Lakewood Country Club is the only golf course in the state of Ohio that was designed by A.W. Tillinghast, one of a number of Golden Age routings in the Cleveland area.
The club twice played host to The Cleveland Open (1966, 1968), hosting the PGA’s best. An initial change to the routing occurred for that event, as the 8th hole was converted from a shorter, sharper dogleg into a longer, slighter par four for the pros to consider.
Many years later, Stephen Kay would appear to conduct restorations. The most noticeable of which was a restoration of Tillinghast’s famous “Great Hazard” (Kay opted to go above and beyond Tillinghast’s original tall-grass design and create a series of turtle-back islands in a sea of sand).
Championship golf returned to Lakewood in 2013 for the Web.com Tour’s Cleveland Open, before the club staged the re-branded event (Rust-Oleum Championship) the following year.
Many know Tillinghast’s final resting place, ashes poured into his beloved Wissahickon. Very few, however, know where he died. That answer is Toledo, Ohio, a state over from Pennsylvania, the state that perhaps benefitted most from his genius and his allegiance as a resident. Lakewood Country Club, Tillie’s only design in the next state West, has often been ignored as trivia, much like the opening bits of this review. A recent visit from the Web.com’s Rust-Oleum Championship did little to energize those outside the region.
The sponsor product of that last event could have some metaphorical meaning for the course, which—like many of that era—would benefit from having a bit of rust scrubbed off. It will not take the architecturally-astute eye too much time to spot where Tillinghast’s famous greens once extended to, based on the bunkers circling the putting surfaces, and the nails on the designer’s signature talon bunkers have receded as well. There has been some effort to restore some Tillie personality; unfortunately, Stephen Kay chose to push the “restored” Great Hazard closer to the green rather than the middle of the hole on No. 6, convoluting the great bunker’s great purpose.
This has been a dismal writeup thus far, but your correspondent holds the architect closer to his heart than many, and yearns to see better days for such a design. But perhaps I should spray some other household solvent on myself to provoke shinier thoughts, as there’s quality to be had (and much hope furthermore). At the fore, Lakewood is a rare case that features all four of Tillie’s templates; although the architect claimed to eschew MacRaynor’s template-based philosophy, he frequently repeated a pair of both Par 3 and Par 5 concepts, albeit infrequently at a single layout. My host pointed out how and where renovations could sharper the teeth of the course's respective Reef, Great Hazard, Double Dogleg and Tiny Tim holes.
Although—largely because of Bethpage Black—Tillinghast has been associated with longer Par 4s, two of the shorter middle-length holes deserve recognition here. No. 7 begins in the corner of the property and, despite considerably less flash than the preceding Great Hazard hole, makes a more compelling architectural case, with a dogleg right that pinches at the hinge, followed by a shot to a (intentionally) small green surrounded by sand. No. 18 brings the player home by diving into a shallow valley, where a capillary of a creek suggests players consider staying left; that safe play is “rewarded” when the uphill shot to the green is blind, and the player can only guess at how much landing area they have to work with.
My host elaborated on hopes to contract a prominent restorer with Tillinghast experience to restore the greens and hazards at Lakewood Country Club once this COVID nonsense has passed. I hope that day comes soon, and I have a chance to register a more lofty score, which the bones here are strong enough to bear. Tillinghast’s memory has certainly never died next door in Pennsylvania, and we Ohioans should do well to keep him alive within our borders…even if he did, indeed, die here.