Founded in 1920, Kirtland Country Club quickly engaged Harry Colt’s associate, C.H. Alison, to design a new golf course on an attractive, 260-acre property to the north east of Cleveland. Within a year, the architect duly delivered when his new 18-hole layout was unveiled to an expectant membership.
The outward half plays out over a rolling landscape while the inward half is routed along the valley of the Chagrin River. Many of the holes are characterised by severely raised greens and pronounced bunkers, both features forcing golfers to carefully consider their tee shot placement in order to find the best angle of approach.
The modern day course retains most of its original design features, thanks mainly to a sympathetic restoration programme that was carried out by Ron Forse at the end of 2007, when he renewed all of the sand traps, recaptured width on many of the fairways and reclaimed putting surfaces on a number of green surrounds.
The front nine at Kirtland comprise a wonderful circuit of testing golf holes but these are simply overshadowed by a fantastic back nine, where the architect incorporated the flowing waters of the river at every opportunity for maximum strategic effect.And just when golfers think the exhilarating aspects of the inward half are about to subside, they’re invited to ride the funicular from the 17th green more than 150 feet up to the 18th tee at the home hole – what a wonderful way to end a round of golf.
Kirtland is one of the best courses that few people outside of Ohio have heard abut it. This C.H. Alison course is worth a special trip to see. Based on this rating system, the front nine is "Birdie" and the back nine is "Albatross". There are big, bold bunkers and fast greens that have enough slope to make you nervous but not so much slope that you are thinking it is unfair. The par 3 3rd, par 4 9th, par 4 12th, par 5 15th, and par 3 17th are all world class holes.
Charles Alison routed the two nines over two distinct pieces of land. He didn’t design that many courses in the US, but those that remain are certainly commendable. Northern Ohio (and indeed the entire state of Ohio) has a prominent number of classic courses, with Kirtland being towards the top of the pile.
While the front side is relatively flatter, the tree clearance has opened up amazing views across the course before taking you to the more dramatic back nine. As I walked to the 10th tee, my caddy asked me: “Do you like elevated tee shots?” Little did I realise what was ahead of me. The change in elevation across the back nine is glorious, add in the river that runs through the course and the unique feature of a cable car to get more seasoned golfers up the steep hill to the exciting finish!