Donald Ross laid out the course, formerly known as Granville Golf Club, in 1924 and it extends to a modest 6,559 yards from the tips. Tight and sloping fairways, coupled with firm and fast greens, make Denison Golf Club at Granville a tough test.
The course was built for John Sutphin Jones, a native of Granville who left town as a railroad conductor in 1885 and returned years later as a coal, rail and financial tycoon. He then engaged Ross to lay out a course on an extensive farmland and wooded property close to where he stayed.
The property was purchased in 1987 by William Wright, who addressed stream-erosion issues and upgraded the conditioning. Water plays a part in proceedings on several holes, most notably with a stream that runs through the 2nd and 3rd and greenside ponds at the 15th and 16th.
Tom Doak commented in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses as follows; “this old course has been taken over by Denison University after a second round of financial difficulties. Sadly, earlier in their struggle to stay afloat, the club re-routed three holes overlooking the town to a real estate developer, and replaced them with three banal holes between the houses – thus losing the very thing that made the course special.”
Denison Golf Club was an original Donald Ross design. It used to be called Granville CC and during one recession was forced to sell land and reconnoiter three holes. Granville is a picturesque little community that reminds most folks of New England. It is not an accident, in that the village was originally settled by New Englanders. It is also home to Denison University. While best known for his achievements at Ohio State, Woody Hayes first played football at Denison and then coached there after his service in World War II. Other notables include Michael Eisner, Steve Carell and for you Alias fans, Jennifer Garner.
The first hole is welcoming. A short par four birdie oppty. A decent drive wil leave an attack wedge to a green that is surrounded by bunkers. The 2nd is the number one handicap hole and deservedly so. A long par four with OB right and a creek that crosses in front and then runs up the left side. A good drive will be left with a long approach to an undulating green. The 3rd isn’t much easier, long and straight with the creek on the left side and bunkers front right and left. The first par 3 is over 230 yards. I was not embarrassed to hit my driver. There is a 73 yard delta in yardage between the black and blue tees. Bad design. The fifth is a dogleg left, a high draw is optimal. Take an extra club on the approach to this elevated green. The 6th is a reachable par five. Favor the left the entire hole as the contour will push everything right. More architectural nits, treelined yet there are fairway bunkers within the right trees? The 7th is a mid-length par three that is well protected by bunkers. The long 8th is also a head scratcher from bunker placement. I understand the technology has changed, but …….The front ends with a birdie hole. The fairway is pinched on both sides with fairway bunkers.
The back starts with a long par five. Treelined both sides with some fairway bunkers on the left. It is an elevated green, but three mediocre shots will give you a shot at birdie, yet it is the number 4 handicap? A high draw will put you in the governor’s kitchen on 11. Once again there are fairway bunkers protecting the trees left or vice versa depending upon your perspective. The last par five leaks a wee bit right. Favor the left off the tee a good drive will give you a green light to go for it. There is a drop off left of the green with a deep bunker. The 13th is a short dogleg right, consider laying up as you can drive thru this fairway. Ideal line is over the bunker on the elbow, much right of that is problematic due to the height of the trees. Good birdie oppty, take an extra club to this uphill green. The 14th is an interesting par three just because of its simplicity. Tree lined and shaped like a funnel the hole widens the closer you get to the green. The 15th-17th are the non-Donald Ross holes. The 15th is a long downhill par 4 that bends right. Favor the left side and do not worry you cannot reach the water hazard. Too far right on this hole and you will have tree trouble the entire way. The 16th is a good birdie oppty, a serpentine albeit short par four. Find the fairway and you will have an attack wedge in. The 17th is the shortest hole on the course and it was carved into the side of a hill. Thus, be left. There is a steep dropoff right as well as a deep right bunker. The 18th is a fun finishing hole. I used to work for a company based in Westerville, OH. We conducted Quarterly Review Meetings where people came in from around the country, and sometimes internationally, to either brag about their keen business acumen or beg forgiveness for sins, real and imagined. Typically, after the bloodletting and chest thumping, we would head to the golf course. This particular time we were playing at what was then called the Granville Country Club. There had been a light rain most of the day, so the course was wet, but not saturated. Our CEO, Bob Lake, is a big man. When I say big man, he is not fat, but at least 6’, 5” and solid. Probably the best way to describe it is he has to fold himself up to get in and out of a golf cart. This day a Director named Ronn Melton, and yes, that is how he spells his name, pulled the short straw and had to play with Bob and drive the cart. When I say pulled the short straw, this is nothing derogatory towards Bob. My dealings with him were always businesslike and amiable. The reality is, there is a lot more downside than upside in playing golf with the CEO. Hence, all things being equal, I would just as soon pass. As we all know there are still plenty of suck-ups who would relish the opportunity to do such. To that, I say, great, have at it.
The 18th hole drops off over a 100 feet from the tee box to the fairway. I did not witness the following events, but I trust the eyewitness accounts that were shared with me, although most of the storytellers had had a few beers. About two thirds of the way down the steep incline Ronn felt they were going too fast, so he hit the golf cart’s break. Bad call. This caused the cart to spin and spin and spin; that is right, 540 degrees (a few claimed it was a 720). It then started tipping; the fate of the free world hung in balance for a few seconds before the cart finally gave up the ghost and tipped over. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (Not sure this would have been included otherwise) Bob Lake was good natured about the incident and poor Ronn was mortified. All is well that ends well, if you can laugh about years later.
I have always enjoyed this course. However, it is in need of revitalization, which may be a simple as cutting some trees down. It has withstood the test of time and has good bones. I would pay to play it again.
A number of classic architects are basking in a renovation revival, none more so than Donald Ross. Gil Hanse is on a Ross run, tapped for work on both Aronimink and Oakland Hills—plus his reimagination of Pinehurst No. 4. Nearer to your correspondent, recent work done at the Columbus Country Club has reportedly done much to restore the Scot’s philosophy to the property (we aim to affirm soon).
Denison Golf Club would benefit greatly from such attention.
Two of the best holes are instantly improved by something as simple as removing five trees—hardly the relative deforestation that occurred at the aforementioned renovation sites. No. 3 provides a classic Cape-style drive, positioned diagonally to the fairway, where a wide creek flows along the left side. Strangely, a single tree stands intimidatingly off the tee-line where a less confident golfer may aim to “bail out,” spooking the novice toward danger. A larger tree stands farther along the left side, which stands to punish those who play long and near to the creek, upending the entire purpose for such a design. Likewise, No. 13 is a short Par 4 where players can opt to gun past a deep bunker at the corner to a thinner landing area and earn an easier approach, or they can lay up short of the bunker. Basic architect calculus suggests nearness to corner bunker correlates directly to ease of approach (landing in the bunker is a multiplier of 0, of course). Three pines (not featured within original aerial photos) mean nothing but the most precise of iron shots leave an open approach to the uphill green. Ten yards too short? Better be able to bend it like Beckhamickleson.
Those fixes are simple. The rest...not so much. A real estate sale way-back-when meant removing three holes and creating a new 15-17 tucked within a subdivision. No. 16 slogs up an intense hill with no plans other than reaching No. 17, which is just a green tucked unromantically on the parcel’s last remaining bit of flat land. Imagine Lawsonia’s classic No. 7, minus a soul. We’ve heard similar complaints about No. 15, but we’re actually fans of the this long, downhill Par 4. If the course were to expand the fairway, long hitters could worry whether the right-sloping fairway will kick their ball into more than just rough, funneling it down into the pond—finally giving strategic purpose to the water. This fairway width problem, unfortunately, has muffled many quality hazards along Denison’s route—either surrounding sand with a virtual bullet-proof vest of long turf, or allowing bunkers to slip from the fairway’s orbit altogether.
Having recently played Shennecosset, a private Ross restored splendidly as a municipal, I know Gil Hanse is not the only option. The design at Denison is inherently strong. A prioritized list of fixes will prove it.
Jeff, many have referred to me as the "Peter Popoff of Golf Course Architecture," which I can only assume is a good thing.
In truth, I think the wisest thing I said here was "Gil Hanse is not the only option." Denison could have saved a lot of money by opting for Kevin Hargraves, who did Columbus Country Club recently. That said, there is Titleist money (literally) helping out Denison's cause, so I'm sure they didn't mind ponying up for the Hanse name. I have no doubt his work will be remarkable. I just hope the university has a plan to keep it so!