. This hole plays uphill and requires another 20 yards. The green is one that cannot really be seen from the fairway even for the longest hitters. There are two cross bunkers about 50 yards short of the green followed by two bunkers right and one to the left of the green. There is a substantial false front to the green. This is one of the longest greens on the course, or at least it felt that way given the rise from front to back. There are all sorts of inner depressions and rises in the interior of the green. It is a strong golf hole.
16. par 4 – 416/376. The final par 4 takes one to the farthest point from the clubhouse. This is a very good golf hole that bends to the right with two inner bunkers and trees on the right. The left side has a few trees and a single bunker that the longest hitters can reach after they crest a rise in the fairway and then the fairway drops down to Sippo Creek. This green, much like the fifth, is sharply tilted back to front with a back right corner section on its own plateau. It is a wonderful golf hole.
17. par 5 – 600/578. This is a long par 5 that plays even longer as the ending is slightly uphill. From another elevated tee you hit across Sippo Creek. The longer hitters have to consider a bunker on the left sitting inside the fairway. The fairway goes up and down a few times as it bends slightly left until the green. The green is once again surrounded by bunkers, four this time and is another undulating, devilish green. In my opinion, this is the best par 5 on the golf course and a classic hole.
18. par 5 - 529/465. Although the yardage suggests a short hole, this hole is basically straight up a steep hill which ends nearly at the same height as the clubhouse. You hit across Sippo Creek for the final time and the tee shot will get zero roll and perhaps even come back at you if you do not make the first semi-plateau before the hole continues upwards. The longer hitters have a collection of three bunkers on the left and then two a bit farther up on the right. The second shot for most players have to consider a bunker about 125 yards short of the green on the right and one about 75 yards short of the green on the left. Near the green and going along its right side are four additional bunkers. The green is multi-tiered and sloped with the land back to front. It is one of the speedier greens on the course but it is hard to say where it ranks given the speed of the other greens. It is a somewhat exhausting climb upwards, but a nice finishing hole. I am sure others criticize it for the severity of the climb and the blind shot into the green, but I found it to be a hole that takes advantage of the land.
In posting this review I am surprised at how often I mentioned Sippo Creek. While it does not come into play on many of the holes, it is very much in play on others and influences one’s strategy and decisions. I am also a bit surprised at the number of elevated tees and elevated greens. The routing of Brookside is a masterpiece in taking advantage of what the land has to offer. The par 3’s are exactly where they should be. Perhaps one can quibble a bit over back-to-back par 5’s to end the round, particularly when both play fairly difficult, but it works at the Lower course at Baltusrol and it works here. There are only a few “weaker” holes on the course, and there are stretches that are brilliant. The bunkering, both placement and size are superb. Some may not like the number of bunkers placed inside the lines of the fairway, but I think it works very well and creates a golf course that is appropriately balanced between difficulty and fun. One does have to think one’s way around this golf course, particularly in determining the best angle into the greens based on pin position.
But of course what one will most remember about Brookside is the undulations inside the greens. These are some of the best and most interesting greens one will ever play. There are many false fronts that one has to avoid as well.
I really like Brookside and recommend it very highly. Ohio is a golf-rich state. If one has a chance to only play a single course in Ohio, you will be pleased if it is Brookside.
Due to the strength of several holes, the par 3's and those amazing greens, I will rate this a five, although normally I might put a 4.5 given the strength of the other courses in the region.
Brookside is on the radar of a lot of golfers who try to play top 100 courses. The restoration was a success and there is a comfortable openness to the course. However, the comfort leaves as one gets on the undulating greens. Some criticize the greens for being too contoured for modern speeds, but they are no more difficult than some greens at Pinehurst #2, Muirfield Village, Oakmont, and Augusta that people don't seem to mind.
The most poignant feature of this Ross course is the excessively contoured greens. In today’s world of quick greens and the ever-growing expectations around conditioning, many of these greens wouldn’t work (or be of any enjoyment to players) if they were rolling above 9 on the stimpmeter. While this is not true for every green, the majority of greens are too extreme. Tree clearance continues to move this well routed course in a great direction as vistas have been opened up across the sweeping topology. It is a wonderful golf course!