Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, originally established the Firestone Country Club in the late 1920s as a park for his employees. Bert Way designed the first Firestone course in 1929 and Harvey Firestone commemorated the occasion by hitting the opening drive.
There are now three courses at Firestone Country Club, South, North and West. The South course is the original layout, which has been refashioned on a number of occasions, most notably by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s. RTJ also designed the North course and Tom Fazio fashioned the West.
Firestone reckon the South is the only course in the world to have held three televised golf events in one calendar year – American Golf Classic, CBS Golf Classic, and the World Series of Golf. The South is certainly an armchair favourite and will no doubt conjure up fond memories for many golfers but critics label the course as rather boring. Fairways run arrow straight, often parallel to each other and the holes are long and arduous for the handicap golfer. Tour professionals, on the other hand, see the South course as an honest and demanding test of their skills.
Since 1999, Firestone Country Club has been home of the World Golf Championships – apart from in 2002 when it was played at Sahalee Country Club. Branded for the first seven years as the WGC-NEC Invitational, the event is now sponsored by Bridgestone and it’s a favourite tournament for Tiger Woods, who has won the WGC title here at Firestone an incredible seven times since 1999.
If you’ve played the South course, why not post a course review? We’d love to know what you think.
Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s work hasn’t aged well into our current era of Coore/Hanse/Doak, but in my formative years, Firestone’s South Course was a well-regarded layout that was ranked in the top 100 courses in the United States by many publications. The most recent instance I can find was Golf Magazine’s 2001 list, where it was ranked #82 in the country. On top of that, it had hosted several majors and was a regular host of the NEC World Series of Golf and WGC-NEC Invitational. So needless to say, getting to play a private course of that caliber was a big deal to someone who grew up on the public links.
Northeast Ohio’s weather, on the other hand, almost didn’t cooperate. I had to postpone my trip two weeks because the course hadn’t opened yet, and even on the drive over to Ohio, it snowed (on April 19th)! When we finally got around to playing, the course was very wet but the greens were somehow still firm and extremely fast. The rest of the course, however, was a bit waterlogged and the rough patchy in places due to the early season – thus, it was an extremely tough go with the greens as difficult as they were and the course playing long even from the member tees. (Being a lovely overcast 45 degree day didn’t help.
The course is par 70 and has only two par fives, which means there are a whopping twelve par fours on the course. That aspect and the consistent length and narrowness of the holes themselves cause them to kind of blend together, so there are a few I don’t really remember, but the ones that stuck out to me were:
#3 – a downhill par four with a pond in front of the green and a huge tree forcing a right-to-left approach angle – and otherwise preparing to knock one’s ball down into said pond;
#4 – a brutally awkward and long uphill par four with a green you can’t really see from the fairway;
#9 – just long, long, long, a little bit downhill but didn’t really feel that way as it was so wet and directly into the (cold) northernly wind the day we played;
#12 – a slightly uphill par three with a neat little green on one of the higher points on the course;
#16 – the famous, incredibly long par five that even from the member tees took me four full swings – the last with a 6 iron! – to reach the green since I had the misfortune of missing the fairway into a gnarly patch of rough off the tee;
#18 – the classic finish where Tiger Woods stuck it in the dark; unfortunately our pin was not in that spot, and nor was my ball similarly close.
In my contemporary eye, I can say that Firestone is hardly a world-class course or even Trent Jones Sr.’s best work, but it’s still one of the better ones of its era.
For me Firestone South is a top 100 course in America and 6th in the state of Ohio. I have played many of the top courses. The south course is a beautiful layout and what a Championship course should be. I have played all 3 courses at Firestone and the South stands head and shoulders above the rest. You have to be able to hit all the shots to score at Firestone South. Great test of golf and is good enough to host more majors.
Firestone South has a rich history and it's always fun to play where the world's best PGA players grind it out.
The greens are a little boring, with nearly all of them sloping down from back to front. They are always in outstanding condition though and have some subtle breaks.
The par 5 16th is famous and the one other par 5 is a good hole. The par 4s are mostly straight, narrow, and either uphill or downhill. The par 3s are good, but not great or memorable.
In all of televised golf there are few courses that have been regular items for public attention. No question places such as Augusta National, Pebble Beach, The Old Course at St. Andrews are in the elite listing of such venues. But, for those who have been watching professional golf on an annual basis - especially on the American side of things -- it's hard to beat a place like Firestone / South for the many, many years it has been seen time after time.
Since hosting the 1960 PGA Championship -- Firestone / South has been the location where countless big time professional events have been held. The most recent involvement is serving as host for the annual WGC / Bridgestone Invitational.
The only main issue with the South Course is that the architecture is woefully predictable. A steady stream of holes follows the same pattern -- south/ north and north / south is the routing flow. The holes are lined with various trees and although there's been a recent pruning the impact is still there.
When Trent Jones was called in to strengthen the course for the '60 PGA he did so in his usual manner. The fairways were bracketed by bunkers in the drive zone -- sometimes on both sides and the greens were protected by larger bunkers. Tees were lengthened considerably and with heavy rough being cultivated. It was clear the course would no longer tolerate anything but regimented down-the-middle tees shots followed by consistent iron play. In short -- Firestone / South became a muscle course -- albeit -- in the same spirit Jones had done in revamping Oakland Hills / South in Michigan for the 1951 US Open.
Unfortunately, making a course harder is far easier than skillfully creating architecture which needs to take into account hole differentiation and overall elasticity in the routing and shotmaking requirements.
The South Course doesn't have anything close to a top tier finesse hole. Much of it is the same -- over and over again. The South can be a daunting test simply because of the length and rigors of the holes. But greatness in design is not simply about overdosing on the difficulty meter.
Clearly, much of the attention goes to the par-5 16th hole -- 667 yards in length -- with a fronting pond by the putting surface. The hole is noted for a number of key situations that have occurred there during the many different events over the years. The most miraculous being the incredible par save Jack Nicklaus made in the 3rd round of the '75 PGA Championship which propelled him to his fourth of five titles in the event and the 14th of his record setting 18 total major triumphs.
Far too many golf observers erroneously assume hosting big time events automatically means such venues are top tier from a design perspective. That's not always the case as hosting events requires a range of elements -- course architecture a part of the total scene -- but not the only needed emphasis item.
What many may not realize is that Firestone has another course -- the North -- far better in terms of overall shotmaking requirements and hole diversity. The only time the North had center stage was in hosting the American Golf Classic in 1976. Amazingly, the Buckeye State is home to a number of well-crafted courses that clearly have quality offerings but unlike Firestone / South have remained in the shadows.
Firestone / South has been the scene for countless wins from such legendary players such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, among other noted players. The annual exposure has done much to elevate the name of the course with golfers globally. But, for those seeking a rich brew of architectural tastes -- be forewarned -- the South is mainly vanilla.
by M. James Ward