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.
Date: April 18, 2020