The Columbus Country Club property was initially developed as an equestrian club with bridle paths laid out throughout the estate but it didn’t take long for golf to take over and Tom Bendelow is credited as the man who designed the initial 9-hole course for the owner, Orlando A. Miller.
Donald Ross added another nine holes in 1914 before returning in later years to remodel the layout. C.H. Alison upgraded holes 6, 7, 14 and 18 during the 1920s, Dick Wilson carried out work on holes 1,3,7 and 17 in advance of the 1964 PGA Championship, then Geoff Cornish and Brian Silva redesigned greens and bunkers in the late 1980s.
More recently, the club commissioned Keith Foster to draft a master plan, which Keith's protégé, Kevin Hargrave, implemented over two years. The renovation started at the end of 2016 and involved the removal of over fifteen hundred trees, the replacement of all the bunkers and the repositioning of tee boxes, all of which was done to make the course more playable for the membership.
“Hargrave did a masterful job of weaving expansive fairways through magnificent oaks, maples, and newly planted fescue areas throughout the entire course,” former Columbus Country Club general manager Jay Frank said. “We were excited to reopen and show off the renovated course to our members.”
Amid the current rethink on Christopher Columbus’s legacy, the prospect for renaming America’s No. 14 city by population has livened up. The most popular candidate (at least in the social media universe) is “Flavortown,” a reference to Food Network personality Guy Fieri, a hometown hero. It’s an ironic thought, however, as Columbus is rather vanilla compared to Ohio’s other population hubs, Cleveland and Cincinnati, in terms of both personality and food (the latter puts chili on spaghetti, after all).
Likewise, the terrain at Donald Ross’s Inverness packs much more bam-boom-in-your-face punch, in the vein of Fieri’s infamous “Donkey Sauce,” than does Columbus Country Club. True culinary connoisseurs will tell you, however, that the art in cooking comes with subtle touches. And so Ross (and more recently Kevin Hargrave) set about his work.
Columbus holds some hills, and players will begin with a dive down from the first tee with an approach back up to the first putting surface. The approach to uphill No. 3’s green is the most photogenic point on the course. From there, most of the holes exist on one plane or another: either the “highland” of the clubhouse or the “lowland” holes that fill the valley down on Blacklick Creek, which edges the property. Looking out from the teeboxes of Nos. 5 and 11, respectively, one can admire the placement of the fairway bunkers as solid strategic golf and, the more animalistic pleasure in driving a ball a great distance downward. One will also notice, however, the fairway stretched like mother’s table linen, with hardly an askance lie to be found. Ross’s task then was to accentuate his dish with zest that the meat of the land did not provide.
He focused on the greens and their immediate surrounds...and especially their immediate surrounds. Great greens do not make a great golf course. They are necessary for a golf course to be great but an architect cannot make a career on designing putting surfaces alone. The chemistry between these greens and their surrounding shorts areas are paramount, akin to that of brown sugar and paprika...two different flavors that must work in tandem to reach a higher purpose...either on a golf course or in your correspondent’s world*-famous (* = I am the world, after all, in my own ego) Kansas City BBQ rub.
Ross will allow you to have your flat lie but, like ingredients, a tee shot must be coupled with an approach to score. I received a taste early at No. 2, when my approach caught a hiccup short and bounced right into a downward-angled chip. No. 10 is one of several long holes that appear like your eagle approach is gold...until it’s diverted into one of Ross’s noted short-grass gathering areas below the hole. No. 11’s aforementioned tee shot is mac-and-cheese but its approach is spaghettini cetarese. Indeed I am grateful that there was just a slight inhale of turf ahead of the No. 9 par three, otherwise I am convinced my perfectly-executed shot would have found the cup, which would have been an existential nightmare...an ace with no playing partners. Thank you for sparing me, Mr. Ross!
Hargrave’s recent work restoring the course merits major recognition. His work with Keith Foster, a master restorer, reflects in the current course, and the swathes of native area add further flavor to land that, alone, can be quite tepid. Still, Columbus Country Club can only excel to the extent of its land’s potential and some stretches, particularly the final three holes, display these limits. It’s a fine meal worth a look forward to, assuming you won’t be eating at Ross’s several Michelin-starred locations around Ohio.
As a side note, I have inquired whether the club will change its name to “Flavortown Country Club” if the city itself rebrands. No answer yet but will keep you in the loop.
Columbus CC is a classic throwback. With a design that has the fingerprints of such luminaries as Tom Bendelow, Donald Ross, Dick Wilson and Brian Silva it is not lacking in pedigree.
The first hole is not exactly welcoming. Favor the right side off the tee as the hole leans left. You may want to take an extra club to this elevated green that is protected by bunkers eft and right. This did not work out well for me, as I was above the hole…. The 2nd also leans left and you must favor the right side or run the risk of being blocked out, however there is a fairway bunker on the right side. A decent drive should leave you with a low iron into a green with bunkers front eft and greenside right. The 3rd is a good birdie oppty. Once again favor the right off the tee. There are an assortment of bunkers leading up to this slightly uphill green. Be below the hole. The 4this the number one handicap hole and the longest par four. The hole is treelined with no real trouble, a high draw off the tee is preferred. The green has two bunkers left and one right, but is probably the flattest green on the course. The 5th is another demanding par four. Fairway bunkers left and right that really hourglass the landing area. Greenside bunkers front left and right. The 6th is only marginally easier than its predecessors. Leans left with fairway bunkers on the left side and a green with bunkers front right and left. The first par three has a large undulating green with two front bunkers. The first par five is the shortest and very reachable. This is a tree lined hole with fairway bunkers that squeeze the fairway. A decent drive and you have a greenlight. The 9th is a mid-length par three. I am surprised it is the 11th handicap. Middle of the green to avoid the three greenside bunkers.
The back starts with a dogleg right par 5. Big hitters can get home in two, but you will have to cut the corner. For the rest of us, the ideal drive will be down the right side just inside the right fairway bunker. Pick your yardage for the 2nd shot. This green is slopes hard left. From the elevated tee box the 11th will look wide open, however right is gunch. With two bunkers on the inside elbow of the right listing hole the best line off the tee is left fairway bunker. Holes 12-15 are your scoring oppties. The 12th is a short dogleg right with a plethora of bunkers. Big hitters can fly the right fairway bunker, but I do not think the risk/reward is there with gunch right. A decent drive will give you an attack wedge. The tabletop 13th is the shortest hole and is surrounded by three bunkers. The 14th is a slight dogleg right. An ideal drive will carry the two bunkers on the inside elbow. The 15th is a long par five and it is really about positioning for your approach. The right front bunker is not user friendly and the green is sloped back to front, so it does receive wedges nicely. The 16th is a tough long, albeit straight par four. Favor the right off the tee toe ensure that you miss the long fairway bunker left. Pay attention to pin location on this two-tiered green. The 17th is a long par three. If you are going to miss, I would suggest short right. The 18th is the longest hole on the course and bends left. You can be blocked out left, but there are a series of four fairway bunkers down the right side.
A little bit predictable, but a fine course.